#41 – Dominion [First Edition; Base Game]

Dominion 001.JPG

Note that this is the Big Box, but I’m only writing about the Dominion base game.

Base price: $45. You are unlucky if you pay more than $35. I saw it once for $16.
2-4 players.
Play time: ~30-45 minutes. How good are you at shuffling?
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)

Please note that this refers only to the first edition of Dominion. As the Second Edition has updated cards, I will be covering the differences between the first and second editions in a later review. Thanks!

I’m pretty sure I’ve been putting this off forever for a number of reasons, but, with Dominion: Empires having just recently come out, I figure it might be time to finally write up my thoughts on Dominion. Plus, I already explained what a deckbuilder is for Flip City and Paperback, so it can’t be too hard, right?

Dominion, the 2009 Spiel Des Jahres winner, is the first and likely the most canonical example of a deckbuilder, which I will explain later in this blog post. In Dominion, you are tasked with building up your … well, your dominion by accruing various estates, duchies, and provinces. That being said, every kingdom is a bit different, so you’ll likely never play exactly the same game twice. Will you rise to the top and control everything before you? Or will your dominion, like so many others, fall short of greatness? Read more and find out.

Contents

Setup

So there are a lot of Dominion cards. Try not to stress about it, though it’s a reasonable thing to be stressed about, as there are … a fair number.

Dominion 009.JPG

To make your life somewhat easier, you should start by removing these cards:

  • Copper
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Estate
  • Duchy
  • Province
  • Curse

And setting them up, like so:

Dominion 012.JPG

You’ll need to remove some of those cards as well.

  • For 2 players:
    • Use 8 Estate, Duchy, Province, and any other Victory (green) cards.
    • Use 10 Curse cards.
  • For 3 players:
    • Use all 12 Estate, Duchy, Province, and any other Victory (green) cards.
    • Use 20 Curse cards.
  • For 4 Players:
    • Use 12 Estate, Duchy, Province, and any other Victory (green) cards.
    • Use all 30 Curse cards.

Before putting any leftover cards in the box, take 3 Estate cards and 7 Copper cards and give them to each player. This constitutes their starting decks, which I will explain more about later in gameplay.

Cool. So now you’ll notice some randomizer cards (cards with blue backs) that look like all the other cards in the box. If you don’t see any blue-backed cards, I’ll wait until you’ve gathered them all up. They look like this:

Dominion 011.JPG

That’s not a perfect circle, but I’m also no islaythedragon.

Got them? Good. I can’t wait much more. Shuffle these and pick 10. These are the 10 Kingdom cards you will have in play. If you’d prefer something a bit more orderly, I use the Randominion app because I now own literally too many randomizer cards to make shuffling all of them anything more than a pain in the ass. It’s solid. Note that if you are using the Gardens or any other Victory cards from the Kingdom cards, use the player count rules to determine how many you set out.

Set the Kingdom cards out in any way you’d like (I usually organize them by their cost in the bottom-left, for a variety of reasons), and that’ll be the entire Supply for the game. Now have each player shuffle their 10-card decks and draw five cards. Once your play area looks like this, you should be ready to begin:

Dominion 014.JPG

Please note that results may vary since Supply setups are randomized, or choose your own! Also you might not have three players. You do you.

Gameplay

Alright, so, gameplay. The first thing is that Dominion, as mentioned previously, is an example of a deckbuilder, like Flip City and Paperback. And, as before, if you don’t know what a deckbuilder is, allow me to quickly explain.

PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT A DECKBUILDER IS

Alright, you don’t have to shout. So, a deckbuilder is a game focused on creating your individual deck and then building it up. Effectively, you will play cards during your turn trying to earn money and then buy cards from the Supply for their cost, adding them to your discard pile. At the end of your turn, you discard all the cards in front of you and any cards left in your hand (unless otherwise stated) and then draw a new hand of cards, in this case 5 (again, unless otherwise stated). At some points (usually after the first two turns, for example, since you only start with 10 cards in your deck), you will need to draw cards and cannot, since your deck is empty. At this point, shuffle your discard pile and draw the remaining cards that you need from your shuffled discard pile, which is now your deck again. Note that you never shuffle your discard pile until you need to draw another card and cannot. Your goal is typically to get Victory cards, as they will give you points that you will need to win at the end of the game (most points wins).

tl;dr: Play cards from your hand. Buy cards from the Supply. Discard cards in front of you and leftover in your hand. Draw new cards. If your deck is empty when trying to draw cards, shuffle your discard pile. It’s now your deck. Rinse, repeat.

Let’s keep going.

Gameplay, continued

So, there are three major types of cards in Dominion:

Dominion 010.JPG

Left to right: Victory, Action, and Treasure cards.

There are some exceptions to this, in that Curses are their own special card (think of them as terrible Victory cards, but they are not Victory cards for the purposes of any card effects). Additionally, Actions come in three flavors — Actions, Action-Attacks, and Action-Reactions. This is fairly important. Also important is that the Victory cards cannot be played. They’re just kind of … there.

On your turn, you will have two phases: the Action Phase and the Buy Phase. During the Action Phase, you can play one Action card. During the Buy Phase, you can reveal and play Treasure Cards and then buy one card from the Supply (the Kingdom cards + Treasure cards + Victory cards + … Curses, I guess), provided you can pay its cost (bottom-left number).

In order to better understand this, let’s look at some Action cards that you could play during the Action Phase:

Dominion 015.JPG

Note there are multiple types of Actions as well: Action – Reaction, Action – Attack, and regular Action cards.

You’ll notice that they all have a title (top), a cost (bottom-left), and their type (bottom-center), but their effects are profoundly different. Generally, in addition to explanatory text, Action cards will have some effects that will alter the remainder of your turn:

  • +X Card[s]: Draw X extra cards.
  • +X Action[s]: You may play X additional Action cards during your Action Phase.
  • +X Buy[s]: You may buy X additional cards during your Buy Phase, provided you have the money.
  • +X Coin[s]: You have X additional money to spend during your Buy Phase.

As you might guess, being able to play more Action cards can be pretty useful, especially if you have more than one Action card in your hand.

So that’s your Action Phase. Next comes your Buy Phase, in which you play Treasure cards to accumulate money, and then spend that money on cards from the Supply. Treasure cards can be Copper (value 1), Silver (value 2), or Gold (value 3), and you should also count +Coins you got during the Action Phase. Generally, unless you got +Buys in the Action Phase, you can only buy one card, so choose wisely.

And that’s the end of your turn! As mentioned previously, discard everything in front of you from play and discard any cards left in your hand. This is your Clean-Up Phase. Then, the next player takes their turn and so on / so forth.

Game End

Sure, Dominion’s a lot of fun, but all good things must eventually come to an end. When does it? Well, there are two possible ways to end Dominion:

  • The Province pile is exhausted (there are no more Province cards).
  • Any three piles in the Supply are exhausted.

Note that the latter case includes Coppers, Silvers, Golds, Curses, Duchies, and Estates, in addition to the normal Kingdom cards.

At that point, count how many Victory points you have among your cards. Whoever has the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

Generally not a whole lot to report here. I personally prefer Dominion slightly more at two, but I also prefer a mostly attack-less Dominion, so different strokes for different folks. Most strategies are still pretty tenable with any player count (with this set, at least).

More players are basically going to give you more downtime between turns, and you might notice that you get fewer of certain cards from the Supply, since there are more players buying from the Supply, but the numbers of cards stay constant (save for Victory cards, which increase when you move from 2 -> 3+ players).

Now, some will tell you that if you were to get a second Dominion set (say, Intrigue, or the Dominion Base Cards) you could play with as many as 6 players.

Please, for the love of God, do not do that. If you ignore literally everything I’ve ever written on this blog, just remember this — do not play Dominion with more than 4 players. It will just … it’ll take forever.

