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This next spotlight is dedicated to my First Love: Dominion. If Settlers of Catan is the king of Euro-style gateway games, Dominion is the king of deck-builder gateway games. It spawned an entire genre of games, simple enough to pick up right away, but complex enough that skilled players can overcome beginner’s luck slightly more often than not. Game: Dominion Players: 2-4 Ages: 13+ Playing Time: 30 minutes Rules: http://riograndegames.com/uploads/Game/Game_278_gameRules.pdf In this game, your goal is to build the best deck possible. Your deck is your ‘Dominion.’ Each turn, you will (hopefully) add more cards to your deck: Treasure cards, Victory cards, and Kingdom cards. To set up, you’ll need to create a ‘Supply,’ containing Treasure cards (Copper, Silver, and Gold), Victory cards (Estate, Duchy, and Province), and Kingdom cards (we’ll go over those soon). Treasure cards are the games primary resources. You use them to buy other cards, including other treasure cards! Each card’s cost is shown at the bottom left of the card. Victory cards are points and 8 (or 12, if you have 3-4 players) of each go into the supply. You need them to win at the end of the game, but they don’t really do much else until then. Part of the game is deciding how to balance Victory cards with the other cards -- if you buy too many victory cards too early, your Dominion is going to get pretty ugly by the end of the game! In each game of Dominion, you will select ten types of Kingdom cards. The instruction manual has a handful of ‘recommended sets’ of kingdoms, or you pick them randomly. Kingdom cards allow you to do different things, like take extra actions during your turn, draw or buy extra cards, or ‘attack’ your opponents by forcing them to discard or take curses (cards that give you -1 point). Each player then starts with 7 Copper and 3 Estates. You shuffle these cards together to form your starting deck and draw five. Now you’re ready to play! But before you take a turn in Dominion, you need to learn your ABC’s! Action phase - play an action card. This is where Kingdom cards come into play. You can only play one action per turn, but as I said before, some cards give you extra actions so once your deck gets going, you might be taking several actions each hand. Occasionally, you may have to decide between two action cards. Buy phase - count up your Treasure cards (some Kingdom cards give you extra moulah to spend as well!) and choose which card you want to buy. You only get one buy per turn as well, but certain cards give you extra! Clean-up phase - Discard your entire hand. Everything you played AND everything you didn’t play. Then, draw five new cards from your deck. If you run out of cards in your deck, shuffle your discard pile to create a new one. Once you’ve mastered your ABC’s, specifically the Clean-up phase where you shuffle your discard pile into a new deck, you can pick up any deck-building game straight away without too much of a learning curve. They all follow the same, or very similar, patterns. Players then take turns performing actions and buying cards. The game ends when one of two conditions are met: The stack of Province cards (the most expensive and most valuable Victory card) is empty. Any three stacks in the Supply are empty. When the game ends, each player goes through their deck and adds up their points. The player with the most points wins! The base game of Dominion offers 26 different Kingdom cards. You use ten in each game, and each set of ten interact with each other in different ways. In one game, you might want to hoard a bunch of Gold and use a Council Room to draw a bunch of them all at once. In another game, you might want to string a bunch of Laboratories together to play your Witch as often as possible. The challenge of Dominion is trying to figure out the best way to play each set of cards, and that alone gives Dominion a lot of replayability. Getting old isn’t the problem for Dominion (I mean, it only has ELEVEN expansions). It’s still a blast whenever I get the chance to play it. The problem is that there are now so many different games that fill that same deck-building niche. Why would we play Dominion when we could play Legendary, or Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, or my personal favorite, Clank!? Still, it’s my First Love, and I’ll come back to it every few months to brush up on the skills I developed over several months worth of best-of-fives against Scarlet. If you’re new to deck-building, Dominion is a great starting point. If you’re already into board games, it’s a must-have. And if you love Dominion and want to purchase an expansion or two, I would suggest investing in other deck-building games instead.
Our first spotlight goes to what I think of as the king of all gateway games -- games that help beginners get into board games. Settlers of Catan is one of the Euro-style (involves more strategy and less conflict and luck) games that paved the way for the “board game renaissance.” I didn’t get the chance to play it until this past year, but I owe a lot of credit to Settlers of Catan for igniting the spark that was my love for gaming. Game: The Settlers of Catan (or just Catan since it’s been rebranded, but our box still says The Settlers of Catan, so that’s what I’m going to call it) Players: 3-4 (5-6 with expansions) Ages: 10+ Playing Time: 60-120 minutes Rules: https://www.catan.com/en/download/?SoC_rv_Rules_091907.pdf In Settlers of Catan, players take turns rolling dice, collecting resources based on the outcome of the dice, and building up their empire with settlements, cities, roads, and development cards. During set up, 19 hexagonal tiles (along with ports) are laid out and assigned a number 2-12. Each player then places a settlement on any of the tiles’ vertices along with a road. Settlements cannot be placed within two spots of each other, so there is some jostling for position occasionally. After the first round of placements, players take another turn of placing settlements and roads, this time starting with the last player, and take resource cards (brick, lumber, wool, grain, and ore) based on the resources bordering their second settlement. A turn typically begins with the active player rolling the dice. Anyone bordering a tile assigned with the number rolled, gains that tile’s resource. Then, the active player can use their resources to build settlements (worth 1 point), cities (replace settlements, are worth two points and earn you double the resources), roads (required to build more settlements), and random development cards (which include soldiers, victory points, and other actions that can be played during your turn). Resources may be exchanged at a rate of 4:1 (or 3:1 or 2:1 if you border a port). Trading with other players is also allowed during your turn. If a 7 is rolled, any players with more than 7 cards must discard half of them. Then, the active player moves the robber (a black pawn) to block a tile, then steals a resource from a player whose settlement or city borders that tile. Until the robber is moved again (by someone rolling a 7 or activating a soldier card), no resources can be gained from the blocked tile. There are five ways to score points: Build a settlement (worth 1 point) Build a city (worth 2 points, but replaces the settlement) Victory point development cards (worth 1 point) Longest Road (worth 2 points, given to the first player to build five continuous roads, or a player who creates a longer road than the current longest road) Largest Army (worth 2 points, given to the first player to play three soldiers, or a player who plays more soldiers than the current largest army) The first player to reach 10 points wins! Settlers of Catan offers a lot of diverse strategies and replayability for such a light and easy-to-comprehend game. But most important to me, and you’ll hear me saying this about a lot of my favorites, is the fact that it feels good to lose. You rarely feel like you’re so far out of the game that you can’t catch up. So when the game ends and your girlfriend is grinning from ear to ear after stealing your Longest Road, you can smile back and say, “I’ll get you next time!” If you’re looking to get into board games, Settlers of Catan should be your first stop, and if you’re already into them, you should absolutely have a copy in your collection!