Recommend
26 
 Thumb up
 Hide
9 Posts

Dominion» Forums » Reviews

Subject: The Exemplar: Why it Works rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Eliot Hemingway
United States
Seattle
Washington
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Dominion appeals perfectly to the exploratory drive behind gaming. Playing Dominion is a process of experimenting in many different environments, a process driven by the same impulses that drive science and natural philosophy. While Dominion is far from the first game to provide that experience, it is by far the most efficient. Unfortunately that superb focus also limits the game’s other appeals.

The Background


Human beings are inquisitive – we want to learn about and explore our environment – and our compulsive exploration of games follows the same pattern as our compulsive exploration of the natural world. Western philosophy was born long ago from the desire to learn. Socrates framed philosophy as a search for truth, born from love of knowledge, and people like Francis Bacon developed experimentation as the best method of searching. That method is simple at heart: predict what should happen as a result of an action, then do it and observe what actually happens. Take into account as many variables as possible, then adjust your expectations for your next prediction. That is precisely how gamers interact with a game: each game creates its own environment that the players must explore and experiment with in order to consistently win. Each game is another opportunity to experiment with the mechanics and increase one’s understanding of the fundamental dynamics at work – the implications of the rules are typically far more complex than the rules themselves. The pleasure of that exploration process is one of the fundamental reasons to play games. The drive to learn and explore varies in strength among individuals, but it’s there. It’s been there since the dawn of history. Though “learning” is often connected with such terms as “classroom,” “textbook,” and above all “boring” in today’s culture, learning through experimentation is barrels of fun!

Collectable card games (CCGs) harness this drive to explore, but they come with prohibitive costs. The most common complaints raised about CCGs are that the player who can afford the best deck wins, and that the publishers keep making new cards just to boost profits. These accusations are true: CCGs are financially draining. However, once that continual investment is accepted, the dynamics change. Having a better deck becomes directly linked to the player’s skill at evaluating the environment of interactions between the hundreds (or thousands) of different cards available. The best decks are the product of continual experimentation that improves the player’s understanding of the card and rule interactions within the current game environment. A player’s theories can be proved or disproved through success or failure over time. Moreover, the environment is constantly changing as new cards are introduced, so the exploration never ceases. Having to purchase new cards becomes expensive, but a good CCG rewards that investment with world upon world to explore. This, to me, is the core appeal of CCGs: they provide endless environments to explore and a structure that makes experimentation paramount.

The Game


Dominion makes the CCG experience broadly accessible. As mentioned before, CCGs have a large financial cost to play competitively. My copy of Dominion cost less than just a few cards for my favorite CCG did. Furthermore, each game of Dominion is fast and fluid. A single game of Dominion is a microcosm of a whole CCG environment, reducing the process of experiment to its core. A game of Dominion presents the players with an environment of different kingdom cards, and after about 20-30 minutes of play victory will be handed to the player who best predicted the interactions of the cards, the rules, and the players. Then you can switch up the kingdom cards and be presented with a new environment to explore. Because Dominion plays so fast, the process of experimentation is supercharged and addictive. Playing another game or two, or even three or four, is quick and painless. The occasional game swung due to luck hardly matters, because the game is short and the point was to figure out the card set anyway. And once you’ve exhausted most of the card combinations in basic Dominion, there’s a new expansion on the way that is still cheaper than buying into a new set of any CCG. This makes Dominion an incredible bargain for the inquisitive gamer!

However, Dominion does not appeal strongly to other gaming drives - particularly the desire for narrative. Games can create stories that inspire the imagination, and are all the more meaningful for being shaped by the players’ actions. Unfortunately, Dominion’s theme is too general to create a narrative with which the player can identify. While the card functions are linked superbly to their titles, those titles are general and categorical rather than specific: “Pawn,” “Witch,” or “Village” rather than named characters or places. That’s a good designer decision, since Dominion is focused around card interactions and uncluttered flow of play, but the lack of flavorful detail definitely limits the game experience. Compare Dominion with Wizard Kings, which has lots of technically unnecessary fluff that fires the imagination, or with my current second-favorite game Battlestar Galactica, which focuses on the specific actions of very specific characters who are given significant depth by the TV show. Read session reports of these three games and you’ll rapidly see the difference. Wizard Kings and Battlestar Galactica create narratives to which players can relate, while Dominion does not.

The Conclusion

Despite its limited scope, Dominion is likely to remain my favorite game for a long time to come. It does an incredibly efficient job of satisfying a fundamental gaming drive. Unless emergent narrative is the only reason you play games, Dominion is a must-buy.
17 
 Thumb up
0.50
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thomas Staudt
Germany
Rutesheim
Baden-Württemberg
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Corbeau wrote:
Unfortunately that superb focus also limits the game’s other appeals.

...

