Type: Abstract / Euro / Race

Time to play: < 0.5 hr (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 4 players

Firstly – apologies to any who disagree and feel this is thematic, but I am not sure that it makes a difference to me whether this is a medieval fantasy world with magic or just a modern day trading town in the good old Mediterranean. On that basis I see this as an abstract game, a euro for it’s point salad finally (especially in latter expansions) and at it’s heart a race – to take up the key cards which trigger the end game. All that being said, I only intend to review the base game here and not the broader expansions that have become available so that anyone who hasn’t played Dominion can get the best idea of the game from this without needing to think about investing larger amounts of money.

Let’s start with the basics then – this is a game about scoring points. You will do this by picking up nice green cards with points on them. The person with the most of those at the end is the winner. However, they cost coin – so you will need to gather that up along the way. Also in any turn you can only play the cards in your hand – so lot’s of small cards will limit you to buy more small cards. This is viable but it will never be a winning strategy because it will be too inefficient to score 1 point at a time as your neighbour scores 6. Why will he be scoring eight? Because he bought cards that were worth more gold in a single card and now he can buy cards that are worth more points in a single card.

So if you want to get points, and you need money to do that then how do you get money (or points). Well each turn starts off with a hand of five cards from your deck. Your deck is the same as your neighbours at first – but this will change! From your hand you may play cards but you may only play 1 action card and you may only buy 1 new card from the table (this includes your gold & point cards – and those action cards I just mentioned!).

A typical starting hand might be 3 Copper (worth 1 coin) and 2 x 1 point card. So you can spend your three copper to buy something from the table worth 3. What’s on the table – well, ❤ coin buys you some action cards (varied in each game), a silver (worth 3) and a county (the 1 point card worth 2). Investing in that silver will mean you have more large value money in the future whilst buying an action might mean you can use it next time.

This mechanic, of 1 buy and 1 action from 5 cards, develops significantly over the game as your action allows you to draw more cards / take more actions / buy more cards or even attack your neighbour! All this in the name of getting gold coins and using them to buy a province worth 6 points. This mechanic accelerates over time therefore as you build the way in which you want to play the game – perhaps you steal from your opponents with the thief action, give them -1 cards with witch or just draw your whole deck each time with combinations of action cards.

Now, if you get 8 coin in your hand then it’s possible to buy that province and once they run out the game ends and you count up the points. Simple, but wait! The issue is that you have to put those point cards back in your deck and then if you draw them you might not get the other cards you wanted / needed. Managing your deck as it grows is the challenge of this game. Early game dominance is not the same as a commanding victory at the end of the game. This isn’t a heavy luck game – it’s a proper deck management strategy.

The good things about the game: well it’s short. Not in the sense that a bad thing is over quickly, but in that you may want a filler game to start or end a gaming session, or you may prefer a shorter game. If that’s the case this is a treat. It’s also very replay-able. The basic game comes with a lot of action cards and even if you somehow get through all combinations of those then you can start to invest in the expansions. Lastly, it’s got some player interaction without being ruthless – sure a player can push a -1 card into your deck, but it only hurts you the next time it comes up, and whilst you can lose cards from your hand you get to pick which ones are lost.

The downsides; there’s a relatively dominant strategy in the base game (see my notes on strategy). Once you learn this strategy, your opponents will copy and then the game gains a common theme each time. The variations decrease and the strategies become predictable. As these strategies move towards a dominant format the game becomes a little more luck based and you can feel trapped on the path. As I write this, I feel that these downside undermine the best parts and whilst that’s true it’s important to see that this puzzle once solved can still be played through with great enjoyment.

Playing through the game once you know the dominant strategy can be fun – you all rush to the small variations and you gain those slight advantages as you all keep trying the finesse the puzzle. If this was a solo game it wouldn’t work but it isn’t. You are all rushing against each other.

Last notes:

  • If you play fast paced filler games with limited but good player interaction, you should at least pick up the base game.
  • If you want to eliminate luck, and find complex engines to build then this might feel like playing on easy mode.
  • If you win at this game then you have taken the dominant strategy and grabbed the advantaged based on the variable actions available. If you lost, either you didn’t get enough gold or you didn’t find that small finesse to achieve victory this time round. Better luck next time!