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Subject: The Invasion of Game X rss

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Nate Owens
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Of all the games published in 2008, none made quite the impact that Dominion made. In short order, the game shot up to the Top 10, and people have logged unbelievable numbers of plays. It is easy to see the game's appeal; it plays quickly, has some simple intuitive rules, and shows an impressive amount of variety. Despite a couple caveats, I agree with the general consensus. Dominion is a fantastic game system, and one that will have a following for a long time.

Dominion is essentially a game about deck-building. Using some very simple rules, players buy cards to add to their deck, while simultaneously playing cards from the top of the deck. As the game goes on, players will cycle through their decks and eventually see the cards they have already bought. Cards can be Treasure (the money used to buy more cards), Victory (cards that are worth points at the end of the game, but don't do anything else), or Actions (cards that impart bonuses during a players turn). Essentially, players get to play an action card, buy a new card, and then discard their hand to their own piles, and draw a new hand of five for the next turn. The actions change what happens in each turn, imparting the ability to play MORE action cards, spend more treasure, draw more cards, etc. Many of the cards have their own unique effects as well. The game ends when three piles are out, or the "Provinces" (6-point victory cards) run out. Player with the most points wins.

As you can see, the ruleset is very streamlined, rivaling something like Ticket to Ride for sheer simplicity. The complexity of the game comes from the action cards. The game comes with 25 different ones (10 of each), and each game has 10 different types available to buy. The real enjoyment of the game is finding which cards work well with others, which ones are powerful, and in what situations they are useful. This is the sort of game that rewards more plays. As options open up, players will see new strategies and options present themselves. There has been some talk on the forums about "broken" cards, but the truth is, they are remarkably balanced. No single strategy has proven dominant in my experience, and each game has a sort of blank canvas feeling. From the description, it is easy to think that the game plays like a CCG, and in a way it does. I truth though, it is more of a classic Euro-game, with planning, efficiency, intuitive rules, and a short play-time.

By "short play-time," I mean REALLY short. Experienced players will typically run through a game in 15-20 minutes, which means you can burn through 3-4 games in one sitting without batting an eye. Dominion is a very addictive games, as players pull at the strategies like taffy, trying to find a way to win that is effective and exciting. The variety of cards means that the game will stay fresh for a while.

After all this praise, it sounds like Dominion may be the perfect game. Sadly, this simply isn't true. The game's variety makes it a lot of fun for players after many sessions, but it also means that new players will often be overwhelmed. Neophytes will take a while to decide what to buy, and in a game like Dominion, downtime is the kiss of death. This is especially bad with 4 players. The game comes with an introductory setup of cards, and I recommend using those with noobs. It isn't a very interesting setup, but it'll be the quickest they'll learn. Expect first games for people to be in the 45 minute range. Experience will shorten that.

The more irritating problem is the theme. You see Dominion has a medieval theme. A very generic one. To some extent, any game like this will have a level of abstraction, and this is no different. But here, the theme almost feels like an afterthought. All of the action cards have a generic name, like "Workshop," or "Library." This abstraction isn't helped by the mediocre art and graphic design. It makes me long for the colorful character artwork of Citadels, a game that is similarly abstract with generic card names, but with vibrant exciting art. The most telling fact is that the game never feels like it is about building a "dominion," because it isn't. It's about building a deck. This isn't something that makes the game bad, but it feels like a missed opportunity, something that could have made the game something truly special.

As it stands, Dominion will have to settle for merely being a very good game, and one that shows the promise of expansions galore. One has already been released, called Dominion: Intrigue, and Dominion: Seaside is slated for release this year at Essen. With so much to offer, Dominion overcomes it's faults, and is one of the finest new games from last year.
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David desJardins
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San Il Defanso wrote:
The more irritating problem is the theme. You see Dominion has a medieval theme.