However, Dominion does not appeal strongly to other gaming drives - particularly the desire for narrative. Games can create stories that inspire the imagination, and are all the more meaningful for being shaped by the players’ actions. Unfortunately, Dominion’s theme is too general to create a narrative with which the player can identify. While the card functions are linked superbly to their titles, those titles are general and categorical rather than specific: “Pawn,” “Witch,” or “Village” rather than named characters or places. That’s a good designer decision, since Dominion is focused around card interactions and uncluttered flow of play, but the lack of flavorful detail definitely limits the game experience. Compare Dominion with Wizard Kings, which has lots of technically unnecessary fluff that fires the imagination, or with my current second-favorite game Battlestar Galactica, which focuses on the specific actions of very specific characters who are given significant depth by the TV show. Read session reports of these three games and you’ll rapidly see the difference. Wizard Kings and Battlestar Galactica create narratives to which players can relate, while Dominion does not.

The Conclusion

Despite its limited scope, Dominion is likely to remain my favorite game for a long time to come. It does an incredibly efficient job of satisfying a fundamental gaming drive. Unless emergent narrative is the only reason you play games, Dominion is a must-buy.


I agree with you on everything you say technically. But I would say that the generic names actually help the game, even make it work.
Consider this: Rename "Witch" to "Cursolina the Annoying".
This changes
"We all bought witches and cursed the hell out of each other until we hardly couldn't buy anything at all anymore"
to
"I bought 3 Cursolinas while my opponent bought 5, so the stupid gal constantly changed sides and cursed her masters. Why is there 10 of them, anyway?"
Having 10 or more of each card makes it basically a prerogative to stay generic to make it work from a flavor standpoint, so it actually helps the game experience in this case.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Craig Somerton
Australia
North Ryde - Sydney
NSW
flag msg tools
designer
Duplicitous!
badge
I don't play to win - I play for enjoyment and social interaction.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
That is one very nice assessment of a game that has dominated my gaming table for many, many months and will likely continue to do so for many more months to follow, Especially if Donald keeps publishing such worthy expansions.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Bryan Maxwell
United States
Burtchville
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Corbeau wrote:

However, Dominion does not appeal strongly to other gaming drives - particularly the desire for narrative. Games can create stories that inspire the imagination, and are all the more meaningful for being shaped by the players’ actions.


First off, nice article, very well written. I agree with the above. I typically log my plays here, and log at least some detail, but with Dominion it seems all I can ever remember is who won. Even after just a game or two, I usually can't muster much more than "Fun game. My wife won."
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Harold Jansen
Canada
Lethbridge
Alberta
flag msg tools
badge
Can I drive the bus?
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
A very thoughtful and well-written review. I tried it with my wife, thinking she would like the quick play and relative lack of direct confrontation. The game left her cold. Her comment was: "It didn't feel like I was doing anything." By that, she meant the lack of narrative. With Agricola, she's building a farm, with Ticket to Ride she'd building a network of trains, with Dominion she's ....? My wife is no gaming slouch, but the complete lack of narrative was a problem for her. I know this has been hashed over a thousand times here, but a bit more theme tied to the game mechanics would probably elevate this into the stratosphere.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeff Bridgham
United States
West Lafayette
Indiana
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Corbeau wrote:

Western philosophy was born long ago from the desire to learn. Socrates framed philosophy as a search for truth, born from love of knowledge, and people like Francis Bacon developed experimentation as the best method of searching.



I liked your article! The only disagreement I had was philosophical. Experimentation is the best method for discovering facts, truth is much harder to find and, often, several truths are supported by the facts discovered through experimentation.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Eliot Hemingway
United States
Seattle
Washington
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
jebry wrote:
Corbeau wrote:

Western philosophy was born long ago from the desire to learn. Socrates framed philosophy as a search for truth, born from love of knowledge, and people like Francis Bacon developed experimentation as the best method of searching.



I liked your article! The only disagreement I had was philosophical. Experimentation is the best method for discovering facts, truth is much harder to find and, often, several truths are supported by the facts discovered through experimentation.


Let's discuss truth: what is it? Plato saw it as an ideal form, but the entire idea of idos has been repeatedly blown apart by subsequent philosophers. The best conclusion that I've found is that we only encounter the concept of truth as a quality of propositions. "The ball is red" is a proposition that can be labeled as true or false by the human mind (though depending on an individual's senses, it can seem true for some and false for others). Any set of facts can produce infinite propositions, and thus infinite truths. There is no "ideal truth" out there to find.

Basically: Plato and Socrates were wrong about the subject of their search, but I simplified for the sake of the review.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Freelance Police
United States
Palo Alto
California
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Quote:
However, Dominion does not appeal strongly to other gaming drives - particularly the desire for narrative.


This is pretty much how CCGs have been since Magic the Gathering. It's pretty darn hard to put much theme onto a standard sized card, though not impossible.

I really miss the way they did flavor text in Antiquities...
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Eliot Hemingway
United States
Seattle
Washington
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Sam and Max wrote:
Quote:
However, Dominion does not appeal strongly to other gaming drives - particularly the desire for narrative.


This is pretty much how CCGs have been since Magic the Gathering. It's pretty darn hard to put much theme onto a standard sized card, though not impossible.

I really miss the way they did flavor text in Antiquities...


Have you tried Legend of the Five Rings? It's a CCG based heavily in narrative. It's mechanically well-designed (more interesting than Magic, yet also more complex), but the real reason why it's the second-oldest surviving CCG (it began in 1995, two years after Magic) is because it offers something genuinely different in the CCG market. That's why I still play it, and love it, despite Dominion being an order of magnitude cheaper.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.