Dominion [A Board Game Review]Written by Sebastien Sinclair Dalin
Of the many games that I have played, there are few that are as memorable as the first game of its kind: Dominion. Dominion is a game designed by Donald X. Vaccarino. His design was inspired by the German-Style board games that have gained a great deal of popularity, especially with games like Carcasonne, the Settlers of Catan, and others. Dominion introduced the Deck-Building concept into the market, which is now flooded with all different types of Deck-Building games. Deck-Building is a type of gameplay feature that has players improving their deck ad hoc, during the course gameplay and attempting to gain victory points while doing so. It truly is a tremendously clever adaptation to a tired genre such as card games.
Dominion began in 2006 as Spirit Warriors II, a fantasy game introducing the Deck-Building mechanics. Over time as Vaccarino and his local gaming group play tested this; it grew out of its original theme and became closer to what it is today.  In 2007 Vaccarino showed this prototype to Rio Grande Games during a gaming fair. Rio Grande Games began to work with Vaccarino and soon, what once was Spirit Warriors II, became Dominion and earned the 2009 Spiel des Jahres award, (the most prestigious award for a Euro-Style game).
Now, I first came into Dominion while I was in High School. A good friend actually taught me the basics, and I ended up asking to get a copy of the game from my parents. When I received my copy I was ecstatic, and I quickly learned to master the rules and taught my family. It became a favorite at parties and game nights. I acquired a few expansions prior to my mission and each added something new and interesting to the game. I was sent a few more sets and some extra cards to enjoy while on my mission. Dominion has been a part of my life for a long time. I enjoy nearly everything about the game, and to thoroughly review this game, I will have to break it down into a few categories.
Now, before we get into reviewing the mechanics of the game, we must first consider the time in which this game was released. In 2009 there was no Deck-Building mechanic; therefore, for being the leading example of innovation in Card Games at this time it earns extra credit. That being said, to this day it is my opinion that the freshness of the game still applies. Each expansion centers on a new theme, which adds to the existing strategies and combinations, ultimately improving the options available during a play session. Each game I play with it turns out differently and depending on the set of 10 “Kingdom Cards” that you play with; your strategies can change drastically from game to game.
That brings me to my next point, the Combos. I am nearly made to be without words to explain the epicness of the combos. This game heavily features combos. I do not for one second, believe that I am alone in feeling like a total boss when you can lay down your entire hand and wreak destruction upon your opponent or achieve that sweet elusive victory in a card game. This game places so very few limits on your capability to do so. The only limit is the amount of actions you are given, (One is standard) though there are enough cards to grant you extra actions that the limit is really rendered moot. Each card plays off the previous and creates a sense of speed and fluidity in the game. The cards are all designed to enhance and enrich your fun, while still being quite balanced. I love the variety of the different cards and strategies available to each player. This game is pretty much perfect.
There is, however, one place in which this game lacks perfection. Even though you need two or more of your group of friends to enjoy this game, the interaction between the players quite limited in terms of playing the game. Meaning the effects on the cards and how they affect other players, is almost non-existant. Most of the time, you will feel like you are playing solitaire, just taking turns at it. There are “Attack” cards that do affect other players, but they come in a limited variety. The vast majority of all these cards are not centered on interaction, but boosting your deck’s economy. There is also a limited supply of each card available during a play session and this can lend itself into creating an alliance system, and while not directly stated in the rules there can be a little bit of inter-player politicking and other similar ploys. Overall, this is where Dominion loses some points on the Mechanical side of things.
The theme of Dominion is loosely medieval kingdom building. I can see that theme represented fairly well alongside the accompanying industrialization and enlightenment era vibes going on. Thematically, some of the cards fit it and enhance the theme greatly, but others detract and break from the theme in ways that can be distracting. In Dominion’s case, since it does not truly tell a story in the traditional sense the theme-breaking cards can be forgiven as they serve to improve play and not to tell a story. The only story it tells, is one of your own telling. A slight penalty is given to the overall score for a slightly ambiguous theme.
This game is manufactured with great quality if it is a copy manufactured in Germany. The German printing of the game has amazing quality. The cards are thicker and have a higher quality paper used than the standard Magic the Gathering Card. Although not by much, the cards are definitely among the nicest cards packaged in a non-TCG Game. The Tokens are even above average. A few expansions provided a few tokens for players to use through the course of the game, using mechanics unique to that set. These tokens are made of solid metal. Metal tokens in a game, nearly never happens, unless it is a special release of the game and priced accordingly. With Dominion, those metal tokens are standard. Every expansion (where applicable) will contain metal tokens for your use during the game. The box is also super nice and high quality; it stores all the cards from that expansion nicely. Although it does not allow room for sleeved cards. Overall this earns high marks for its manufacture quality.
Disclaimer: If the version of a set is manufactured in the United States, there is a significantly noticeable quality drop in the cards and packaging.
I have played this well over the 230 times it requires to become boring, and yet, I still adore this game. The play is quick and snappy, allowing players to really go to town and pit their combo score against other players’ combos. The sheer amount of content nowadays for this game is insane; it has over 260 different cards to use. In any one game one might use 10 or 11 depending upon the set-up of the game, which means that there is an extraordinary amount of replay-ability, rivalling that of Settlers of Catan even. This earns high marks for being so incredibly amazing at offering countless variations.
It may be a great game, and may be well worth a look at. Let us take a look at the price tag. Each set is about $30-$45 MSRP which brings us to a total of about $450 if you were to buy every set at MSRP today. This is a hefty cost. Since these are European Cards, they will not fit into Standard sized sleeves which means you either have to use penny sleeves from UltraPro or shell out the nearly $350 to get the 3500 Standard European Sleeves from Fantasy Flight Games. This is not an economic cost. However, the penny sleeves will get you by and will still protect the cards from damage over time even if you have to replace a few sleeves here and there every so often. Additionally, you can spread the cost of the Expansions out over time, so you can relieve the burden on your pocketbook. All these factors make Dominion receive below average marks for cost.
Alright, now that we have reviewed the categories, let us score Dominion and see how it will rank up against other games.
- Mechanics: A+ [4.0]. Dominion earned some extra credit here: +1 for Industry Impact, +1 for Innovation, +1 for Originality. And Dominion earns a -1 penalty for insufficient player interaction.
- Theme: C+ [2.8]. Dominion takes a -1 penalty for an ambiguous theme.
- Quality: A [3.5]. Dominion has a great quality manufacture to it, and earns a +2 credit for metal tokens, and a -1 penalty for the difference between the German Printed and the American Printed versions.
- Replay-ability: A+ [4.0]. Dominion takes a +3 credit for sheer entertainment value.
- Cost: D [1.5]. Dominion does earn a +1 credit for variety and the ability to buy only the content you want.
- Totals: A+ [4.1]. A solid game with highly innovative mechanics, great quality and amazing replay value. Dominion is a true gem for the collection of any board game enthusiast, or even a casual board gamer.
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