Dominion is a well-known deck-building game that truly sets the bar for strategic deck building. Every game has multiple paths the victory and a balance of pushing for the lead while still building your deck for the long game. I can’t say if Dominion is the hands down winner of greatest deck builder in Tabletopia, but it sure puts up a fight. Keep reading more to find out all about it in this Tabletop Tuesday breakdown.
Dominion is a deck-building game themed around the early modern ages. In this game, players choose ten decks of cards from all the options, in addition to the currency and victory points card decks and place them in the center of the table. There are some additional play pieces that may exist in Dominion, but in the base game and most popular expansions, those are not necessary to discuss.
All players start the game with a handful of each of the lowest currency and victory cards. Each round you get to play one action (which you start with 0 action cards) and buy one new card. Then discard all your cards, used and unused, and draw five new cards. Over the course of building up new action and currency cards, players gain the ability to buy bigger and better cards to perform combinations and attacks in an effort to ultimately buy victory point cards. Victory point cards add score to the player’s deck for end game scoring, but, otherwise, add no value to your hand. In fact, victory point cards count as one of your five hand cards, so having them limits how powerful a hand you can muster; too many victory point cards too early, and you’ll have a hard time making any more progress.
The game plays until three of the ten action card piles are gone, or all of the highest victory point cards have been drawn. This can happen as slow or fast as people can make it, allowing players behind to draw weaker victory point cards to prolonging the end in an attempt to catch up.
Easily the strongest reason for the fame of dominion is the card selection. In victory points, there are ones for 1, 3, and 6 (costing 2, 5, and 8 money respectively). Money cards are worth $1, $2, and $3 (costing 0, 3, and 6). Action cards have a menagerie of different actions attached to them. In order to better understand here are some examples:
Workshop – Gain a card costing up to four. (As an action, not as a purchase, allowing you to get a completely free card)
Woodcutter – +1 Buy. +2 Money. (Allows you to buy an extra card and use an extra two money to do it, combined with whatever other money you may have)
Throne Room – Choose an action card in your hand and play it twice. (Extremely powerful if combined correctly, but useless if you don’t have a good card to play it with)
Festival – +2 Actions. +1 Buy. +2 Money. (an excellent all-around card that give you money and more actions. Note that a couple of these combined with cards to draw more cards can be quite powerful)
Smithy – +3 Cards. (That simple, draw three more cards. Great for picking up more money, but without extra actions to use, any actions you draw are wasted, and not coming next time you draw cards)
The point of giving these examples is the next part. As you build your deck, you will begin to draw more actions into your hands. Say you draw a hand including… 1 silver ($2), 1 smithy, 1 festival, a throne room, and a victory point card. You could play the festival first, for plus two actions, then play the throne room on the smithy for +6 cards. Now you draw 1 silver ($2), 2 copper ($1 each), 2 victory point cards, and another festival. You play this festival and now have 2 MORE actions. You play your last card, the woodcutter. Now you have 6 money in currency, 6 money in extras from woodcutter and festivals, and 3 purchases. So you buy a 8 cost victory point card and another silver to add to your deck. This is not even an extreme example because you stack your own deck, stacking it with things that add and combine is part of the strategy.
I have seen games won with strings of cards in a single turn ending with the purchase of the last three remaining victory cards and played a game where the winner bought nothing but the currency. The latter example was an upsetting game but shows the extreme range of possible strategies. It’s important to not only know which combinations work the best, but also identify if there are the correct combinations in the game at all. Some variations of play tell you to draw the ten action cards at random. This random draw can end up causing some lackluster cards to all get pulled at once, especially when playing with expansions that raise the number of lackluster cards to choose from. When this happens it isn’t necessarily the end of the game, but rather a chance for people to play a new style of game.
Strings of actions are always great, but it’s hard to go wrong with a hand full of high-value currency. In the upsetting example I mentioned earlier, there were plenty of cards that added additional actions, but no cards that added money to the turn. So while we were all collecting our cards, one friend of mine was simply buying currency. Every round he would buy the largest currency he could and after about 8 rounds started buying victory points. I would say this is the Dominion equivalent to a Zerg rush. Before we had even built our deck, he had taken a quarter of the top-level victory points. When we all finally started being able to afford them, the game was ending. It ended up being a pretty close game though, with 3 of us neck and neck… and 1 guy with triple our score :-).
All in All
The most important thing to point out in any board game is how well people enjoy it, and that’s just the thing– Dominion is as difficult as you make it, and fun to boot. My new friends to Dominion pick it up quickly because they purchase the cards that they understand, and make combos that are readily visible. My experienced friends look to build decks that make complex moves, or attack other player’s hands. Neither one of the styles is more likely to win, and that helps balance the game across new and experienced players alike.
I think Dominion will be one of my favorite deck building games for the rest of my life. It does require expansions for replayability, but they can hardly be called expansions, since the style of the game allows the expansions to be whole games in and of themselves. Mix and match 10 out of the 100 different options out there and the possibilities are nearly endless!
If you would like your own copy of the game, you can pick it and some of its expansions up below!