Sunday, May 30, 2010

Board Game Review: Dominion

"DOMINION" he said with a gleam in his eye
Dominion is basically our new favorite game bypassing Settlers of Catan as the most frequently-played. Yes, it's THAT good.

I picked it up with the "encouragement" of a friend ("yes, i think you should spend your money so we can play this game") to try it out, but it turns out one of the best buys i've ever made! The games excellent playtime (30min to 1.5 hrs) and replayability make this a favorite repeat among our friends! Typically in single game night we play 2 or 3 times in the place of 1 or 2 games of Settlers of Catan.

Technically speaking, Dominion is not actually a board game per se, although with the giant box it comes in you'd think it was. The way i see it, the game is more akin to a draft CCG (Collectible Card Games) and similar depth in game mechanics. However, the game has the accessibility of a well-designed board game, i.e. easy to pick up and play. Mostly, i think i like the game because when i'm playing, it feels like playing the CCGs when i was in highschool!

Problem with CCGs:
-Expensive: At $3.50 a pack you could buy 10 packs and you still wouldn't be able to field a deck in Magic, unless you bought a crappy starter deck for $10. And with the distribution of rare (and typically more powerful) cards meant you spent more money trying to get them.
-Imbalanced decks: Unless your friend and you spent the exact same amount of money, you would never have balanced decks to play against each other. One side usually wins more (either that or i just wasn't that good at CCGs when i was younger).
-Power creep over time; future card releases tend to have more abilities or new game mechanics (otherwise why would you want to buy new cards?) making older cards less usable .

With Dominion, from what i've read on the BoardGameGeeks forum, the author extensively playtested ALL the cards, then grouped them together into expansion sets by theme/card mechanic. This means ALL the cards are balanced from the get go! I've played with cards from the base set and 1st expansion set and they work well together, creating new and interesting strategies.

The game works like this: For each game, you randomly pick 10 Action cards out of the 26 it comes with. Only those 10 cards are available for purchase throughout the game with a supply of x10 for each. You use treasure cards in your hand/deck to purchase action cards, better treasure cards, or victory point cards. Since only 10 action cards are allowed per game, it is easy to play (only 10 different cards with text to read) and provides infinite replayability with a different set of 10 out of the 26 every time. And it really changes how the game goes; in our first night we played 3 games and all 3 played differently. Add an expansion (+26 new action cards) and you've got great replayability. Balance is inherent to the game because everyone starts with the same starting deck and all can buy from the supply pool.

You build your deck of cards throughout the game to enable you to buy victory point cards. Whoever has the most victory points in their deck at the end of the game wins! However, victory point cards don't provide any functional benefit during the game, they just take up space and glut your hand with useless cards. Therefore, the general strategy is to focus on Treasure and Action cards early game and towards the end switch over to buying Victory cards. Some say the entire game is knowing when to switch over, although in my opinion that is only one strategy to winning. Some reviews have said the game is very much like 4-player solitaire. I would say this is only sometimes true and depends on the action cards available for a particular game. With attack cards, the game quickly becomes more interactive and even without attack cards you may wish to change your strategy to hinder another player's strategy. Watching what other players are doing becomes a part of the game.

The other nice thing is the game works well anywhere from 2-6 players. We've played it several times with only 2 people and it's still a fast and fun game. Settlers of Catan needs at least 3 players (but the more the merrier).
The box has a lot of wasted space so i threw out the plastic insert and combined both the base set and 1st expansion cards into one box.  I keep the randomizer cards and extra sleeves in the middle.  It is completely worth the time and effort to make the dividers (downloaded from BGG).

In short, this is a great, easy-to-learn game with depth, variety, short playtime, and endlessly replayable. I've already ordered the 2nd and 3rd expansion (+36 action cards to the 52 of the base set and 1st expansion = 88 action cards)! Oh, and the game fluff on the box is hilarious!

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