Dominion: When Cards Meet Kingdoms
Imagine for a moment that you are a noble… king… maybe… and you’re competing against… other kings… to have the most land…? Okay, I’ll admit, I never paid attention to the flavour text of Dominion, I just love the game itself.
Dominion is a game published by Rio Grande Games which puts players in the role of Monarchs competing to develop the largest, most impressive dominion they can. It’s an incredibly addicting game, and is probably the single largest source of inside jokes for my group of friends.
Thankfully, the game is a pretty simple one. There are three stages to every turn:
- Play action cards
- Buy cards
- Draw 5 cards
The mechanics of how all that works is a little more complicated, so I’ll run through it.
The game is set up similar to this during every game. On the left are ten stacks of distinct cards. These are called Kingdom cards, and they vary from game to game. The seven piles on the right are the core cards, made up of treasure, victory, and curse cards. Each kingdom pile has ten identical cards in it, the victory piles usually have 12, and the treasure and curse piles are larger.
Initially, everyone is given three estate victory cards (the green ones on the left) and seven copper treasure cards (the gold ones on the right). This is your starting deck, which is expanded through game play.
The objective of this game is to get as many victory points as possible by the time the game ends. This is accomplished by buying Victory cards, while trying to keep your deck balanced enough that buying these victory cards doesn’t bog you down. The game ends when the pile of provinces has been depleted, or when any other three piles have been depleted (including treasure, victory, and curse piles).
I’ll take a moment here to explain the cards:
All cards have some common elements: A name at the top of the card, the type of card at the middle bottom, the cost in the lower left, and the game icon on the bottom right.
The cost of a card is how many coins you need to have in your hand and on the playing area before you can purchase one of those cards. The type of card can be one of a few different types (this list will be incomplete shortly, as Alchemy is adding a new type): Action, Treasure, Victory, and Curse. Action has a few subtypes, such as Reaction, Attack, and Duration. The main types can be combined in a card, some examples of which I’ll provide later.
Treasure cards are the basic currency of the game, and must be collected before you can buy anything. They’re often a smart investment, and usually something you want in your hand. The fact that Copper costs nothing can be very useful for some strategies. It’s important to note though that no card’s cost is equal to its value, shown in the top left. The value of a treasure card tells you how many coins they are worth during your buy phase. Coins are a pool, so every card you buy subtracts from this pool. The fact that value is (mostly) less than cost means that you have to pay more for a card that is ostensibly worth less, but the fact that coins are not permanently used when cards are bought means that it just increases your deck’s purchasing power in the long run.
Victory cards follow much the same principle as treasure cards, except they have little to no value during game play. Instead of giving coins, victory cards give victory points at the end of the game (curse cards, as you can see, give -1 points each). Because victory cards do nothing in-game, they are largely dead weight, so it’s important to not bog yourself down by buying too many of them at once.
These cards should require only a little explanation, as the text is already there. The Secret chamber card is special; one card like it exists in every version of Dominion, and their purpose is to deflect or negate the effects of Attack cards played. When an attack card is played (even if someone is not using it to attack), the effects listed on the card take place (in this case you pick up two cards from your deck into your hand, then put two cards from your hand on top of your deck). The Duke is self-explanatory, and one of these days, I will have to produce a proper analysis of strategies pertaining to the order of purchase between Duchies and Dukes (Edit: I did). The Great Hall is a strange card. It counts as both an action and a victory card. Therefore, you can use it for its effect (on the top) as an action card, and it is still worth points in the end (thanks to its victory value at the bottom).
Now that the cards make a little more sense, let’s backtrack to the anatomy of a turn.
During a turn, you start with one action and one buy. This means that you can play a single action card during your play phase, and buy one card during your buy phase. Action cards can increase both of these values, however. Be sure to keep a close eye on these values, especially actions remaining! Once you’ve played all the action cards you can, you enter the buy phase.
