On Gamer's Games

Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games
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Revisiting Eminent Domain

Jesse Dean
United States
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
Microbadge: I have more previously owned games than owned gamesMicrobadge: Out for blood - I play without mercyMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGG
In addition to being a big fan of the grand, meaty board games after which this blog is named, I also have a strong appreciation for another sort of game that is popular on this site: combo-building card games. I feel that these games share some of the best features of the meatier gamers’ games, and because of this I would much rather play them then almost any other lighter/shorter game in existence. When something like Hansa Teutonica proves itself strong enough for me to want to play it over one of these card games, then it is a pretty solid accomplishment, and I reward it with an appropriately high rating. So because of this, I tend to try most of the new combo-building card games that are released. Deck-builders are slightly less likely to see play because so far I’ve only found one example of the genre that I’ve liked, but I’ve still managed to try a lot of them. For reference, here are my current ratings for these games:

From gallery of doubtofbuddha

* This one is currently undergoing review. It may become a 9.
** I only played this one once. Consider this rating preliminary. Though I may never play it again.

So I played a few games of Eminent Domain back at BGG.Con 2010. While I thought the first few games of interesting, I ultimately decided to dismiss it as uninteresting and probably not worth my time. This is what I said back then in my entry for New To You Games for November 2010:

“Eminent Domain, by Seth Jafee, is a meaty card game that shares some lineage from Dominion, Race For the Galaxy, and, most noticeably, Glory to Rome. I went to BGG.Con with the expectation that I would play it, like it, and pre-order it through the Kickstarter program. That did not happen.

Eminent Domain is centered on role cards, each of which serves both as a tool for performing an action as well as a means to lead with a role or follow someone else’s role. These cards generally serve to allow a player to add planets from the draw deck into the play area in front of them, claim these planets to get their benefits produce and harvest resources for victory points, or research new technologies that give special action powers and cards that are available for multiple roles.

On each turn, a player optionally plays a card for an action, leads in a role, thus adding a card of that role to the deck, discards any cards from their hand, and draws new cards until they hit their hand limit. This repeats itself over and over again until the game comes to a completion by either depleting the victory point pool or until a number of decks run out based on the number of players.

I found my plays of Eminent Domain to be enjoyable, but a bit repetitive. I am sure that there are all sorts of interesting strategies to be found in the game, but the lack of character in the cards, particularly in comparison to the games which it is similar to, held me back from really liking the game. With all of the other meaty card games that I own and like (7 Wonders, Innovation, Glory to Rome, Race For the Galaxy), and the amount of time I currently spend on these sorts of card games (not much), it just doesn’t belong in my collection...”

I rated the game a 5, and expected I would probably not play it again. That proved to be an incorrect assumption, largely because a review copy has arrived at our game store, allowing us to play it at will and people have been generally interested in exploring it. I’ve since played it six more times across player counts and my opinion of it has improved mildly. I am still not going to get a copy, but my reason for doing it is a bit different then it was before.

So first off, I no longer feel the game is particularly repetitive. Deck composition, and technology card purchases have a pretty big impact on how the game plays out, and further play has allowed me to develop a further appreciation for mixed strategies and how to properly take advantage of the produce consume cycle. I’ve spent most of my recent games focusing more on fast colonization strategies, but even with that there has been plenty of variation in how the game plays out based on the above noted sources of variation. So as I implied in my initial comment, there are interesting strategies to be found in the game, and I have been slowly and steadily finding them. Thus I have raised Eminent Domain’s rating to a 6.

Why only a 6? Well, while I find the decisions to be found in Eminent Domain to be more interesting than I initially thought, it lacks one of the things that I think really sets my favorites apart from the rest, and that is the ability to really cut loose and, through careful preparation and manipulation of the deck, do pretty crazy and amazing things. Innovation and Glory to Rome have these wild and crazy things built into their DNA, Puzzle Strike implements thanks to how the deck-building interacts with the fighting system and the wonderful cascades that result, Yomi can have wild swings in fortune that are built on a combination of proper planning and leading your opponent into believing the situation is under their control when it really is not, and Race For the Galaxy pulls it off thanks to the sheer wildness of the variety of things you can do in the game. Eminent Domain has some of this in a few of the upper level technology cards, but for the most part it is a bit restrained. It feels like it is tacked on the end of the game rather than written into the game’s DNA itself like it is for these other card games that I prefer.

Compared to most of the other card games I’ve played, a 6 is not bad. As of now its ranked sixth of seventeen card games, and has little likelihood of going down. I fully expect to play it more, as I do not mind it and it is fairly popular at game night right now. Who knows, maybe it will grow on me even more over time? Then again, I still haven't tried 51st State and I have some new people I haven't taught these other card games to yet... So we'll see what happens.
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