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Dave Lartigue
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[Note: this was originally posted on my blog which is why I do a bit more explaining of things than might seem necessary.]

Another Essen (location of “Spiel”, the massive boardgaming convention in Europe that showcases all the hot new releases) has come and gone, and gamers are now sifting through the offerings, seeing what’s essential and what’s not. I’ve only played a few of the Essen releases so far: Flussfieber, which was fun; Steel Driver, which is a nice quick Martin Wallace game that I fear no one will play because why not just play Age of Steam?; and Comuni, which is a dry, flavorless, pointless shuffling about of cubes, explaining how it came in third in the Essen rankings. Last night, though, I played Dominion, which is the Essen game everyone’s talking about.

Dominion is tough to explain because it’s a fairly novel concept. There are ten cards available for purchase (chosen from about 25 total cards). There are also money cards and VP cards, which can also be purchased. Each player starts with 3 VP cards (1 VP each) and 7 gold cards (1 gold each). This is his deck. On each of his turn he has a hand of five cards to work with. VPs are victory points…they do nothing except help you win the game at the end. Money is money and lets you buy other cards. The other cards give you actions you can perform — things like drawing more cards to your hand to work with, giving you more actions to perform, giving you more chances to buy, giving you extra money, and so forth. The idea is that you play your hand, buy what you want, and then discard it all, drawing the next five cards from your deck to work with on your next turn. If you run out of cards you reshuffle your discards. So you constantly cycle through a deck of cards you’re adding more cards to.

It’s tricky because although you want Victory Point cards, they don’t DO anything. Drawing a handful of them in the mid-game is useless, because you can’t take any actions or get anything with them. So you want to make sure you’re not clogging up your hand with too many of them. Likewise with gold. A hand of five 1 Gold cards will let you buy something that costs five, but that’s all you’ll be able to do with it. Compared to what the other action cards do, that’s pretty weak.

I was a little wary of Dominion going in, I have to admit. The previous OMG MUST HAVE game from the last Essen was Agricola, which turns out to be a game I can easily live without. I found it to be a pretty pedestrian worker-placement game and not the life-changing experience it seems to be for so many gamers. From what I had heard, Dominion suffered from the same problem a lot of games seem to have, a lack of interaction. Eurogamers have a hard time with games that allow one player to interfere with another’s plans (unless it’s via an auction), so it’s not unusual to have a situation like in the game Notre Dame, where there are three other players at the table, but your main competition is black cubes that are supposed to be rats. Another game that has caused pants-tightening in Eurogamers is Race for the Galaxy, and you can play that thing over a telegraph, it has so little player interaction. So I wasn’t excited about yet another game of, as the boardgame wits call it, “multi-player Solitaire”.

Dominion is a strange beast. It’s novel, and its mechanic is pretty interesting, but it is a “mechanic”. That is, there is little interaction (though there is some, and it can get nasty at times) so you’re mostly doing your own thing. You can certainly try different strategies towards victory, but tactics usually don’t much matter. On your turn, it is usually pretty clear what you will want to do. In fact, you often don’t have that many options. (It is entirely possible that with more plays this changes greatly. Since it is, at its heart, an “engine” game, it’s likely that better engines provide more options earlier.) Turns go very quickly, and in fact as soon as you draw your new hand at the end of your turn you’re usually pretty sure what you’re going to do with it.

Mike, Dan, Jim, and I played two games, and although we misplayed a key rule in the first game, it was simply a rule about when the game ends, so it didn’t change a whole lot. The first game we played with the “Starter Game” card sets, and the second was one of the other recommended card sets. In the second one were more interactive and nasty cards, though it was interesting that although we all went nuts with one of them early on, we soon realized that it wasn’t that great of a play. It screwed with others and got you cash, but at the cost of not being able to do much of anything else. Also, it became less successful as the game went on. The other interactive card I hit on early, and in my opinion it was much better, though I still lost.

