Dominion (Second Edition)

Dominion has been around for some time now; originally conceived in 2008 it started a whole new genre called deckbuilding, which sees players construct their deck as part of the game. Since then it has seen numerous expansions and, in 2016, a revised second edition. To this day Dominion still ranks in the top 100 games of all time on BoardGameGeek, so let’s take a look at what it’s all about.

Dominion Second Edition - Box Art
  • Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
  • Publisher: Rio Grande Games
  • Year Released: 2016 (first Edition released 2008)
  • Players: 2-4
  • Playing Time: 30 minutes
  • Ages: 14+

In Dominion players take on the role of a Kingdom builder, one who has designs on building the biggest, most pleasant, and most powerful Kingdom in all civilisation.

To do this they must create a deck of cards, which represents their Dominion, and use it to skilfully to obtain more power and wealth, and finally reap all the Victory Points they can.

Be ruthless and conquer your foes; rob them and curse them, but in the end, whoever holds the most victories shall be hailed supreme – this is Dominion!


What’s in the box?

Dominion Second Edition - What's in the box?
  • 500 Cards, all standard European size, broken down as follows
    • 130 Basic Treasure cards
    • 48 Basic victory cards
    • 30 Curse cards
    • 262 Kingdom cards
    • 26 Randomiser cards
    • 4 Blank cards
  • 1 Trash mat
  • Plastic organiser tray
  • Organising inlay
  • Rulebook

How does it play?

If you’re familiar with how the game plays, then feel free to take an extra action and move on to, ‘So, what do I think?’

Each player starts the game with a deck consisting of 3 Estate cards and 7 Copper treasure cards, these are taken from the box before moving on to the next step.

Next, the supply decks must be selected and placed within the play area. To do this first select the cards that go to make up the base cards – Copper, Silver, and Gold treasure cards (all copies); Estate, Duchy, and Province Victory cards (the number of copies is dependent upon the number of players); Curse cards (again dependant upon the number of players).

Next, select the 10 Kingdom card decks, out of the 26 contained in the box, which are going to be used for this game. This can be done by using the recommendations within the rulebook, by using the randomiser cards, or simply selecting the decks yourself. Any extra victory card decks selected have to contain a number of cards dependant upon the number of players, otherwise a deck contains 10 cards.

Place the Trash Mat next to the supply.

Dominion Second Edition - Supply Set-up
Supply set-up for play.

The players shuffle their decks and a hand of 5 cards is drawn; the rest form their draw pile.

A player turn consists of three phases: Action – the player plays an action cards from their hand; Buy – the player plays any number off treasure cards from their hand and purchases a single card to add to their deck; Clean-up – the player places all played, cards along with any remaining in their hand, on top of their discard pile and draws a new hand of 5 cards. Play then passes to the next player.

The Action Phase

When you play an action card you carry out the instructions given on that card.

Some Action cards increase the number of Actions you can play this turn (e.g. +1 Action), increase the number of cards you can purchase during your buy phase (e.g. +1 Buy), allow you to draw more cards from your draw pile to your hand (e.g. +2 cards), increase the number of coins you have to spend during your buy phase, or some other written instruction such as trash a amount of cards, or gain a card from the supply worth up to a certain amount.

Some Action cards attack other players as indicated by the word ‘Attack’ written at the bottom of the card alongside the word ‘Action’. These cards may cause other players to draw a curse card and add it to their deck, or it may even involve them discarding or trashing cards.

You do not have to play an Action card if you do not wish to.

The Buy Phase

The player plays a number of treasure cards to their play area and then purchases a card from the supply worth up to the number of coins on the treasure cards (treasure cards are either copper, silver, or gold worth 1,2, or 3 coins respectively).

If during Action phase a player played an Action card that increased the number of buys, then the player can purchase further cards, though they can no longer play any more treasure cards, so ensure that enough treasure cards are initially played to cover all required purchases.

Action cards can also add to the number of coins available during the buy phase.

Coppers do not cost anything to purchase, so these can be bought if you have no treasure cards in play, or have outstanding buys to make, but have used up all your coins.

The Clean-up Phase

Gather all played cards along with any remaining in your hand, and place them on top of your discard pile; the order does not matter.

Draw a new hand of 5 cards – if your draw pile runs out, then shuffle the discard to create a new draw pile.

