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DOMUS DOMINI

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

DOMUS DOMINI (Franjos, 2 to 6 players, ages 12 and up, 90-120 minutes; $54.99)

 

In Domus Domini, designed by Heinz-Georg Tiemann, the monastery in Cluny is in trouble. It has been neglected for decades and is currently in dire straits. The new abbot has called upon surrounding monasteries to come to the aid of this venerable institution. Failing to heed this call is not an option, as the powerful abbot is not one to be ignored or offended. One’s future within the church would certainly be jeopardized. domusbox

As abbots of these surrounding monasteries, the players’ new task involves producing as much food as possible to take care of not only your own monastery’s needs, but to also send significant aid to Cluny. However, this costs money, and there are many other tasks that must be attended to, not the least of which is the construction of your new chapel.   New acolytes must be recruited and fed, specialists are needed, beer must be brewed.   So much to do! Complicating matters is your unscrupulous neighbors, who will often send forth brothers from their monasteries to harass you on your journey to Cluny, pilfering some of the food you are sending. The only solution is to protect oneself with nasty rottweilers.

Each player will manage these tasks on his own monastery board, which provides space for brothers, food, and a Cellerar (specialist). There are also three tracks upon which players will record their production and expansion in three areas: garden, cheese dairy and brewery.   The more a player progresses in these areas, the more food units they will produce. In an unfortunate acronym decision, food units are abbreviated as “FU” throughout the rules. Players begin with three brothers, six food and a handful of coins, the latter of which will likely be quickly depleted. Each player also receives a player information sheet that graphically displays the various actions and options available during each phase. It is well done and absolutely essential.

Going first in a turn has its advantages and disadvantages. The start player token normally rotates, but players may pass this role along by paying one coin. The player who eventually claims the role also receives any coins that were paid to avoid the role.

Each turn a Production card is revealed which determines which of the three production areas has favorable conditions that round. If a player possesses a Cellerar matching this card, he will be rewarded with additional food units that turn. Players have the opportunity to purchase or exchange Cellerars each turn, paying the cost (ranging from 1 – 18). Interestingly, when exchanging a Cellerar, the player need only pay the difference between the two. He may even receive a refund if he downgrades! Each Cellerar is related to one of the three production areas and provides a base food unit income as well as a bonus for their respective field.

Three specialist cards–each related to a specific production area–are awarded each turn to the players who have progressed the furthest on the corresponding tracks. For example, the player who has progressed the furthest on the garden track will receive the vegetable cart, which helps collect the season’s harvest and provides an additional 30 food units that turn. The cattle herder, awarded for the best cheese dairy, helps ward offattacks along the road to Cluny, while the best brewery attracts the drunkard, who can be used to harass one’s neighbors.

Before beginning the actions each turn, players receive food for each two brothers they have toiling in the fields, as well as interest from the money lender for deposits they made the previous turn. Setting aside money to earn interest is certainly financially wise, but as in real life, is often quite difficult to do, as the pressures of operating the monastery can quickly deplete one’s funds.domus2

At this point in a turn each player has the opportunity to peruse the deck of cellerar cards, deciding whether to hire their first employee or exchange their existing one for a new one. As mentioned, there are three types of cellerars, each corresponding with one of the three production areas. Cellerars provide bonuses and food units during the turn, and will provide victory points at game’s end equal to their purchase value. The cost ranges from 1 – 18, with the benefits increasing with the cost. Garden cellerars provide two additional food tokens, dairy cellerars allow a one coin discount when progressing on the dairy track, while brewery cellerars provide additional food units if a player’s brewery has progressed to the “40” level or beyond. Choosing a cellerar is after the production card is revealed each round, so players will often exchange for matching ones in order to take advantage of the applicable bonus for matching the production card.

Phase 3 is where much of the action occurs, as players, in turn order, perform as many of the available actions as they desire and can afford. Among others, actions include:

Expanding Monastery. Players may advance on one or more of the three production tracks by paying the appropriate cost. This usually begins at 1 or 2 coins per level, but steadily becomes more expensive. The brewery track is the most expensive (the monks must brew an expensive craft beer!), but it also provides the greatest rewards. Players will produce more food units the further they advance on these tracks, and they will earn a significant amount of victory points at game’s end if they reach the top of the tracks. Progress on the tracks will also determine who gets the bonus specialist cards each turn, with ties being broken in favor of the player possessing the most expensive cellerar, yet another incentive to employee the more expensive cellerars.

