#192 - Feature: Dominion

19 minute read

Motto: Hello Melissa! Hello Danielle!

This post is not for everyone. The first part is for everyone who's at all interested in this game I've been playing a ton for the past 10 months, but I wouldn't suggest reading past the line of hashtags if you don't already know Dominion. After that line I'm going to write in detail a review of Dominion and each expansion. What is Dominion? Dominion is a "deck building game" card game. It's probably more fairly called "THE deck building game", though, it really defined the genre. Deck building games (like Dominion) are similar to "collectible card games" (like Magic: the Gathering or Pokemon) - with a few key differences: 1. You don't have to buy your own, private deck in real life by purchasing randomized expansion packs. 2. Everyone plays from the same set of cards, so there is no chance that a person you are playing can do something that you couldn't also do in that same game. 3. If your friend owns Dominion, then you don't have to. As long as Dominion is in the room anyone can play it just the same. Dominion itself was created by a guy named Donald X. Vaccarino. It was inspired by "Magic: the Gathering" (which I admit doesn't necessarily bode well for the game)... but it's less nerdy. I think. I've never really played Magic. Whatever, keep reading.
Dominion is for 2 to 4 players (you can play with 5 or 6 if you really want, but it's less fun). There are ~17 stacks of cards in front of you. ~3 of these stacks are Treasure cards, ~3 of these are Victory cards, 1 stack is full of Curse cards, and 10 are kingdom cards. Most kingdom cards are usually Action cards, but are sometimes Victory or Treasure. Collectively, these cards are called the "Supply". All cards have an associated cost, which varies from card to card. Each player has their own deck, which they build by buying cards from the Supply. The object of the game is to have the most victory points when the game is over. You accomplish this by building a deck that lets you gain victory cards (which give you victory points) more effectively than your opponent.

That's a barebones description of Dominion.

The beauty of the game, however, comes from the following:

> Victory cards give you no benefit until the end of the game, while Action and treasure cards give you no points when the game is over. The challenge of the game is finding the most effective balance of both.
> Each game of Dominion is set up using 10 Kingdom cards out of a set of a couple hundred. That means that you can play 22 quadrillion different games... and each one might have its own "best strategy". There is no "one strategy to rule them all".

How you go about building your deck to best take advantage of the 10 Kingdom cards that you happen to be playing with is your choice. That's where the strategy comes in. That's the beauty of the game.

What is a simple game of Dominion actually like?

You sit across from your opponent. You analyze the Kingdom cards that you're playing with and decide on a strategy. You build out your deck by buying Action and Treasure cards from the Supply. As you go, you may realize your strategy sucks and change course. You may notice something your opponent is doing that's working really well and try to figure out ways to stop her, or incorporate her strategy into your game.

Dominion is awesome. I made the mistake just now of looking at the Wikipedia article for Dominion, which describes how to play it better than I was going to. Now I don't have the motivation.

hastags used to be called "pound signs" #history
################################################ Review of each expansion of Dominion:

The Base set doesn't necessarily qualify to be on a list of "expansions", but it's no different than them. It is full of simple cards that show off the game's core mechanics. The Base cards have no real theme beyond "simplicity". Games using only the Base cards are fun, but don't quite have the pizzazz that comes when adding in the expansions. Having said that, the Base game is full of very important cards and should be everyone's first purchase.

Because this is the first one, I'm going to take a moment and describe what I'm trying to do here. I'm going to give an overview of each set, then give my opinion on it, then break out each set's highlights and low points. I'm not listing the best and worst cards, but instead the most/least interesting or fun to play with. Everything in these reviews are my opinion. Also, before I go too far here... even the WORST Dominion expansion would make for a pretty fun game. These range from awesome to just good.

> Chapel - the master trashing card. The ability to remove cards from your deck changes the landscape of the game dramatically.
> Gardens - the first Victory kingdom card. Opens up the possibility to win a game without buying a single high-cost card.
> Throne Room - play an action twice. Sweet.
> Witch - the first, most obvious attack people learn.

