Eminent Domain

Reviewed by Jeff Feuer

(Tasty Minstrel Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.95)


eminentdomainboxEminent Domain is a deck-building card game by designer Seth Jaffee but, while a deck-building game like Dominion (Winter 2009 Gamers Alliance Report) which pioneered the genre, it has little in common with it. You do start with a set of 10 cards, which are shuffled and then you draw 5. There are a few other similarities, which will be noted throughout this review, but they are relatively minor.

Starting planets come in three varieties: Metallic, Advanced or Fertile. Like Race for the Galaxy (Winter 2008 Gamers Alliance Report), all players begin with a “start world” but unlike RftG, you must still settle or conquer this world. Your starting hand consists of a selection of 6 action cards. Throughout the game, you will collect more cards and build your deck according to your strategy but, unlike Dominion, the new cards you get are mostly copies of 5 of the original 6. You may pick up improved versions of these cards, but you will likely only get a few of these while you’ll have many copies of the original action cards.

The 5 standard action cards do actions that sound like a mixture of Dominion and Race for the Galaxy type actions: Survey (draw 2 cards from your deck), Warfare (take 1 of the game’s plastic fighter planes OR spend the appropriate number of fighters to conquer a face-down planet in front of you, which turns it face-up), Colonize (add 1 colony by tucking the card under a face-down planet OR settle a face-down planet once an appropriate number of colonies have been tucked by “untucking” the colony cards and turning the world face-up), Produce/Trade (like RftG, you can put a good on a face-up world OR trade a good for a VP) or Research (trash up to 2 cards from your hand). There is a sixth action card that you start the game with but it is a one-time action and there are no copies of it to add to your deck later: Politics: trash the Politics card for another copy of one of the 5 standard action cards.

eminentdomcardAt the start of your turn, you may do one of the actions from your hand but do not have to do so. Then you must choose a role from 5 role cards which are duplicates of the action cards in supply piles in the center of the playing area. After choosing a role (and taking the appropriate card from a supply pile if available), you may “boost” the role by adding cards from your hand that have a matching symbol in the top left corner. The cards have dual purposes: they can be used as action cards when in your hand or as role cards/boosters. By choosing a role, you add this card to your deck (when you put it in your discard during clean-up phase, like in Dominion). After optionally boosting a role from your hand, you count the number of symbols you have. We will denote this number by the variable n. The 5 role cards are: Survey (take n planets from the planet deck, look them over and keep 1), Warfare (take n fighters OR attack a face-down planet in front of you same as the action allows), Colonize (add n colonies to a face-down planet OR settle a planet just as the action allows), Produce/Trade (add up to n goods to worlds with no goods on them OR trade up to n goods for VP) and Research (if you have the right number of research symbols-3,5 or 7 and the right number of face-up planets of the same appropriate type-Metallic, Fertile or Advanced, you may take an available technology card and add it to your HAND, unlike Dominion). It is important to note that produce and trade have different symbols and you count the number of symbols corresponding to whichever role you are choosing on the produce/trade role card.

After declaring your role, your opponents can choose to follow (play cards from their hand with the same symbol(s) or dissent (take a card from their deck). A player who can follow need not follow, the player can choose to dissent for the card if he does not see a significant benefit from following the role versus holding on to the cards and choosing the role/action himself or if he would like to hope to draw a useful card. When following, there are a couple of important things to note about following someone else’s role: 1) Followers do not choose a role card, they can only use what’s in their hand 2) when following survey, you get to see n-1 cards instead of n cards and 3) you cannot attack or settle a planet when following (these can only be done when you are the active player, called the leader).

Start worlds can be conquered with 2 fighters or settled with 2 colonies. Planets in the planet deck that you can choose and then conquer/settle later have higher fighter and colonization costs but are worth more VP, may have symbols matching the role cards (so they boost a role automatically), may have 0, 1 or 2 goods slots and may have a +1 hand limit symbol on them.

