Ender Wiggins
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Introduction

Dominion is one of the games emerging from Essen 2008 with the most hype. But what is this game really all about? You've heard it is just a card game. In fact, it contains 500 cards! But you've also heard that there's only 25 different cards in the game, with multiple copies of each. What exactly do you get for your money? What's this all about? If you're looking for a review that explains all the game rules, look elsewhere. But if you are wondering what exactly is inside that game box, this review is for you. And if you have the box but are wondering about an easy way to figure out how to make sense of the 500 cards scattered across your living room floor, then this review is for you also.

The Box

Let's begin with the box itself.



The artwork on the front cover is really rather nice, even if the theme is somewhat thin.



Fortunately the back of the box tells us what to expect.



So let’s open the box, and see what’s inside!



There's a rulebook ... and 500 cards.

The Rulebook

The rulebook is nicely laid out, and consists of only 8 pages of straightforward instructions.



So there's no reason to be playing the game in no time! But what about all those cards?

The 500 Cards!

500 cards? Are there really 500 cards? Yup, there sure are! Don’t worry, they won’t be floating around in a mixed up pile when you get the game! You’ll get five shrinkwrapped decks, like this:



It’s quite the massive pile!



Using a standard playing card, we get some idea how high this pile really is:



But when you get the game, the decks will be inside the box insert like this:



If you’re like me, your first reaction will be: “That’s all that's inside?”

Well the answer is … "Yes." But don’t worry, once you sort those cards out, it will look quite different! Here's a breakdown of all 500 cards:



So let’s crack open that shrink wrap and look a little more closely at what’s inside!



You will find a complete card-list here, but please allow me to take you on a guided pictorial tour of the 500 cards in the game!

Cards: Treasure Cards

There are 130 basic Treasure cards, in three different values:



Since the Gold cards are harder to get and only tend to be used towards the end of the game, there are less of those.



Altogether you get 30 Gold, 40 Silver, and 60 Copper.

Cards: Victory Cards

There are 48 basic Victory cards, in three different values:



The higher valued Victory cards cost more to get, and thus there are less of those.



Altogether you get 12 Province cards (worth 6 points each). Not all of them are used in every game - in a two player game you only use 8 Province cards, 8 Duchy cards and 8 Estate cards (plus 3 Estate cards in each players starting deck), whereas in 3-4 player games you use 12 of each.

Cards: Kingdom Cards

These are the heart of the game. There are 25 different ones that come with the game. Only 10 are used each game, meaning that lots of different combinations are possible. Of course, there’s always the possibilities of more cards showing up in expansions… In fact, there’s already word out about an Envoy card.

But here are the 25 different cards that come with the game:

Adventurer, Bureaucrat, Cellar, Chancellor



Chapel, Council Room, Feast, Festival



Gardens, Laboratory, Library, Market



Militia, Mine, Moat, Moneylender



Remodel, Smithy, Spy



Thief, Throne Room, Village



Witch, Woodcutter, Workshop



Cards: Curse Cards

There are 30 Curse cards which give minus points at the end of the game if you have them in your deck.



Ideally you want to find a way to get these in your opponent’s deck to reduce his score, by using cards like the Witch.

Cards: Placeholder Cards

Each of the Kingdom cards has a “placeholder” card, with slightly different coloured artwork – blue instead of brown:



These 25 cards can be shuffled together, so that 10 Kingdom cards can be selected randomly at the start of the game.

There are also blue backed cards for each of the three Treasure cards – I have no idea what these are for, except perhaps to denote the place where the three Treasure piles would go. Why you’d need placemarkers for this is beyond me.

There is one other Placeholder card: the Trash card. This is the only card of which there is a “one-of”, so look after it carefully!



Cards: Blank Cards

The game is screaming for expansions. But meanwhile, if you lose a card or two, or are really desperate enough, the publishers have been thoughtful enough to include 7 blank cards in the event of an emergency.



I’m not quite sure what kind of emergency would require you to use these, perhaps if your 3 month old baby throws up over your Chapel, or some other such disaster. In the mean time, we can use these blank cards to dream about the perfect and ideal hand of five cards…



Organizing the Game: The Box Insert

When you get the game, the cards are in five shrinkwrapped decks, but if you notice carefully, the box insert includes separate slots for small piles of cards:



The small slots are perfect for fitting small piles of ten Kingdom cards of the same sort, which results in a neat organization like this:



And don’t worry, the box is just the right depth: you can put on the lid and turn it upside down and the cards will stay nicely in position!