Perhaps the biggest indicator that, novel as it is, you’re still playing a Eurogame, is that the point spreads at the end were very tight (I think 8 points or so was the larger of the two games). Eurogame designers are so scared of making unbalanced games that they balance them to an absolute fault, often with absurd methods for preventing runaway leaders and hopeless losers. As a result, one often wins a typical Eurogame by only a handful of points. In addition, the winner was always something of a surprise to everyone. In both games I did much more poorly than I thought I was doing. Even if you can identify a leading player there isn’t anything I’m aware of that you can do to him — every card I saw that messed with other players messed with ALL other players. So there’s no question it’s a Euro design — your options are helping yourself or hurting all others, nothing in between. (Again, I’m sure that with more plays you can develop a better idea of who’s in the lead, but without different cards the knowledge won’t help much.)

It’s definitely ripe for expansions, and that’s where I think the game will really shine. There’s a LOT of potential here. Mike said that he finds the game dry and not very compelling, though he admires the design. He says he thinks someone else will come along and use the idea for a better game, which is possibly true. I liked it more than he did, and I think that within two expansions there will be a whole lot more “there” there. Dan loved it (and I think Jim really liked it too) and thought it might be a stellar two-player game, which I think he is probably right about.

I would rate it a 7, I think, and that could possibly go higher once I’ve played more and with different card sets. It’s not something I feel I need to own at the moment, but I’ll happily play it. It still seems like there’s something missing — Mike said it’s got no “heart” — which isn’t a bad, if vague, description. It feels very mechanical to me, as I said above. If it seems I’m being a little harsh on a game I rate fairly high, you’re not wrong, and I can’t really explain why that is. It could be because the games are fairly short, so it almost feels like I only got a preview of the game, even though I played it twice. It’s not an easy one to wrap my head around, but I’ll enjoy getting more chances to do so.
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Ian McCarthy
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Let me just preface by saying that I haven't had the pleasure of playing this game yet, so if you hate to read speculative comments, then just skip to the next post.

This is a refreshingly different review of Dominion. Thanks so much for writing it. I'm still really interested in the game, but I think my gaming group will have the same ho-hum response that you have to the game.

I'm a Magic player, so I like the illustration above text style, modeled after Magic, look of the cards. But I've looked at the Dominion cards over and over again and I find that the flavor is really lacking for me. Also, when you look at this image, with the caption "all cards":



I think that most Magic players would, like me, say, "that's it?" I was really surprised that there was such a small number of unique cards for a 500 card game. But I guess that's an unfair comparison to Magic, which has always had at least hundreds of unique cards.

Regarding the interactivity and potentially overly mechanical nature of the cards themselves, a few cards look pretty interesting, like the Thief, the Moat and the Library, but many of them say something like "+1 Buy, +2 Gold" or "+1 Card, +2 Actions." There isn't even any corny flavor text to give them a bit of character or even just to better link them to their card names. The cards that match those bland actions are the "Woodcutter" and the "Village."

To sum up, I'm still on the fence about this one and I'm really glad to hear a review that seemed to better match how my current gaming group feels about games.

And I thought you explained the game sequence very clearly and succinctly, so thank you again.
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Bruce Baskir
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For the most part I agree with the caution against "multi-player solitaire", but if you use several different attack cards in the mix then you can guarantee some player interaction. I disagree that plays are forced - usually several different card types will cost the same amount of money, so deciding which one is most important at any given point in the game is crucial. A typical example is a game with the Village. In the first turn of the game, if you have three coppers in your hand, do you buy a Village or a Silver? I would favor the Silver because, although the Village will be immensely useful, it doesn't have any effect until you have several action cards in your hand.

To increase player interaction, I thought of a variation, but haven't yet tried it, of shuffling the Kingdom cards together with the seven blank cards, and dealing out a layout of ten. During your turn, you can only buy the Kingdom cards that are in the layout (although you can still buy any coins or victory cards). If you don't buy a Kingdom card during your turn, then trash one of the ones in the layout. As part of the clean-up phase, fill the layout back to ten.
When they turn up, blank cards simply take up space, cannot be bought, and reduce the number of cards available in the layout. The game is over either when the last 6 point victory card is bought, or whenever the 7th blank card is turned up.
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Chaddyboy
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KenToad wrote:
I'm a Magic player, so I like the illustration above text style, modeled after Magic, look of the cards. But I've looked at the Dominion cards over and over again and I find that the flavor is really lacking for me. Also, when you look at this image, with the caption "all cards"...

I think that most Magic players would, like me, say, "that's it?" I was really surprised that there was such a small number of unique cards for a 500 card game. But I guess that's an unfair comparison to Magic, which has always had at least hundreds of unique cards.