So, our example monarch has played three mining villages and one ironworks (see the link at the bottom of this post for high quality images of the cards themselves). They have pre-emptively discarded all remaining action and victory cards, as they don’t come into play during the buy phase. This player has four coin with which to buy another card. When buying a card, you simply take it from the relevant supply pile and place it in your discard pile. When the buy phase is over, every card, be it in your hand or in your play area, gets put into your discard pile, and you draw five more cards from your deck.
So as you can see, it’s a pretty simple game on the surface. Certain strategies take more time and effort to develop though; that being said, here are a few obvious card combinations to keep in mind (all taken from Intrigue alone):
Scout/Wishing Well: Playing Scout lets you look at the top five cards of your deck, take the victory cards, and re-arrange the rest as you see fit on top of your deck. Wishing well allows you to pick up a card, then guess what card is currently on top of your deck. If you guess correctly, you get to draw that card as well. Therefore, by playing scout then wishing well, you should (hopefully) always be able to guess the top card.
Masquerade/Curse: There are cards that let you totally remove cards from the game (called trashing), but if you don’t have any, curses can be a problem. Thankfully, masquerade helps with that. This is a non-attack card that forces everyone to give a card to the player on their left. The player of the card can then, at their discretion, trash a card from their hand. (Yes, I did just say that if you don’t have anything that can trash cards then use this, but this is a special case of trashing in my opinion) So instead of getting rid of the curse, you get to give it to someone else! For more fun, if someone uses a torturer card while you’re holding a masquerade, take the curse into your hand as fodder for this card.
Ironworks/Bridge/Harem and Ironworks/Great Hall: Ironworks allows you to gain a card from the supplies for free, as long as it costs 4 coin or less. Depending on the card you gain, you get certain benefits: Action cards give you +1 action, treasure cards give you +1 coin, and victory cards give you +1 card. The nice part is that combined with dual-type cards like Harem or Great Hall, you get multiple benefits. Gain a great hall, and you can pick up a card and gain an action (almost as if you had played the card you just gained). If you can play enough bridges to lower harem’s cost, you can get a coin and a card for your troubles.
To give a quick review:
This game, beyond Munchkin in some cases, is my favourite card-based game. The replay value is immense, the strategies even within a single set of 10 kingdom cards is incredibly varied and deep, and when played with the right group, you might not be able to see your cards because you’ll be laughing too much. That being said, there are some problems with the game, in my opinion. Certain cards like Pirate Ship and Saboteur tend to slow the game down; with pirate ship in play, no one wants any coin in their hand; with saboteur in play, everyone’s deck will suffer over time, not really allowing anyone to do anything. The game also suffers when played with slow players. I usually play pretty fast hands; I don’t chain too many things. When you’re playing with people who contemplate cards for too long or chain for too long, it can get very laboursome. Then again, slow players can hurt the fun of just about any game, so I shouldn’t hold that over Dominion’s head too much.
Despite my group usually choosing kingdom card sets completely at random, games are usually pretty balanced, with the top two players usually separated only by a few points. Occasionally, however, cards must be traded in and out (for example, if there are many attack cards and not any reaction ones). Intrigue introduced dual-type cards and multiple choice action cards, and Seaside introduced duration cards and mat cards (cards requiring a special mat on which tokens or cards are laid). Alchemy, the next expansion, seems to be including a vial resource card (I’m not sure what its name is yet), but I don’t know much else. When its released, I might write a first reaction review on it.
If you can find it at your local hobby/collectibles store, I encourage you to pick Dominion in any of its forms up. It’s an incredibly enjoyable game, and I’m sure your friends will appreciate you for it.
Note: Do not pick up Seaside before owning either of the other versions. Seaside does not include the core cards (treasure, victory, curse) needed to play the game. It is purely an expansion
All images of individual cards were taken from this page. They have images of all the cards commercially released so far, so it might be fun to go check them out, especially since I only have images from Intrigue here (and Village from Dominion).