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DOMAINE

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

DOMAINE (Mayfair Games/Kosmos; 3-4 players, 1 hour; $45)

 

When I first heard about Domaine, this new reincarnation of Löwenherz, I was excited. Löwenherz is one of my favorite games and, for the most part, it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. My initial vision was of designer Klaus Teuber taking the game to another level, which sent a rush of giddy feelings all over my body.

Then I learned the awful truth: this wouldn’t be an upgrade of the Löwenherz system, but rather a downgrading. Apparently, the objective was to release a game that used a similar system, but which simplified it, making it easier to learn and more accessible for the family market. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but certainly an interesting idea that could give the game a wider appeal than its ancestor.

When my copy arrived, I cautiously read the rules, fearing the game would be too simple for my tastes and pale in comparison to the richness of Löwenherz. My reading did nothing to douse these fears. The game seemed simple and too luck prone. I was actually dreading having to play this as I would inevitably be making unfavorable comparisons to its forefather. I do have to admit, however, that the bits are awesome. The castle pieces are a thing of beauty and remind me of the fantasy castles that dot the German countryside. So, I gritted my teeth and vowed to be fair when the opportunity arose to play it.domaine

Domaine does maintain many of the aspects of Löwenherz. The objective is still the same: enclose large amounts of resource-rich territory around your castles while denying the same to your opponents. The basic rules for placing borders (walls) and knights, expanding your territory, encroaching into neighboring territories, etc. remain virtually the same. The major change, however, is there are no longer negotiation elements to the game. Basically, each player plays one card on his turn and takes the indicated action. This is the part that seemed, well, lame to me after reading the rules. Fortunately, in practice, it is actually quite good.

Players begin the game by placing three castles and knights onto the board. The board itself is modular, so the layout for each game will be different. The nine pieces that comprise the board are held together by an inter-locking frame, similar to the concept used in Euro Games’ Castle (featured in the Summer 2000 GA REPORT). The artwork on the board is attractive and functional — vintage Franz Vohwinkel.

Each player receives three action cards and seven ducats. The cards are arranged in a format identical to Löwenherz – stacked in order from A – D. Generally, the cost of executing the power of a card rises as players progress through the deck.

The sequence of play is straight-forward and easy. On a turn, a player must:

a) Sell an action card to the Chancery. Each card depicts a ‘sale’ price in brackets, which is the amount of income received when the card is sold. Instead of placing pieces onto the board, a player may opt to sell a card, which is placed face-up beside the board. The player takes the indicated amount of income and that ends his turn.

OR

b) Play an action card. Each card depicts a red numeral, which is the cost that must be paid to execute the action listed on the card. There are five different actions depicted on the cards in the deck:

1) Place borders. Players place the indicated number of borders onto the board. The placement rules are identical as to those in Löwenherz.

2) Place knights. Knights are needed to make incursions into opponent’s territories and to protect your domains from incursions by your opponents. Again, the placement rules are identical to those in Löwenherz.

3) Expand Your Domain. Again, similar to Löwenherz. Borders are pushed out into new territory. If you expand into an opponent’s domain, you must possess more knights in your domain than he does.

4) Deserter. This one can be devastating. The player removes an opponent’s knight from an adjacent domain and places one of his own knights into his own domain. This one card ultimately cost me the game!

5) Alliance. Similar to Löwenherz. A player may force an alliance between two neighboring domains. Neither one can make an incursion into the territory of their neighbor. However, in Domaine, once an alliance is formed, it CANNOT be broken … ever.

Scoring will occur whenever a new domain (territory containing a player’s castle) is formed or an existing domain is expanded. The points scored are based on the type of terrain enclosed:

Forest: 1 victory point

Village: 3 victory points

Royal City: 5 victory points

If an opponent lost territory due to an incursion, he will lose an appropriate number of victory points. Victory points are recorded on a track that rings two sides of the board.

The board also depicts several different types of mines (gold, silver, copper and diamond). At the beginning of a turn, a player will collect 1 ducat for each DIFFERENT type of mine he owns. Building a consistent income base in this game is important as money is very tight. The only other source of income is the selling of action cards, which means that the player will forfeit performing any actions on that turn.

Mines have a further benefit as capturing 3 or 4 of the same type of mine will give the player a monopoly, which translates into five victory points. However, if this monopoly is ever lost, then the player will lose those victory points.

A player concludes his turn by drawing one card, either from the face-down deck or a card from the Chancery. Thus, cards sold during a player’s turn will be available for purchase by the players. The only restriction here is that a player may not select the card he just sold on his turn. I really like this aspect of the game as it does somewhat mitigate the “luck of the draw” problem. Now, instead of blindly drawing a card each turn, players can select one of the face-up cards in the chancery if they see something that is useful.

The game can end in one of two manners. If one player achieves the required number of victory points (30 in a 4-player game), the game ends immediately with that player’s victory. The game can also end if when all of the cards in the action deck are depleted. At that point, the game continues, but no further cards may be drawn from the Chancery. The game ends once all players have played or sold their remaining action cards. When this occurs, bonus victory points are awarded for ducats as follows: 1st: 5 points, 2nd: 3 points. The player with the most cumulative victory points is victorious.

In spite of my apprehension and initial bias, I have been pleasantly surprised by Domaine. Yes, I miss the negotiation and conflict resolution mechanics of Löwenherz, but the card play here is much better than I expected. The constant need for money in order to perform actions forces players to balance their turns between actions and selling, and often forces players to sell cards they would have preferred to keep and use. This puts pressure on players to capture mines as they provide much-needed funds. Players should not just blindly expand, however, as it is important to fortify your domains with knights lest your unscrupulous neighbors will be tempted to make incursions into your territories. Also, be wary of the dreaded “deserter” card, which can swiftly and suddenly sway the balance of power in a region. Trust me on that one!

The game plays quickly and is surprisingly tense. You always want to do more than you are allowed to do on a turn – usually the mark of a good game. Further, the game plays very quickly – about an hour or so. This forces you to narrow your focus a bit and concentrate on certain areas. You simply don’t have time to build and expand each of your domains. This forces even more tough decisions.

I’ve since played Domaine half a dozen times and continue to delight in introducing others to its pleasures. Domaine is a fine game and one which will also appeal to folks who are relatively new to the gaming scene, as well as “casual” gamers. There is still some nastiness involved, which might prove distasteful to some (my spouse comes to mind!), but should be pleasing to many gamers. Veteran gamers will likely still prefer this game’s grandfather, Löwenherz, but probably won’t object to this one in the right setting. On a broader scale, Domaine just might have broader appeal in the family market than its predecessor, which apparently is what the designer and manufacturer are hoping for! – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -Greg J. Schloesser


 

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