My god. A medieval theme! Why didn't anyone warn me before??
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Adam Daulton
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I like the "theme" of this game for what it is. Though I agree with you that the Citadels art is much better. Dominion's art is very lacking. I also understand about the slow play time of new players, but if I want someone to play games with me I try to be patient as they are learning the game. Just like I'd expect a teaching game of Power Grid to take 2 hours, I expect a teaching game of Dominion to take 40 minutes. Makes no difference what the game is, if it is a teaching game, it'll take longer.
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Joseph Courtight
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Video on the addictiveness of dominion "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3X6biwCoLQ"
 
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Nate Owens
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Quote:
My god. A medieval theme! Why didn't anyone warn me before??


Well, it's not so much the theme, its that it feels like it was an afterthought. The whole thing feels very generic and bland. Too bad. It's a great game otherwise.
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David desJardins
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San Il Defanso wrote:
Well, it's not so much the theme, its that it feels like it was an afterthought. The whole thing feels very generic and bland.


Thanks for bringing that to our attention. Here's another game with a medieval theme that is generic and bland: Chess. No wonder it never caught on.
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Linda Baldwin
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This pretty much matches my feeling for the game exactly. I'm not an addict -- I like to play a lot of different games, not just one 'til I burn out on it -- but I think this game is excellent, as does the OP, seems to me. However, his points are good ones. IF you consider the short playtime a factor, you will lose that playing with newbies. (I've heard more complaints about playing with Village decks, actually.) And it's not that the theme is medieval, or bad, it's the "missed opportunity" that is regrettable. He's not the first to complain about the art, after all. and it does give Knizia a run for his money in the "pasted-on theme department." It doesn't make it a bad game. I think it's a great game, which is why one wonders if it couldn't have been just that much better if it were a touch more "themey."

Note: I do have one friend who once described Dominion (his current favorite game) as "like a roleplaying game". I put it down to sunstroke. Even though he was playing in a basement at the time.
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Mark Mitchell
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DaviddesJ wrote:
San Il Defanso wrote:
Well, it's not so much the theme, its that it feels like it was an afterthought. The whole thing feels very generic and bland.


Thanks for bringing that to our attention. Here's another game with a medieval theme that is generic and bland: Chess. No wonder it never caught on.


Chess does not have a medieval theme, it is a medieval game (in that it appears almost identical to the medieval game of chess). For it to have a theme it would need intentionaly to have been styled as 'medieval', it isn't, it simply is a medieval game.
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David desJardins
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gamecat_uk wrote:
Chess does not have a medieval theme, it is a medieval game (in that it appears almost identical to the medieval game of chess). For it to have a theme it would need intentionaly to have been styled as 'medieval', it isn't, it simply is a medieval game.


This is absurd. Of course Chess was themed after medieval war. That's why it has kings, queens, knights, castles, etc., rather than mythological figures or wild animals or any of the myriad other themes that it could have.
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Jeff Wolfe
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DaviddesJ wrote:
gamecat_uk wrote:
Chess does not have a medieval theme, it is a medieval game (in that it appears almost identical to the medieval game of chess). For it to have a theme it would need intentionaly to have been styled as 'medieval', it isn't, it simply is a medieval game.


This is absurd. Of course Chess was themed after medieval war. That's why it has kings, queens, knights, castles, etc., rather than mythological figures or wild animals or any of the myriad other themes that it could have.


It's just that when Chess was created "medieval" was called "modern."
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DaviddesJ wrote:
San Il Defanso wrote:
Well, it's not so much the theme, its that it feels like it was an afterthought. The whole thing feels very generic and bland.


Thanks for bringing that to our attention. Here's another game with a medieval theme that is generic and bland: Chess. No wonder it never caught on.

So you agree that the theme is generic and bland?
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David desJardins
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ScottB wrote:
So you agree that the theme is generic and bland?


Sure. Is that bad?
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
ScottB wrote:
So you agree that the theme is generic and bland?


Sure. Is that bad?

Depends on what you want - it is if you like heavily themed games. Why get on the OP's case for something that you agree with? It obviously matters more to him than it does to you.
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David desJardins
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ScottB wrote:
Why get on the OP's case for something that you agree with? It obviously matters more to him than it does to you.


