Please note that this refers only to the first edition of Dominion: Intrigue. As the Second Edition has updated cards, I will be covering the differences between the first and second editions in a later review. An important difference is that the second edition will no longer be a standalone expansion; it WILL require the base game to play. Thanks!
BRIEF ASIDE: I’ve been writing reviews for about a year, now, and I really appreciate you all reading up until now. To that end, starting tomorrow, on my one-year bloggiversary, I’m kicking off another new year with a giveaway for a game I really enjoy, Knapsack Games’s Apotheca: The Secret Potion Society. Check out the giveaway details here; it opens at midnight tomorrow!
Well now that I’ve written up one Dominion, I should theoretically be able to write up all of them. I’m not gonna go full consecutive like the Carcassonne Expansions 1 & 2 Bonanza I had a little while back, but … might as well get to them eventually.
Dominion: Intrigue is a bit of a weird bird in the Dominion series, as it’s the only expansion that’s actually a standalone, meaning you don’t actually need to buy Dominion (the base game) to play it (which is why the featured photo includes the base cards; a nice touch, if I may say so myself). While some might interpret this as a free pass to skip the base set forever, I actually like some of the base set cards, so I wouldn’t totally recommend that (unless you’re planning to skip just like, Woodcutter, which is an awful card). Additionally, later expansions don’t come with the base cards (Copper, Silver, Gold, Estate, Duchy, Province, Curse, … others, that I will tell you about once we get to my eventual Prosperity or Alchemy reviews), so Intrigue is the only currently standalone expansion. That being said, it’s still Dominion at its core, so I’ll likely refer back to the base game review every now and then but ultimately treat it like an expansion.
Let’s talk more about what’s going on, here.
Setup is literally identical to base Dominion. As I mentioned there, there are a lot of cards:
This time, I sorted them by cost rather than by whatever I did last time (looked pretty much random), so you’ve got that going for you. Try not to stress about the sheer number of cards, as you’ll only use ~15 or so piles every game.
Start by removing these stacks of cards from the box and setting them aside:
You can probably lay them out a bit so that they’re organized, but that’s up to you since you’ll still have some organization to do. In either case, it’ll help if you have this:
Give each player 7 Copper and 3 Estates, as those will comprise their starting decks. If you are confused as to what a deckbuilder is, feel free to check out my reviews of other deckbuilders (Paperback, Flip City, … Dominion), or keep reading and I’ll explain again. You only get one more, though. At some point I’m going to cut you off on deckbuilder explanations.
Now that you’ve set out these cards, you might need to put some of each pile back in the box. Sorry, would have mentioned that earlier, but there’s a whole narrative flow to this. You should use different starting cards based on your player count:
- 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.
There is also another set of blue-backed cards that are “randomizer” cards. These cards are an easy way to decide what 10 Kingdom card sets you’ll be using for this game, since you don’t always use every card. If you’ve got a preference, pick 10 Kingdom card sets that you like (remembering to use the correct number of green Victory cards for your player count!), or just shuffle the blue-backed randomizer cards and flip 10:
There are also some recommended Kingdoms in the rulebook or online, so you may want to try those. I’ve never intentionally used a rulebook set, as we usually prefer going random, but the rulebook sets can highlight interesting card synergies or strategies for new players. If you want to really go the random route, you may also want to use an app like Randominion to pick them for you, especially if you’re combining sets.
Once that’s all set up, have each player shuffle their deck and draw five cards. If your play area looks like this, you’re ready to begin:
Alright, so, gameplay. The first thing is that Intrigue, as mentioned previously, is an example of a deckbuilder, like Flip City, Paperback, base Dominion, …other games (Star Realms, Ascension, Marvel Legendary). And, as before, if you don’t know what a deckbuilder is, allow me to quickly explain one more time.
