19 March 2011

Board Game Review: Dominion

This isn't strictly a board game review, because it's not really a board game. It's a card game, but the cards are arranged in a very novel fashion, so it's more like a board game than most.

We'll start with the ratings:
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take.
Strategy: 3
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None.
Attractiveness: Useful
Expected Length of Game Play: 30 minutes to an hour
The idea behind this game is that you're a lord of a medieval or fantasy kingdom, trying to build up your influence and power such that you have a greater realm than the other players. All of this is accomplished through the various cards.

Before I describe the cards, I want to point out what I thought was an ingenious reversal of the normal arrangement of game play. With most card games of this type, you start with all the cards shuffled together into one or two decks, possibly three or four, but from these decks, the players draw their cards and sort them into the various types. Dominion is the opposite. It's the first of what came to be called a 'deck builder' game.

Game starts with each card in its own stack (so, for example, all the 'workshop' cards are in one stack whilst all the 'militia' cards are in another stack, and so forth). Through the course of the game, players purchase these cards and shuffle them together to create their own deck.

There are three categories of cards: action, treasure, and victory points. You start the game with seven bronze treasure cards (each worth one treasure point) and three estate cards (each worth one victory point). These ten cards form your deck, from which you draw five cards to form your hand. The victory points don't do much for you at the beginning of the game, but you'll want to start buying them eventually.

In the meantime, the treasure cards are used to purchase action cards, larger treasure cards, or victory points cards. On your turn, you get to play one action card (certain cards allow you to gain extra actions in a turn). Then you get to purchase a single card (some action cards increase the amount of cards you can purchase in that turn) of any type. Then you discard all the cards remaining in your hand and draw five new cards.

Now before you think, 'That's a waste of cards,' you must realise that when you exhaust your deck, you reshuffle your discard pile and start drawing from this new deck. So when you're spending a treasure card to buy, for example, a larger treasure card, you're only discarding that treasure card for the time it takes to get through your deck again. Thus, what starts out as a small deck of only ten cards is actually allowing you to slowly increase in both number and variety of cards. So the game basically boils down to using the cards in the deck to add more cards to that deck in the most efficient manner possible.

Once three different stacks of cards are exhausted, or the 'province' cards (the victory point cards worth 6 victory points each) are exhausted, the game ends, and whichever player has the most victory points in his deck is declared the winner.

The game is fun, in a planning-for-the-future sort of way. In my opinion, the only problem with the game is that there's not a lot of interaction between the players. In the basic game (which is the version I played), the only time the actions of one player affect any other player is if someone plays a militia card, which forces all other players to discard two cards. This means that when it's not your turn, there's not much reason to pay attention to what other players are doing. But that can be an advantage; the game is great for playing whilst the telly is on, for example. The player who's turn it is can do his thing whilst everyone else watches TV, and when he's done, he indicates to the next player that it's his turn. The other player needn't worry about having missed anything.

There are other deck-builders that have been published since this one which expand on the idea in innovative ways. I'm sure I will talk about them more in the future. Until then, keep playing games, and remember to

Game on!

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