He criticizes the game for being different from what he prefers. I criticize his criticism for being subjective and based on his personal preferences. You criticize my criticism for --- well, I'm not sure really. Why get on my case?
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
ScottB wrote:
Why get on the OP's case for something that you agree with? It obviously matters more to him than it does to you.


He criticizes the game for being different from what he prefers. I criticize his criticism for being subjective and based on his personal preferences. You criticize my criticism for --- well, I'm not sure really. Why get on my case?

All criticism is subjective and based on personal preferences. I think your criticism is petty and doesn't add anything to the conversation. That, too, is a subjective opinion, just so we're all on the same page.
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David desJardins
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ScottB wrote:
All criticism is subjective and based on personal preferences. I think your criticism is petty and doesn't add anything to the conversation. That, too, is a subjective opinion, just so we're all on the same page.


You think your own criticism is also petty and doesn't add anything to the conversation, right?
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DaviddesJ wrote:
ScottB wrote:
All criticism is subjective and based on personal preferences. I think your criticism is petty and doesn't add anything to the conversation. That, too, is a subjective opinion, just so we're all on the same page.


You think your own criticism is also petty and doesn't add anything to the conversation, right?

No, I specifically said "your". I'm not sure what's difficult about that to understand.
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Matthew M
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Feel free to continue your discussion in private. No need to continue derailing this thread. Thanks.
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Branko K.
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I really don't get people who complain about the theme. This is a game about building up your deck. Sure there are attacks, but they only serve to disrupt other people while they, yes, build their decks. You cannot opt to do something else and win, it's all about your deck.

Initial theme - as Donald said in an old interview - was building up a castle. Each card was essentially a "room" (which makes the "Remodel" card fit perfect thematically btw) or a new "employee" for your castle. I guess as the game grew Donald and the gang felt pretty constricted with "castle rooms" concept because, hey, there are so many room types and medieval jobs you can think of. So instead of some huge rehaul they opted for simply kicking the theme up a notch and instead of building a castle you got to build your dominion.

So sure, it feels abstract, because it's hard to feel as a ruler of the dominion while you "remodel" your Duchy into an Adventurer or your Cellar into a Chancellor. But it's a card game - and all card games are abstract-ish, sorry. And again, it's a card game where the point is "to build". Which theme would then be more appropriate and consistent while keeping the current gameplay mechanics and an open approach for future expansion designs?
 
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Nate Owens
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Quote:
So sure, it feels abstract, because it's hard to feel as a ruler of the dominion while you "remodel" your Duchy into an Adventurer or your Cellar into a Chancellor. But it's a card game - and all card games are abstract-ish, sorry. And again, it's a card game where the point is "to build". Which theme would then be more appropriate and consistent while keeping the current gameplay mechanics and an open approach for future expansion designs?


You are absolutely right that card games are inherently abstract. Upon further reflection, it's not so much that the game is abstract (it is, and has to be to keep its simplicity), but that the medieval theme it has doesn't excite me in any way. It's a personal thing, sure, but it's an honest knock I have against the game. Take Citadels, for example. That game is equally abstract, but the illustrations really give it more character and theme.

Like I said, I LOVE Dominion. The expansions have really given the game legs for me, and I am pretty much always up for a game, particularly with 2 or 3 players. My criticism is mostly one of personal preference, but that's all I have to go on.
 
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Branko K.
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Yes, the theme is bland for any boardgame enthusiast sick of Eurogame=medieval theme cliche.

However, the thing with Dominion is that it's a game with a generic appeal. With medieval you can't go wrong. Everyone can relate to it, it's escapist, relaxing and I guess very liberating when it comes to game design. You can basically put anything as long as you use moderation - mythological creatures, pirates, medieval warfare...nothing needs to "fit" really as long as it adheres to the general idea.

Personally, I am, too, tired of medieval themes but I appreciate Dominion using it since it's easy to attract new players. If it was something space-themed or factory-themed or involving an overly geeky fantasy setting, I guess plenty of my friends would dismiss it without even giving it a chance. So I "endure" the theme lameness because I get to enjoy the actual gameplay.. and I think it's a damn good tradeoff.
 
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