TELL ME THE SECRETS OF DECKBUILDING, PLEASE
Well okay, but only since you asked so nicely. A deckbuilder is a game focused on making improvements or modifications to a deck that everyone starts with a copy of. Think of it like a template that you can then modify to suit your play style or strategy, as it is unlikely that any player will end the game with the same deck. During your turn, you will play cards from your hand trying to earn money and then buy cards from the Supply for their cost (shown in the lower-left corner of the card), adding them to your discard pile (this is known as “gaining” a card).
At the end of your turn, you discard all the cards you played 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 and you use five per turn), 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 or deck until you need to draw another card and cannot unless otherwise stated. Your goal is typically to get the green 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 you need to draw additional cards but your deck is empty, shuffle your discard pile into your (now-empty) deck. Rinse, repeat.
Let’s keep going.
Dominion had four (really) major card types (green Victory cards, white Action cards, blue Reaction cards, and gold Treasure cards). I generally lump Action and Reaction cards together (since Reactions are almost always paired with Action, as far as you know), but they’re really not quite the same thing.
As you may know or remember, there is another exception to this — Curses, which are just Curses and are not Victory cards for any reason, since they’re worth negative victory points, which is the opposite of victory. They just kind of exist, so I’m not going to talk too much about them. If I’m separating Reaction cards from Action cards, then I’d assert there are only two types of Action cards — regular Actions and Attacks, just like base Dominion. However, in an attempt to outdo base Dominion just a little bit, Intrigue introduces hybrid Victory cards, or Victory cards that you can play, on your turn (as opposed to and in addition to the standard victory cards, which you cannot play):
This is kind of awesome, but they obviously tend to be more expensive than their counterparts to compensate, so be careful with that. At least Great Hall gives you something to do, which is much better than an Estate.
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, if you feel that you must), provided you can pay its cost (bottom-left number).
All cards have a title (top), a cost (bottom-left), and their type or types (bottom-center), but their effects are profoundly different. Generally, along with some optional 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 to pay for all the cards you buy.
- +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. If you have no +Action cards, you only get to play one Action card before your Action Phase ends.
After the Action Phase 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), Harem (value 2, 2VP), 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 try to make your purchase count.
And that’s the end of your turn! Now begins your Clean-Up Phase. As mentioned previously, discard everything (actions, treasures, etc.) in front of you from play and discard any cards left in your hand. Then, the next player takes their turn and so on / so forth until the game ends. But when does Dominion end?
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 second 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
Again, I personally prefer Dominion slightly more at two, but I also prefer a mostly attack-less Dominion, so that’s sort of more optimal. With more players it might be beneficial to at least have an attack or two so that you can have some control over how other people are playing, perhaps.
More players are 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).
You should remember that the three hybrid Victory cards (Harem, Nobles, and Great Hall) as well as other Victory cards in the Intrigue set (such as Duke) are still Victory cards for the purposes of having only 8 or 12 in the game, depending on player count.
I mentioned this previously but I’ll say it again. If you own Dominion and Intrigue, it is theoretically possible to combine the sets and play with up to six players. Do not do that. You will spend far too much time waiting for other people to finish their turns, the attacks will become gross, just, generally, don’t do it.
The strategies for base Dominion still apply here, so I’ll just link to those, but it’s also wise to add in some Intrigue-specific strategies:
- Do not underestimate Bridge. This set lacks one of my favorite cards that can make Bridge amazing, since it doesn’t have any +Actions, but being able to lower the cost of all cards in play (including cards in your hand) by 1 is a pretty interesting play. (For instance, Bridge means that cards your opponent reveals for Saboteur cost 1 less, so they gain even worse cards if they have to trash it.)
- Beware Duke + Duchy. If you see someone buying a weird number of Duchies, they’re probably going to use those to supercharge their Duke (even with four Duchies, it’s still more valuable than a Duchy on a cost-per-points level). They also can be augmented by additional Duchy buys in the late game, so be careful.
