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Subject: An Overdue Review [emphasis on EmDo vs Dominion] rss

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Kenny VenOsdel
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Let me start with a little background. Eminent Domain has been a favorite game of mine for almost a year now (hence the overdue). Considering the fact that it isn't released yet that's pretty impressive! I got in on the PnP option of EmDo last fall with the intention of trying it to see if I wanted to KickStart. I ended up pledging after making the game, before ever playing.

In this review I will cover my thoughts on EmDo. I will only include rules and specific card examples when they are necessary. Mostly I will weigh this game against Dominion since EmDo has been wrongfully labeled a deck building game for a long time now. This review is a reworking of a response to this question asked me in a Games Chat leage Geeklist:
HuginnGreiling wrote:
How did you like this game? I was conflicted about it, and now that it's come out through Kickstarter, what I'm hearing about it confirmed the reasons I didn't get it.

What catches you about this game?


First of all, I am a big fan of Dominion. There is something that just grabs me about deckbuilding (DB) in general. I find it just inherently fun. I like shuffling and hoping to draw what I need. I like choosing from a lot of different cards available, knowing that the right card can speed me on towards victory while the wrong one can slow me down. A lot of what I love in Dominion exists in Eminent Domain, however, EmDo does it very differently.

Lots of people think that EmDo is just another game jumping on the DB wagon. Lots of people are wrong. Lets look first at a lot of the other recent DB games available. Games like Thunderstone, Ascension, Resident Evil, even Puzzle Strike. Some of these games are quite good, some are mediocre, others are flat out terrible. Each of these departs in some way shape or form from Dominion but they all retain the same core concept: you must have a form of money in order to purchase a card in order to make your deck better in order to purchase or obtain more cards. This is the same basic concept in Dominion, which still does it best, and that is why none of those games have held any interest for me.

note: some very recent games are departing from this ex: A Few Acres of Snow

In my opinion EmDo is nearly the opposite idea. In EmDo the majority of the cards you get are not gained by purchasing, they are forced upon you through the choosing of roles. Each time you choose one of the six roles you gain a card of that role which goes in your deck. Since you are allowed to play cards from your hand with matching icons to make your role more powerful this helps make you better and better at doing that specific role. This is a forced gain. You can't decide on your turn to pass and forego gaining a role because you don't have the cash to get the one you want. This creates a very different dynamic in a deck building game.

In the early game, you are trying to build up an amount of role cards in your deck so that your turns can be more powerful. As the game goes on, certain roles may become less important to you and your focus may shift. This causes the role cards in your deck to become a detriment to your success. Frequently towards the end of the game I feel like I would pay good money to be able to perform a role without having to gain a card. Some call this concept "experience" but I like to call it "specializing." If you become too specialized in one area it starts to hamper your success and slow you down. The big difference here is that the main cards that drive your deck, the role cards, are the very cards that end up getting in your way. In Dominion the cards that get in your way are the end game VP cards, a brilliant idea in itself but very different.

If you would stop there and have to play the game with out anything else it would be quite dull. It would probably still work after a fashion but thankfully the designer gives you a lot of options to work around this feature.

The first thing is Researching. Performing an optional research action on your turn allows you to remove a couple cards from your deck, thereby thinning your deck and making it more efficient. Within the tech trees there are options that give you a more powerful version of this with one of the big techs allowing you to remove a card in hand from the game on each turn for free. The concept of research is a tricky one though since you usually have to forego doing an action that nets an initial bonus for one that nets a longer term bonus. This is an oft overlooked thing to do by new players and certainly requires a good grasp of the timing of the game in order to do it without a big slow down. In Dominion you can only do this if you happened to draw a "trash" card in the initial setup.

A second way that you can avoid the bloated deck effect in EmDo is by carrying over cards in hand from turn to turn. Rather than the Play-Buy-Discard EVERYTHING-Repeat of Dominion and its ilk you can now keep select cards that you want to utilize on a future turn. This allows you to toss all those poopy unwanted Survey cards and hold on to the Research ones until you can afford a good tech. By doing this the game adds an element of strategy and a wealth of decisions and calculations that Dominion can't have. When you lose your entire hand at the end of every turn you are completely at the mercy of what you draw in your next hand. It doesn't matter if you have the perfect ratio of X to Y to Z in your deck if you draw them at poor times. In EmDo if you draw at a poor time you can save it for a better place. It also allows a heavier decision process when considering other players turns, but more about that later.

