Friday, January 9, 2009

Dominion - First Play

Mando, Patrick, Dani, and I all played Dominion for the first time during the Thursday evening meetup. Based on this one play, the game lives up to it's top 10 rating on Board Game Geek.

It's easy to explain, quick to set up, and has such an original feel to it. If you've ever played collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, you'll especially appreciate the game play, but such experience is not necessary to enjoy playing it.

Dominion features three different types of cards: Treasure, VP, and Action. Each player starts with 7 1-count treasure cards (Coppers) and 3 1-count VP cards (Estates). Each player then shuffles their deck and draws 5 cards. Starting with a randomly determined individual, each turn is divided into an action phase where one action card can be played, a buy phase where one card can be purchased from the supply in the middle of the table, and a cleanup phase where all cards in the player's hand are discarded and a new hand of 5 cards is drawn.

Cards that are bought go into the discard pile. Once all cards in the face down deck have been drawn, the discard pile is shuffled and becomes the deck. Thus, the object of the game is to build the best deck.

You have to balance buying VPs, Treasures, and Actions. If you buy a lot of Estates, they each give you a point, but they also clutter up your deck, as do Coppers. Drawing a hand of 3 Estates and 2 Coppers doesn't help you nearly as much as drawing a mixture of good Action cards and Golds.

From the beginning of the game, it became clear that purchasing Golds (cost 6 Treasure, give you 3 Treasure each time they're drawn) and Provinces (cost 8, give 6 VP) as often as possible was the way to go. It also became apparent that some of the Action cards are quite valuable.

The game provides 25 different types of Action cards, but only 10 are played with each game. For our first match, we chose to play with the 10 recommended by the game rules: Cellar, Market, Militia, Mine, Moat, Remodel, Smithy, Village, Woodcutter, Woodshop.

The Woodshop (costs 3, allows you to take any card costing up to 4 during the Action phase) looked pretty good at first, and both Dani and I bought quite a few of them. By the midgame, however, I was disappointed to see these come up. While it's useful to gain that extra Action card or Silver during the first phase, your goal is to get 6 or 8 Treasure per turn in order to buy Gold and Provinces. The Woodshop simply doesn't help at all with this.

The Smithy (costs 4, allows you to draw 3 more cards) on the other hand, is excellent. Drawing more cards is always good, and this one, especially when combined with a Village, is the best card drawer that we had. Patrick and Mando seemed to like the Moat (costs 2, allows you to draw 2 cards and defends from attack) better. I'd rather spend the extra $$$ for the better card. For the same cost, I like the Cellar (costs 2, +1 action and discard any number of cards to draw that number). This one allows you to get rid of any cards that aren't helping you, replace them with potentially better ones, and then lets you play another action. Sweet.

Mando, who finished second only two VP behind me, was the only one to make use of the Militia (costs 4, gives 2 extra Treasure and makes all other players discard to 3 cards). This one is pretty powerful. The extra Treasure can help quite a bit (Mando purchased more Provinces than anyone else), and it hurts your opponents as well.

My strategy was to try to get as many cards in my hand as possible. To do so, I bought as many Smithys as possible and combined them with Villages (costs 3, give one extra card and allows you to play 2 extra actions) and Markets (costs 5, gives one extra card and allows one extra action, and allows one extra buy and give one extra Treasure).

In the end, my strategy prevailed, if barely. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably play in a similar fashion but wouldn't buy any Woodshops. I'd consider buying a few Militia as well. After all, when combined with any card that allows extra Actions, it works as a Silver that allows you to hurt your opponents.

Overall, Dominion is a lot of fun. I expect it to be one of the core games that the group plays because it has enough strategical elements to satisfy the hardcore gamers but is light and fun enough for the average member.

If I had to post one complaint, however, it would be that the Curse (costs 0, -1 VP) cards were never explained in the rules. I did some investigation after the fact and found that we were misusing them. We allowed players to buy and use them like Actions, giving them to opponents. This is actually not allowed. Apparently, the Curse cards only work with Witch and will be used more with some of the expansion sets.


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