When Dominion first hit shelves in 2008, it signaled a massive shift in the world of card games. As the first major hit to feature the “deck building” mechanic, Dominion transcended its admittedly drab visual design by invigorating the gaming community with a brand new way to play.
In Dominion, players each attempt to build up their realm by purchasing everything from markets to festivals and council rooms, with the hope of scoring the most victory points at the end of the game. And, like the thousands of deck building games that followed, players do so by starting with a small, set amount of cards that they draw and play to purchase more powerful cards to add to their decks. From the start, it’s easy to suss out a tactic to focus on, and it won’t be long before combos begin chaining to help rack up points.
With a short and concise rulebook and clean card text (especially in its second edition printings), this is the type of game that never really feels too daunting, even during the first playthrough. Set-up is a seamless experience, and it’s easy for new players to hunker down and focus on a few cards they want to purchase en masse to see how they interact with each other.
The thematic vibe of the game can feel a bit underwhelming at times. With cards depicting coins, people hurrying about a marketplace, and lush gardens, players will seldom feel transported to the Dominion world, or locked in some grand and epic struggle. And the games that came after and used this core mechanic, like Ascension and Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game have done a wonderful job of taking the central gameplay and adding a more action-oriented theme (or flashy licensed IP) onto it to make it feel fresh. But Dominion was here first, and its general sense of calm has likely attributed much to its overall appeal. Like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and other major breakthrough games, the lack of explosions, monsters, and superheroes goes a long way to attract people cautious of anything that seems too stylized or rooted in “geek culture.”
Dominion, for all its ease and approachability, is the kind of game that gets under your skin. With a wide selection of cards to choose from in each game (the recommended play style is to randomly select ten of the twenty-five stacks of cards during set-up), it’s easy to get lost in the possibilities and keep dreaming up what you would do differently next time. It’s not at all uncommon to catch yourself wandering down the street thinking “If I go for a full Gardens tactic, I’ll just keep filling my deck with whatever I can buy, and stock up on Cellars to empty the junk from my hand.” That’s a sure sign that you’re solidly hooked on this deceptively deep strategy game.
A note on player count: This game plays perfectly fine with two, three, or four players, and our playgroup often pushes that number to five or even six players (though this isn’t recommended by the manufacturer). As there’s plenty of beginning resources to go around, adding more players simply means fewer turns for each player, amping up the strategic difficulty and creating an experience that stands apart from lower play counts.
A note on expansions: With twelve expansions at the time of this writing it can feel overwhelming to know where to go from the core game, but the core game itself will keep players entertained for a long time before it begins to feel dull. In general, though, a good “first step” for expansions is Intrigue.
A note on “chrome”: Though there’s nothing revolutionary about it, the game comes with a clearly labelled insert tray that makes set up and clean up extremely easy. The card stock on the cards is sturdy, and the instruction booklet (as mentioned above) is as clear as can be.
The bottom line:
Dominion has absolutely earned its place as one of the most popular tabletop games on the market, and if you’ve never tried it and like middleweight strategy (in other words, not too hard, but not Monopoly-simple) well… what are you waiting for?
Get this game if:
You like strategy, card, or deck building games but haven’t yet tried this classic.
You’re fairly new to the hobby and looking for an accessible but deep introduction.
Avoid this game if:
You’re looking for more excitement from the art and theming of your games.
The copy of Dominion used for this review was purchased by the author.
Where’s the score?
The TechRaptor tabletop team has decided that the content of our tabletop reviews is more important than an arbitrary numbered score. We feel that our critique and explanation thereof is more important than a static score, and all relevant information relating to a game, and whether it is worth your gaming dollar, is included in the body of our reviews.