My first impression of Eminent Domain, published by Tasty Minstrel Games, was a shrug of the shoulders. Having recently become infatuated with Star Realms, I was really unsure how I'd feel about another deckbuilding game set in space. Thankfully comparing the two games is unnecessary as Eminent Domain scratches an entirely different itch than Star Realms and is fun, engaging, and rewarding.
What is Eminent Domain?
Eminent Domain pits players indirectly against one another to see who can build the most influential galactic empire, and it plays very much like a 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) game although it is noticeably lacking in 'exterminate.' Taking the focus away from the direct competition is actually in the game's favor as it allows the game to give the feel of exploring for new planets, expanding the reach of your empire, and exploiting those planets for their resources while having a very manageable playtime yet still offering multiple interesting paths to victory.
The core mechanic of Eminent Domain's deckbuilding is the Role system. On their turns, players have the option of playing a single card as an Action from their hand, but they must choose and play a Role. Not only is this the main method of adding cards to your deck, but it also keeps the other players engaged in the game when it's not their turn. The current player chooses a Role and is the Leader of that Role. The other players must choose whether to follow that Role by playing similar cards from their hands or to Dissent, which allows them to draw an additional card from their deck. This is a clever and engaging twist on deckbuilding. Deckbuilding games often don't allow players to use their new cards immediately, and the fact that the other players are involved as each card is selected is an excellent mechanic.
Roles and Leadership
The Leader can boost the chosen Role by playing multiple cards from their hand that match the chosen Role's symbol. If the Leader boosts the Warfare Role, for example, they are able to gather a number of fighters equal to the number of Warfare symbols on the playing cards. The player will then be able to use the fighters in future turns to attack and take control of planets that they have previously surveyed. Players use this same method to Survey new planets to conquer, peacefully Colonize surveyed planets, Produce or Trade resources from conquered planets, and even Research advanced Technology cards.
Most of the Roles make sense with the theme of the game, although, initially, the Warfare Role was confusing and a bit offputting. Warfare allows you to build up an army of fighters to attack and conquer your surveyed planets. The disconnect, for my group at least, comes from the fact that you use those fighters to attack and conquer your own surveyed planets instead of your opponent's planets. Once we came to terms with the fact that the game is a race to conquer neutral worlds and add them to your galactic domain, whether peacefully or via military might, the Warfare Role fit it nicely next to the others.
Eminent Domain's Biggest Strength
One of Eminent Domain's greatest strengths is that off-turn players can follow the played Role by playing matching cards from their hand or Dissent and drawing a card from their deck. The balancing act between taking actions at the cost of cards versus drawing more cards into the hand is engaging and interesting. While it can seem like a good idea to Dissent each time in order to begin each turn with more cards in hand and thus options available, it can often be more beneficial to follow other players' Roles in order to set up a more successful future turn.
Making clever use of the Role system is only part of the path to success in Eminent Domain. The game offers many ways to gain victory points via Research, conquering planets, and trading resources produced on those planets. Deciding which strategy to focus on is key, but you must remain aware of what other players are doing in order to maximize the benefit of the Role system during other players' turns. Trying to do everything at once is generally not the best approach, although it can be difficult to focus solely on one aspect if the other players ignore it as you will not be able to make the best use of their Roles.
A Few Notes on Eminent Domain
A Note on Player Interaction
As with many deck-builders, there isn't really any direct player interaction in Eminent Domain. In other games, this can lead to players losing focus during other players' turns or getting bored while waiting. The Role system does a wonderful job of keeping players interested in what their opponents are doing on their turns.
A Note on “Chrome”
The cards and components of Eminent Domain are all good quality. The rulebook is very well done, easy to read, and has a reader-friendly layout. The art fits the theme, and the Technology cards have a neat campy style that adds to the lighthearted vibe of the game. The ship miniatures included in the game are actually three different sculpts, although they all represent the same thing which is a bit odd. Eminent Domain has an expansion that I'll be reviewing in the near future that differentiates the ship sculpts from one another, and you could easily use the different sculpts to represent different numbers of fighters i.e., 1/3/5 so it's certainly not a bad thing that the base game includes different ship shapes/sizes.
Is Eminent Domain Worth My Money?
Eminent Domain is fun, engaging, and easy to learn and teach. The Role system keeps players involved in the game even when they are not active players, which is a clever way to avoid some of the off-turn downtime present in many games. The theme is neat, and the mechanics reflect the theme really well, although it is a bit odd to have different sizes/shapes ships represent the exact same thing.
The copy of Eminent Domain that was used for this review was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.