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The Keys to the Kingdom: Dominion Rules

July 27, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 82

There are a myriad of great board games out there, and most of them cater to party-goers that want a short and simple game, on the lighter side, or to hardcore fantasy fans that want a long and complex game, on the heavier side. But Dominion is a board-gamer's board game. It is all about strategy and the dynamics of play. Every game is challenging, and every game is fun. It is far and away the best-designed game that I've ever played.

The basic premise of the game is that you are building a kingdom, which is represented by your deck of cards. You start with a deck of some treasure (coppers) and some land (estates). You buy better treasure (silver or gold), actions, or better land (duchies and estates) with your treasure, then you discard everything and draw a new hand. When your deck runs out, you shuffle everything together and draw again. Treasures and actions have different costs based on how powerful they are, and land has a cost based on how many victory points it gives you. The point of the game is to build the best deck of treasures and actions you can so that you will then have the buying power to acquire the most land. The player with the most land (Victory Points) at the end of the game wins.

The game is highly strategic, addictive, and endlessly re-playable. There are several things about its design that make it a paragon of great game design:

The goal is deck-building. The purpose of the game isn't to get to the finish line or to collect all the money or to kill all the other players. The goal is to build the best kingdom possible. This goal is flavor-appropriate and aesthetically-pleasing, and it makes for some phenomenal game play.

In other games you might get eliminated from a game early or your opponent might get such a phenomenal lead that you know your plight is hopeless. As a game progresses, many players often get bored, particularly the ones that are losing. You rarely see this problem with Dominion. Players are all working on their own strategies semi-independently, and each can experience varying levels of success. It is always fun to see your master plan coming to fruition, even if it isn't enough for you to end up "the" winner. When the game is going and everyone is accumulating victory points in their decks, it is often hard to keep track, and oftentimes people won't be sure who the winner is until the count at the end.


Because the prime mechanic of the game is shuffling a deck and drawing cards, the order that cards come to you is based completely on luck. This factor is important because it prevents a lot of the card interactions from being a lock. If you could engineer your deck so that you had access to certain actions and treasures every turn, some strategies would be blatantly better than others and everyone would use those strategies. The game would be quite predictable. But since there is a lot of probability, instead, strategies might succeed or fail based on luck. You might draw what you need to, and you might not. Your opponent might snatch up the last copy of a card before you can get it, or they might make you discard cards, or they might let you draw cards. There is a lot that you need to attempt to take into account, and therefore your choices are rarely black and white.

(Almost) Every game is different.

10 different cards are chosen at random for every game, and players then have to develop their strategies based on how these different cards interact with one another. The 10 cards are chosen from over 100 possible cards. This means that there is a finite-but-enormous number of possible different starting set-ups for the game.

Even when you are playing with a set of cards that is pretty familiar to you and you think you have the different strategies figured out, there usually isn't a "best" strategy that you decide on and stick with all game long. The best strategy has to adapt to what other players are doing, since they compete for the same resources as you and they can even attack you with cards. The strategy that works best will also depend on how your luck flows, like whether your opening hands are 4 and 3 copper or 5 and 2 copper, respectively.

Strategy and luck are balanced.

The game is primarily determined by the card interactions that happen, and therefore the player with the best strategy will usually win. But the game isn't completely disheartening for the new player, because there is also a lot of random factor with players constantly drawing from shuffled decks. An adequate strategist can occasionally beat an excellent strategist if the cards work out that way.

The only drawback of Dominion is that the base game costs about $45 and the expansions cost $30-$45, which means that it can be an expensive habit for a poor graduate student like myself who feels the compulsive need to have every expansion. Not as expensive as my former Magic: The Gathering or Warhammer addictions, but a bit pricey nonetheless.

The game and expansions can be affordable if you can find good deals on them online. If you play with a group you can also distribute the cost between you by taking turns buying expansions, which makes the game much cheaper than something like Magic where each player is expected to have their own set of cards. The absolute cheapest way to play Dominion, though, is online. The gameplay is fun and fast online, but I still prefer in-person games. I view the online game as more of a way to practice and hone my strategies.

Source: EzineArticles
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