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Cody Lewis

Tabletop Spotlight: Dominion

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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.

Image result for dominion hand

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).

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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:

  1. The stack of Province cards (the most expensive and most valuable Victory card) is empty.
  2. 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.

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