Build the Chapel.   Players may construct a chapel for their monastery. It takes four segments to complete a chapel, and the game only lasts five turns. So, if a player plans to complete a chapel and earn the most victory points it offers, they cannot dally too much.   The cost increases with each segment, but so do the victory points. A completedchapel will yield an impressive 20 victory points. Further, the ground floor of the chapel has space for three holy brothers, who spend their time praying for a productive harvest. Each such monk increases the food yield by 30 units.

Hire brothers.   Brothers are needed to work in the fields (one food unit per two brothers in the field), pray for a productive harvest, and to harass one’s opponents, thereby decreasing the amount of food units they deliver to Cluny. Each poor brother hired must be fed, which costs one food token per hired brother.

Dogs and Doghouses.   Dogs are needed to ward off harassing monks and the drunkard. As with brothers, each dog costs a food token.   However, the wayward canines will wander away at the end of the turn unless they have a home–doghouses. Each  doghouse costs a coin and can shelter one dog.

Moneylending. As mentioned above, a player may loan money to the banker, who willpay one   coin per three coins deposited, but not until the beginning of the next turn. Saving is a sound financial strategy, but often the money is needed in order to perform other important tasks. A true mirror on life!

After all players have completed their actions, each player’s food production is calculated.   Production is a factor of a player’s cellerar, bonus specialist, advancement on the production tracks and brothers praying in the chapel. Each player’s total is marked on the food units track, which depicts a winding path to Cluny. The more food units delivered, the more Letters of Indulgence (victory points) a player will receive. However, the Cluny abbot will distribute more money to those who are poorer; that is, those who have not delivered much food. Thus, there is a tough decision to be made: withhold production early in order to earn more money, or produce rapidly in order to earn those Letters of Indulgence. Before receiving Letters or money, however, players must contend with perils, including harassing monks and/or the drunkard. In turn order, any player with monks that are not praying or working the fields may send them to beg / steal from any player who is ahead of them on the food units track. That player may ward off the assault by utilizing one of his dogs for each attack, or use the power of the cattle herder (dairy specialist) if he possesses it. Failure to defend an attack moves the player back three spaces on the food unit track, thereby costing that player Letters of Indulgence. The drunkard works in a similar fashion, but he may be inflicted on any player, regardless oftheir position on the food units track. The road to Cluny is not a safe route, and apparently the morals and ethics of the local monasteries is questionable at best.

After any adjustments due to these assaults, Letters of Indulgence and money are awarded based on the players’ position on the track. Players must then feed any remaining brothers who are not at work in the fields or praying in the chapel.   Brothers don’t eat much, with only one or two food tokens needed to feed anywhere from 1 – 6 such brothers.

This process is repeated for five rounds, after which final Letters of Indulgence are earned for remaining brothers not at work or praying, dogs, reaching the top levels on the production tracks, chapel segments and the value of the cellerar one possesses.   The player with the greatest amount of LOI not only wins the game, but is held in the highest esteem by the venerable Abbot of Cluny.

Domus Domini has an interesting and seldom used theme. Being reared Catholic and being somewhat of a history buff, I enjoy the medieval monastery theme. While it is difficult to believe that monasteries would send lay brothers out to harass and steal food,or that watchdogs were employed as a means to prevent these attacks, I still find the theme to be relevant and atmospheric. That is something that cannot be said often with European-style games.

I enjoy the variety of actions that players can perform each turn, but am also appreciative that the number isn’t too great so as to cause a brain overload and excessivedown time as players contemplate their choices. The game moves along at an acceptable pace, and all but the most severely indecisive people should be able to complete their turn in a few minutes.

The choices are meaningful, and players can pursue different paths in which to expand their monastery and increase their food production. The ability to use lay brothers to harass opponents does provide a method of reeling in the leader a bit, and it also provides an incentive for players to purchase watchdogs as a defensive measure.

Money is very tight in this game–perhaps too tight. Indeed, this restrictive financial approach seems to force people into holding back on food production in the first two turns in order to amass a decent amount of cash. Every time I have played the game the player who has followed this approach has won. Makes me wonder if this tactic is a necessity as opposed to just a viable option.

I have enjoyed my plays of Domus Domini and find that it contains many interesting elements.   It is good to see Franjos offer a more strategic game, as over the past several years they have tended to publish lighter fare. I am not sure, however, if the game has enough to make continued exploration viable after a handful of plays. If my fear of the money issue proves correct – forcing players to spend two turns at reduced production in order to earn money- then my opinion of the game will certainly be reduced. I hope not, as I am still enjoying my role as abbot. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser


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