In the early 90s Collectible Card Games (CCGs) were all the rage, with Magic the Gathering being the most well known. I never got into the games. I was always annoyed by the collectible idea, and the fact that I needed to buy more cards to have a better deck. My brother once tried to make a deck of photocopied cards, and get people to play him (mainly to prove that Magic was all about the money, not about the fun of the game) and no one would.
So, I dodged the entire game style. I never got really involved in deck building or the strategies of which cards were superfluous. Finally, Dominion brings the gameplay of Magic to those of us who were not fans of the naked capitalism in it's marketing. It's a NCG, a non Collectible Card Game. The game has three types of cards: money cards (copper, silver, gold) used to buy other cards to put in your deck, victory point cards which are how you win the game (but serve no purpose in the game, and fill up your deck) and action cards (which allow you to do something like draw 3 cards for example.) Each card costs a certain amount of cash (paid for by using your money cards) and each card will remain in your deck for the rest of the game.
On your turn, you have one action (playing any card that says action on it) and one buy (using the money cards in your hand to buy another card.) Action cards may give you extra actions or buys or allow you to take some other action. It's the combination of these cards that gives the game its strategic depth. There are 25 types of action cards (each type having 10 cards), with 10 being used for each game. That means that in any given game there are 150 cards that are not being used, which leads to extreme replayability. The game ends when 3 of the 10 action card decks are empty or all the most expensive victory point cards have been bought.
The beauty of Dominion is how simple the game really is. You draw 5 cards, play as many as you can, buy extra cards if you are able, and then put it all in your discard pile & draw 5 more cards. Once you've run through your deck you shuffle your discard pile & start the whole thing over again. Obviously, the faster you can get through your deck, the better so cards that let you draw more cards are a big benefit, but if you don't have any extra actions, those cards better be money cards or they will be no use to you.
The cool thing about the game is the clear progression. In the beginning, you are building your deck trying to get the cards you want balancing the need for more money cards with action cards. The mid game is about fine tuning your deck and building your economic engine. The end game is a race to buy victory point cards (especially the most expensive Province cards) Throughout the game, you are faced with tough choices about adding cards. If you start building up victory point cards too early they will fill your deck with useless cards. Each card you buy reduces the chances of any other card showing up in a particular hand, but if you don't buy cards you are crippling your deck. The balance is key.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the variable decks that the game starts with. The rules suggest some basic ideas for good combinations, but my friends have taken to playing random, where we deal out the 10 action cards we will be playing with. This forces you to adapt your strategy to the cards available, and makes sure there is no sure-fire way to win everytime (although, playing cards that give you more cards in your hand is rarely a losing strategy.) It's an interesting twist when the decks come out and there are no extra buys, or no extra actions or cards that make it hard to get more money.
A typical game of Dominion runs between 45-60 minutes, and it plays well with 2,3 or 4 players. I have been especially impressed with how well it plays 2 player. Dominion is a great game that should be in any gamers collection. It's relatively easy to learn, but has enough variables to make it impossible to master. And, as a bonus, you don't have to buy any booster packs to play!
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