Some cards have the ‘Reaction’ word at the bottom of the card. The use of these cards is as instructed on the cards, and usually reacts to an attack made by another player.

Dominion Second Edition - Example turn
Example turn: play action card – Laboratory – this allows me to draw 2 more cards to my hand and play another action card; Festival, this gives me another 2 actions, allows me to buy an extra card during the buy phase, and gives me 2 extra coins to use; Mine, using this I trash a copper treasure card from my hand and gain a silver; Smithy is my last action cards, and again I can draw 2 more cards to my hand. I then play all the treasure cards I have, which along with the 2 coins from Festival, gives me 11 coins to spend and 2 buys to spend them.

Game End

The game ends at the end of the turn when either the Province pile, or any other three supply piles are emptied.

Players collect together all of their cards and count the number of Victory points they hold in their deck. The player with the most points is the winner.


So, What do I think?

Starting with the components, and first off, the box. The artwork and finish all look a bit dated, but to be honest it does fit the theming of the game – it’s also a nice sturdy box to keep all those lovely cards safe.

Inside you’ll find a really handy insert complete with a card index inlay, it’s a great way to keep all the individual decks separate and makes for quick and easy set-up.

Dominion Second Edition - Insert
The insert keeps everything nicely organised.

And then there are the cards – lots and lots of cards!

The artwork on the cards is, if you actually take the time to look, pretty good, though a little understated, and fits the theming of each card. The best thing here though, is that 50% of the card is kept free for its description, meaning that the text is large and clear, and can be seen at a glance when you’re playing the game.

The cards are of a good thickness, they’re not going to bend with all that shuffling, and they’ll stand up well to constant handling, though I would imagine serious players would sleeve them to prolong their life.

The rulebook does everything you’d ever want: it explains how to play the game in simple terms; it runs through a sample turn where everything is illustrated, and, at the rear of the book, you’ll find explanations for all the cards actions; you’ll also find several recommended set-up variations for the Kingdom cards, which also goes on to include sets from the expansions.

Dominion Second Edition - Rulebook
The rulebook is very easy to understand and will get you playing within minutes.

I had no issues with the rules whatsoever, and after opening up the box for the first time I was up and playing within minutes.

The theme is very loose, and pretty much any theme could have been bolted on. Yes, all the cards titles fit the theme, along with their artwork, and they’ve done a pretty good job of tying the title of the card into what it actually does; for example, the Smithy gains you 3 cards, which thematically fits in with a smithy being a creator. Likewise the bandit gains you gold, whilst potentially robbing your opponents of one of their treasure cards. But, as soon as you get into the game you’ll forget all about the theme, as all you be concentrating on is what these cards can do for you.

Maybe that sounds a bit harsh, and if you really wanted to you could try and embrace the theme, no harm in that, but for me it’s the gameplay itself that grabs all the attention, and the only bit of theming that stuck with me is the titles of the cards – remembering which ones work best together.

Dominion, for all its simplicity, is a game of skill, and everyone I’ve played with recognises this about half way through their first game; you can almost see the penny drop as they lean forward over the Kingdom cards, realising now just how this deck building lark actually works, and it’s this precious moment – watching others suddenly gain enlightenment – that makes playing and teaching games so worth while.

It really is a simple game to play – play an action card, do the action, buy something, discard, draw, repeat – but it’s a game that offers so many differing strategies you’re always wondering, ‘what if,’ and unless you play it death, there is always something left to discover.

So what is the ‘skill’ to this game?

Well, I wish there were an easy way to answer that; I suppose the best way to describe it would be to break it down into two – firstly building the deck, and secondly converting it to VP’s.

There are lots of different strategies for building a working deck, but all of them require efficiency in some way. Efficiency is the aim of the game, at least in the early to mid phase, and there are some vastly different ways of achieving this.

My daughter, who is turning out to be unbeatable at this game, likes to fill her deck with multiple action and buy cards in the early stage, then throws in cards that enable her to draw more cards as the game progresses. She often plays 4 or 5 action cards in a turn, sometimes more, and ends up with loads of bonus treasure and several buys!

I on the other hand like to use cards that enable me to trash or gain a card, and I combine these with others that allow me to draw more cards. The idea is to bring lots of silver and gold into my deck then, in theory, I should have cards that will enable me to gain VP cards, and enough treasure in my hand to buy even more – and if it works, I should be able to do this every turn in the later stages.