Wondering how to remember how to find the cards you need? Rio Grande has come to the rescue with a lovely label that you can print and insert inside the middle of the box to help you keep everything organized and find things quickly:



Download it here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/file/info/36376

More information here: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/352990

If you prefer to have an alphabetical arrangement, check out the inlays created by Dick Ruck or by Mark Alston.

Organizing the Game: Card Sleeves

Because of the nature of the game and its innovative deck building mechanic, these cards are going to see a lot of wear, because you’re going to be doing an awful amount of shuffling. Is this a problem? Time will tell how the cards are going to wear. Some folks have given consideration to using card sleeves, as you’ll find discussed here and here.

There is one problem, however: the cards are not the standard size. Here’s a comparison with a standard CCG card:



Here’s a comparison with a poker sized playing card on the left, and a bridge sized playing card on the right:



But there are people who fit them into sleeves one way or another, as you can see:







Sleeving 500 cards is not cheap, and one could put the same money towards replacing the game. Time will tell how durable the cards prove to be.

Gameplay: Theme

The theme, admittedly, is on the thin side, although that really doesn't matter, because it's true of many other euro games, and the real attraction is the gameplay. Here's how the rulebook explains the them:



In simplified terms: rule a kingdom by managing resources to build a deck with as many Victory Point cards as possible.

Gameplay: Set-up

Ten different Kingdom cards are selected, either at random, or according to one of the five recommended sets of 10 (First Game, Big Money, Interaction, Size Distortion, and Village Square) suggested in the rule book. The ten Kingdom cards are placed in piles of ten each. You’ll also need the Trash card, piles of the three different valued Treasure cards for money, and a certain number of Victory cards (depending on the amount of players). For a two player game, the set-up might look something like this:



Each player then takes a starting deck of ten cards (3x Estate, 7x Copper):



You draw five cards each, and you’re set to go!

Gameplay: Overview

For a full explanation of gameplay, other reviewers have already done us a good service with useful summaries of how the game works. The condensed version: the basic gameplay is about building a deck and trying to incorporate as many Victory points as you can.

In turns, players complete three phases:
A. Action phase: play an Action card
B. Buy phase: buy a card
C. Clean-up phase: discard played and unplayed cards, and draw five new cards.

Yes, it's really that simple! As easy as A, B, C! You'll find yourself quickly working through your deck, shuffling up the discards, and rinsing and repeating. Slowly, as the game progresses, your deck will start to take form, and you'll try to put together card combinations that maximize your income and the purchase of victory points - and this is the beauty of the game!



The game ends when one of two things happens:
1. The last 6 point Province card is obtained
2. Three of the Supply card piles are empty

Gameplay: Scoring

Scoring is simple – you just add up the total value of all the Victory points in your deck and discard pile. Here’s an example of a 42 point score from a two-player game:



6x Province cards (36 points) + 1x Duchy (3 points) + 3x Estate (3 points) = 42 points.

Strategy: Interactive Cards

For the most part the game is about managing your resources well, trying to optimize the cards in your deck to maximize the possibility of drawing good cards, and exploiting synergy and relationships between cards. It's arguably multi-player solitaire for the most part, but there is some interaction, especially when using the five Attack cards:



There is however a defence against these attack cards, The Moat. It's one of only two Kingdom cards that have coloured panels:



There's a useful strategy article on these interactive cards right here.

Strategy: Curses!

Imagine drawing five cards like this:



A rather nightmarish thought, to be sure. Here’s a much more pleasant thought, however: imagine your opponent draws five cards like that? "Ah", you say, "that sounds better!" Absolutely it does! And here’s how to do it:



Yes, the Witch. And it only gets better when you find another card to combo the Witch with… but I'll leave that for you to figure out for yourself!

Strategy: The Chapel deck

And then there is the Chapel, a favorite card for many.



Some would argue that it is so powerful that it's broken, and play without it. You can read an article on the Chapel deck if you really want to find out more, but it's probably more fun trying to figure out how to maximize this card to your advantage on your own! (hint: thin your deck of weak cards...)

