Dominion: Let the Deck Building Begin

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Dominion was the first card game I learned that wasn’t a “simple” game like Uno, Dutch Blitz, or Hearts. The first time I was introduced to Dominion, the cards weren’t even in the original box! My friend had created his own custom-designed box that held all his Dominion cards, sorted by expansion and in alphabetical order. I was speechless. I didn’t know that people did this with their games. Little did I know what I was about to get into.

Game Specifications

Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Published: 2008
Suggested Age: 12+
Number of Players: 2-4
Playing Time: 30-60 minutes

Gameplay

In Dominon, each player begins with the same starting hand of 7  coppers cards and 3 victory point (VP) cards. In the middle of the table you’ll stack 10 piles of Kingdom cards (the game comes with 25 Kingdom cards), along with 3 piles of money cards and 3 piles of victory point cards. Over the course of the game, you’ll be buying a combination of Kingdom cards and/or money cards with the ultimate goal of purchasing victory points. Whoever has the most victory points at game’s end (when either the Province pile or any other three piles of cards run out) is declared the winner.

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One of the most interesting aspects of Dominon, in my opinion, is its deck-building mechanic. As the game progresses, you’ll be building your own unique deck. When you buy cards with your money, you won’t be returning your money to the supply. In fact, the same goes for every card you obtain throughout this game. Each card you acquire will remain in your deck until you play a card that gives you permission to “trash” it (which means it’s gone for the rest of the game).

The strategy of the game lies in the balance of purchasing money cards, Kingdom cards, and victory point cards. When you begin the game, you only have Coppers ($1) and Estates (earth worth 1 victory point). You’ll want to buy Silver ($2) and Gold ($3) cards in order to augment your purchasing power, and you’ll want Kingdom cards in order to add bonuses to your turns. But you need victory points to win.

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So why not just buy victory points the whole game? Because they’re just points, and other than that they offer no additional benefit. Buying too many of them them early in the game means you’ll clutter your deck with essentially useless cards. On the other hand, if you wait too long to buy victory points, you might give your opponents the chance to snap them all up while you’re busy buying other cards.

I love this game because there are so many different ways to win. You can build up your economy and just buy tons of Silvers and Golds. Or you could go for Kingdom cards and try for a “chaining” strategy whereby all the bonuses add up to give you extra cards and purchasing power in order buy Colonies (each worth 10 victory points).

The Pros

It’s easy to learn. I’ve taught this game to dozens of people, and every time it’s only taken about 5 minutes to explain the game. The mechanics are fairly simple to grasp – you’re buying, playing, and shuffling cards. That’s it. Now while learning how to play the game is fairly simple, there’s definitely a little bit of a learning curve when it comes to strategy. Experienced players will definitely have an advantage over newer players simply because they will know the strengths of each Kingdom card. I remember being a little over-whelmed with all the descriptions of every card when I first played, and as a newbie it took a couple games before I figured out which cards had the most synergy.

The artwork is family-friendly. There are a lot of card games out there (primarily those in the fantasy genre) where some of the characters can look pretty gruesome or the women are dressed rather provocatively. As someone who is about to become a father in only a couple short months, I’m thinking a lot more about what kind of games I want my kids playing. Thankfully, the artwork in Dominion is perfectly safe for the family. (If you’d like to see for yourself, you can always check out the artwork used by heading over to the Dominion Wikipedia page.

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There’s an infinite amount of replayability. Because you only play with 10 Kingdom cards per game, it means that every game is going to be different. With the 25 Kingdom cards that come with the base game, that amounts to more than 3 million possible card combinations! (That doesn’t even take into consideration any of the 11 expansions that are available as of Oct. 2016.)

The Cons

The theme is pretty generic. In Dominon, you’re not playing a specific race or civilization. Though the rulebook hints at a Middle Ages time period, it’s not explicitly stated, nor is it integral to the game. I wouldn’t say the game’s theme is bad by any means. It’s just not particularly strong or compelling. Now some might argue that this is actually a strength of the game, making it more accessible to a wider audience. Because it’s not tailored to a super niche market, Dominion shouldn’t scare away casual gamers.

In some games, player interaction is minimal or non-existent. Some people complain that Dominion plays like a group game of Solitaire. And it can sometimes feel like this, because you’re just working with the cards you have in your own hand and you don’t really need to pay attention to what everyone else is doing. (Of course, it will definitely help if you do pay attention.) After completing a game, some new players have mentioned to me that they were so occupied with how to play their cards that they didn’t even know what else was happening in the game!

Solution: Play with Kingdom cards that are interactive. These are cards where others players have to do something when you play that card (like discard one of their cards or add a card to their hand).

Conclusion

If you enjoy card games and you’re not intimated by a little bit of strategy, then you will love Dominion. There’s something rather thrilling about buying cards, shuffling your deck, and crossing your fingers as you pray for a handful of really good cards.

Overall, Dominion is a fun, light card game that both new players and experienced players can enjoy together. I’ve played over a hundred games of Dominion and never once have I been bored. Rio Grande Games just released the Second Edition of the base game, so I definitely recommend you check it out!

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One thought on “Dominion: Let the Deck Building Begin

  1. Pingback: Star Realms: A Fast 2-Player Deck Building Game

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