Alright, so we’re either kicking off or continuing Spooky Games Week, depending on where this review lands relative to some of my other reviews. Yes, you’ll notice that I’m taking a short break from publisher-supplied titles (mostly) to cover a bunch of spooky games that I own, as I did last year. And one day I’ll be inebriated enough to cover Shaky Manor (it’s good, seriously), so, get hyped for that. In the meantime, let’s get back to Dominion! It’s been a while, especially since this expansion came out three years ago. I swear I always meant to get to it, and, now I have. Joke’s on me. You know how Dominion goes, so let’s get to it.
Night’s falling over town. And of course, that means the werewolf is out again. Don’t worry, though; this isn’t One Night. He just kinda hangs out sometimes. The local Vampire does too, along with the ghosts, the imps, and all manner of other creatures. That’s just how things go in this town. If you want to make it big here, you’ll have to make use of the Night and the many secrets it holds, and wield Boons and Hexes to your advantage. Even some family Heirlooms may help you achieve your wildest, most successful dreams. Will you be able to turn this nocturne to your advantage? Or will it end up being just one night after all?
Generally speaking, you’re going to set Nocturne up very similarly to a standard game of Dominion. You can find those steps in many or all of my Dominion reviews. For Nocturne, the key thing is that you’ve got some dependencies, now, and those need to be enforced. You’ll want to set up your Kingdom normally:
If certain cards are in play, you’re going to need to put other cards in play.
Certain cards come paired with their respective Heirlooms. Heirlooms, in Nocturne, will replace one of the seven starting Coopers in each players’ deck:
Depending on what cards you have in play, this may end up being your starting deck for the game:
Certain cards make reference to one of three Spirits: the Imp, the Will-o-Wisp, or the Ghost. I honestly just put them all in play anyways because a Boon references them. Set them nearby; they’re not in the Supply.
Boons and Hexes
So there are Boons:
Generally speaking, Boons are doled out via Fate Cards and Hexes via Doom Cards. If you have one or both in play, you should shuffle the Boons and Hexes and set them in play, too. If not, maybe don’t worry about it? I might still just for thoroughness and table presence.
I don’t deal much with States, but certain cards and Hexes bring them into play:
I’d say set them aside regardless and just grab them when you need them; no need to clutter the table.
You may see cards that reference the Wish Cards, too; I wouldn’t bother adding them to the Supply since they’re relatively few and far between. Just grab them out of the box when you need them.
The Necromancer’s a bit interesting, since it requires that you add three Zombies to the Trash before the game starts. Either way, you’ll end up with a Supply looking something like this:
Once you’ve gotten all that together, you should be ready to start!
I was originally going to not write this section at all, either, but there are a fair number of changes, so I should outline at least what’s different. For the standard rules to Dominion, see pretty much any review of Dominion I’ve written before now; this section will only cover the things that changed for Nocturne.
The Night Phase
There’s a new Phase in town, and it happens immediately after the Buy Phase. Yep, it’s the Night Phase, and it has some unusual effects. For one, you may now play any number of Night Cards that you want to play. These are Night Cards:
Certain Night Cards, when gained, go directly to your hand, rather than to your discard pile, so keep an eye on that, too.
Boons and Hexes
You may also see Fate and Doom cards pop up over the course of play. These cards can give you potential benefits and drawbacks. Fate cards deal primarily with Boons, mild bonuses that you can unlock. Think Events from Adventures, but you don’t have to pay for them. If you gain a Boon, flip the top card of the Boon pile and take that card’s effect. If there aren’t any cards left, shuffle the Boon discard pile and make that the new deck. Boones have a generally mild beneficial effect.
Hexes, on the other hand, are nothing to mess with. They’re essentially attacks, but they target the “beneficiary” of the Hex. Doom cards will be the primary means by which these are doled out, so watch out for those, as well.
Certain cards will cause you to gain a State, which may be anything from Lost in the Woods to Deluded to Envious to Miserable, which is the full state of Allowed 2020 Emotions. So you’ve got that going for you, which is nice. If that happens, take the corresponding State card and place it in front of you until told to do otherwise.
Beyond that, play Dominion as normal; the player with the most Victory Points at the end of the game wins!
