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Subject: The Fourth Pillar of Boardgaming rss

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Since the turn of the century, the board game industry has been booming. The boom began with the rising popularity of 1995’s The Settlers of Catan, and 2000’s Carcassonne picked up where it left off, introducing gamer’s to a whole new style of board games. A few years later in 2004, Ticket to Ride hit massive popularity as well. Ever since, many games have come and gone but these three remain at the top. No longer are the “big games” Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble and Risk (at least not for gamers), but instead these innovative game-changers became the “Big Three”.
So with those three gateway games taking up the foundation of the newly revived board gaming hobby, what is the fourth cornerstone, the fourth pillar of this foundation? 2008 brought the answer with the highly unique and inventive Dominion (I suppose technically it’s a card game, but I’m not gonna go there). Dominion spread like wildfire across board game tables all over the world. It literally invented its own genre of games and remains as one of the most popular go-to games out there today.
The deck building genre of games was born with Dominion and continues to thrive. The reason for this is because it’s such a clever, organic game mechanism. Dominion laid that groundwork and many games like Thunderstone and Core Worlds have continued with it. However, Dominion is still remains, and always will remain, king. Its impact upon the board gaming world is rare to come across.

Gameplay

Because Dominion is so wide spread and well-known, I’m not going to go into too much detail on how it’s played. But for those who don’t know it, just the basics. In Dominion you are building a “kingdom” of different cards which go into a deck. You can buy action cards using money cards, and eventually you want to buy victory cards which gain you points. Every card you buy gets added into your deck. Every turn you use a hand of five cards drawn from this deck, and when you get to the end you shuffle.
And shuffle. And shuffle. And shuffle some more. Make sure you flex your fingers before you play.
The brilliance with this deck building idea is that there is this constant struggle with trying to make your deck useful so that you always have good 5-card hands, but also buying up the victory cards, which are useless during play, before everyone else does. It makes for a wonderfully balanced game. It also makes for a very quick game; sometimes too quick. Player turns are rapid-fire quick as well, which makes this an attractive game to those who hate waiting.
Another big plus for Dominion is variety. Every game is played with ten possible action cards that you can buy. However, the game comes with 25 different action cards, which gives a total of 3,268,760 possible combinations of action cards. So needless to say, each game is never the same.

Components

Dominion is made up of a whole lotta cards. The cards are well designed with cost values easy to notice and instructions laid out succinctly yet comprehensively. One thing I love about the cards is that different types of cards have different coloured borders around them: victory cards are green, treasure cards are yellow/gold, action cards are white, reaction cards are blue. It adds a lot of visual flare.
For the artwork on the cards, a variety of artists were hired. This offers a mixed bag of styles and quality. Cards like the Village and Adventurer look great, while others like Festival and Militia are a little too cartoony. However, overall I think the different artists idea is a neat touch, even if there are some hits and misses.

Conclusion

Dominion has sent ripples through the board game world, and for good reason. It is a highly innovative game which is easily accessible to players of all types. It is quick to play, easy to learn, and contains a massive amount in variety from one game to the next. These are all qualities that the other massive game changers like Catan and Carcassonne possess as well.
Even though I am giving Dominion my highest recommendation, I feel the need to include this caveat. Be careful of who you play with. Dominion is a game which can lend itself to people who over-analyze the game and can develop strategies which can absolutely destroy you. This of course sucks all the fun out of the game, so avoid these people when you play. This allowance of enjoyment-sapping engine-obsessed players could be seen as perhaps the games only flaw.
Catan, Carcassone, Ticket to Ride, and now Dominion: the four pillars of board gaming. Dominion is certainly a great addition to this group, worthy of its company. The deck building is both interesting and addictive, and the variety of cards keeps you wanting to play again and again. Dominion truly is a force to be reckoned with.


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Darren Price
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What a great review! Please do a lot more - IMMEDIATELY!
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Les Marshall
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RedArmyIan wrote:
However, Dominion is still remains, and always will remain, king. Its impact upon the board gaming world is rare to come across.
Catan, Carcassone, Ticket to Ride, and now Dominion: the four pillars of board gaming. Dominion is certainly a great addition to this group, worthy of its company. The deck building is both interesting and addictive, and the variety of cards keeps you wanting to play again and again. Dominion truly is a force to be reckoned with.


