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#64 – Dominion: Dark Ages [Expansion]


Times have been hard. To save on money, you’ve moved out of your old castle, and into a luxurious ravine. You didn’t like that castle anyway; it was always getting looted, and never at a reasonable hour. And if it wasn’t barbarians it was the plague, or sometimes both would come at once, and there wouldn’t be enough chairs. The ravine is great; you get lots of sun, and you can just drop garbage wherever you want. In your free time you’ve taken up begging. Begging is brilliant conceptually, but tricky in practice, since no-one has any money. You beg twigs from the villagers, and they beg them back, but no-one really seems to come out ahead. That’s just how life is sometimes. You’re quietly conquering people, minding your own business, when suddenly there’s a plague, or barbarians, or everyone’s illiterate, and it’s all you can do to cling to some wreckage as the storm passes through. Still, you are sure that, as always, you will triumph over this adversity, or at least do slightly better than everyone else.

Base price: $45. (Generally around $30 – 35 in practice.)
2-4 players.
Play time: ~30-45 minutes.
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)

Another Dominion expansion review! I think at this point there’s just Guilds, Adventures, Empires, and Alchemy left, so I’m over halfway. Hooray!

As it turns out, Dark Ages was the first game of Dominion I ever played, though I didn’t realize it at the time. (It might actually have been Dark Ages + Alchemy? I remember either Spoils or Potions.) I actually had thought for a while my first game was with Cornucopia, but after noticing the Pillage card, I realized I had played a while before with this set.

So, if Prosperity is all about having money and spending money, Dark Ages is the opposite. You have so little money to start that you can’t even afford Estates, the staple starting Victory card of Dominion. Instead, you have some Shelters, the opportunity to get Ruins, and a whole lot of Rats. Will you manage to raise an empire from this squalor?



So this is a massive Dominion expansion, adding in 35 sets of Kingdom Cards, among other things:

That’s just a lot of cards. Yeah, there are more than 35 here, but some are, like Ruins (5 cards), Urchin / Mercenary (a pair of Kingdom Cards), and all 10 individually-named Knights (one Kingdom Card set, but 10 differently-named differently-arted cards).

Yes, you should set aside the base cards (CopperSilverGold, EstateDuchyProvince, Curse), but as I mentioned times are a bit tight, so rather than getting 3 Estates to start, you get 3 different Shelters:

Which are, with the exception of Necropolis, pretty much terrible (in my opinion). Necropolis gets a pass for that +2 Actions, but isn’t doing a whole lot else unless you draw it with more Action Cards that you definitely don’t have when the game starts. Give each player one of each Shelter and 7 Coppers. If you’re mixing this with other Dominion sets, do what you do for Colonies in Prosperity: shuffle the 10 Randomizer cards and flip one. If it’s Dark Ages, use Shelters, if not, don’t. This keeps the proportions fair.

As you should expect or have memorized if you’ve read my other Dominion reviews, you should remove certain amounts of cards, depending on your player count:

As always, you can use Randominion or a similar app or shuffle the randomizer cards and deal out 10:

Note that if any of the cards have “Looter” as a type, you’ll also need to add in “Ruins” cards:

But, you’ll need to handle them a specific way; you need to shuffle them before setting up the pile, as they’re mixed and you can only see the card on top if you choose to gain it / have to gain it via a card effect. The rest of the pile should be face-down. You’ll use the same number of Ruins as Curses (10 for 2 players, 20 for 3, 30 for 4, etc.), and I’ll note that again in Player Count Differences.

You may also be playing with Spoils, if Bandit Camp, Pillage, or Marauder are in your Kingdom Cards:

So set that pile near the Supply, but not in the Supply. Similarly, you might be playing with Madman or Mercenary, if Hermit or Urchin are in play, so do the same thing with that:

Lastly, there are a few weird piles, like the 20-card Rats pile or the Knights, which are all differently-named:

Just do what you did with Ruins and shuffle the Knights, keeping only the top Knight face-up and the rest of the pile face down.

Right, so, you’ll have your Kingdom Cards and your Base Cards, forming the Supply:

I actually like this layout a LOT. Will probably use it for future games.

