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Subject: Dominion – it taps my Magic itch! rss

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Christopher Paul
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About me:

I enjoy games where I feel like my choices have an impact on the game, but also have a bit of a chance element to them. Games that are extreme on either end of this spectrum will be less enjoyable for me.

About my gaming group:

I have a core group of ex-M:TG, D&D players who are usually up for playing (and trying) most games. I also have friends who are more into easier, party games, and I have friends who are more hardcore gamers. Finally, my girlfriend is a non-gamer who is willing to try many games with me, but is extra picky.

Overview:

As an ex Magic: The Gathering player, Dominion’s deck-building mechanic was very attractive to me. I watched Tom Vassal’s excellent video review, and later played a game of it at a game convention. Within the first few seconds of looking at my opening hand, I was addicted and already thinking, “I can’t wait to play this again!”

I played a lot after that, both other people’s copies and my own when I finally got it (2nd edition). I also introduced it to a number of people (some of whom also bought copies). The addiction and desire to play was very strong at first, until I got to about 30 games, and now the compulsion isn’t there, but I feel it’s a solid game and am eagerly awaiting my pre-ordered copy of Intrigue to come in.

Aesthetics:

I normally don’t care about the box a game comes in, but for some reason I really like the box art for Dominion, and I especially like the Dominion logo. Seriously, I normally don’t care about that at all. That said, the inside of the box is not really the best design for holding all the cards. With the insert, the 2nd edition works better, but once you sleeve them it becomes less satisfying again. I just put all my cards into card boxes with tabbed dividers.

As far as the most important part, the design and look of the cards, I find the card text extremely efficient and clear. Fresh players may have questions about some things, but that’s usually because they’re not familiar with the terms or are assuming the cards do something that they don’t. Dominon has very good shorthand (“+1 action”) and the color coding of the cards makes them easy to recognize in your hand, in the layout and as other players play them.

Now for my one gripe. I am not impressed with the card art. It reminds me of the art on Magic cards about 12 years ago. It’s not the most important element of the game, of course, and really, it’s not horrible, but I’d prefer something better to look at for the 1 and a half minutes the cards are in my hand each turn…

Theme:

You are a monarch trying to build up your kingdom. Of course, the best kingdom will be rich with huge, beautiful tracts of land. To get that land, however, you have to hire smithies and woodworkers, build villages, throw feasts, and remodel your old stuff into better stuff.

Some will argue that the theme is tacked on, and I wouldn’t put much effort into disagreeing with them. If you think of the game in the terms of the theme, it makes sense, and you can probably get into it. However, you can play this game pretty straight and the theme might never occur to you (see the re-themes for examples of how this game can be altered to match almost any theme…) So while I wouldn’t say it’s a tacked on theme, I would also say that the theme and mechanics/cards are not tightly woven to the extent that you really feel like a monarch building up their kingdom (unless, as I said before, you try really hard to imagine this while playing the game.)

Coming from a Magic player perspective, I never really tried to imagine myself as a wizard casting spells to defeat another wizard, either. I focused more on gameplay and strategy, as I do with Dominion.

Gameplay:

Many previous reviews already cover this, so I will do it quickly:

All the players start with the same crappy deck (7 coins and 3 estates). Each player draws a hand of 5 cards and purchases one of the 17 cards available. (There are always stacks of victory cards worth 1, 3 and 6, coin cards worth 1, 2 and 3, curses worth -1, and stacks of 10 randomly determined kingdom cards).

The victory cards help you win at the end of the game (but do nothing during the game), the coin cards help you buy more things, and the kingdom cards are the actions that you play throughout the game that allow you to interact with players and do more things.

Everything you buy with the coins, as well as the coins, go in your personal discard pile. Whenever you need to draw more cards but cannot, you shuffle your discard pile and form your new draw deck. Thus, your deck is constantly being recycled as it is growing with new cards.

At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points in their deck is the winner.

Fun:

As I said above, I was addicted to this game instantly. I really enjoy the deck-building mechanic, I think the cards are cleverly balanced, the game overall provides a unique experience. Further, it seems like the game has been playtested extensively, as I feel that with time, all of the cards appear balanced and fulfill different roles at different times.

The re-playability of Dominion is great, and I look forward to the expansions that will be adding more and more variation.

Who might like it?

People who like: card games, Magic: The Gathering, CCGs, LCGs, Blue Moon, Race for the Galaxy, and customizable games (in the sense that you can choose which kingdom cards to play with each game).

Who might not like it?

People who hate the randomness of card games, or card games in general. People who like long games with a great amount of strategic depth. People who need a really strong theme. People who hate to shuffle. People who only like Race for the Galaxy.

My group?

I have played quite a few games of Dominion with a few different groups. Everyone seems to like it. My girlfriend likes it (big score!), my core group likes it, the meetup players like it, the Euro-gamers like it, the ex-Magic players like it, and even some of the casual, party gamers like it (although they think of it as an extremely challenging, strategic, “brainy” game…)

Similar games:

Magic: The Gathering, Blue Moon, many CCGs/LCGs, and allegedly Arctic Scavengers.