Low points:
> Chancellor - this card is not worth its cost in most all situations.
> Adventurer - the sole action card costing 6 in the Base set. The usage case for this card is limited. Too limited to justify its purchase in most situations.
> Feast - nobody uses this card.

The first expansion, Intrigue, is the only expansion that came out with the necessary Treasure and Victory cards to play a game. It's lightly focused on "making choices", with several cards that have the players choose between different possible actions. If you're buying your first Dominion game I'd suggest the Base game over Intrigue. It's not my favorite expansion. I didn't realize how little I liked this expansion until I tried to pull together this next part.

> Bridge - an easy way to buy lots more. Can work really, really well - or could do you nothing better than a plus 2 coins. Fun to play.
> Conspirator - when you manage to get a Conspirator chain up and running, it's awesome.

Low points:
> Saboteur - it's too mean of an attack. You turn up your opponent's Province late in the game and Duchy pile is run out - that's a great way to lose a friend.
> Nobles - buying Nobles lets you turn cards over and over and over. It also happens to give you Victory points along the way. The all Nobles strategy is really good, which makes me not like it. It's self-synergistic, simple, and stupid.
> Minion - speaking of self-synergies, if you can manage to fill your deck with many Minions, you're sitting pretty... a little too pretty. Each hand you're playing several Minions, attacking your opponents, reaping money, AND letting you draw past your Victory cards.
> Wishing Well - another card that's just not usually good enough to warrant buying. It's a waste of a Kingdom card slot.

The Seaside expansion introduces duration cards, whose actions last until your next turn. Although it's a very highly reviewed expansion, I'm not as sold on it. It's still fairly new to my collection

> Bazaar - I like this card. Don't know why.
> Lighthouse - a way to stop attacks before they start. One that's better than the other one. One that's worth buying.
> Island - when you learn what this card does, you immediately love it. Although I've had some troubles making it work in the past. It's still a highlight.
> Embargo - can make things interesting. The only card that I can think of that gives the user the ability to dissuade his opponents to go after obvious strategies, forcing a tough choice.

Low points:
> Tactician - the Tactician card essentially lets you throw away your current turn to have a doubly good turn next time. This is a good thing because, in Dominion, one great thing is better than two good things. The problem is this: Tacticians card insists upon itself. It's hard to justify doing anything other than play Tacticians, and, to make matters worse, it is awkward to work tweaks.
> Merchant Ship - it's overpriced. Not worth buying unless there just so happens to be a $5 card in the Kingdom.

Very few people will argue with my opinion that Alchemy is the worst expansion of Dominion. It introduced a new Treasure type, "Potions", and it has a heavy focus on a hand with tons of Action cards. The problem is that Potions are very inflexible and that makes games involving Alchemy cards very inflexible. There are ALSO several cards that are extremely annoying to play with, making you shuffle, or count, or making your friend hate you. More on that in a second.

> Apprentice - one of two cards that don't require potions to buy. So it's got that going for it. It's also got a very unique ability to draw a massive amount of cards AND it was given that ability in a not annoyingly good & obvious to use way.
> Vineyard - I like victory cards that afford you new ways to win. This one just so happens to make the Potion card a little less worthless in late game.

Low points:
This could go on for a while.
> Possession - you essentially steal your opponents next turn. You even use her cards. This card could easily be renamed "lose your friends". If somebody buys a Possession, maybe just quit.
> Philosopher's Stone - this is a treasure card that makes you count ALL the cards in your deck each time you play it! What a great idea! When somebody buys this, they will take an extra minute and a half every time they play it. Annoying.
> Golem - this card can be awesome. It can, in some edge cases, really suck. But in most cases, what it does is make you flip through your deck ridiculously fast and shuffle over and over again. Annoying.
Honestly, I could put almost every card that requires a "Potion" to buy. I don't like the Potion mechanic, and I'm not alone.

The set that was released immediately following what most people call the worst expansion just so happens to be the one that most people call the best expansion. I might just agree with them. Prosperity introduces high octane cards, including new, higher value Treasure and Victory cards. Lastly, it introduces Victory tokens.