And you’ll give each player their starting deck and have them shuffle and draw 5 cards. Once your play area looks like this, you’re ready to begin:


If you don’t know what a deckbuilder is, I describe it in detail in my Dominion or Dominion: Intrigue reviews. As of this point, I’m assuming that you do know what a deckbuilder is or you’re just enamored with my writing style. Either way, Dark Ages adds a few new things, so I’ll try to talk about each in turn.

More in line with, say, Seaside, Dark Ages adds in a few new card types (Shelters + Ruins), but also has a strong theme, a la Hinterlands. Rather than focusing on what happens when you gain cards and giving cards effects when gained, Dark Ages focuses instead on what happens when you trash cards (remove cards from the game) or giving cards on-trash effects (or just generally interacting with trashed cards). This generally leads to a fairly interactive set of cards, so I’d say that if you’re finding your Dominion games aren’t interactive enough for your tastes, Dark Ages can fill that gap pretty well. That said.

As with all expansions / instances of Dominion, your turn has 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 or Ruins, if that advances your strategy in some meaningful way), 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 different, otherwise the game would probably be fairly dry. Generally, along with some potential explanatory text, Action cards will have some effects:

If you have no +Action cards, you only get to play one Action card before your Action Phase ends. Action cards that lack a +Action are generally referred to as terminal Actions, and you generally will see a reasonable number of those in every set.

To reiterate how trashing works briefly since there’s so much trashing happening, some cards allow you to “trash” a card, or remove it from play and place it in a Trash pile near the Supply. Other cards have effects when they are trashed. Note that you cannot trash a card unless a card’s effect allows you to do so.

There’s also a new rule that gets basically defined for the first time in Dark Ages called the “Lose Track” rule, which pertains to cards that can “lose track” of cards that they’re supposed to affect later (either they attempt to trash a card that returns itself to the Supply after being played, they try to move a card in the discard pile that’s already been covered by another card gained to the discard pile, or something else). It can happen a fair bit with this expansion.

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 Counterfeit (value 1), Copper (value 1), Silver (value 2), Spoils (value 3) or Gold (value 3), and you should also count +Coins you got during the Action Phase. As usual, unless you got +Buys in the Action Phase, you can only buy one card.

Now, the 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, and then the next player takes their turn and so on / so forth until the game ends. Which, is:


There are two possible ways to end Dominion:

Note that the second case includes Coppers, Silvers, Golds, Curses, Duchies, and Estates, as well as the normal Kingdom cards. Now, count how many Victory points you have among your cards, and whoever has the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

Generally by now, I’ve asserted that the primary differences in various games of Dominion based on player count are:

I would say that this (save the Ruins bit) is generally true regardless of what Dominion set you’re playing with, so I’ll try to focus on Dark Ages-specific stuff.

With Dark Ages, I don’t see any particular differences between player counts, other than it might be more helpful to gain cards that let you pick up card from the trash (Graverobber / Rogue), since it’s likely that the Trash will be larger, especially since a number of cards ask each player to reveal the top two cards of their deck and trash one.


I would argue that this is a more difficult expansion to play well than the others. There’s a lot of finesse and card synergy required to pull off the right combos, here, and playing poorly can just leave you with a deck full of Rats (and often will).

Here are a few things I’ve done or taken away from playing with Dark Ages. It’s not an exhaustive list, but if you’re looking for more information, I always recommend the DominionStrategy wiki. And this article on Rats, because that’s the only way I figured out how to use it, and I’m honestly not totally sure I actually know.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons




Overall: 8.25 / 10

Overall, I’ve come to expect a certain level of quality from Dominion expansions, and this is no exception. I think Dark Ages is an excellent expansion, but it’s not my personal favorite. It’s fairly attack-centric (which makes sense given the flavor and theme), which is often frustrating for me. Additionally, since it changes up a significant number of the base Dominion’s rules, I don’t often get it to the table with new players. When I do play it, I enjoy it, and I think it adds a ton to the game. That said, I wouldn’t recommend picking it up first (which, given that it was released after Hinterlands, seems reasonable). I’d wait until you feel like you’ve gotten a solid handle on what Dominion “is”, and then look to expansions like Hinterlands and Dark Ages to offer a chance to show you what Dominion could be. They’re very different expansions, sure, but they offer a huge variety of ways to change and improve the game, and I really appreciate them for that. Dark Ages is an impressive (and massive) Dominion expansion, and I think it’s a great addition to the Dominion line.