Well, its later. The third way you can manage those pesky role cards is by the follow mechanic. Here EmDo departs quite a bit from Dominion and a comparison isn't really relevant. It is more akin, as some would say, to Glory to Rome, though I also find it very similar to Puerto Rico. When I "lead" a role, I perform it with some sort of bonus. You may "follow" and perform the same role but usually at a detriment. This interacts nicely with the saving cards over idea because you can try and save cards that you would like to follow with but not choose as a role in order to avoid gaining more of those cards (I'm looking at you Survey). While this is quite similar to some other games it gets better because if you choose not to follow you can draw a card from your deck which can potentially set you up to follow the next guy better or take a monster turn when it gets back around to you.

EmDo absolutely trumps Dominion in the next area I'd like to touch on. In EmDo, when you take over planets and gain certain technologies they stay in play, forever. The planets can give you things ranging from points to production slots to extra icons to follow or boost roles with to increaes in your hand limit. Imagine in Dominion if you could purchase an Action card that didn't clog up your deck and you could use it guaranteed on each of your turns. It is honestly such a great addition to this type of game and it's one I haven't seen done before EmDo. Oh, and did I mention that when you gain a tech it goes straight in your hand? So you don't have to wait a billion years before you can use it for something worthwhile?

So about this time I have you all ready to go out and purchase EmDo but you are realizing one thing that is missing. What about the card diversity? One of the best things about Dominion is the random kingdom card draw each game from so many possible options. If you love that about Dominion be warned, it is not here. However, I am recently of the mind that this isn't such a bad thing. When I play Dominion I don't really feel like each game is so incredibly different. Once those 10 cards are drawn the better strategies soon become apparent [for experienced players] and the game can end up almost playing itself based on what you draw more so than what you play. [this is not to say that it doesn't matter what you play/buy, just that it is usually fairly apparent to me what I should play/buy].

EmDo's diversity doesn't come from the card selection, this stays the same each game, it comes from the players. Alot of this game depends on what your opponents are doing on their turns. It is a game of subtle optimization and if you just walk through the game doing the same things they will capitalize on that, and you won't capitalize on them, and you will lose. Depending on the strategies your opponents employ, and the planets etc in their empire, the game plays differently every time.

The other part of replay value that EmDo has is that after 28 plays I can't tell you which strategy is best. I still haven't nailed down a path I should take each game and that is excellent. Your strategy can change based on what you think others are going to do and what kind of planets you initially get. No matter the strategy I try to employ, I have never found one to be superior. I have won just as often with colonizing as I have with warfaring, researching, and trading. I have focused on increasing my hand size and I have hunted Prestige Planets. I have set up massive fleets of planet flipping power and also run a meager 3 planet produce/trade engine.

All of the strategies I have tried have been successful, but they've also all been failures. The games I've played have been won by the person who best employed their strategy in order to take advantage of what the others were doing rather than just the person who picked strategy X. One of the greatest things about EmDo is that you can't nail down any one thing you should always do. Everything is tempting and possibly quite rewarding. Even better is the fact that the reward structure for each strategy changes based upon how many players you have. In short, the players are really what make the game different each time, and that is something I really appreciate in a game.

To summarize I would say EmDo is to Dominion as Puerto Rico is to Agricola. Both are incredibly good games that share some qualities but are near opposite in others. One is a standard set up game, one has variety. Both have a mix of tactics and strategy. Both are great.

Overall, if I had to choose which game I prefer I would choose EmDo over Dominion. In EmDo I have a much bigger sense of control than I do in Dominion. In EmDo the roles I take each turn matter a lot, as evidenced by the scores between new players and experienced players. In Dominion you often find that even though you bought the perfect amount of cards X, Y, and Z you still fail because you drew them at the wrong time. The control exists mostly when you buy the card, but no ratio can guarantee that it works out for you.

EmDo at heart is really not a deckbuilding game. Rather,
Quote:
it is a role selection game that utilizes a deckbuilding mechanic
(designer quote) and a quite good one at that.

After a few plays I had rated EmDo an 8. After a dozen that increased to a 9. I've now played almost 30 games and I rate it a 10. YMMV.