Strategy

So, here was the part that I was afraid of. I’m not going to go too in-depth, but rather shoot for general Dominion strategy and focus a bit more on cards in this set. That being said, if you would like to read MORE in-depth strategy, I highly recommend the Dominion Strategy wiki. It’s where I learned all about the Masquerade Pin, which … oof.

  • Watch out for terminal actions. We call an action “terminal” when it is an Action card with no +Actions. Once you’ve played it, you can play no more Action cards during your Action Phase. While you might think that Smithy’s +3 Cards is awesome, it’s significantly less awesome if you draw two Action Cards that you can’t play. Smithy, Witch, and Council Room are all examples of this, so pay attention when buying them in bulk. That being said:
  • +2 or more Actions are great for decks with terminal actions. Since +2 Actions gives you the ability to play two additional Action cards, you could play a Witch and still have the ability to play another Action card if you wanted. That’s generally positive.
  • Try to figure out synergies between Kingdom cards. This gets more notable as you start getting expansions, but some cards work well together. In this set, generally with any terminal action you’re going to want +X Actions cards, like the Village.
  • Trashing is not the worst thing. You might think, “why would I ever want to trash my Coppers or Estates? They’re worth money and points, respectively!” And that’s true, albeit specific. However, Estates aren’t playable, so imagine if every time you drew an Estate you could have drawn a Copper or another card instead. You might be able to buy higher-value Victory cards earlier, meaning you’d actually be net positive. Just something to consider. Do not underestimate the power of the Chapel, is all I’m saying.
  • Be responsive to your opponents’ plays. Generally, I only will buy the Moat (Reaction card preventing an Attack from affecting me) if I see an opponent buy a Witch or another Attack card. That being said, if my opponents only buy 1 Attack, it might not be worth wasting a Buy on a Moat. It’s your call.
  • There are many ways to win. You could try trashing your cards to make your deck as small as possible, meaning you only draw good cards. You could fill your deck with Silver and Gold such that you’re always drawing at least 8 or more money per turn. You could weigh your opponent down with Curses or fill their deck with Coppers and garbage. While not an exhaustive list of strategies, each strategy has its merits and many depend on what cards are in the Kingdom. Be aware of these different avenues and plan accordingly, especially making sure of what avenues present themselves based on the cards in the Supply each game.
  • Try to avoid giving your opponent the ability to end the game, especially in two-player games. In two-player games primarily, there’s a thing called the Penultimate Province Rule, in which any player who takes the second-to-last Province sets an opponent up to potentially end the game. Since you generally don’t know how many points they have, that’s not really beneficial — you want to be the person in charge of making that decision, especially because if you take the last Province that’s 6 unanswerable points. You may find that it’s more beneficial to take a Duchy or a Garden and force them to take the second to last Province, giving you the opportunity to end the game.

This is not an exhaustive list of strategies — this is rather something to get you thinking about how you’d have to think to play and win Dominion! There are far too many cards and potential Kingdoms and combos for me to outline everything alone, so I’ll move on from here.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Deckbuilders are pretty rad, in my opinion. This is a really cool concept, and I think Dominion is well-thought-of in board gaming because it popularized the concept and does it better than many (though I slightly prefer Paperback because I love word games). It’s one of my favorite game styles, along with tile-laying.
  • Super well-balanced. There are clear synergies between cards and clear antisynergies, but it’s hard to make a “broken” Kingdom using only the base set. It’s a bit easier to make disturbingly effective combos with the expansions, but that’s mostly just hilariously using one card or another (see King’s Court + Bridge).
  • Pretty easy to teach and learn. Usually I can explain the concept pretty quickly, so that’s helpful. It’s definitely a game you can pick up from just the rules and it’s not that complicated.
  • TONS of replay value. You will likely almost never play the exact same Kingdom twice if you’re pulling randomly. If you find that you need to inject a bit of the new, there are literally 10 MORE expansions (Adventures, Alchemy, Cornucopia, Dark Ages, Empires, Guilds, Hinterlands, Intrigue, Prosperity, Seaside), each with their own themes and weird cards and such. You will never run out of Dominion. It’s impossible.
  • Modular and adaptable to many different playstyles. Want a quick game? Get rid of +X Action cards. Not feeling aggressive? No Attack cards. Want a brutal game? Put in all the Attack cards and get rid of the Moat. You can build a Kingdom card set that reflects the kind of game you want to have.
  • Fun. It was, when I got it, very unlike anything I had played before. It’s a great entryway into more complex card games.

