The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Dominion Review

Now that I’ve played ten games of Dominion, some thoughts.

I keep hearing Dominion compared to Race. I suppose that’s because they both a) are non-traditional card games and b) have a high number of decision points for a 20-30 minute game. Also c) hype from previews at the Gathering and other conventions (and BGN).

Comparing Dominion to Race isn’t really fair. You describe Race correctly only by using ‘evar!’ somewhere. Dominion? ‘Fairly good.’

From a play/mechanics standpoint, I don’t see much in common. Both have efficiency & engine/building, but Race also boasts simultaneous selection aspect. Each game handles optimization differently, and I that’s the issue.

Dominion has scarcity. You have one action, one buy, and a five card hand limit. The action cards let you improve actions, money, cards, etc. Race (like San Juan) offers “inconvenient plenty.” In both games you get an engine going, but …

Consider Spiderman, forced to decide between saving the city or Mary Jane. That’s Race — “You can buy X or Y … but not both.” In Dominion, much like in Hollywood, Spidey saves everyone, one then other. (BTW Peter, save Mary Jane first, thank me later).

Saving everyone keeps sequel options open; but it’s a cop out. In Dominion (barring a reshuffle), the order doesn’t matter.

Dominion suffers a lack of tension. You get cards. You play an action (or a whole huge chain of actions, in some cases), you make a purchase (or a few). You discard cards, reshuffle and repeat. Incremental decisions. No ‘bombs’, no game-shaking events that rock your world. No flipping over the scoring card, no calling a speculative trade hoping for a settle, no “must win this item in auction.”

Just “action-purchase-discard-(shuffle)-repeat.”

Dominion requires skill. In spades. The efficiency engine is tough work, and subtle. There’s luck, but a skilled player usually wins. Discovering the tricks and efficiencies intrigues me. I mean, this is my ballpark.

But I’m intrigued in theory much more than in practice. Without bombs, the game drags on. Worse yet, the winning player can drag out a game (unknowingly). You have downtime when it isn’t your turn. Losing is bad enough, but drawing crap and then having your opponent slap out 4 actions and then take 30 seconds (a lifetime in a fast-paced game) to decide how to split $8 between 3 purchases … ugh. Sometimes the last 5 minutes drag.

I’m enjoying BSW but the experience moved this from a tenative “looks interesting, buy” to a “don’t need to purchase.” BSW saves you all overhead (setting up, sorting, or shuffling). I’m vaguely dreading setting the game up in real life.

I like Dominion; I respect the engine building.

But it’s too repetitive to love.

Update: As normal, I put my review on BGG.

Update:
OK, it’s a little addicting on BSW.

In my defense, I’m wide awake with nothing else to do, several games dragged, cult of the new, and I do rate this game a ‘7’ (despite what I wrote).

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Written by taogaming

October 24, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Posted in Reviews

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8 Responses

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  1. I think you have the measure of it. I liked Dominion, but it’s definitely nowhere near being in the same league as Race. Dominion is one of the games that strikes me as exceptionally clever, but probably cleverer than it is actually fun. Two other things that I found somewhat painful: firstly was the inability to do anything that felt like medium or long-term planning. Sure, you’re always tuning your deck for the future, but you just draw 5 cards, play 5 cards, no saving or plotting from turn to turn. Your turn is just draw a bunch of cards, do the best you can, pitch the rest. OK, but I like more. Secondly, I think a lot of the skill will ultimately be in identifying the clever/broken combos in whatever mix of cards is chosen for any particular game. Again, OK, but for me, that doesn’t feel particularly satisfying.

    Anyway, having just complained about it, I *did* like it, and for me it is a buy. But it’s a little over-hyped, I think.

    Chris Farrell

    October 25, 2008 at 1:45 am

  2. There’s a smidge of long term thinking, but general — “I’ll add these card, then remodel them into those in a few turns.” But it’s minor.

    Then again, Chris and I have (at one point) made the same claim about Puerto Rico.

    Brian

    October 25, 2008 at 10:06 am

  3. Brian, I think you’ve pretty much hit on why the two games are compared. Both are short (although it takes a while to get to that point with Race) and inspire that “let’s play one (or five) more” feeling. Both need that repitition to even begin to master them. But mechanically, they have little in common.

    I like Dominion, but it doesn’t inspire me. The combination of incremental improvement and opacity is a bad one for me. It isn’t even the sort of opacity I like, such as you find in Industria or Hansa, for example, when you’re playing against an obscure game system, but can immediately see the results of your moves. It takes time for the plays in Dominion to work out and, for me at least, it’s rarely obvious which moved helped or hurt me. That takes repeated plays, I guess, and as a member of the Variety is the Spice of Life Club, I tend to resist playing games multiple times in a row (even Race). Even with more plays, I think I’d have trouble predicting the consequences of my selections. I may lack the “killer combo” gene, at least for this game. So it may stay in the “don’t mind playing, have no intention of buying” range forever.

    Like Chris, it’s occurred to me that turn-to-turn planning could improve the game. I’ve even asked the developers if they ever considered letting a player keep one card at the end of his turn (and then only drawing 4 cards). The answer was that they’d thought of it, but that it wasn’t true to the nature of the game, which I kind of agree with. Still, I think it might greatly expand the strategic options for players. It also might slow the game down, though, which, as Brian notes, is fatal for a game like Dominion.

    Larry Levy

    October 25, 2008 at 2:05 pm

  4. Setting aside for the moment that I don’t actually believe there is strategy to Puerto Rico, I still think Puerto Rico is way more strategic than Dominion 🙂 Dominion felt to me like lots of short-term decision-making. There wasn’t anything to aspire to, to plan out, not even anything illusory. In Puerto Rico, you can at least aspire to long-term decision making, even if it doesn’t really matter, and you can feel the arc of the game, which I didn’t really for Dominion. It also doesn’t help here that there was no theme that I could identify to Dominion.

    Again, I did like Dominion (I was a huge Middle Earth: The Wizards fan back in the day, so I have fond memories of CCGs). I think the game’s brevity compensates for a lot. It is clever, and it is short, and easy to play. But it is also a game that obviously rewards playing a lot to gain experience with the various almost-too-subtle trade-offs, and I wonder if it’ll have enough of a magnet to get the play it needs to be appreciated.

    Chris Farrell

    October 26, 2008 at 1:49 am

  5. I resolve to never put words in Chris’s mouth, excepting the phrase “I hereby donate all my games to Tao.”

    Brian

    October 26, 2008 at 12:30 pm

  6. I resolve to never put words in Chris’s mouth, excepting the phrase “I hereby donate all my games to Tao.”

    Brian

    October 26, 2008 at 12:30 pm

  7. It is incredibly addictive, and I have been pulling my friends in as well. I think that I probably like it a little bit better than you, but it doesn’t quite equal my other favorite filler, Race For the Galaxy. Race seems to have a much more robust and interesting decision tree, in general.

    doubtofbuddha

    October 27, 2008 at 2:35 pm

  8. It is incredibly addictive, and I have been pulling my friends in as well. I think that I probably like it a little bit better than you, but it doesn’t quite equal my other favorite filler, Race For the Galaxy. Race seems to have a much more robust and interesting decision tree, in general.

    doubtofbuddha

    October 27, 2008 at 2:35 pm


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