Friday, 23 November 2012

Classic WGR Review - Dominion

Photo by boardgamegeek.com user: Mike "makehulsebus" Hulsebus
My next classic WGR Forum review brings up another top ranked, one that seems to be extremely popular with the local gamers and one that has single handedly change the landscape of boardgaming with the introduction of the concept of "deck building". This one isn't nearly as old as the last two and comes from January 10th, 2010. My current thoughts on the game will be after the classic review.

Original WGR review:

Quickly - excellent draft based card game.

Summary:
Dominion makes me think that the designer used to be (or maybe still is) a Magic The Gathering player who thought the best part of a Magic Tournament was the draft. He had so much fun drafting cards that he decided he would make a game based on drafting. That's what Dominion is.

In this odd game you select a subset of cards and place piles of them out on the table. These become the cards that all players create their decks from. In addition to the cards on the tables the players get initial decks with some victory point cards and some money. The goal of the game is to construct the deck with the most victory points in it by the time the game ends. The game ends with 3 of the various stacks of cards hit bottom or when the stack of the highest victory point card runs out.

First and foremost this is an exception based game (like most of the CCG's it's based on). This means that the basic rules are very simple but that each card modify these rules in some way and it's the interaction of the various cards that makes the game fun interesting and strategic. The cards laid out on the table consist of Action Cards, Money Cards and Victory Point Cards. Each turn players work to build their deck by drawing 5 cards from their deck and then playing up to one Action card. After playing an action card the players then get to buy one card from the table. After this buy is done the players discard their hand. If their deck runs out they reshuffle it (which happens very often). That's basically it for the core rules.

What makes things fun are those action cards. Every action card lets the player do something that changes those basic rules. Most cards either give a player more actions, let them draw more cards, give them more money to buy cards and/or give them additional chances to buy cards. Many other 'card abilities' are also present ranging from attack cards that can cause the opponent to discard, to cards that let you upgrade the cards you have in your deck. I'm not going to take the time to describe what all the possibilities are. After playing one action card (and then possibly more if you play cards that add more actions) you then get to buy. You do this buy paying money cards from your hand. Each card on the table has a cost. Here the player decides if they want more action cards to give them more options in future turns, more money with which to buy better cards or if they should start adding victory points to their deck. What makes this most interesting is the fact that Victory point cards are useless during play so just take up room in your deck until you need them at the end.

That's basically it. The designers, brilliantly included 25 different Action cards in the base game. Each game you only play with 10 of these, so this leads to a great variety of possible combination adding a great deal of replay value. In addition to this there are a variety of expansions out that add one or more cards to the mix (heck even Boardgamegeek has their own Action card for Dominion).

The Good:
What a great an interesting concept. I would have never guessed I would be playing a game where building my deck was the game itself. The game is extremely easy to learn and is probably the easiest to explain game I have in my collection (which is nice compared to some stuff like Race for the Galaxy). The exception based rules are perfectly done and makes for an easy to learn and hard to master game. The card interactions are very well balanced and well organized. The fact that all players are drawing from the same resources reduce the random factor significantly which raises the strategic level. This is also a nice short game. I get tired of epic games that take me all afternoon to play and I enjoy being able to get in multiple games in one sitting and Dominion is perfect for that. One last note on packaging. This game has some of the best packaging I have seen. The box has an insert that has a spot for every single card in the game. They are designed in such a way that everything has a place and amazingly everything stays in that place even when the box is stored vertically.

The Bad:
I have very few complaints about this game at all. The only thing that irks me at all about it really is the price vs. what you are actually getting. Due to the fact that the game is made up of stacks of cards that are all identical, all you are really getting in the box is maybe 30 different cards. When I think of how little that would be to produce it's hard to justify the cost of this game. The company making it must have a huge return on investment on this one. Now the fact that this is one of the best games I have played recently does make up for it though. For the amount of fun I am going to have with this vs. what I spent it will definitely make up for the cost. It's just the thought of it when I look at the box contents vs. cost that makes me cringe a bit.

The Ugly:
First off I had a hard time coming up with something Ugly about this one. The only thing that really comes to mind is the fact that this game has the most 'plastered on' theme I can remember seeing. There is no reason at all that this needs to be an 'empire building medieval game'. This could have been a space game about colonizing planets just as easily as it could have been a game about collecting animals. Now of course this is just a theme issue and has no impact on gameplay or how fun the game is, so really not much of a complaint. I actually wouldn't be surprised to see a re-themed version of this in the future.

Overall:
Overall this is definitely a top of the line excellent game, worthy of it's current spot in the top 10 on boardgamegeek. It's great to see something totally new and totally fun. Due to the ease in explanation, the replay value provided by the mix of 25 different action cards to choose from and the speed of gameplay I expect this one to get quite a bit of use, especially at things like Games and Grub events where I like to get in a wide variety of different games. Even though you are paying a lot for what you get this is a great game and one I strongly recommend.

My thoughts now a couple years later:

Wow what's there to be said about a game that totally changed the landscape of boardgaming. Dominion introduced "Deck Building" and from that have spawned at least a hundred different games and variations. It seems like every new game has some variation on this new mechanic. It's definitely still the hot thing even two years later. Actually reading my review where I note this is some odd new mechanic I find that this just sounds funny now as deck building is such a common term now. Some games have done a great job of taking this simple system and running with it, others haven't done so well. But how does the original still stand up? Very well in my opinion. The main problem with Dominion is the main problem I've found with Catan. People have played it so much that they are sick of it. I also find Dominion suffers from a bit of a bloat. Far too many expansions came out far too quickly and now it's quite a beast. To me the core game is still the best, most balanced and fun version. I know not everyone agrees. 

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