Dominion Game Review

15:26 Tue 01 Dec 2009

Last Saturday I finally got to play Dominion. I gave it to Monika as a present around eleven months ago, but she didn’t deign to play it until now. Thanks to Mike Pollard for showing us how to play. It’s not a particularly complicated game, but almost all games are far easier to learn from someone who’s played them before than from written instructions.

Dominion is a four-player card-based game with a medieval theme; the object of the game is to have the most land at the end. It has some innovations I hadn’t encountered before:

  • Players build their decks as they go along; deckbuilding isn’t a pre-game phase of play but is integral throughout.
  • All players build from a shared card pool each game, and this card pool is potentially different every time, meaning that each game can have quite a different feel.


Typical Dominion layout

Photograph by Trevor Coultart

Each player starts with a 10-card deck consisting of 7 money and 3 land. Land in this game is useless except at the end, when it’s counted up to determine the winner. Money buys things.

The decks are randomized and each player draws five cards.

The turns progress as follows:

  1. Main Phase, in which the player can normally do one of the following in any order:
    • Buy something, using money cards; the “something” is one of the cards from the shared card pool determined at the start of the game, or land, or money.
    • Play an action card from hand.
  2. Cleanup Phase, in which all cards played, or purchased, or left in hand, are placed into the players Discard Pile.
  3. Draw Phase, in which the player draws five cards. If they need to draw and their deck is zero cards, they shuffle their Discard Pile into their deck.

The key is the last point: everything spent, or bought, or unused, is going to end up back in your deck. Determining how to improve the deck is the focus of the game. There are some cards that allow you to interfere with your opponents’ decks as well, but in the games I played this was secondary.

It can take people a while to get used to the basic play concept, which is a fairly unusual one, but once they do the game progresses quickly (unless there are rules questions, but with one exception I thought the rules covered most or less everything). The type of cards in the game alter how long it will take, too—in our second game, there was no way to get an extra buy phase, and this meant that acquisition went quite slowly. Since the game only ends when certain resources have been depleted due to people buying them, this more or less guaranteed a long game. I’m pretty sure most games of Dominion with reasonably rules familiarity wouldn’t take more than 45 minutes.

The rules glitch I encountered was this: what happens if you’re supposed to draw cards (based on an action you’ve played) but not only is your deck empty, but your Discard Pile is also? I couldn’t find an answer to this in the rulebook. (Yes, I was trying to combo out at that point.)

I think it’s an excellent game, but I agree with the other players from Saturday that it has a significant weakness: it’s not all that interactive. While the turns do move quickly, it happens quite often that you can’t really do anything to affect the other players in the game directly. There is a specifically-tailored “interactive” mix of cards to play with that we didn’t try, which might improve matters. In some respects, however, the fact that everything is in each player’s deck makes interactivity harder: there’s not much visible display of each player’s progress or state in the game, and so affecting them often might not feel like it’s particularly interactive.

Apparently Dominion: Intrigue is significantly more interactive than the original, and Dominion: Seaside adds board game pieces, so both of those would probably offset that particular niggle with the game.

Overall I recommend it, but one or both expansions might be necessary if you’re less likely to be fascinated by deck optimization.

3 Responses to “Dominion Game Review”

  1. Jeff Fry Says:

    Glad you finally got to play! I agree that it’s not terribly interactive, but think that there’s more there for strong players than many realize: I often choose my buys based on my opponents’ buys – whether or not to buy offensive or defensive actions, when to focus on victory cards, etc.

    I haven’t played mich with intruige yet, though I liked what I saw so far. One friend said he likes a few of those cards in the base set, but doesn’t think intruige plays as well knots own because you end up with too much interaction. He argues that while folks requested more interaction, adding more in can actually make the game less enjoyable.

    One other thought: I think the decision to make attack cards play against all opponents (instead of targeting a player or card) was a marvelous one. Eliminating “ganging up” makes the game appeal to more folks than it would otherwise.

  2. Lev Says:

    My impression is that Dominion captures and elaborates certain element of Magic the Gathering, particularly drafting and combo playing. Card advantage is the most critical tactical goal. I haven’t played it enough to get a feeling for the deeper strategic elements, but I suspect that with multiple players and the expansion set, interactivity increases. I’d be keen on playing it some more… perhaps we can have a Dominion evening sometime soon.

  3. friedricetheman Says:

    In response to your question in your review regarding what happens when you run out of cards to draw. You do not draw any more cards. If there is no more cards in your deck and your discard pile, you just draw as many as you can and that’s it. You can continue with other actions but when an action card asks you to draw X cards, you just ignore it. Any card you have played so far is put into the active zone so they don’t get to reshuffle back until the cleanup phase at the end of your turn.

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