Player Count Differences
I mean, there are enough Heirlooms for six players, but my refrain for literal years has been that unless Dominion is the only game you own, try to keep it to four players or fewer. And I think that goes doubly for this one, since the attack-heavy games of Dominion tend to move a bit more slowly. The thing is, now you can gain Hexes and Curses with relative ease, which junk up your deck and slow things down. If you have 5 other players dropping Hexes and Curses like they’re going out of style, you’re going to have massively junked decks. Like you wouldn’t even believe. As you might guess, this leads to me even further cementing my preferences for lower player counts. I enjoy this quite a bit at three, though! Having the “all other players take a Hex” or equivalent on cards does make you want to have more than just two (though I almost always prefer Dominion at two). Between two and three on this one, though, no preference. Gently against playing this with four, though, and I’ll almost never recommend Dominion with more than four.
- Don’t let that Shepherd pass you by. So not only does Shepherd pretty much turn the “rich get richer” business on its head, but it also incentivizes Estates, since you start with a Pasture that’s worth 1VP per Estate (as an Heirloom). This is a super useful card and one of the more critical of the must-buy cards that I’ve seen, especially if there are extra VP cards in play. If you’re mixing in other sets, this works really well for a lot of Victory Cards; I’d almost love to see a Kingdom that’s only Shepherd and Victory Cards and see how that turns out. That said, I expect this card to be in high demand, so make sure you get enough to work for you.
- Pookas are a nice way to get the trash bonus for Treasures, if you’re into that sort of thing. The Haunted Mirror, for instance, lets you gain a Ghost when it’s trashed, so, this might not be a bad combo to try and set up. Just keep in mind that Pookas cannot trash Cursed Gold; you’re stuck with that unless you can feed it to a Goat or otherwise trash it.
- If you’re seeing players trash lots of actions (or playing actions that trash themselves after use), having a Necromancer handy could be a pretty good move. Necromancer only works on Actions, but don’t worry if you don’t have any; he comes with his own! A few Zombies start in the trash, which isn’t something that I expected to ever say in the otherwise-mildly-serious Dominion, but here we are.
- The Fool is interesting, but it partially relies on another player being willing to also get into it. You need a partner in Fool crimes to get a Fool to work for you; otherwise, once you have Lost in the Woods, you can’t get any more Boons (beyond, of course, the one you can potentially get every turn).
- Lucky Coin is great to have early, but be careful with Cursed Gold. Both gain you something when you play them, but Lucky Coin’s Silver gain is matched in measure by Cursed Gold’s Curse gain. Make sure for the Cursed Gold that the benefit isn’t outweighed by the -1 VP and card junk.
- Having a Goat around is useful since it’s a trasher with no real drawbacks. It just lets you trash whenever you play the card, and it’s not an action. Want to get rid of early Estates? Goat. Too many Curses from the Cursed Gold you snatched? Goat. Just don’t like the Cursed Gold at all? Goat. It also works nicely with your Necromancer if you can get good non-Duration actions into the trash.
- Boons are nice, but they are not as good as Hexes are bad. Be careful! They’re not like, worthless, but they’re definitely small benefits. A skilled or lucky player can definitely take advantage of them, but if you think that means the Hexes are light, you’ve got another thing coming. Some of them can be brutal. Prepare accordingly, and maybe get some Doom cards?
- Overall, between Curses and Hexes this is definitely one of the more aggressive sets; be prepared for that. You’ll be hitting your opponents pretty hard and taking some big hits yourself, especially if you have Curse-heavy or Doom-heavy Kingdoms when you play. If you’re looking for that, then yeah, this is essentially an even darker Dark Ages. Which kinda scans, to be honest.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- This is a weird and spooky set and I kind of love it. I always thought Dominion could benefit from just getting even weirder, and here it is, getting weirder. It’s leaning into the fantasy a bit more than I’ve seen in previous sets (though they do do that). Perfect for Halloween, I think, hence part of Spooky Game Week.
- I think I love the Hexes? They’re like Events, but almost completely bad! And they’re like, almost cruel, sometimes? I love them, especially because they add a level of take-that that isn’t directed? It’s coming from the game, not other players. It’s like playing UNO! Attack (one of the worst UNO games); you hit the button and sometimes you get a ton of cards spit at you. It’s not someone else’s fault you got so many cards; they only made you hit the button.