I think any comparisons to Magic are very inaccurate. Since I hate CCGs, I had actually written this game off due to all of the comparisons to CCGs. When I played the game, I found the game really had almost no similarities to a CCG.

Yes, you're building a deck of cards, but that's about the end of any comparison you can make to CCGs. At heart, the game is an engine building game where you try to build a deck that yields as many points as possible by the time the game is over.
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they will do expansions, so if you want more cards - there will be more cards.
as for me, i think that 25 cards is quite a lot. you only use 10 of those at a time, which allows for endless combinations. strategies are quite subtle with this game sometimes and the fdact that once you settled for a strategy it is quite clear what the best move is can be considererd a plus. because it speeds up play a lot. no analysis paralysis.
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Frank Domick
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Quote:
Perhaps the biggest indicator that, novel as it is, you’re still playing a Eurogame, is that the point spreads at the end were very tight (I think 8 points or so was the larger of the two games). Eurogame designers are so scared of making unbalanced games that they balance them to an absolute fault, often with absurd methods for preventing runaway leaders and hopeless losers. As a result, one often wins a typical Eurogame by only a handful of points.


Well, I'm not so sure that Dominion per-se prevents runaway-leaders. In my most recent plays on BSW, I won with ~20 VPs more in my deck than my opponent (all 2-player-games). I guess, what you witnessed in your game was just some lack of experience. No one in your group really knew how to get a good engine started and so you all ended up in the same victory point-range. I guess, if you had played with a more experienced player, he/she would have easily managed to get significantly more VPs in their deck than you.

In my opinion, you can only stop a runaway leader if you play well against them and have a good card-engine for yourself. It's just like in RftG or San Juan.

Just my two cents.
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Tony Chen
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Quote:
The previous OMG MUST HAVE game from the last Essen was Agricola, which turns out to be a game I can easily live without. I found it to be a pretty pedestrian worker-placement game and not the life-changing experience it seems to be for so many gamers.

Quote:
Dominion is tough to explain because it’s a fairly novel concept.

Quote:
Dominion is a strange beast. It’s novel, and its mechanic is pretty interesting, but it is a “mechanic”. That is, there is little interaction (though there is some, and it can get nasty at times) so you’re mostly doing your own thing.

Quote:
Mike said that he finds the game dry and not very compelling, though he admires the design. He says he thinks someone else will come along and use the idea for a better game, which is possibly true.

Agreed. What Mike said was exactly what I was thinking.

Dominion has a ground breaking design (a deck that builds itself), but it's a workman-like implementation of it. It's one of those compulsively playable games, where you sort of go on auto-pilot, like St. Petersburg, Settlers of Catan, etc. Coming up with a strategy takes experience, but the execution of the strategy is quite trivial. I also found the game to be quite counter-intuitive (or maybe it was just the shitty BSW interface).

Quote:
Eurogamers have a hard time with games that allow one player to interfere with another’s plans (unless it’s via an auction)

What you are talking about, is a subset of eurogames. Have you played Imperial, Arkadia, Tigris & Euphrates, Stephenson's Rocket, etc?

But I do agree that Dominion is in general devoid of any meaningful interaction. There is some interaction though, and some setups are more interactive than others. I like the size distortion setup, or ones with a chapel and a thief, or ones with garden. These present more interesting choices. The big money setup, on the other hand, is the definition of multiplayer solitaire.

Other than the presence of thief in a game with chapel, the "interactive" attack cards aren't really interactive in any meaningful way. I mean, when you have to call something interactive (the interactive setup in Domaine, the interactive deck in Agricola), it probably means the game isn't that interactive to begin with.

The real interaction in Domaine is in the timing of ending the game. You have to be aware of your opponent's buying potential, to decide whether you should go all out for VPs, or hang in there for more efficient VPs later. The garden enhances this aspect of the game.
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Brian B
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Good review, I feel the same way about this game. You can't deny it has a hook, but to me it feels like a gimmick.
 
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Russ Williams
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Legomancer wrote:
Perhaps the biggest indicator that, novel as it is, you’re still playing a Eurogame, is that the point spreads at the end were very tight (I think 8 points or so was the larger of the two games). Eurogame designers are so scared of making unbalanced games that they balance them to an absolute fault, often with absurd methods for preventing runaway leaders and hopeless losers.

