Dominion is a card based game for 2-4 players, published by Rio Grande Games. Since its release in 2008, the game has won several awards, including the Origins award, the Spiel des Jahres award, and the Golden Geek award. It’s also often credited with sparking the current craze of ‘deck building’ card games such as Thunderstone and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. Much of the game’s success can be attributed to its deep yet accessible game play.
Dominion can seem complicated at first. There are four different types of cards: treasure, victory, kingdom and curse. Treasure is just that: money to spend. There are three different treasure cards (copper, silver and gold) that you can use to buy cards to build your deck. There are also three types of victory cards: Estate, Duchy and Province, worth one, three and six victory points respectively. These cards are what will determine who wins the game, but they serve no other purpose, and are essentially dead weight in your deck until the game is over. Curse cards are like negative victory points. They only come into play with certain action cards, so they might not get used in some games.
The broadest category of cards is the kingdom cards. Dominion has 25 different kingdom cards, most of them classified as action cards, each with their own benefits. Although there are 25 kingdom cards, the game is only played with 10. There are a variety of methods by which the players can determine how those 10 action cards are chosen. Beginners are probably best off by starting with the recommended sets at first, where more advance players might try a totally random selection, or maybe a fantasy draft type approach to determining which 10 action cards will be in play. Once determined, they are placed in a communal pool in the center of the table, along with all the treasure cards, curse cards, and a certain number of victory cards, determined by the number of people playing the game.
Sound complicated? Don’t let any of this deter you. Set up is probably the most complicated aspect of the game and, as long as you keep your cards organized in the cleverly designed box, it only takes a few minutes once you’ve done it once or twice. Once things are in place, playing the game is as easy as ABC, a handy mnemonic that describes the order of a players turn. Action phase, Buy phase, Cleanup phase. In the action phase, players can play any one action card from their five card hand. Some cards might grant extra cash to spend in the player’s buy phase, or allow you to draw extra cards. Some cards even grant additional actions, allowing savvy players to chain actions together. The buy phase allows the player to buy any one card from the communal pool and add it to their deck. Each card has a purchase price, so you can only buy what you can afford with the treasure cards in your hand. The cleanup phase is simple. You simply discard any cards you’ve played that turn, along with any unplayed cards from your hand, and draw 5 new cards to form your next hand.
Players continue around in this fashion until either all of the Province victory cards have been purchased, or until a predetermined number of kingdom cards have been entirely bought out from the communal pool. At that time the game is over and victory points are tallied to determine the winner. Games are pretty quick, usually around 30-45 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about it turning into an all night marathon like you do with some board/card games. Since you only play with 10 out of a possible 25 kingdom cards, the numerous combinations lend a ton of replayability to the game.
Dominion isn’t just fun, it’s surprisingly balanced. While there are a limited number of each particular kingdom card, there are more than enough for every player to go around, so strategies that work for one player can also work for another. The variety of cards available allows for far more than one winning strategy as well. This is not the kind of game where players can really gang up on any one person either, since any ‘attack’ cards are usually not targeted, but instead affect all opposing players. And since you can see who’s using their buy phase to add victory cards to their hand, it’s a pretty easy feat to determine where you are in relation to the point leader. In the end, success or failure are dependent on one’s ability to build a strong deck while managing resources.
Those of you who are turned off by the game’s four player limit will be pleased to learn that the game’s first of numerous expansions, Dominion Intrigue, raises the cap to six players, as well as adding another 25 kingdom cards that are can be used separately from, or in conjunction with, any of the base game’s kingdom cards, for a huge number of possible play combinations.
All in all, Dominion is a sure thing if you’re looking for a fast paced, balanced game that you and your friends will want to play again and again. Pick it up at your local Slackers.