Dominion Second Edition - Example Action cards
Example Action cards

Some cards work really well in the early part of the game, whilst others are at their best in the latter stages, and it’s working out which cards work best together and when combined with getting the balance of cards right in your hand that stretches the bounds of one’s intelligence!

And that leads me to the next, and probably most important, skill of the game – knowing when to start filling your hand with all those lovely VP cards!

Start too early, before you’ve fully developed your deck, and you’ll grind to a halt, drawing nothing but useless VP cards into your hand round after round.

Go to late, and well, the game will be over before you’ve made it to double figures!

You need to be constantly aware of the decks that are drawing down, and how close the end game may be, because once everyone starts hitting those VP cards things can come to a close remarkably quickly.

All these choices in strategy are something I find fascinating, and even if I lose a game I’m always convinced I’m playing a good strategy – I just got my timing wrong! And that’s a great way to make anyone new to a game feel – making them feel like victory is within their grasp, they just need to refine there play a little – and hence, they’ll want to play it again.

Playing with all new players can prove a little slow, at least at first, and there may be some down time as players get to grips with playing multiple action cards and then trying to decide what to buy. But as familiarity with the system grows, so to does the speed in which players take their turn, and it soon becomes a reasonably fast paced game – at the most you’re looking at a single game to get up to speed.

I found the game also scales well, and is equally as good playing with 4 people as it is with 2 – indeed, we had some excellent PvP games, and I found it a great way to try different strategies out, as it’s easier to keep an eye on what the other player is doing compared to when playing in a group.

There’s also some player interaction; for starters you have to be aware of what others are buying and how they are putting together their deck – you don’t want to be left still forming yours when they suddenly turn to hoarding VP’s and heading for the finish line. And then there’s the attack cards, like the witch that puts curses (negative VP cards) into opponents hands. There are various ways you can deal with these, such as gaining cards that will negate the attack, or, in the case of curses, you can look to get them trashed.

Dominion Second Edition - Attack and Reaction cards
Attack and Reaction cards

Everything isn’t a total bed of roses, though it is close – it can be confusing when you play a lot of consecutive action cards, each giving you more actions and more buys. Keeping track of what actions you’ve used and what’s still available is best done by developing a system – covering completed cards with the next played cards, or such like – but it can still prove problematic at times, especially with inexperienced players.

Other than that, there really isn’t much else to criticise here, providing you like the idea of deckbuilding of course, and even if you don’t, this is a game everyone should play once – even if it’s just to say they’ve played it!


Can I play it… all on my own?

No…

But… I occasionally play a 3-player game all on my own, sad I know, but I like to try things out.

It is a good way to experiment with strategies and see how I can get certain cards working with others. Usually I try things out that I stumbled across whilst playing the game with others, and usually involves more progressive deckbuilding than I would normally play.

By that I mean using certain cards early on and then, when they’ve fulfilled there use, trashing them or using other cards to convert them into something more useful – there really is a lot of different ways to build a deck, and sometimes playing on your own is the only way to explore all the options!


Recommended?

Okay, if you hadn’t guessed already, I really like this game. I love the fact that every game produces something slightly different; there are always surprises as you suddenly uncover a new combination of cards that work together to produce wonderful results.

I enjoy watching my opponents, seeing what cards they are buying and what spin they’re applying to their decks, and then trying to decide how to play mine in order to defeat them.

And the final dash to grab as many VP cards as you can builds the excitement right up right until that third deck is empty and the game ends (or you plough through the Province cards and unexpectedly end the game that way, before anyone notices – deep joy!).

Anyone who likes card games needs to at least give this a go. And with its quick set-up time, well written rules, and being easily playable with children (I would say 10+), it makes a good competitive game. There’s also plenty of replayability just contained within the core box – add in the expansions and you could make this game last forever!

Dominion is the daddy of deck builders; it was the one that started the whole craze in the first place. There may be others out there with a stronger theme, others with better artwork, and there are also those that combine deck building with other game mechanisms to create something slightly different, but when it comes down to good old deck building, using nothing but a few decks of cards and player skill, then Dominion still holds its own as one, if not the, best of them all.


Extras

Official site – Rio Grande Games

Recommended video review – The Dice Tower

BoardGameGeek page – HERE

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