What's Eric Playing?

#41 – Dominion [First Edition; Base Game]

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.

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

And setting them up, like so:

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

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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.

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

Mehs

Cons

Overall [Base Game]: 7.5 / 10

Overall [Dominion + expansions]: 9 / 10

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.