The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Eminent Domain

Fundamental changes produce butterfly effects. All the same rules but one could produce an identical game, or have implications that drastically alter gameplay. Take Feudal. It’s chess where each piece can move each turn (basically). That destroys the game. You can’t have a pin, or a skewer, or a forking attack, because if one move attacks two pieces (in whatever way) then both pieces move away. Simple change, profound (and horrible) effect.

Eminent Domain combines Dominion and Glory to Rome (and Race), but I’ve no idea if it works. For the first time in a while, I need to delve into mechanics. Like Dominion, Eminent Domain starts with 10 cards, and you add and remove cards to your deck, and reshuffle constantly.  When it’s your turn, you (optionally) play one action, then play one role. That’s like Glory to Rome, except that you don’t have to have the role in hand… you pick it up from the center of the table (and add it to your deck). When you play a role you can meld additional cards that match it to enhance the effect … and other players can either follow (melding 1+ cards that match your role from hand to get some effect) or dissent (aka “Think” in G2R) to draw a card. Like Race, you have a tableau of cards (and maybe technologies) you can add to, which are worth points. You can also produce and consume for VP.

You can get developments (called technologies) by using the research role. Each technology requires some number of research cards and 1-3 face up planets. Technology cards usually go into your deck, but some go to the tableau. Planets start face down, and have to be colonized or conquered (via the colonize and warfare action, respectively). You survey to get more worlds. You also start with a politics card, which you can convert to another card once.

Sidebar — Why are Eminent Domain’s inspirations great? Well, Dominion has a simple idea, but since you vary the 10 kingdom cards (across one hundred and change) you get lots of different combinations. After hundreds of games, I see patterns, but I’m still surprised every now and then. Each game is a mini-experiment to discover the best path for the current layout. Race has the concept of inconvienent plenty. You have some cards in your hand, and a few of them will go into your tableau. The rest are used to pay. And in a single game you’ll only see a fraction of the cards. Glory to Rome has the follow/think decision, more difficult building and role management (in that you can’t just pick the role you want) and trying to arrange implicit coalitions (via the Clientele mechanism).

Emiment Domain, while following the form, misses in each case — E.D. lacks Dominions vast combinations … apart from starting worlds the setup is the same each time. You can play 1 card plus one meld from your hand each turn, so there’s no inconvenient plenty. (Just play the best meld). You do only see a fraction of the world cards, but these are all minor variants. A/B/C types, slightly different cost/VP, and a few minor abilities. All the technologies are open buys, available each game.

Finally, the Glory to Rome aspects. Here’s where Eminent Domain comes closest to capturing the feel. If another player leads a role, you’ve got the follow/think distinction. In G2R, the decision is tough because it often involves using a wild card … if you follow, you may not be able to lead the role you want on your turn.  In ED, you can always do the role you want, since you take it from the supply. In G2R, thinking gives you a new hand (or a wild), so it greatly increases your options. In ED, you only get one card …. but melding multiple cards can be important, so it sometimes matters.

The problem is that most cards have a single function. If Player A colonizes, I can play all my colonize cards to help take over a world. If I think, I get another card. If I colonize on my turn, then I probably could have gotten the exact same effect by following, although if the extra card I drew is a colonize then I get some benefit. (You also get the extra colonize when you call the role, like a leader privilege).

But suppose I’m going to select Warfare as my role. Now if I dissent (“think”)I get one more card, then I play Warfare on my turn. At the end of my turn, I can dump my colonize cards (and the card I drew), but if I followed the colonize, I got some use out of my cards, at the cost of cycling one less card.

Which means, to me, that the real issue of Eminent Domain is How to best work at the periphery of what others are doing. Suppose my will play some Role often, say Warfare.  If I have a handful of Warfare cards, I can follow, but then my hand will be depleted … when I start my turn I get no action and my role (since I won’t meld) will have a minor effect. (To be fair, some of the role privileges do not depend on number of cards played, a fact I’m glossing over). So there’s a difference between following and dumping my hand, and leading the same hand, but it’s timing and tempo.

But if I have just a little bit of Warfare in my deck, then when others follow I can drop a few cards, then lead my main role on my turn. Now I get little Warfare, Big Whatever.  Timing and Tempo, but also an interesting twist on collusion. It may be the case that the best way to react to your opponent’s plans is to do the same thing, moderately.

That’s interesting and, if true, a somewhat surprising state of affairs. I’m not at all convinced that it’s true, but implicit collusion (via clientele) is a big part of Glory to Rome and I suspect it applies in this novel form.

In my one (and only) game everyone quickly trashed their produce/trade cards. Both my opponents went colonize heavy, but I decided to switch back to production. This meant when they colonized, I’d think or maybe drop a card or two, and when I produced they had no choice but to think.  And the result? I lost.  But I think the problem was in my switching tacks … if I’d skipped the trash and rebuild my first few productions would have been much better (because of card melding).

So, what does it mean?

