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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why You Should Be Playing Dominion

I ran into a friend while doing some laundry this morning.  She and her husband are two people with whom my wife and I try to play games on a semi-regular basis.  She asked about a game that my wife and I happen to adore, but I wasn't able to discuss the game in as much detail as I wanted.  I wasn't able to "geek out," as they say.

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss Dominion.  It is a freaking awesome game.  One of the things I love about it is it's replayability factor.  Dominion is a deck-building card game.  This means that each player begins the game with a small deck, and gradually adds to their respective decks as the game progresses.  There are numerous Action cards, Treasure cards, Victory cards, and hybrid cards available that can be purchased and added to your deck to enhance the deck's power or to gain more Victory points.  The great thing is, you can randomize which cards are available each game.  Thus, every game is different, with unique combinations of cards available and unique challenges to overcome.


Here's how the game works:  the game ends when either A) all the Province cards (worth 6 Victory points each) have been purchased, or B) any three Supply piles (piles of Action cards or Victory cards) run out.  The winner of each game is then determined by adding up the number of Victory points each player has accumulated.  Each player tries to purchase as many Victory cards as possible throughout the game.  However, Victory cards usually do nothing (the Dominion: Intrigue expansion did several things to make Victory cards relevant prior to the end of the game, but for the most part, Victory cards are just dead in your hand), so it is prudent to wait until the game is coming to a close to buy Victory cards.  Otherwise, you could find yourself stuck with a hand full of useless cards, thus wasting a turn or two looking for cards that do something.

Play proceeds clockwise, with each player taking a turn that consists of an Action phase, a Buy phase, and a Discard phase.  During the Action phase, the active player may lay down and use one Action card, which could have a wide variety of effects, including allowing the player to use even more Action cards in that turn.  Some of the more useful abilities of Action cards include drawing extra cards, acquiring new cards without needing to buy them, and adding virtual money to your money pool to spend that turn.  There are also Action cards that attack other players--for example, forcing them to discard cards from their hand--but my wife and I tend to shun such malicious strategies.

Once all the actions have resolved, the player enters the Buy phase.  You can use Treasure cards in your hand (plus any money generated by Action cards) to make a single purchase.  Some Action cards (and, with the newest expansion, some Treasure cards) allow multiple purchases in a single turn.  A typical turn, however, will consist of just one purchase, so you must select carefully which card amongst the various options to add to your deck.

During the Discard phase, all cards that were drawn or otherwise acquired are discarded into your discard pile, and a fresh hand of five cards is drawn.


The base game does a good job of introducing the various strategies of Dominion, and has given my wife and I hours of enjoyment.  The great thing about Dominion, though, is that there are (currently) four expansions, each of which adds further depth and complexity, new strategies and new ways to enjoy the game.

Like most of the games I enjoy, Dominion is easy to learn and difficult to master.  I would estimate that there are about one-hundred and thirty unique cards in Dominion, yet each game will only use between sixteen and nineteen of them.  Since the available cards can change every game, you have to adapt to different strategies each time.  Subsequently, the game has a high level of replayability.  Plus, it's a lot of fun.  Games can take as little as fifteen minutes from setup to point-tallying when played by two experts.  (The average game, though, seems to take about thirty to forty minutes.)  It is a perfectly balanced and fair game between two people, which is one of the reasons my wife and I play it so much; most of our other games need three or four people to play well.  It can be played with two to four people without trouble.

More than four people will require at least one expansion, however.  The base game does not come with enough Province cards for the game to play well with five or more people.  You need to add two or three Province cards per person beyond the fourth to balance things.  You may also need to stipulate that the second method of ending the game should be the depletion of four or even five stacks, rather than the usual three.  So, a little bit of work is required to play with more than four people, but it's totally worth it.

Dominion is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it.  Both the Intrigue and Seaside expansions are enjoyable and add a lot to the game.  I haven't had enough experience with the Alchemy or Prosperity expansions to give any sort of opinion on them, but I'm sure they're good, as well.

Check it out at boardgamegeek.com!


  1. And here's the part where I tell you your opinion is wrong. You do a fine job of explaining the game's mechanics, but then fail to explain what makes the game great, as if the game mechanics speak for themselves. They don't, sir. Virtually unlimited replayability and brief two-player gameplay do not an epic game make.

    If I'm honest with myself, part of my problem is that I was trying to juggle a newborn baby the first time I played Dominion, and was therefore a little exhausted and cranky. But still. Not a fan of this game.

  2. the best part of this game is that I can sometimes beat my wife at it. Which means that luck is an important factor as opposed to skill.