Isolation Day 487 Game: Dominion

Cheese plate not included.

Tonight my wife and I finally introduced our daughter to a game we’ve long been big fans of.

Dominion was the first game I’d ever played where players build the very decks they’re playing with as a function of the gameplay itself. This isn’t to be confused with collectible card-type games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon, where you build decks ahead of time in order to play.

The premise here is that each player is a monarch of a “small, pleasant” kingdom, but with aspirations to grow by taking over smaller neighbouring lands. The bigger the property you take, the bigger its victory point value. Have the most number of victory points (i.e. largest kingdom) at the end of the game and you win.

The deck-building aspect of the game is intriguing and ingenious. Players all begin with a paltry seven copper coins and three estates, making for ten cards, which are to be shuffled. Five are drawn for the starting (and subsequent) hands. The idea is that you use the value of coins in your hands to buy cards from the communal “supply” of others on the table, and anything you’ve played, bought, or remains in your hand is put aside in your own pile of discards at the end of each turn. You draw another five cards to be used as your hand on your next turn, and when you run out of cards to draw (here’s the key bit), you shuffle your pile of collected discards and that becomes your new draw pile. In other words, you buy cards not to be used in that same turn, but to be added to your growing deck and will be drawn for use during upcoming turns.

The cards you buy from the supply sets often have effects on your turn. Once played from your hand in future turns, one type of card may let you draw extra cards for your hand, or you may get to play more of them, or it will add to the money you can buy more cards with, or how many purchases you can make during your turn, or force other players to discard cards from their own hands to limit what they’ve got to play with on their next turns, etc.

The result, after several rounds of everyone having turns, can (with some luck of the draw) be chaining certain card effects together: You may play a card that lets you draw more cards plus play another card, which itself has the effect of letting you play another card plus gives you you another chance to purchase cards plus adds to what you can spend on that purchase… the combinations can get lengthy, and they all give you an edge over other players. But if, when and how those combinations happen to come up is also up to chance. After all, you never know what you’re going to draw for your next hand. It could be great or terrible or something in between that may still work well depending on how you play what you’re holding. You can certainly increase your chances of getting good sequential chains of card effects by buying cards that work well together, but they may or may not actually appear in a future hand together. Meanwhile, the other players are snapping up all the most valuable properties, so regardless of how well or poorly your deck is performing, you can never lose sight of the real goal of getting the most victory points.

Added to all that is the fact that the base set of Dominion comes with a couple of dozen unique types of supply card types that you can buy from on your turns. You play with ten types at a time–beginners are advised to play with a specific set, being the ten in the middle in the photo above–but as you get more familiar with the game, you can mix and match card types in sets of ten however you’d like to. They have suggested sets that have varying affects on game play, from making money fast to changing up hand sizes to creating more interaction among/affect on other players. Swapping out just one of those supply sets for another can have a large impact on how a game goes, let alone mixing and matching even more sets.

This of course all adds to the replayability of the game: Not only would playing with the same set again give you different results, as different draws for different hands may lead players to make different decisions at different times or go for a different playing tactic altogether, but changing any of the supply card sets change things up even more. What happens if we swap out these three supply card sets for these three other ones? Well, let’s get more chips, top up the drinks, and give it a shot.

And of course, as tends to happen with successful games, Dominion has expansion sets that add even more types of supply cards for even more variation in gameplay. Each release has its own theme and flavour of new supply card sets for even more variety and depth to your games.

The base set of Dominion says the recommended age is 8+. I think that’s a bit young. I’d say my kid is pretty smart and I know she really enjoys playing tabletop games, and I don’t think she would’ve been able to wrap her head around all of this when she was that age. But your (kid’s) mileage may vary, of course.

It turns out that she really liked playing–she wanted to play again right after the first game despite the first game taking the better part of an hour and being among the more complicated games she’s ever played–which is great. I mean, it’s great that she likes it that much, but it also means that daddy gets to play it again sometime soon, and Dominion is something I never get tired of playing.

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