- The Boons are fun, too. I’m less excited about them, but it’s nice to have something positive to cancel out the aggressive Hexes.
- One of my favorite things about Dark Ages was them mixing up the starting cards to be a bit different, and I love Heirlooms, as a result. Anything that changes the starting deck is almost always going to be something that I like; I’m just happy to have a bit more variety. I like that the cards generally synergize (or anti-synergize, in the case of Pooka + Cursed Gold) with at least one Kingdom Card, too. I’m just all around a fan.
- I routinely enjoy the flavor text on the rulebooks. I always like it for Dominion; it’s weirdly whimsical for a game that the folks I tend to play with tend to take Pretty Seriously, so it’s a nice contrast. Always gives me something to look forward to with regards to a new expansion.
- This, like Empires, is a pretty dense expansion probably better suited for experienced players. That’s good for me! I own a lot of expansions, at this point. Maybe too many. I think I can fit one more on my shelf with no problems, and then I have to get creative about where I can store Dominion. That’s a future Eric problem, though, so we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
- I thought the Night Phase would be annoying, but it’s not. Generally, I don’t like when games add new phases, as it tends to junk up the flow of the game more often than not. This one, though, since you can dump all of your Night cards, flows pretty well. So that’s nice.
- I enjoy the synergy of multiple players passing Lost in the Woods between them, and the mild competition that results from it. Two folks passing the State around is funny since both players want to have it so they can easily get a boon every turn, but they also want the other player to have it so they can use the Fool’s full effect. It’s a nice tension for a card.
- On synergy, a lot of cards play nicely with each other and with cards from other sets, which I appreciate. It just feels like a thoughtfully-designed set, and while I think that’s generally true of most of the sets, I think it shines pretty well, here.
- It agitates me somewhat that different piles of cards are stored in the same slots (even if the cards are related). I understand that they did that so they didn’t have to make an entirely new insert type, but, still, mildly annoyed over here.
- If you tend to play fast and loose with the exact rules of Dominion, this may trip you up a bit. The thing I usually mess up is when cards are “in play” versus in your discard pile, and unfortunately for me, there are a bunch of cards that use the mechanic of relying on cards that are still in play. Make sure that you keep track of where cards are!
- There’s a lot more complexity to the setup. There are so many cards that require other cards or reference Spirits or include Heirlooms or add on the Night Phase or reward you / penalize you with States / Hexes / Boons. If you’re introducing new players to Dominion, I would strongly recommend starting with something that’s a bit lower-complexity, set-wise.
- This is more a problem for the long-time Dominion fans, but we’re getting to the point where it’s becoming much easier to tell new cards from old cards due to both manufacturing coloring differences and just general wear around my card edges. I think there’s some actual color differences and my Base Cards are pretty worn, by now, and that’s okay and all but it’s definitely going to only get worse as time progresses. I wonder how Renaissance or Menagerie will fare with the cards I’ve got?
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Dominion: Nocturne is a hoot! (You know, because owls hoot and this is Spooky Games Week and you know what I’m just going to keep going.) It’s a nice bump in complexity for Dominion, and frankly, that’s welcome. Normally I complain a bit about more-complex expansions, but the thing about Dominion is that there are just so many cards available, leading to all kinds of synergies and interesting combos. So many! That does contribute to an … expanded setup time, though. I think that helps make a runway for more complex expansions like this, Empires, or Adventures, frankly. Additionally, I like that this expands on some tried-and-true mechanics (like Durations, one of my favorite Dominion things) while still adding some cool new stuff (like the Night Phase, Hexes, and Boons)! And that’s … good for an expansion. Is it my all-time favorite? No, that’s still going to be Empires. Is it definitely up there? Yeah! I think it’s a weightier Dark Ages, if that’s your kind of thing. More attacks, more bad outcomes, and even some good outcomes! Love that, if I’m looking for it. I think I like that even though there are more bad outcomes, the bad outcomes are a bit more game-inflicted rather than player-inflicted (via Hexes), which feels less bad. Either way, I’ve had a lot of fun with Dominion: Nocturne, and if you’re looking for an interesting expansion that ups the complexity, you may want to check it out, as well!