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Dominion: Details & Opinions

What’s up Platform Nation? How many table top gamers do we have out there within our wonderful community? I have been recently enchanted by Donald Vaccarino’s highly popular card game: ‘Dominion,’ and thought I would take it upon myself to try and share it with you. I know that there is a good chance a number of you have already heard of or played this game already. But if such is the case, then understand, if you will, that this article is not tailored for you, and is alternatively meant to widen the player base and create a grounds for possible discussion. Me and my group of friends have simply been having too much fun with this game for me to remain silent and not share it with everyone here at P*N.

As I already stated, Dominion is a card game developed by Donald Vaccarino and distributed (in the states, anyway) by Rio Grande Games; but the real question is: what exactly is it? Dominion is a strategy game similar to -for the lack of a better, well known, comparison- Magic The Gathering, only it can be played with up to six people at once, and focuses more on the fun of playing the actual game than winning or losing. It’s also sometimes called a ‘deck building game,’ because instead of beginning the game with a pre-made deck put together from a seemingly endless supply of cards (like in Magic) players start out with only a small number of cards and build their deck throughout the course of the game. This makes the game much easier to pick up and start learning, but it also levels the playing field in a way that Magic never could (even with random starter or booster decks).

An example of a Dominion game set up.

The premise is that you are a rich land owner (monarch) during the middle ages who is trying to expand his dominion by buying up new land and property faster and better than your competitors (other players). Gameplay itself is very fast paced, with games tending to last thirty minutes to an hour, depending on the number of people and their familiarity with the flow of the game. I really enjoy the overall theme and quick play style of this title in comparison to some others, as things can start to move very quickly once you know what you’re doing.

Beginning play with a few measly estates and coppers, you then proceed to build up your deck by purchasing land and action cards that allow you to do a wide variety of things, from drawing extra cards to attacking other players, or plan toward the future by upgrading your copper to silver and gold. You have to plan your purchases wisely, however, because each thing that you buy to add to your deck can either serve to aid or hinder you when it comes time to draw them in later turns. Buying too many offensive or utility cards over land can result in you losing the game (because, remember the goal is to increase the amount of land you control), while buying too much land will mean not having enough options or money available to you for making elaborate plays and purchases.

Kingdom/Action cards top left, Land cards top right, and Money bellow.

Even if you don’t have an experienced person around who can teach you first hand, the game can be easily learned in thirty minutes or less by reading the well written directions supplied within the game box. But, of course, it is always more fun to be taught by a friend. Basically, if you can count to twelve, then you should have no problem learning the basics of the game. But, after having said that, I don’t want you to think that the game is lacking in depth, or that a player’s skill doesn’t have any real bearing. This isn’t Munchkin or Zombie Dice, things aren’t completely random, and a veteran Dominion player could easily defeat a complete novice.

So now that you know what Dominion is, we come to our second question: why do I like it so much? Well, the answer isn’t completely black and white, but I will do my best to explain. As I have already alluded to in the beginning of the article, one of the things that I really enjoy about Dominion is that you don’t have to know every single card out of a forever changing and updating catalogue in order to formulate a decent strategy or become good at the game. In Magic, I always feel like so much of the game is based around how good your deck is. It is true that in order for someone to take full advantage of a Magic deck’s capabilities, you need to have at least a basic understanding of the deck’s strategy; but there are no “what the hell is that card?!” moments in Dominion. The cards and strategies being used by other players are all drawn from the same pool of cards, which are constantly visible and accessible to everyone involved. So there is really no cause for complaint or claims of unfair advatages due to excessive spending and research.

Also, the game can have a staggering amount of variety, because players can switch out the ten action cards (known as Kingdom cards within the game) on the play board each time they play the game. Each game has you use ten Kingdom cards, but the core set comes with twenty five to choose from, and there are even more options available now, thanks to the numerous expansions which add even more choices.

There are a number of expansions available. I recommend Sea Side.

Dominion manages to combine the strategy and depth of games like Magic The Gathering with the light hearted and fun play style of group games like Munchkin into one seamless and addictive formula. As soon as you finish playing a game, you will find yourself wanting to go again and again with different sets of kingdom cards. It is a great game to play as you sit and knock back a few beers with your friends. Also, if you and your friends primarily play video games when you hang out (like mine), then this can be a great way to actually get some face to face interaction going, which gets everyone involved with one another instead of staring blankly at split screens. So, if you and your friends are looking for something new to do, why not try Dominion? The smack talk and good times will start flying around in no time, I promise.

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  • Anonymous

    Great article!  My co-workers and I play this and a bunch of other games on http://www.brettspielwelt.de/?nation=en.  It’s free and can give everyone a taste of the game. Thanks Ryan.

    Jeff Jones (thejonesyman) 

  • It is good to know that they are still making fun and high quality card games these days! I was a little worried for the industry after playing citadels but dominion is a lot of fun. Still doesn’t quite beat a good munchkin game though.

  • Have to say tabletop gaming is alive and well.  One of the things that surprised me most about PAX East when I went was the amount of people playing these games.  It’s something I didn’t take advantage of when I was there last time, but will next year.