Your Eurogame preconceptions seem to be misleading you into making unjustified generalizations after 2 plays. I played Dominion 19 times this past weekend and saw a lot of variation in score and instances of runaway leaders and hopeless losers. Some sample results (approximately, from memory):
60, 90.
5, 6, 7, 20.
-3 (negative!) vs 10 vs 20.
3, 18, 20, 30.
Etc.

Quote:
Even if you can identify a leading player there isn’t anything I’m aware of that you can do to him — every card I saw that messed with other players messed with ALL other players.

This is basically true indeed. (Though you could choose to be nicer on a per-player basis in applying the effects of certain cards, e.g. Spy and Thief, if you wanted, though I agree that intentionally being merciful to all but one player with a card that affects everyone is not the same as intentionally targeting a specific player.) So the charges of multiplayer solitaire have some validity.

(How that relates to it being a Eurogame is another question, since most Eurogames I've played aren't that way, and there are plenty of non-Eurogame multiplayer solitaire type games...)

Normally the reduced direct per-player interaction would bug me in a game also, but:
1. Dominion was sufficiently cool to play just for exploring the system that I was often not even thinking about or missing the ability to attack a specific player.
2. There is still obvious indirect interaction, and you must react to what opponents are doing. E.g. one might choose to not buy a Moat until an opponent buys an attack card, to take an obvious example.

Quote:
So there’s no question it’s a Euro design — your options are helping yourself or hurting all others, nothing in between.

I don't get what's up with using the review of Dominion for repeated bogus swipes at Eurogames generally. (Perhaps it's some in-joke meta-humor I'm not getting!) There are plenty of Eurogames where you can put the nasty hurt on specific players. You might want to check some out, e.g. Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, Caylus, ... maybe you've even heard of them!
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Although I'm sure there will be plenty of expansions, there are still lots of options as is. I believe the designer has calculated that there are 3500+ possible combinations of the 25 cards in the box. And every combination of cards presents multiple strategies based on the card interactions. I've tried at least 3, and I'm sure there are more, using the "introductory" setup alone.

This, along with the short playing time, is what I think makes the game so addictive. It's always "Just one more game" using some wacky setup or new strategy. I have a fear that soon we'll be playing just because we NEED to, not because we want to.

Yes, it IS multiplayer solitaire, but I sure don't care. I just need my fix.
 
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David McLeod
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I'd also like to reiterate that this game is not Magic and does not feel like is whatsoever.

Just the fact that there are no mana cards, nothing to tap. No cards remain in the players area. You have to buy your cards. You build your deck during the game and not before. If anything comparisons are superficial at best.

I had my time with it and I was wary of Dominion because of the comparisons but after 5-6 games (we only played the suggested setups once) I can say this is a really clever game.

I've really enjoyed taking 10 random cards out of the box and just trying to create a strategy around it. It's just a lot of fun and can't see getting tired of it anytime soon.

Everyone I've taught this to so far (minus one) has had a little smile come to their face once they realize how the game works. The one who complained said the Moat card was broken. I'm not playing with him anymore
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Ian McCarthy
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chaddyboy_2000 wrote:
KenToad wrote:
I'm a Magic player, so I like the illustration above text style, modeled after Magic, look of the cards. But I've looked at the Dominion cards over and over again and I find that the flavor is really lacking for me. Also, when you look at this image, with the caption "all cards"...

I think that most Magic players would, like me, say, "that's it?" I was really surprised that there was such a small number of unique cards for a 500 card game. But I guess that's an unfair comparison to Magic, which has always had at least hundreds of unique cards.


I think any comparisons to Magic are very inaccurate. Since I hate CCGs, I had actually written this game off due to all of the comparisons to CCGs. When I played the game, I found the game really had almost no similarities to a CCG.

Yes, you're building a deck of cards, but that's about the end of any comparison you can make to CCGs. At heart, the game is an engine building game where you try to build a deck that yields as many points as possible by the time the game is over.


Thanks for your comment. I really didn't mean to imply that I need this game to be like Magic or any other CCG. In fact, the more similar it is, the less I would be intrigued. I was simply commenting that Dominion presents its theme in a more or less derivative way from Magic and in that sense really falls flat for me.

