Reviews & Ideas: Dominion

Dominion is a card game with all the joys, intrigue, and strategy of deck building without the commitment level of a CCG (collectible card game).

DETAILS: Published in the US by Rio Grande Games, Dominion is an award winning* card game for 2-4 players with a suggested retail price of $44.95. Game play is easy to learn and simple in style, but multifaceted in strategy. There are three types of cards: victory points, money, and actions. You purchase cards every round, increasing and customizing your play deck. The basic victory point cards and money cards are the same for every game played, the action cards are where the intense variety of play is found. The basic game provides 25 different action cards, but is played with only 10 of those 25 (usually randomly selected) per game. Whoever has the most Victory points at the end of the game wins. A free PDF of the rules can be downloaded at the Rio Grande Games website.

REVIEW: This game is “Awesome-sauce!” The versatility of play alone is a tremendous value. If my math is correct**, there are over 3 million combinations of action cards, resulting in an amazingly high quantity of replay options. Since these action cards are usually randomly selected, the strategy and play style for each game is dependent on the combinations of action cards available for purchase. There can be “slow, low money games” or “quick, vicious games” or “peaceful, high point” games. The fact that Dominion can be taught so easily and quickly means that if there are new people to the game, it doesn’t take hours trying to explain the rules. New players will pick up the basics within a round or two of actual play.

STRATEGY: I have seen players successfully use a huge array of strategies. Some players count cards and mark everything their opponents are purchasing. Some players go after money or “Attack-Action” cards or fill-up on victory points every time they can. The player I’ve seen consistently win the most games explains that her strategy is to just not over-think it.

EVENT IDEAS: In the interest of having face-to-face social time with friends, not to mention this is a great “gateway” game for non-gamers to join the dark side, I have found Dominion to be perfect for hosting tournaments at my home. I have used the format below for my events, feel free to adjust as needed. (Note: You would need access to 4 copies of the game to run the below event.)

Competition Details
Players = 16, every player will compete in at least 2 games
Entry Fee = 5… beans, yeah, beans… (all in the name of fun)
Time = Starts on time, players who are late will be replaced by the waiting list. Each round is a maximum of 45 minutes, if a game is not completed by the time limit, it will be stopped and victory points counted.
Round One “Sorting Hat” = 4 games of 4 players (randomly assigned, I use poker cards to do it). The two highest scorers from each game move onto the “Big” track, while the bottom two move onto the “Small” track.
Round Two “Semi-Finals” = 2 games of 4 players compete to make it into the “Big” finale and 2 games of 4 players compete to make it into the “Small” finale. The two highest scorers from each game advance to the finals, the bottom scorers are eliminated from competition.
Round Three “The Finals” = The winner of the “Big” finale game gets 50 beans and the title of Grand Champion, while second place gets 10 beans. The winner of the “Small” finale game gets 15 beans and the title Petite Champion, while second place gets their 5 beans back.

ADDITIONAL: Within the rather large group of gamers that I know, several have come up with house-rules for slightly altering the random selection of action cards, usually something along the lines of allowing people one chance each to reject one card and redraw before the game begins. My personal preference is to play out each game as it is drawn, in order to have to play with “weird or odd” combinations at times. The biggest goal though, is to maximize everyone’s enjoyment of playing a game together, so compromise as needed.

One final note, actually it’s a shout-out. In my personal goal of spreading positive feelings around in a time of seemingly endless hyper-negativity, I intentionally make an effort to communicate when I think highly of an experience or product or what-have-you. Having had such a great experience with this game and the tournaments, I took a moment one afternoon to send Rio Grande Games a quick email letting them know how great I thought their game was and a small mention of the events. Surprisingly, I got a very quick response from Jay Tummelson, thanking me for the input and without any solicitation at all on my part, offered to send me special prizes to award the winners in the future. The package, with 4 prizes inside, arrived at my home the very next day. That, in my humble opinion, is exemplary customer service.

*2009 Awards: Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis
** nCr = n! / [(n-r)!r!], so 25C10 = 25! / (15!10!), so 25C10 = 3,268,760

[tags]Board and Card Games, review[/tags]

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