Mehs

  • Pretty light on theme. I guess it’s “you build a Kingdom”, although Donald X. also made Kingdom Builder so perhaps that’s not the EXACT theme it’s supposed to be, but … it’s very very light on theme. Later expansions add a bit more theme outside of this sort of generic feudal setting (the flavor text on the rulebooks is particularly excellent), but the base is similar to 7 Wonders in that it doesn’t have a lot of theme going on outside of a vaguely-generic one.
  • Can feel not terribly interactive. It’s often called “multiplayer solitaire”, and that’s because unless you’re attacking, you don’t feel like you have that much influence on other players. On the other hand, I find it very interesting to see what other people are playing and buying to try and figure out their strategy so that I can try to head it off before it’s too late, or just seeing approximately where they are. I think it depends a lot on the Kingdom cards you play with — if you have Witch in play, you’ll DEFINITELY notice the other players. I also think later expansions add a reasonable amount of player interaction to the game.
  • I have no idea what size these cards are. They’re definitely not standard poker size, so … make sure you actually look into what size the cards are before you consider getting sleeves, especially given the number of cards.

Cons

  • Lots of downtime. One of the biggest irritations about this game is that the majority of the time you’re waiting for other players to do their turn, as this is another game where overanalysis can take a while. You also spend a lot of time waiting for other players to shuffle their deck, as they technically shouldn’t until they need to draw cards and can’t, as mentioned previously. These cards can get worn pretty fast from that much activity, so sleeving them might be a good idea, actually, but there are just so many cards…
  • Almost too many cards? If you’re someone who sleeves their cards religiously, good luck. I hate to quote an angry Vegeta or a tired meme, but I think there might actually be over 9000 cards in the total Dominion + all expansions, which would require a LOT of sleeves. It’s also a bit intimidating to new players when they first see the box opening, so I have to try and talk them through it. It also means if you buy all the expansions it’s almost impossible to transport in its default boxes, which can be pretty annoying because I actually enjoy Dominion enough to want to bring it places. It just doesn’t transport all that well without significant creativity. I have seen online that some enterprising players have managed to store all the cards in the Big Box…

Overall [Base Game]: 7.5 / 10

Overall [Dominion + expansions]: 9 / 10

Dominion 016.JPG

That ugly turn where you have 12 money and only 1 Buy… Province it is!

Overall, Dominion is one of my favorite game families, which is weird because I was super hesitant to buy it when I was first getting started. I actually only got into it by playing it at a friend’s party. “Ugh,” I would say, “if you buy Dominion, you have to buy so many expansions and etc. etc. etc.” I wasn’t totally wrong, but once I did, man, there’s a LOT of Dominion! The expansions add depth and complexity to a game that I think already has a good amount of strategy for my tastes, and they add in interactions that make “less useful” cards better and completely change up how certain strategies work. I think each one is excellent in its own way and worth checking out. The sheer volume of content available is unbelievable.

As you might imagine, I’d consider Dominion a classic up there with 7 Wonders and Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. There’s a lot to it, a lot that can be done with it, and a lot still to go. I’d highly, highly recommend checking it out if the idea of a deckbuilder appeals to you–there’s a reason why after over 7 years people still think of Dominion when they’re suggesting a deckbuilder.

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2 thoughts on “#41 – Dominion [First Edition; Base Game]

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