Reviewed by Jeff Feuer

DOMINION (Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes; $44.95)


Dominion is a card game by Donald X. Vacarrino. This is his first released game after designing several games for home use with his friends. After prodding by gamer friends (and many years of playtesting), he finally agreed to release it to the public and got Rio Grande Games to publish it.

The premise of the game is that you are a monarch competing to create a large kingdom, a dominion. Unfortunately, other monarchs (the other players in the game) have the same idea so the race is on to hire minions, construct buildings and, among other things, generate money to win over estates, duchies and provinces to your cause. And this is all done with cards.dominion1a

Each player starts with their own deck of cards. Each player’s deck consists of 10 cards: 7 Treasure cards that represent a copper coin worth 1 money each and 3 victory cards that represent a single Victory Point each (called estates). The game comes with 25 different kinds of action cards, and 10 are put in play in each game. Piles of (in most cases) 10 of each card are put in the center of the table as a common supply. In addition, there are piles of three different kinds of treasure cards: copper, worth 1 money, silver, worth 2 money and gold, worth 3 money. Lastly, there are three piles of victory cards (estates, worth 1 VP, duchies, worth 2 VP and provinces are worth 3 VP). After the common supply piles are set up, each player shuffles their 10 cards. Each player then deals himself/herself 5 cards from their own deck and the game is ready to begin.

The rules of Dominion are as easy as ABC. You start with the ability to play Action card(s), then you can Buy card(s) from the common supply, and lastly you Clean up. Play proceeds like this until either the province supply pile is empty or any 3 supply piles are empty. Players then go through their entire deck and count their Victory Points. The player with the highest total of VPs wins the game.

When your turn starts, you can play an action card. This action card can let you play more action cards, draw cards, buy an extra card, have more money to spend on your card buy(s) as well as special things (e.g. searching through your deck for treasure, upgrading a card, discard cards from your hand to replace them with an equal number, etc.).

After you have played all of the action cards you can and wish to play to their fullest, you then buy as many cards as you are allowed and wish. You can always buy 1 card, but some action cards let you buy more. You may be allowed to buy 3 cards, for example, and may wish to only buy 1 or 2.dominioncards

When you have finished your buying phase, you “clean up” by discarding everything and drawing a fresh set of 5 cards from your draw pile. Every card that was played or not played and the card or cards you bought (or acquired by virtue of your action[s]) go straight to the discard, leaving you with an empty hand before refilling from your draw pile. When you need to draw more cards (either during the end of turn refilling or by virtue of a card draw during the action phase of your turn), you then shuffle your discard pile. This allows you to finally get to draw those cards you bought on previous turns. (The concept of each player having their own draw pile and discard pile can be a bit foreign but you get used to it after a single play of Dominion.)

Since Dominion is a card game, there is “luck of the draw”. However, the rules and the cards that your purchase and eventually play, let you increase your chances of getting a better set of cards in your hand. For example, by drawing more cards, you get more money to spend (or more action cards to play assuming you’ve played an action card that gives you extra action[s] too). You can also upgrade the cards you have that you do not want or would just like to improve. The Mine card lets you trash (discard out of the game) a treasure card for the next most valuable one (copper replaced with silver, worth 2 money or silver with a gold, worth 3 money. The Remodel card lets you trash any card and replace it with a card that costs up to 2 more. Every weak card you get rid of makes your future hands of cards better.

You may wonder if there are ways to affect (i.e. bring down) your opponents. There are such action cards (if you choose to include them as one of the available 10 types of cards available for that game). They are called attack cards and they play no favorites. When you play an attack card, you are attempting to attack all the other players. There are 5 kinds of attack cards and there is 1 defense card (called the Moat) that allows you (if it’s in your hand when the attack card is played) to escape the effects of the attack card (by showing the Moat card and then putting it back in your hand). When it’s your turn, you can play the Moat as an action card to draw 2 cards (if you have another action card to play, it is usually better than drawing these 2 cards, but it’s better than nothing).

The strategy in Dominion is mainly in choosing which cards to buy at which point. Which cards you should buy depends on your style of play and which ten cards are available. By virtue of the fact that each player starts with no action cards, 10 cards total, and drawing five cards each turn, the players will not get to play action cards during the first two turns. This lets each player determine their own strategy by their choice of card purchases during these first two turns. On most turns, there is not much deep strategy in deciding which card(s) in your hand to play. Some turns, you’ll have one action card (or none, making your choice obvious. On many turns where you have more than one action card in your hand, you will play the card(s) which give you a replacement action (or more). For example, the Market card gives you a card draw, an action, an extra card purchase and 1 extra money to spend. After playing this card, you still have 5 cards in your hand and an action to spend (as if you hadn’t started your turn), thus replacing itself. Thus it doesn’t hurt to play the Market and then see what other action cards (if any) you have. With a Mine and a Market in hand, you can play both if you play the market first. Many turns end up with this sort of situation. However, given a Mine card and a Remodel card, you then have to decide which one to play.

Dominion was the #1 game at Essen 2008. In about two months, it raced up the Boardgame Geek ratings, skyrocketing to #6. You may be asking “Why is this game so popular and is it for me?” In my opinion, it’s got one quality that few games have. In addition to being fun and having lots of replayability (you’re unlikely to get the same game played out twice in a row), it has something for everyone. It has simple rules, a short playing time and strategy (although non-gamers who just want to chat and buy any card can do so without getting stuck in an unplayable position; they just won’t likely win). It can be a heavy game for those that prefer light games; it can be a light game for those that like heavy games. Many people have found it addictive (or, at the minimum, a great filler). So give it a try if you have not already! – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Jeff Feuer


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Winter 2009 GA Report Articles


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