Okay guys, I know I’m squeaking this month’s game review in just before the deadline, but here it is! This month, we’re looking at the game that brought me back into modern gaming, and one of the chief weapons in my arsenal to bring new players into the fold: Dominion!

First released in 2008, Dominion is known as a deck-building game. Everyone starts out with identical decks, and over the course of the game, they purchase additional cards, which they add to their decks. The goal is to have the most victory points at the end of the game, and the player with the highest number is the winner!

First, the rules: Everybody starts out with a ten-card deck, which consists of 7 Coppers and 3 Estates. In addition, there are a large number of different ‘supply’ cards to choose from. Aside from the default money and points cards, an additional ten ‘Kingdom’ cards are chosen randomly, making each game different.

This is what the initial set-up looks like, with the starting deck of 10 cards displayed

On your turn, you draw a hand of five cards, and use those cards to buy others. Obviously, starting out, you only have a little bit of money, which limits your options, but as you buy more, your options will grow. Each turn, you have the opportunity to play one Action card, and make one purchase, or Buy. Playing Action cards comes first, then your treasure cards to buy stuff. After that, you discard everything you already played and the new card you bought, and finally draw a new hand of five. My friends and I like to use ABCD to describe the order that you do things each turn: Action, Buy, Clean-up, and Draw. Helps you keep the order of operations in mind.

Draw pile on the left (face down), current hand in the center, and discard pile on the right (face up)

Here’s the tricky bit. After each of your turns, you discard your current hand, and draw a new hand. When you run out of cards to draw (this will first happen after your second hand), you then take all the cards in your discard pile, shuffle them, and now this is your new draw pile. Let me repeat this, in caps for emphasis: ONLY SHUFFLE AND CREATE A NEW DRAW PILE WHEN ALL YOUR CARDS ARE GONE. Sorry for yelling, but this has tripped up many people I’ve taught over the years! This has ranged from shuffling after each and every hand, to forgetting which pile is which.

So, what are action cards? Those are the white cards you see in the pictures above. Action cards have a variety of effects, from giving you extra money, cards, actions, and buys to use; to attacks that can mess up your opponents; to getting cards out of your deck permanently, and even crazier things. Normally, you can only use one action per turn, but certain action cards can let you play more. There are also blue Reaction cards, which have both an effect you can play on your turn, and one you can play in response to other players’ actions when it’s not your turn.

The other main card types are Treasure (yellow, money), Victory (green, points), and Curses (purple, negative points). Obviously, you need treasure cards to buy bigger and better cards, including Victory cards. You need Victory cards to, well, achieve victory. However, they are a bit of a double-edged sword. Sure, you need them to win, but they don’t do anything for you in your hand, so when you draw them, it reduces your options. A big part of the game is balancing increasing your ability to buy more cards, and actually buying Victory cards. The game ends when either any three piles of cards are completely used up, or when the highest-value Victory card pile (Provinces) is gone. At that point, you count up each player’s points, and see who is the winner!

So. Much. Dominion.

Much like other games I’ve reviewed in this series so far, one of the big reasons I like Dominion so much is its replayability. The base game comes with 24 different Kingdom card options. With eight expansions and a ninth on the way later this year, plus a handful of special promotional cards, that virtually guarantees that you will never play the same game twice, meaning you have to adapt your strategy each time. Also, each expansion has its own theme, so certain combinations of cards will play extremely differently to others.

The game is meant for two to four players, but I’ve played it with up to six before, though that’s really stretching things. The average game can last 30 to 45 minutes, but this could vary dramatically depending on the experience of the people you’re playing with. Newbies will obviously take a lot longer to play each hand and decide what to buy, while veterans can crank through each turn in seconds. At some point, game play only slows down when someone needs to shuffle!

Behold the face of insanity!

This is one of my go-to games now when I introduce new people to the board/cardgaming hobby. The basic rules are easy enough to pick up quickly, while the changing cards each time means even veterans aren’t guaranteed a win. Most of the time when I teach this to someone, their first game is a bit shaky, but they immediately want to play a second game to test out the strategies they’ve just figured out.

Like I said earlier, there are eight expansions out already. Between me and my closest gaming buds, we own six of them, I think. This means that when we get together for some Dominion, there is a bewildering array of cards to choose from. There are several apps out there to help you randomize things. That’s actually another very interesting aspect of this game. There is such a huge fan following for Dominion, that people have designed custom boxes to carry their collections (much nicer than my basic card boxes), apps to help get things set up, and even more esoteric products to meet their particular Dominion needs. And if you don’t have access to the physical cards, there is an official online version available!

All in all, Dominion is one of the most popular games out there right now, and can be found in many people’s collections. It’s easily available at most game stores I know of in Taipei, with several expansions in stock at any given time. Other deck-building games have come in its wake, of course, one of which I’ll be reviewing later in the year, but Dominion is still one of the best!