After playing/boosting a role and after all other players have had a chance to follow/dissent, the leader then cleans-up, which sounds like Dominion but it’s not! When cleaning up, all played cards go in the discard pile like all other deck-building games, but unplayed cards need not go in the discard pile! You can choose to keep as many (or as few) of the unplayed cards as you wish as long as you do not exceed your hand limit. Once you have decided which cards (if any) to keep from your hand, you draw up to your hand limit.

eminentdomplanetsThrough the research action (and the politics action), you can “stack your deck” in favor of the actions you want to do (and the roles you want to boost/follow) and get rid of actions/roles you do not plan to use. For example, one viable strategy (as in RftG) is the produce/trade strategy. You might choose to use research to get rid of your research cards to increase your chances of getting produce/trade cards in your hand. Once deciding (regardless of your main strategy) upon whether you plan to use warfare or colonize to turn planets face-up (a requirement for seemingly all strategies), you can trash the other kind. So, using the research action, you can increase your chances of getting your main strategy’s action/role cards, warfare/colonize and survey (to get more face-down planets) by getting rid of other actions/roles and colonize/warfare cards.

I’m not going to go into too much detail regarding specific technology cards, but they feature improved versions of all the standard action cards at the first level which require 3 research symbols and 1 appropriate face-up planet type. All of the technology cards specify one planet type required to claim it. For example, there are two improved production cards that require 1 face-up metallic planet and two that require 1 face-up advanced planet. If your start world is fertile, you’ll have to do use survey to claim a face-down metallic or advanced planet and eventually attack/settle it if you want one of the improved production cards. Similar requirements exist for all the improved action technology cards. Level two technology cards require 5 research symbols, two of the same kind of face-up planet (which are very specific) are worth 2 VP, are all different and most of them go in your hand, same as the level 1 technology cards. There are 3 permanent, two-sided level 2 technology cards (one for each type of planet), which go in front of you once you decide which side to put face up. The level 3 technology cards all require 7 research symbols, 3 face-up planets of the same type and there are only 3 of them, all permanent. They are all different and there is only 1 for each planet type. If you have only metallic planets, you can choose from improved colonize, production, trade or research at level 1, one of 3 regular and 1 permanent level 2 (although with it being two-sided you have two choices for the benefit you get) and 1 (two-sided) permanent card. All of the level 1 cards , all of the non-permanent level 2 cards have two symbols on them for the purpose of boosting/following roles. None of the level 3 cards have symbols on them, but one side on two of the level 2 permanents have 3 symbols on them.

The game ends in one of two ways: a fixed number (regardless of the number of players) of VP chits is exhausted or a set number of role card supply decks are exhausted. In a 2 player or short 3 player game, only 1 pile needs to be exhausted while in a long 3 player or a 4 player game, 2 piles need to be exhausted. When one of these conditions is met, play continues until all players have had an equal number of turns. The designer thought of a cute way to determine start player and therefore an easy way to remember who the start player was: the back side of the cardboard turn summary tile has one that says “start player” and is colored red. Another cute thing that he did was to have the supply pile of VP chits colored black and then extra chits for continuing until all players have an equal number of turns colored blue. You do not need to count out the VP chits…just sort them by color and set the blue ones aside. When the game is over, players count their VPs: from chits, cards (level 2 or 3 technology cards) and face-up planets. The player with the highest VP total wins.

Some viable strategies for winning that my group has seen are produce/trade, settling many high VP planets and researching technology cards. While these strategies seemingly copy RftG strategies and, thematically, the games is also similar to RftG, Eminent Domain is not a RftG clone by any stretch. The rules are simpler to explain/digest. There are fewer symbols and icons to understand and text to read than in comparable games making this faster to play. Quick play is also helped by not needing to see what other people have in their tableaus (as in RftG). There is also much less luck than Dominion or RftG since the variability of the cards is much less. (You can further refine and streamline your deck by using the research action to trash cards.)

Many people in our game group who do not like Race for the Galaxy (while admitting it’s a quality game) will play Eminent Domain and many who do play RftG have also expressed a fondness for playing Eminent Domain as well. I wholeheartedly recommend people try this game.


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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