- Hybrid Victory cards can help you as well as hurt you. Great Hall + Ironworks (which would give you +1 Card and +1 Action for gaining a Great Hall) are wonderful, but if you discard a hybrid Victory card via an opponent’s Tribute, they gain both bonuses. Generally, that means that Tribute is a pretty decent counter to someone Ironworks-ing a bunch of Great Halls.
- Coppersmith is generally pretty bad. Like, you might be able to swing a turn 3 Province by drawing Coppersmith + 4 Coppers, but … is that actually a thing you want? Other than that, it’ll just get worse as you draw more non-Copper cards, so perhaps consider buying something else unless you really feel like you can make it work.
- Masquerade is … interesting. I haven’t seen it used particularly well in games that I’ve played, but it can be pretty disastrous to you or your opponent with the wrong hand. Or if you just wreck yourself to completely screw them over, made famous by the Masquerade Pin. (NOTE: What’s Eric Playing explicitly does not recommend using this play, as I cannot guarantee it will not get you punched in real life. Use at your own peril, and this requires both Intrigue and the later Prosperity expansion and I’m generally trying to avoid talking about expansions I haven’t reviewed yet.)
- This set’s Reaction card cannot prevent Attacks, and some of these Attacks are pretty aggressive. Plan accordingly. Worse even is that Masquerade and Tribute aren’t even Attacks, so there’s no defending against them. Be prepared for some tough games if you’re seeing any attacks out here, especially with, say, Swindler (which can turn Coppers into Curses, mind you) or Saboteur.
Again, not an exhaustive list! Just trying to get you thinking about strategies. Plus, if I listed strategies for every card this would be an extremely long post.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Lots of variety. These cards are VERY different from base Dominion, and it’s cool to see how they interact with these and other sets.
- The theme is pretty interesting. It’s been said that the theme here is roughly “cards with choices”, and there are a LOT of those. Pawn, for instance, is interesting because it’s at least a guaranteed +1 Card +1 Action, but you might choose to use it for other things.
- Some of the art is pretty great. Ryan Laukat, who did the art for Above and Below (amazing) is even an illustrator for some of these cards, which is awesome.
- Really adds a lot of new strategies to the game. Bridge is awesome, Masquerade is awesome, and Saboteur is pretty awesome in the sort-of Biblical, pillars-of-salt sense, which is its own business.
- Pretty aggressive set. While it doesn’t have the most attacks, it definitely has some painful ones (early Swindlers are tough), so if you’re looking for a friendlier game this might not be the expansion I’d go straight for.
- Some of the art is Shanty Town. Dear God in Heaven.
It doesn’t really fit with the art style of the rest of the Dominion cards, so it’s all weirdly incongruous. Would not say that I’m a fan. That being said, it’s not “bad” art (since all art is subjective), it just seems out of place with the rest of the set. It’s sort of like Dominion’s Wind Waker to every other game’s Twilight Princess.
- “Proudly made in the USA”. They changed manufacturers for this set, and it shows. The cards are super flimsy, the insert’s not great, and even the box feels like lower quality. I’m not sure if this is a commentary on the American manufacturing process, but damn. It’s to the point where I can generally tell if an Intrigue card is on top of my deck when shuffling / handling my cards, so I have to use the Intrigue base cards when playing because they’re similarly uh … “made in the USA”. It’s very frustrating.
Overall: 7 / 10
I’m a bit conflicted on the score. On one hand, as a standalone this irks me somewhat because it’s more aggressive, but there are a lot of cards I really, really like (Bridge, for instance). As an expansion the shift downwards in card quality makes this very difficult to use without being kind of irresponsible (since you could, theoretically, tell when you have an Intrigue card on top of your deck) or buying a LOT of card sleeves. Generally I wouldn’t recommend this as your introduction to Dominion, but I think as an expansion it’s pretty good, as it adds a lot of interesting ways to change existing card strategies and opens up a lot of new avenues for play. I think other, later expansions are a bit more interesting, but I’d say that Intrigue adds a lot to Dominion, even if the production quality of the game itself could use some work.