Some of the artwork is good, but some is just substandard, really, and, since that is the main flavor of the cards ... well, aesthetically speaking the game could be much better. And, often, the card titles do not really jive with their effects in a significant way. Again, I haven't played, so I could be very wrong.

By the way, I want to emphasize that the only reason I'm commenting at all is because I've gotten pretty hyped about this game, mainly because of some of the glowing reviews, yet this review was important because it sobered me a little, especially regarding my particular game group.

Also, I think it's a stretch to say that there are almost no similarities to CCG's, particularly Magic. One of the first and best reviews of this game I read spoke in terms of cantrips and combos, specifically mentioning Magic.

As to later comments, I don't think there is any random bashing of Eurogames going on here. The OP specifically mentions that two guys of his playgroup at least really liked the game and that they all felt that the game had a lot of potential. I'd say Carcassonne definitely has some player interaction and the catapult expansion looks funny and perhaps an homage to the Ameritrash style of fun-before-strategy gaming.
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Dweeb wrote:
Although I'm sure there will be plenty of expansions, there are still lots of options as is. I believe the designer has calculated that there are 3500+ possible combinations of the 25 cards in the box.


25 choose 10 = 3,268,760

At 15 minutes per game, playing non-stop, without sleep, food or bathroom breaks, it would take over 93 years to play every possible combination in the base set.

A single expansion of 10 cards would increase the number of possible tables to:
35 choose 10 = 183,579,396
and it would take over 5 milenia to play every possible game.

This does not include variation of strategies or different possible ways to play any given table or repeats of a given combination of cards.

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KenToad wrote:
Some of the artwork is good, but some is just substandard, really, and, since that is the main flavor of the cards ... well, aesthetically speaking the game could be much better. And, often, the card titles do not really jive with their effects in a significant way. Again, I haven't played, so I could be very wrong.


Yeah, I have to agree with you here. The graphic design of the cards leaves a lot to be desired. It's really too bad that the graphics look so rushed. I thought the cards had the appearance of a well-developed prototype, but not a finished product.
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I would trust that any Expansions would add immensely to the game, either by introducing 'tweak' cards for the original 25 possible sets or brand new sets of 10. Does anyone know how many more cards would be in each Expansion and the approximate price?
 
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I too feel compelled to play this game over and over. I also don't think we (rabid Dominion acolytes) should let any BSW-borgs review it or make comments, because the game is light enough to allow for table talk and trash talking, and that is part of the pleasure. I think it's important to draw a distinction between "Dominion: the algorithm in card form" that is experienced on BSW, and "Dominion: the full card game played with real people, in person, with light snacks". The second Dominion quickly replaces any number of light card games that I can play with my family, including No Thanks, Lost Cities, San Juan, and others. As is the case with most acts of interpretation, we reveal more about ourselves as players than we do about the game itself. I don't believe in pure mechanisms, only mechanisms dropped into the context of real people.

That said, I agree with this review--the game can feel a little aloof, perhaps. I played it tonight with two new players who were tired after a 2600 point game of Heroscape, and it was fun, but not a completely thigh-slapping good time. You could, however, see both of them mulling over what had just happened, and we began talking about other cards to use next time, as if "next time" were a given.

It's a game that I see myself playing with my kids and new gamers more often than not. It will take me a year or so to discover the subtleties, and I really do hope, as Legomancer wrote, that someone builds on this game and makes something even better, with a wee bit more strategy and an original theme. In the meantime, I'm pretty happy to explore what I've got, and I'm pretty happy to have a game this good that can be played in the 30-minute nooks and crannies that constitute my gaming sessions these days.
 
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fiatkid55 wrote:
I would trust that any Expansions would add immensely to the game, either by introducing 'tweak' cards for the original 25 possible sets or brand new sets of 10. Does anyone know how many more cards would be in each Expansion and the approximate price?


The designer apparently is already sitting on dozens and dozens of expansion cards. The last I heard (July 2008) there were plans to issue expansions but no decisions on size and cost. I got the sense from talking with [look out, tacky name-dropping ahead]Jay Tummelson, briefly, that he was aware he was sitting on a pile of money, given the game's addictive quality and expandability. They basically looked at a big number of cards and settled on 25 of them for the base game, I believe.
 
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