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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Review: Dominion--a really fun card game

So, now that the semester's over, it's time for some...well...time to shift gears for me, which includes now having time to blog again! Having some free time to myself, I had the unexpected opportunity to play a game called Dominion. After only two games of it, I'm incredibly impressed by not only the pacing but the strategy of the game.

The Overview
When it comes down to it, Dominion is a sort of CCG (Collectible Card Game), but with a unique twist. In Dominion, each player builds their deck during gameplay, from a common pool of cards of many different types. There are 25 different kinds of action cards (called "kingdom" cards), and each game features 10 of those cards, each with their own stack to pull from. Each card changes the rules of the game, and has a specific cost. Along with the action cards are money cards (used to buy things) and point cards (all point cards in your deck are scored at the end of the game).

On your turn, you already have five cards in hand. You have one action to take, and one purchase to make, although some cards can increase those numbers, such as the incredibly powerful Village card (lets you draw a card and take two more actions). You can purchase additional money cards, additional kingdom cards, or additional point cards, placing all purchased cards in the discard pile. When you end your turn, you discard your hand and draw five more cards.

Cycling Like the Tour de France
"Wait!" you may say. "Discard them? What kind of game is this, will all that discarding?"

The answer lies in what is perhaps the strongest mechanic of the game: its heavy emphasis on card cycling. When you run out of cards in your draw deck, you shuffle the discard pile, and then reconstitute your deck from that. In other words, even though you're discarding any cards you buy, and you're discarding your hand, you can expect to see those cards soon. Because you're drawing five new cards every turn (and then discarding them all, decks will cycle quickly, especially when you throw in card-drawing actions and actions which discard cards from your deck.

This is a beautiful aspect of the game. The feel of burning through your deck again and again is one of the funnest parts of it. It's great to get to the end of your deck, and to shuffle your deck, which has by now grown a little from your purchases. Cycle well, and you'll keep getting the cards you need.

Other Cool Stuff
This is also one of the few games which elegantly balances the question of victory points. Here, victory points help you win in the end: whoever has the most of them wins. Unfortunately, victory points also take up space in the deck, and do nothing. So, if you want more victory points, your actions will also be limited, and you'll risk being outpaced by people who generate more money, and are able to quickly buy cards worth lots of victory points.

Player interaction here is not as obvious, with the exception of a few fun cards like the Bureaucrat, but it's still there, particularly because all of the players are competing over limited resources--and when three of the 10 Kingdom Card piles have been depleted, the game ends (alternatively, when the Provinces, victory cards worth 6 points each, are gone). What strikes me as the most interesting is how each player dynamically builds their deck to respond to the other players' decks. Instead of independently built decks clashing against one another, the decks are heavily interwoven.

It Looks Pretty, Too
What can I say? The game is also very well visually designed. The template on the different cards is actually quite similar...but the colors are remarkably different. Victory points are green, money is yellow, and events are gray, except for the single defensive event (Moat), which is appropriately blue. This lets you on a glance gauge the state of your hand, balancing it between actions (which do stuff, but which can't always be done), money (which you need to buy stuff) and points (which are worthless in your hand).

The instructions on the cards are very simple to read, combining symbols with keywords, and the special abilities on each card are delineated differently enough to make it an easy read. Oh, and did I mention there's a pretty good bunch of art, too? The game just plain looks really nice.

In the End
I wanna play this game again. It rocks. Nothing more can really be said. Oh, and did I mention that it would make for an interesting combat mechanic?

6 comments:

  1. My anime club is pretty hooked on this game; we have all three versions of it (Dominion, Dominion Intrigue, and Dominion Seaside). The gameplay mechanics are shot to hell with some of the new cards, but everything is usually pretty balanced.

    Just as I was finishing up my own post on Dominion, I see your tweet. Nice coincidence :D

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  2. Nice. We were of the opinion that Village is pretty heavy-powerful, too. Almost a staple card.

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  3. I have had a string of bad luck, I guess. I just can't seem to get into the card/board games. It's a shame, because my secondary group always plays them when one of us is out for the night. Maybe I'm not a good strategististist.

    -Tourq

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  4. I dunno. Some of them require a certain mindset. Once you've nailed down what the central point of the game is, you can develop strategies around that.

    Try working backward from your goal. i.e., figure out what your eventual goal is. Then figure out what game mechanics you need to immediately achieve that goal. Then figure out what you need to do to pave the way, etc., until you have a plan of action.

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  5. I love Dominion. My 7-year-old and I play it regularly and he picked up the rules very quickly although he's still working on his strategy. What I especially like is the way the various cards interact with each other which creates an almost limitless level of variation in the game and allows for an enormous variation in strategies as well.

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  6. Yeah, something I had mentioned with a friend while playing is that when you deal out 10 different Kingdom cards, you can often end up with an entirely different game. I love that.

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