Here's an example of a Chapel deck from the end of a two player game - there are only 13 cards, but a winning score of 30 points!



Note that when you're not using a Chapel strategy, your deck will usually be considerably larger by the end of the game, and would most likely contain at least three Estate cards (1VP each), and much more Treasure (several Copper, Silver, and Gold cards).

Strategy: Other Ideas

There are lots of other ideas to try. You might try getting extra money, using the extra actions and other benefits from the Market card. Imagine the possibilities from a hand like this!



Ideally you want to try to find cards that combo well together, and maximize the potential that results from card interaction. To me, that is the most fun part of the game. Want more strategy ideas? Head over here, but remember that it’s usually more fun to try figuring things out on your own first!

Conclusion

So there you have it. In my mind, Dominion is a great game when it's judged for what it is. It's no Agricola, but it's not intended to be a meaty main course, enjoyed slowly over the course of an evening, with much chewing required on the part of those who undertake its consumption. Dominion is more like fast food: quick, and addictive. Whether it will have staying power remains to be seen - although the eventual release of expansions will undoubtedly help its cause. I should confess to loving the deck-building and gameplay of CCGs, and this has the feel of all of that in 20-30 minutes.

My thoughts?
Pros: scales well, interesting decisions, synergistic card combos, quick play-time, good replayability, unique mechanics and gameplay
Cons: luck element, lots of shuffling, thin theme, minimal interaction

Overall, the pros more than outweigh the cons, and for me the cons are mostly insignificant (although I'd concede that this is largely a matter of personal taste). The unique mechanics, interesting decisions and potential for synergistic play, combined with quick game-play and remarkable replayability/variety all really make this game the success that it is proving to be. Overhyped? Maybe, and perhaps somewhat unfortunately so. Because only time will tell whether the game can maintain its current momentum and what people will be saying about it in five years from now. But there's no doubt that Dominion is something special.



Acknowledgement: More than half of the pictures above are my own photos. However, I should credit the fine efforts of several other contributors whose images I have included, especially monteslu.

Edit: Corrections made as suggested by Firepigeon and jeffwolfe.

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Manuel Pombeiro
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EndersGame wrote:
Altogether you get 12 Province cards (although not all of them are used in every game, e.g. in a two player game you only use 8 Province cards), 12 Duchy cards, and 24 Estate cards.


Great review, but let me put straight a little misleading info in here: on a 2-player game you put on the table 1 stack of 8 cards each of Estate, Duchy and Province; on a 3 or 4-player game you put on the table 1 stack of 12 cards each of Estate, Duchy and Province. the reason for 24 estate cards is that on a 4-player game each will start with 3 Estate cards on the deck, plus there's a stack of 12 estate cards on the table.
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Железный комиссар
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EndersGame, you blow my mind.
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J C Lawrence
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500 penny sleeves at $1/100 cost $5.
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Peter Marchlewitz
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Awesome pictorial review.
It is cheap to sleeve... $5.00 and 45 minutes time.
Five minutes for the tray modification which is easy to do.



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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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clearclaw wrote:
500 penny sleeves at $1/100 cost $5.


I tried those sleeves, they lasted all of two days of play before creasing and tearing. Not worth it.
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Donald Cleary
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jschlickbernd wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
500 penny sleeves at $1/100 cost $5.


I tried those sleeves, they lasted all of two days of play before creasing and tearing. Not worth it.


What are you doing, trying to stab people with them? I have well used penny sleeves that have lasted years.
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Galen
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Yeah i have penny sleeves that lasted me for 5 or 6 years of playing magic.
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Brandon Pennington
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Insightful and very well done! Thanks! I really hadn't had much interest in the game until reading this
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Patrick Runyan
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galeninjapan wrote:
Yeah i have penny sleeves that lasted me for 5 or 6 years of playing magic.


My penny sleeves lasted me about a month but still worth it I think simply to ease shuffling (and they marginally make the cards harder to bend/scratch).

I think climate can play a factor as well. I played Magic in the dry climate of Idaho and now I use sleeves in the dankness of Tokyo... I can tell a difference but haven't used the sleeves long enough to know what the climate does to them or the cards.