> Colony cards and Platinum. Melissa wants to use these every time. It adds options to how to win. Do you go for the bigger Colony win? Or do you end it quickly with the Province ending?
> King's Court - pick an action, play it three times. I used to not like this card because it creates swingy games... but it also creates some of the craziest situations in Dominion. King's Court, King's Court, Bridge, Bridge, Bridge. If you manage to have that hand, you suddenly find yourself with 10 buys, 9 coins (at least) and everything costs 9 coins less. You could in empty the Province pile yourself, in one turn.
> Monument/Bishop - Victory tokens are a good thing.
> Forge - remove the cruft from your hand AND get yourself good cards in the process. I really like Forge.
> Peddler - the action card that costs $8 - no $6 - no $4... it's interesting.
> Bank - make those coppers useful again!
> City - another card I've loved since the first time I saw it... without any good explanation as to why.
> Counterfeit, Loan, Hoard, Quarry, Contraband - treasure cards that do stuff are cool.

Low points:
> Mountebank - this attack is a little too good, at least for the price. I'd have no problem with Mountebank if it cost $6 instead of $5. There's a reason it's the top-ranked $5 card in this list since it was first released. It's too good.

The Cornucopia expansion was the first expansion I got. So I'm admittedly biased. It is the expansion most people would point to as the second weakest expansion (after Alchemy), however I think it's actually a solid contender for being my favorite. It encourages you to differentiate your deck. It gives you benefit not just to buy the same card over and over again. I don't like strategies that revolve around buying up all of one card and spamming it every turn. Cornucopia rewards the style of play that I think is the most fun. I love Cornucopia. Also I like to pretend that the girl on the front is Melissa.

> Menagerie - if you have a sufficiently differentiated deck, you will be rewarded. This is (perhaps inexplicably) my favorite card.
> Young Witch - a cheaper Curser. Adding an 11th pile to the Kingdom. Adding more options. Also - it's perfectly named, given what it does.
> Hunting Party - another card I've liked since the first time I saw it.
> Tournament - winning a Tournament is like finding one last Christmas present under the tree that you didn't know was there.

Low points:
> Jester - this card is fine in 1 on 1 games. If you get 2 or 3 players, though, it becomes too good. I will nix it out of any game with more than 2 players.

Hinterlands introduces cards that do something when you gain them. Hinterlands doesn't really stand out in any meaningful way. It's not a bad expansion... it's just not really memorable. Get it, but don't rush.

> Trader - when you gain a card, you may instead gain a Silver as a reaction. I like reaction cards who have a little more open-ended usage case. This is a defense against Cursers, or maybe a way to utilize extra buys without extra money (buy $0 Coppers, turn them into $3 Silvers). > Tunnel - another reaction card giving out money. If you discard a Tunnel, you gain a Gold. I've tried going all-in on this strategy before and whiffing big time. Still a fun card, though.

Low points:
> Jack of All Trades - many people love this card. It does just about a bit of everything. It's interesting... but maybe a little too good. You can apparently just buy two of these, no other actions, and win fairly often.
> Duchess, Oasis, Nomad Camp, Mandarin, Farmland - these cards are all just... blah. They are okay, but I've never fallen in love with any of them. I've played hundreds of games of Dominion. Probably a couple dozen with each of these cards, yet I can barely remember what they do. They don't stick out in any way.

Dark Ages
Dark Ages is the largest expansion to Dominion. It introduced 35 new Kingdom cards (as compared to 25, or even 13, with the other expansions). The theme for Dark Ages is, in short, the Trash. Cards that Trash things (even themselves). Cards that can look through the Trash. That sort of thing. Also, Dark Ages introduced Ruins (a "less bad" attack type), Spoils (single-use Gold cards, basically), Shelters (a set of cards that you start the game with that are even less helpful than the Estates they replace), and action cards that aren't in the Supply, which must be gained through playing ***other actions. Dark Ages introduces lots of complexity. Many/most of the cards have a ton of text on them and take a couple of games to really wrap your head around. Highlights: > Cultist - Cultist is a Witch that gives out Ruins instead of Curses. The beauty of Cultist comes when you buy several of them - they chain off each other and allow you to draw massive hands, even after the Ruins pile runs out. Cultist is fun. > Feodum - a Victory card that gives points based off the number of Silvers in your deck. I love alternate paths to victory. > Count - pick one bad thing to happen to you, then one good thing to happen to you. It's a unique and, I think, inspired card. Low points: > Procession - pick an action from your hand, play it twice, then trash it and gain an Action card costing 1 more than it. I've never seen anyone use this effectively. It's in mint condition because nobody every buys it. > Mystic - plus an action, two coins, and the top card of your deck - if you can successfully name it. Weird combination of things. Rarely lives up to its cost. It's a non-terminal (provides additional actions) money-giver, so it's always a little useful, but it's just not that much better than a regular old Silver.