I don’t think Eminent Domain is great. It’s basic gameplay has some interesting ideas but I suspect once you get past the first few games it will be too repetitive. Having said that, I suspect the 3-4 player game contains interesting second order effects because of the follow/dissent mechanism. It may be that the dynamic is too chaotic to do any real planning. That will need more plays.

I don’t think I’ll give Eminent Domain hundreds of hours, but I could see giving it a few more plays. It hasn’t hooked me enough to guarantee it, and I may just be imagining this dynamic, but it warrants investigation.


Written by taogaming

August 9, 2011 at 5:50 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Interesting and thoughtful write-up, Brian. I hope that you give it a few more games and I’d like to see if your opinion remains the same…

    The “Emiment Domain, while following the form, misses in each case ” comment surprised me a bit because, for me, those differences give the player more control over their strategy and the outcome of their game – that greater control was a comment I heard more than once from players at Gen Con, and also something I was going for with the design in the first place. Hopefully that came through!

    In the end, no game is for everyone, I just hope people will give EmDo a play or two before dismissing it based on some perceived similarity or difference to Dominion, Glory to Rome, or Race for the Galaxy. Even most of the positive reviews I’ve read have indicated that the game didn’t really click or shine until 2 or 3 games in.

    Thanks for the write up!

    – Seth

    Seth Jaffee

    August 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    • I do plan on playing it a few times. I may even pick up a copy (which would have been automatic a few years ago, but now that I’m trying to trim my collection…)

      The point about control is interesting, and worth exploring. You do have more control, but I’m not sure that it’s a net benefit. A lack of control can be addicting — I was just in Vegas, where you can’t help but notice that slot machines get 100x the floor space of the poker room. (This also means that E.D. risks becoming like Caylus, a game where experienced players will mop the floor with newbies).

      Apart from the matter of taste, the lack of diversity in card types means that more control may lead to standard openings and endgames, leaving only room for tactical play and a relatively short middlegame as things progress. All games have standard plays, but I’m worried that there aren’t any great swings or divergences.

      Despite lumping them together, I actually think Dominion differs in this regard. You make your purchases and go. You get some good or bad luck, but (for the most part) it’s a fast little chemistry experiement. (“What if I mix witches with workshops and a dash of village?”). The fact that there are no “bombs” (to use the JBDG term) isn’t a big deal, each game is fast. In a longer game, a slow incremental build up of economy usually leads to Just Another Soulless Euro (IMO).

      But with many CCGs, (or Race, or Glory) dropping a single card can be a gamechanger. I didn’t really look through the technology cards (or worlds), so I’m not sure how much that’s true. Certainly, conquering/settling a new world can open new technologies up, so it’s a factor. But it’s a factor I’ll see in every game.

      Right now my concerns with E.D. are theoretical. It’s gotten past the usual “Meh” reaction (which puts it above most games), it will take more plays to figure out.


      August 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

      • I’ll watch with interest to see how you feel after you get more plays in 🙂

        In the meantime, if you don’t mind, the preferred abbreviation is EmDo… to avoid the inevitable dick jokes, which I thought would be less of an issue than it has turned out to be :/

        Seth Jaffee

        August 10, 2011 at 1:05 pm

      • Isn’t EmDo Maureen Dowd’s rap name? I don’t think you’d want to be associated with that, either….


        August 10, 2011 at 7:48 pm

      • I have never heard of Maureen Dowd… heh

        Seth Jaffee

        August 10, 2011 at 7:54 pm

  2. Your analysis breaks down the game into concrete parts – I feel like I understand it even though I haven’t played it. I didn’t even realize it was out yet.


    August 9, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    • Well, I don’t really understand it. I mean, the mechanics are easy enough. I’m not sure it’s really out, our FLGS got a demo copy. The local who bought it from the kickstarter doesn’t. So probably a week or two.


      August 10, 2011 at 9:08 am

      • Its supposed to arrive in the US on September 26th so out in the mail soon after that.

        With the production and shipping delays that have been a part of this project I really do not understand how small publishers can compete. Its just crazy.

        Charles Feduke

        August 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm

  3. Interesting. Eminent Domain was not on my watch list because Jaffee’s previous game, Terra Prime, was such a blender job. It borrowed mechanics very liberally from Starfarers of Catan, Starship Catan, and Merchant of Venus, all great games in their own way, but the game was a bit of a mess – it didn’t hang together at all and the pacing and tension was all wrong. Eminent Domain snuck back my attention because once again he’s borrowing pretty heavily from very good games, but just because you can identify good stuff to borrow doesn’t mean you can put it together.


    August 10, 2011 at 11:45 am

  4. @Chris: Interesting – I hadn’t thought of Terra Prime that way. I have never played Starfarers or Merchant of Venus, and though I did play Starship Catan once, I recall very little of it except that I did not like it much. And there were cards/tiles that rotated to indicate… some game state, I recall that.

    Whether Terra Prime worked for you or not, Eminent Domain is nothing like Terra Prime, so I hope you will give it a play before dismissing it.

    Seth Jaffee

    August 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm

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