Thursday, 27 November 2008


Dominion is one of the hot new games in the hobby, often described as an innovative game where you do deck building as part of the game. Because of how much I enjoyed Race for the Galaxy, when I heard about an upcoming card game with some depth, I quickly became interested. Dominion is a very different game from Race for the Galaxy, but I guess they tend to get compared because both are card games with some depth.

I first played Dominion with Ben and Ah Chung, in Hong Kong. We almost didn't play it, because Ben was immediately turned off when he heard the theme. His comment was something like "not another one of those themes". I was only able to catch their attention when I remarked that this is one of the hottest new games. Later, Ben told me that among the many games played over that weekend in Hong Kong, this was his favourite. I was surprised. I should try to play this with him and Ah Chung on BSW.

In Dominion, everyone starts with a same personal deck of 7 copper ($1) cards and 3 estate (1VP) cards, shuffled. During the game, you buy cards and gradually grow and modify your personal deck of cards. There are three types of cards in the game. Treasure cards are your income. I think of them as businesses you own (which generate income) and not as money, because when you use them to buy something, you don't lose them. You discard them into your personal discard deck, and later you will reshuffle them back into your personal draw deck. Next, victory cards. These are victory points. They do nothing but clog up your deck, but at game end, only they matter. You need to buy these cards. Lastly, action cards, and this is where the fun comes in. There are 25 types of action cards, and 10 cards for each type. In any game, only 10 types are used. These action cards allow you to do all sorts of things, e.g. drawing more cards, having more buying power, forcing your opponents to discard cards, etc.

A turn is very simple. You will have a hand of 5 cards. By default, you are allowed to use one action card (play from your hand), and you are allowed to buy one card (use treasure cards from your hand to buy any card displayed face-up at the centre of the table). After you do both, discard all used and unused cards and newly bought cards to your personal discard deck, and draw 5 new cards in preparation for your next turn. Of course, some action cards will allow you to do more than one action, some will allow you to buy more than one card, and many will allow you to do many other interesting things.

The game ends when the province cards (6VP victory cards) run out, or any three stacks of cards run out. Then you count all victory cards in your draw deck and discard deck to determine the winner.

I find Dominion a very interesting game. So far I have only played a few games, mostly with the set-up (i.e. the combination of 10 types of action cards) recommended for new players. There is a lot more to explore, and I think I will get many more plays of this game. However despite the innovation, Dominion gives me one very familiar feeling which I have seen in many Euro games - earning money / building your engine in the earlier part of the game, and then pick the right moment to switch focus to earning victory points for the remainder of the game. St Petersburg gives such a feeling very strongly. This is a disappointment for me, because this feels very formulaic to me. I get that "just another Euro game" feeling. I seem to be doing the same thing that I have done in many other Euro games, except this time I do it via an innovative mechanism. The reason I feel this way is probably because I don't have a good grasp on strategy and pacing yet. That's why that familiar Euro feel is the first thing that stands out to me. I think I have been playing rather poorly and inefficiently, and I keep underestimating how quickly the game ends. I did try to execute some strategies, but none seemed to be very effective.

Teaching Han to play Dominion. His first game, my 3rd, but he beat me decisively. Man... I suck at this game. Hopefully not for too much longer.

Left row is the victory point cards. Middle row is the treasure cards or money cards. Right rows are the action cards (a.k.a. kingdom cards).

My hand of cards, and my discard deck, with the Village card on top. I like the Village card.

I still have high hopes for Dominion, and I believe I'll have much more fun once I start to grasp the strategies. By then there will be a lot to explore, with the many possible combinations of action cards (actually they are called kingdom cards). I think Dominion is meant to be a succint and tight game, not necessarily quick, but every decision that you make should be important - what action to do, and especially what card to buy. Every decision needs to be coherent with your strategy. I have been playing poorly in that I don't really know how to make my cards create synergy. But I had one chance to experience first hand how a well built deck can deliver a super high scoring turn. It was my own turn. I didn't really know what I was doing when I built my deck, so it was a fluke, a wonderful fluke. In that game against Ben and Ah Chung, I was very far behind and had not been able to buy many province (6VP) cards. Then suddenly on one turn when I had a number of Village cards (they give +1 card and +2 actions), I kept drawing more cards and getting more and more actions. I think I had some Smithy cards (+3 cards), and I had some Remodel cards (trash, i.e. permanently discard to a central trash pile, a card to gain another card costing up to $2 more). I used my Remodel cards to trash some gold cards ($3) of cost $6 to gain province cards (6VP) of cost $8. I think I gained 3 province cards on that one turn, i.e. 18VPs. I still lost the game, but I come from a distant 3rd to 2nd position. And this wonderful turn demonstrated how exciting Dominion can be.

So. I need to play more.


Anonymous said...

I played a number of games online. I was addicted initially but after a couple of games, the decisions become rather obvious. Only certain action cards are worth buying and the use of the cards in hand become obvious and methodical. $4 buy silver or decent action card. $5 - action card $6 - gold, $8 - province. Much more tactical than strategic. Contemplated getting game initially but the more I play, the more I realized that this is something I can live off just playing on BSW.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I haven't even reached that stage yet. :-) But hopefully there will be some opportunities for exploration in the card combos and synergies. Maybe there will be a strategic element in how you construct your deck. Perhaps (and I hope) it's not just tactical decisions required at each turn.

Aik Yong said...

I too foresee that the suggested setup might limit the obvious purchases to a few cards. And on the Geek itself, someone had put up a poll of the cards that you will always want to buy.

However, with the ability to draft the starting kingdom cards or to randomise it entirely, there's still a measure of replayability to the game.

Even Race has some predictability in that you'll see the same cards/combos coming out after awhile. But, the whole process of reaching there is FUN and invigorating.

Dominion does favor the CCG-minded players and even myself start to think in terms of card advantage and cycling ability instead of the "+ 3 cards" and "+ 3 actions" of Dominion. Magic has been around for more than a decade and the mathemathics behind the game that are honed to perfection can be applied to Dominion.

But, playing Dominion is still FUN.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I have never played Magic the Gathering before, or any CCG or deck building games (I have played Blue Moon but have not experimented with deck building). Recently I obtained a themed Magic starter set as a free gift when I purchased Ticket To Ride Nordic Countries at a game store in Hong Kong. It has two preconstructed decks, so it is a complete playable game. The theme is the Three Kingdoms period of China. I have read through the rules, and hope to play it one day. But of course no deck building there as I don't see myself getting into Magic. But no harm trying it out.