Guilds is a small expansion, like Alchemy and Cornucopia. Unlike Alchemy and Cornucopia, Guilds was never intended to be part of a larger expansion. Guilds introduces two new mechanics: Overpay and Coin Tokens. Overpay is an extension of the 'on-gain' ability from Hinterlands. Coin Tokens are such a basic idea, it's weird to think they didn't get added in until the 8th expansion. You taken a token that can be used up for a coin at any time. Guilds is the newest expansion (coming out after I learned about Dominion, actually) and it's the newest and last addition to my set. I'm still learning Guilds, but I really like it a lot. Highlights: > Baker - simple. Plus one card, one action, and one coin token. Also it starts everyone in the game off with a coin token at the beginning of the game, changing the opening buys (and thus the entire game strategy) dramatically. It's simple, yet intriguing. It's great. > Adviser - draw three cards, your opponent gets to pick one for you to discard, plus one action. I don't buy this card usually, but I like it thematically. Low points: > Masterpiece - it's essentially a Copper that costs what a Silver costs, but for each $1 you overpay, you get another Silver. Sounded super interesting at first until I realized, you could just BUY a Silver for the same price. So it's not worth it unless you're overpaying by at least 2, but by that point you are usually wanting to buy better cards anyway. It's got its uses, but they are edge case. > Herald - most of the time this card just replaces itself. In some cases, playing it could actually hurt you significantly. Doesn't seem worth the cost.

Promo Cards
There are 5 promo cards, Envoy, Black Market, Walled Village, Stash, and Governor. I don't own any of the promo cards for the sheer fact that they are hard to come by. You can only buy them from strange places and their stock is usually limited. The promo cards are what you would call "Exotic". They offer unique mechanics that you don't see anywhere else in the game. I'm have no plans to own any of these cards, and that's okay. I'm not going to do a highlights/low points because I don't own them and because they aren't really part of a set. Each one is their own individual thing.

The Top 5 for this Column is a list of the 9 expansions, ordered by their rating on Amazon. You'll notice that even the worst-rated expansion is still above a 4 out of 5 stars. Amazon users seem to penalize heavily the sets with few cards and promote Dark Ages for its extraordinary number of cards. Those are my observations. As for my opinion, I'd rate the expansions thusly: 1. Prosperity (best) 2. Guilds 3. Cornucopia 4. Base 5. Dark Ages 6. Intrigue 7. Seaside 8. Hinterlands this is a break in the list, I put it here because there should be more space between numbers 8 and 9. 9. Alchemy (worst) I like Dominion. I like Dominion so much that I wrote this big long huge post about Dominion. I like Dominion so much that I wrote out a pseudocode framework as to how I would go about building my own Dominion game for my own use. I like Dominion so much that it makes at least 6 appearances in my Second-a-Day video from last year. The irony of it all is that, despite spending hours and hours more time playing and thinking about Dominion, my wife still beats me half the time.


Top 9: Dominion Instantiations (according to Amazon)
9. Alchemy - 4.1 - 50 votes
8. Cornucopia - 4.5 - 56 votes
7. Guilds - 4.7 - 53 votes
6. Hinterlands - 4.8 - 90 votes
5. Seaside - 4.8 - 152 votes
4. Intrigue - 4.8 - 226 votes
3. Dominion - 4.8 - 754 votes
2. Dark Ages - 4.9 - 89 votes
1. Prosperity - 4.9 - 154 votes

“are you guys playing that Dungeons and Dragons game again?”
- my sister, who is supportive of everything I do -