Finally, regarding the review, the size comparisons are nice, but in the end it's the measurements that are most meaningful. What are the millimeter dimensions of the cards?
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ruvion .
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a whole lot...
If a single picture tells a thousand words...then what does a set of 46 pictures would tell you? A whole of words, I'd say.

Great review.
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Dave B
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Well, I was contemplating buying this before I saw this article...

Now I gotta have it....
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Jeff Wolfe
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Zendo fan, Columbus Blue Jackets fan, Dominion Fan. These are 'permanent microbadges' to free up space on my microbadge row
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EndersGame wrote:
The game ends when the last 6 point Province card is bought, or when three of the Kingdom card piles are empty.


This is not quite correct. The three-pile rule applies to any three piles, not just the Kingdom card piles (i.e. Curse, Estate, Duchy, Copper, Silver, and Gold all count for ending the game).

Also, you might want to consider using a different word than "bought", because you don't have to acquire the last Province in the Buy phase (you can use an Action such as Remodel).
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Matt Burns
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One of the greatest reviews I've ever seen. Wonderful job on the pictures, it really helps to get a feel for the game for those who do not play.

I even own the game and found myself hooked, reading through the article.

Thanks!
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Sebastian
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EndersGame wrote:
In the mean time, we can use these blank cards to dream about the perfect and ideal hand of five cards…


Every card game should have that!

I realize again: I like Dominion (only played online yet) - not sure if I love it.

But I definetly don't like most of the Artwork. Starting from the cover and the illustrations on the cards to the back of the cards...
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Tiago Nunes
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TermiGator wrote:
EndersGame wrote:
In the mean time, we can use these blank cards to dream about the perfect and ideal hand of five cards…


Every card game should have that!

I realize again: I like Dominion (only played online yet) - not sure if I love it.

But I definetly don't like most of the Artwork. Starting from the cover and the illustrations on the cards to the back of the cards...


Funny, I find a lot of people with this opinion of the artwork. Though I admit the art isn't a masterpiece, I really like the game images. They remind me of the early days of Magic the gathering art, which although they weren't very spectacular had something which today's cards lack.
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ŁṲÎS̈
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F*** it! Do it LIVE!
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Didn't know what to spend all this sweet GG on, so I bought the overtext.
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Great review!

Many thanks for the picture acknowledgment, ender.


I think I only got to post them because I got the game a few days before you
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Josko Tosic
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I'm expecting to receive my copy of Dominion this week... but even if I hadn't already ordered it, I would have done that after reading this great review... we should see more of reviews like this one for other games.
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Jacob
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I'm not that intrigued by Dominion, but the amount of time and effort to put together the review you wrote is very impressive! You get a thumb from me despite my ambivalence toward Dominion =)
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Werner Bär
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EndersGame wrote:
The higher valued Victory cards cost more to get, and thus there are less of those.

At the start of the game, there is an equal number of victory point cards available - 12 of each type (8 in a two player game).
There are more estates in the deck than other points cards because up to 12 (4 players) are needed for the starting decks.
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Dice Hate Me
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The boardgame blog with worse luck than you! dicehateme.com
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Absolutely awesome, and much appreciated. I've been hearing and reading about Dominion for quite awhile now, but have never really quite understood what everyone was talking about. Your pictures and clear overview really put the pieces together for me. Bravo.
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Ronster Zero
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Damn, I only have one thumb to give for such a great review.
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Tony Ackroyd
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ronster0 wrote:
Damn, I only have one thumb to give for such a great review.

No, you can give 2 - one in the header of the article and one at the bottom of it!
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Ender Wiggins
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ronster0 wrote:
Damn, I only have one thumb to give for such a great review.

If you deem one thumb insufficient, I will be glad to receive donations of GeekGold tips in lieu of more thumbs.
If your GeekGold balance is insufficient, I will be glad to receive thumbs to this post in lieu of GeekGold.
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Aaron Frede
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I dont actually have the game .... yet hehe.... but from the look of the size of the cards if anyone is looking for something more solid to sleeve them in and protect them i would go to your nearest gaming store that deals in card games and ask them if they have Yu-gi-oh sized sleeves and see if those work, they are a lot more expensive but they should last a long long time.
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