Quite the prounouncement. Seems a bit of overreach to me. The case can certainly be made for Settlers of Cataan which has shown itself to have legs after a MUCH longer run but, even that game can only claim such influence over people inclined to like and play Eurogames and not "boardgaming" as a whole. The game market, however isn't limited to Eurogames.

If you want to crown a card game as king it almost certainly has to be Magic the Gathering which is still going strong and spawned the entire CCG market. It would be fair to argue the success of M:tG created the market for LCG's and deck building games as well. Your best point is that Dominion pioneered the "deck-building mechanic" which has again introduced change to game design.

As for me, Dominion was in and out of my collection extremely quickly. You might say I loathed it. Why? Among other reasons, it is very weak on theme which I value. If you were to strip the art and names from the cards, the unvarnished mechanic would still make the same impact. You could retitle the game and the cards with a space theme, searfaring theme, exploration theme and not need to change the card mechanics one iota.

In addition to absence of theme, the game is far too solitaire in nature for me. The other "pillars" you mention suffer from this as well to a greater or lesser degree. Frankly, I don't get together with a group so we can all play competitive solitaire. Meaningful interaction is too important to my group.

The deck building mechanic IS intriguing. We have already seen a number of new games based around that mechanic (Ascension or Thunderstone) or that have incorporated that mechanic in new ways (A Few Acres of Snow). For this reason, I think Dominion should have a place of note but, it is far too new to claim throne like longevity yet.
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Athos
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RedArmyIan wrote:
...No longer are the “big games” Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble and Risk (at least not for gamers...


You do realize there have been gamers and hobby games long before Settlers of Catan?
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Chris L
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caadamec wrote:
RedArmyIan wrote:
...No longer are the “big games” Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble and Risk (at least not for gamers...


You do realize there have been gamers and hobby games long before Settlers of Catan?


Indeed!

I got started into hobby gaming in the early 70s with the 3m bookshelf games, like Acquire, Image, Stocks&Bonds and a few others.
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Rick Teverbaugh
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I agree on the place you put Dominion. It is a large step apart from CCGs in that it gives the gamer a different type of deck building experience without throwing a fortune down a money pit like all CCGs. Not everyone likes Dominion or any other game for that matter, but only short sighted will deny its place among the great groundbreaking games of all time.
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ian o
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Rulesjd wrote:
RedArmyIan wrote:
However, Dominion is still remains, and always will remain, king. Its impact upon the board gaming world is rare to come across.
Catan, Carcassone, Ticket to Ride, and now Dominion: the four pillars of board gaming. Dominion is certainly a great addition to this group, worthy of its company. The deck building is both interesting and addictive, and the variety of cards keeps you wanting to play again and again. Dominion truly is a force to be reckoned with.


Quite the prounouncement. Seems a bit of overreach to me. The case can certainly be made for Settlers of Cataan which has shown itself to have legs after a MUCH longer run but, even that game can only claim such influence over people inclined to like and play Eurogames and not "boardgaming" as a whole. The game market, however isn't limited to Eurogames.

If you want to crown a card game as king it almost certainly has to be Magic the Gathering which is still going strong and spawned the entire CCG market. It would be fair to argue the success of M:tG created the market for LCG's and deck building games as well. Your best point is that Dominion pioneered the "deck-building mechanic" which has again introduced change to game design.

As for me, Dominion was in and out of my collection extremely quickly. You might say I loathed it. Why? Among other reasons, it is very weak on theme which I value. If you were to strip the art and names from the cards, the unvarnished mechanic would still make the same impact. You could retitle the game and the cards with a space theme, searfaring theme, exploration theme and not need to change the card mechanics one iota.

In addition to absence of theme, the game is far too solitaire in nature for me. The other "pillars" you mention suffer from this as well to a greater or lesser degree. Frankly, I don't get together with a group so we can all play competitive solitaire. Meaningful interaction is too important to my group.

The deck building mechanic IS intriguing. We have already seen a number of new games based around that mechanic (Ascension or Thunderstone) or that have incorporated that mechanic in new ways (A Few Acres of Snow). For this reason, I think Dominion should have a place of note but, it is far too new to claim throne like longevity yet.