Edited for typos and word choice on 1/13/10.
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Christopher Paul
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Storage
Here is a picture of my storage solution for Dominon referenced in my review:

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Bwian, just
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If you don't mind my asking, why do you say it taps your Magic itch? I played Sealed Magic for a few years, and the deck building I did in Magic never felt like the deck building in Dominion. Not to mention that I actually used the Magic decks to play a separate game later; if I played Magic the way I play Dominion, we would all build decks, show them to each other, and decide who would win.

Don't get me wrong, I like Dominion and Magic both. But I don't find them to be very similar at all.
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bestia immonda
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Bwian wrote:
If you don't mind my asking, why do you say it taps your Magic itch? I played Sealed Magic for a few years, and the deck building I did in Magic never felt like the deck building in Dominion. Not to mention that I actually used the Magic decks to play a separate game later; if I played Magic the way I play Dominion, we would all build decks, show them to each other, and decide who would win.

Don't get me wrong, I like Dominion and Magic both. But I don't find them to be very similar at all.


Have you ever played Rochester Draft?
 
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Christopher Paul
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Well, it's hard to explain, but I'll try.

I love Magic. But I'm not very good at it. I draft against little kids and I can win. I play against my friends, and I win half the time (assuming we're playing with proxies and can make whatever decks we want). I play at the local gamestore and get my butt kicked by the pro tour players. Yes, I helped subsidize their weekly (daily) games.

So, what I don't like about Magic is having to spend money routinely. I don't like that someone with a lot more experience and/or money to buy good cards can pretty much always win.

I love building the decks, I love the game play. What Dominion does for me is it provides the deck building aspect and it makes it fair. Yes, a more experienced Dominion player will win most of the time, but I don't think to the same degree as Magic. New players can catch up quicker.

Blue Moon is customizable, but didn't give me what I wanted. Most other card games don't even come close to Magic (other than there are cards that do things).

So, I guess, Dominion has cards that do things, we all start off with the same decks and the same card supply (fairness) and we all build our decks as we play, so I typically get to play with all the cards I put in my deck (as opposed to always waiting for that Wrath of God that never seems to come when I need it...)

So no, it does not have the meta-game or strategic depth that Magic does. But I'm not sure that's what I wanted out of Magic.

I don't know if that is a satisfying answer for you, but for me Dominion does what I always wanted Magic to do, without all the annoying stuff that comes along with Magic.

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Erik Swedlund
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crunk_posby wrote:
Dominion does what I always wanted Magic to do, without all the annoying stuff that comes along with Magic.


Very well put. Your reply jibes exactly with how I feel, also.

Thanks for the great review!
 
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Ned
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Nice review! I also like this game a lot, and was addicted to it when I first played it. Like you though, my addiction has settled down.
 
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Scott W.
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I'm interested in hearing an update of your opinion of the game now that Intrigue and Seaside have been out for a while. Do you think that the expansions give the game a lot more lifespan or do they just temporarily please us until we get tired of the same mechanics again?
 
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Christopher Paul
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thefinalsound wrote:
I'm interested in hearing an update of your opinion of the game now that Intrigue and Seaside have been out for a while. Do you think that the expansions give the game a lot more lifespan or do they just temporarily please us until we get tired of the same mechanics again?


Intrigue

Playing a couple of games of Intrigue as a standalone was a nice introduction to the set, but I would never do it again. I also no longer enjoy the base set alone. The base set + Intrigue is a pretty pure Dominion experience. I would recommend that new players buy the base set and if they like it, buy Intrigue immediately. I really enjoy the dual cards (victory - action, victory - treasure, etc.) and I enjoy the choices. While I appreciate the ability to play with 5 or 6 players when necessary, I still prefer 4. So I don't think Intrigue expands Dominion, I think it completes it. It adds a lot of longevity.

Seaside

The best thing about Seaside is the introduction of Duration cards. This also leads me to believe that each expansion will introduce a new card type, which I find exciting. I think Seaside is a solid expansion overall, and recommend it to die-hard Dominion fans. If you're just a casual fan, then the base set and Intrigue might be enough for you, although the duration cards are a nice addition to the experience.

One thing I'm on the fence about are the non-card components. They are excellent components, which is a big pro, but I really appreciate the "pure" card game experience of Dominion. It is playable (as it was playtested) without the components as follows:

Pirate Ship: just take one of the trashed treasure cards and put it in a pile next to you.

Embargo: place the trashed Embargo card sideways on the pile.

Native Village: well, just put the cards in front of you somewhere.

The components do help you keep track of everything, and they are great to look at but...they make it a little less "pure" as a card game. (And for the record, I still use the components! )
 
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Christopher Paul
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On another note, when my parents visited me over the holiday I actually got them to play Dominion (w/ all expansions) and they seemed to enjoy it!

Last year I tried to teach them Carcassonne and my mom thought it was too hard, so it was kind of amazing that they were willing to try it and actually did okay at it.

My mom, oddly enough, loved all of the meanest attack cards - she couldn't get enough witches, torturers or pirate ships when they were out. My dad had some sort of silver-phobia, instead filling his deck up with estates and single action cards - and then he'd get grumpy when all he drew were estates, moats and smithies!

(Also, I got them to play Rock Band and The Beatles: Rock Band, which, if you knew my parents, is like the basis for an episode of the Twilight Zone...)

Anyway, this is all to say that Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan are out of my life for good. If my parents can play Dominion, then I can get anybody to play it...
 
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