[Fake Edit to pretend I fixed grammer and spelling]
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Keith Morton
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Great review. Really looking forward to receiving this game( and several others). It's been holding up my order from Coolstuff Inc. since about May or June. Shouldn't be much longer I hope.
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Chris K
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Thanks! - I'll be checking this one out based on your review. I'm a little upset I breezed past it at GenCon.
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Shane Larsen
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Thanks for the review, Kenny. Very nice.
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Andy Andersen
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Excellent review. I admit I ordered this game because of the Hotness and figured to trade it when it became rare. I may have to re-think that now.

Thank you.
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Tim Seitz
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Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Sam 14:14
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I just wanna know when I am getting my kickstarted game!?
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Kenny VenOsdel
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out4blood wrote:
I just wanna know when I am getting my kickstarted game!?


Well
Michael Mindes
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hasn't posted in a couple days, nor returned my geekmail. Perhaps he is ubersexual busy because a certain slow boat arrived?

EDIT: Damn you autocorrect! That'ss teach me to post from my phone without proofreading. :D
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Andy Andersen
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kvenosdel wrote:
out4blood wrote:
I just wanna know when I am getting my kickstarted game!?


Well
Michael Mindes
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hasn't posted in a couple days, nor returned my geekmail. Perhaps he is ubersexual busy because s certain slow boat arrived?


Fingers crossed but not holding my breath. I've got 4 Tasty Minstrel Games on that lousy boat.
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s m t
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Thanks for the good review. I am eager to try this one.
 
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Harold Coleman
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kvenosdel wrote:
EmDo's diversity doesn't come from the card selection, this stays the same each game, it comes from the players. Alot of this game depends on what your opponents are doing on their turns. It is a game of subtle optimization and if you just walk through the game doing the same things they will capitalize on that, and you won't capitalize on them, and you will lose. Depending on the strategies your opponents employ, and the planets etc in their empire, the game plays differently every time.


I know just what you mean. I employed a Research heavy strategy, picking up a couple of 2VP techs then the 5VP tech in a given pile, to win a couple of games in a row. Then I tried it a third straight time. I failed to notice one player Surveying for high VP planets, settling AND attacking them. Suddenly, he ended the game with the last survey card and won with 20+ points while the other 3 of us were just getting rolling. You can't play multi-player solitaire in this one!
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Paul King
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The mechanic of getting better at the roles you select seems reminiscent of Notre Dame.
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Seth Jaffee
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kvenosdel wrote:
out4blood wrote:
I just wanna know when I am getting my kickstarted game!?


Well
Michael Mindes
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hasn't posted in a couple days, nor returned my geekmail. Perhaps he is ubersexual busy because a certain slow boat arrived?

EDIT: Damn you autocorrect! That'ss teach me to post from my phone without proofreading.

First off, the boat is scheduled to arrive such that the games are scheduled to get to the warehouse on Sept 26. That's what they told us when they put the stuff on the boat anyway. So if that's accurate, we're getting close now!

Second, Michael is at some "thing" out of town (can't recall what exactly, not a game related thing), so probably won't be back online until after the weekend.

Third, your auto-correct dictionary has ubersexual in it?

- Seth
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Seth Jaffee
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This is an excellent review that really does capture what Eminent Domain is all about. Thanks for posting it!
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Kenny VenOsdel
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It's the "predictive texting" feature on my droid. Perhaps I've used the term before and just forgot?

I'm not sure why it was there, but I found it hilarious anyway. Thanks for the updates on the boat and the kind words.
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Piotr Burzykowski
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Excellent review.
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Ludovic Roy
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Solid review, I'm not much if a Dominion fan, but I do enjoy deck builders like Eaten by Zonbies and Thunderstone, and games like Puerto Rico and Race for the Galaxy which seem to have some resemblances to Eminent Domain. Looks like I'll be picking this one up. Cheers!
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I like the fact that, after over a year of playing, I still enjoy the game with the cards that came in the box.
Unlike some DBGs, where unfamiliarity with the expansion set cards in any given game session can put you at a real disadvantage, this game works without any expansions (note, my copy came with the extra "promo" planets - which are less than a dozen extra cards).

This means that, once you are familiar with the rules, this is a game that you can pull out and play at game nights, without everyone having to be a big fan of the game, who has studiously kept up on all the new cards and combos.
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