Yes, I cannot deny Magic's impact either, but that feels like a whole other beast to me.
You are expressing your personal disappointment in this game and the other pillars and that's fine. I labelled them "pillars" for their widespread popularity and tried to express why they have such popularity. But of course, as with all games, personal taste can always dictate otherwise.
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J. Stimson
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Rulesjd wrote:
the game is far too solitaire in nature for me. The other "pillars" you mention suffer from this as well to a greater or lesser degree. Frankly, I don't get together with a group so we can all play competitive solitaire. Meaningful interaction is too important to my group.


I usually hate people that say this, but for the quadruple insult someone has to say it: You're playing them wrong. All 4 games apparently.

All of these have a great deal of interaction. I'd go so far as to say getting in each other's way is the largest part of Ticket to Ride. Settlers is crap with 2, great with 3 because you need those 3-player trade dynamics. Carcassonne is always getting this from people that don't understand strategy and just want to work on their own stuff, but particularly 2-player it is full of interaction, denying points to your opponent stealing their stuff etc. And Dominion probably receives that criticism most of all, ignoring the ability to end the game on 3-piles or provinces when it is advantageous to you or avoid ending the game when it is not, the race for buying the 10 cards in a pile that both players may need, the calculation of when you need to adjust your strategy to avoid competing with an opponent for the same cards, when to buy Dutchies or Estates which may be sub-optimal but could win or lose you the game depending on what your opponent is doing and, of course, attack cards.

All of these games are quite interactive, but not if you are only playing on the most surface-level strategy obvious after 1 or two plays. Like everything else, they need some time to understand the deeper tactics and strategy.
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Matt E
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Umbrageofsnow wrote:
Settlers is crap with 2, great with 3 because you need those 3-player trade dynamics.


I agree with most of your post, but you can't even play Settlers with 2 players. It says right on the box: "3 or 4 Players".
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J. Stimson
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LastFootnote wrote:
Umbrageofsnow wrote:
Settlers is crap with 2, great with 3 because you need those 3-player trade dynamics.


I agree with most of your post, but you can't even play Settlers with 2 players. It says right on the box: "3 or 4 Players".


The point is, if Settlers were "multi-player solitaire" playercount wouldn't matter!

And regardless of what the box says, I've been talked into playing it two-player (once and only once!)
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Nick Fleece
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RedArmyIan wrote:

Even though I am giving Dominion my highest recommendation, I feel the need to include this caveat. Be careful of who you play with. Dominion is a game which can lend itself to people who over-analyze the game and can develop strategies which can absolutely destroy you. This of course sucks all the fun out of the game, so avoid these people when you play. This allowance of enjoyment-sapping engine-obsessed players could be seen as perhaps the games only flaw.


I disagree with you here. The reason I like Dominion is for its over-analyzing. So I guess I'm one of those people to avoid playing with.
I love to look at a set and try and determine the best strategy. Doing this involves analyzing, and this is really why I like it.
The great thing about Dominion is you can play it the way I like to, or play it more leisurely and its still an enjoyable game.
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For the record, I absolutely believe in your argument of the Fourth Pillar. I'd even have Pandemic up there as the Fifth.

To me, the paradigm or lineage you're referencing has always been clear.

It's not about revenues, or sheer popularity, it's about the hobby of boardgaming and the games that appeal to non-gamers as 'gateways'.

If course you can play gateways forever, but I would argue the unique quality of the PILLARS games is that they aren't lifestyle games like Go, Magic or even genres like wargames or train games, but yet they are still accessible strategy games introducing new people to the hobby.

In my personal experience, the Pillars games have been the most successful inroads for getting family and friends towards playing games with the types of clever, fun and inclusive interactions most older, or lifestyle games, are worse at.
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Les Marshall
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Umbrageofsnow wrote:
Rulesjd wrote:
the game is far too solitaire in nature for me. The other "pillars" you mention suffer from this as well to a greater or lesser degree. Frankly, I don't get together with a group so we can all play competitive solitaire. Meaningful interaction is too important to my group.


I usually hate people that say this, but for the quadruple insult someone has to say it: You're playing them wrong. All 4 games apparently.

All of these have a great deal of interaction. I'd go so far as to say getting in each other's way is the largest part of Ticket to Ride. Settlers is crap with 2, great with 3 because you need those 3-player trade dynamics. Carcassonne is always getting this from people that don't understand strategy and just want to work on their own stuff, but particularly 2-player it is full of interaction, denying points to your opponent stealing their stuff etc. And Dominion probably receives that criticism most of all, ignoring the ability to end the game on 3-piles or provinces when it is advantageous to you or avoid ending the game when it is not, the race for buying the 10 cards in a pile that both players may need, the calculation of when you need to adjust your strategy to avoid competing with an opponent for the same cards, when to buy Dutchies or Estates which may be sub-optimal but could win or lose you the game depending on what your opponent is doing and, of course, attack cards.

All of these games are quite interactive, but not if you are only playing on the most surface-level strategy obvious after 1 or two plays. Like everything else, they need some time to understand the deeper tactics and strategy.


Partner, I've been playing strategy games for over 30 years. By my meter stick the games mentioned above are incredibly light weight and have VERY little in the way of meaningful interaction. Some people prefer that sort of thing and that's okay. But don't try and sell me on the notion that there is a DEEP strategy being missed. Those games aren't Go or Chess.
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RedArmyIan wrote:

Yes, I cannot deny Magic's impact either, but that feels like a whole other beast to me.
You are expressing your personal disappointment in this game and the other pillars and that's fine. I labelled them "pillars" for their widespread popularity and tried to express why they have such popularity. But of course, as with all games, personal taste can always dictate otherwise.


Dominion isn't a boardgame and therefore can't be a pillar of them.

The other games you mentioned are certainly "types" of boardgames (tile laying games being debatable) and have earned their place in the lexicon of popular board games. I've played all of them and they remain in my collection.

However, the games you mentioned are merely popular and don't represent paragon status over the entire world of boardgames. They are often referred to as gateway games for a reason. They are gateways to more advanced and interesting games and a good place to start for the uninitiated. There are far far better rail building games than Ticket to Ride. Similarly, there are far better economic/civilization building games than Settlers. There are probably not, however far better games that offer a simple set of mechanics, play as quickly and offer and introduction to these types of games.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking what is popular now, especially on BGG, is necessarily enduring. Dominion is still far too new to judge its longevity.
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Ian Taylor
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RedArmyIan wrote:
Even though I am giving Dominion my highest recommendation, I feel the need to include this caveat. Be careful of who you play with. Dominion is a game which can lend itself to people who over-analyze the game and can develop strategies which can absolutely destroy you. This of course sucks all the fun out of the game, so avoid these people when you play. This allowance of enjoyment-sapping engine-obsessed players could be seen as perhaps the games only flaw.


I'm really not sure what you mean by this.

When does analysis become 'over analysis'?

What are some examples of strategies that arise from this 'over analysis' as opposed to ones which are just sound and sensible regular analysis?

Isn't the fact that good strategy can consistently overcome buying-of-random-cards-for-the-jollies a point in the game's favour?

Surely matches between players that are vastly mismatched in skill is a problem in any game? Why is Dominion any worse than any other game in this regard?

Are you implying that 'engines' are somehow the de facto superior strategy over everything else? On every board? If not, then what happens when an "enjoyment-sapping engine-obsessed player" comes up against a casual "I don't think too much and only play for the lulz" player on a board not suitable for building engines?

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Dylan Melton
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Rulesjd wrote:

Partner, I've been playing strategy games for over 30 years. By my meter stick the games mentioned above are incredibly light weight and have VERY little in the way of meaningful interaction. Some people prefer that sort of thing and that's okay. But don't try and sell me on the notion that there is a DEEP strategy being missed. Those games aren't Go or Chess.


That you've played for 30 years is all well and good, but it doesn't mean anyone else's experience is less valid. He's right, particularly when it comes to Dominion. A lot of people give up, for example, when they've made up their mind from a limited experience that buying Treasure is usually the best strategy and that make Dominion a lame game, when the facts have easily been established that good strategies beat Big Money all the time. There are no shortage of folks who give up Dominion without understanding how deep the game is. The appraisal of a given Kingdom in Dominion, when deciding how to launch off on a good strategy, that alone is deeper than a lot of other games.

And even though it might not be Go/Chess, a game can still be a complex experience. Two things can be true at the same time.
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