The ABCs of Gaming: D is for…

It’s arguable that there hasn’t been a game in the 21st century with as much influence as our next selection in our ongoing series of the ABCs of Gaming.  D is for…

image by BGG user monteslu

Dominion was first published in 2008 by Rio Grande Games, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino (2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes to play).  The game is about building up a kingdom, but the theme is largely unimportant.  The real attraction of the game is the deck-building mechanism that it introduced, which then gave birth to a whole genre of games – the DBG, or deck-building game.  For purposes of this poll, Dominion and its first expansion, Intrigue, were combined into one entry, even though they are counted as separate games on BGG (with both in the Top 10, but Intrigue two spaces higher).  Dominion’s 41.9% rate on the poll was not the highest percentage of the whole list, but more people voted for Dominion than any other game across all polls.

Dominion is a card game and comes with 500 cards.  Among thoses are 252 kingdom cards, 130 treasure cards (Copper, Silver, and Gold), 48 victory cards (1-pt Estates, 3-pt Duchies, and 6-pt Provinces), 30 curse cards (-1 pt), 33 placeholder cards, and 7 blank cards to make it an even 500.  The storage tray was designed with slots to fit every different type of card and works pretty well – however, these inserts do not help with carrying all expansions in a single box (something that AEG has been trying to fix with their DBGs).  Each player begins the game with the same 10 cards – 3 Estates and 7 Copper.  The remaining treasure and point cards are placed in the display, along with 10 randomly selected kingdom card decks, each consisting of 10 cards (except for Gardens, which has 12).

Dominion is turn-based, and each turn can be boiled down to a simple mnemonic device that goes along well with this series: ABCD.  A is for ACTION, where you can play one action card from your hand.  This action card may give you other actions, extra cards, extra money to spend, extra buys, or other special abilities.  Attacks go after other players; reactions are things done in response to other players.  Part of the fun of the game is trying to create combos of actions – play a Village, which allows you to draw a card and gives you two more actions; follow it with a Market, which gives you a card, another action, an extra buy, and another coin to spend; play a Witch, which allows you to draw two cards and gives everyone else a Curse; then end it off with a Chapel, which allows you to trash (discard from the game) worthless cards from your deck.

After playing your action (or actions with a combo), move on to the next step: B is for BUY.  You can use the treasure in your hand to buy one card from the display.  You’re not technically spending your money as it will stay in your deck – you’re just using it to acquire more cards.  Some actions give you more buys, but you can’t spend more money than you have available.

After your buy(s), C is for Clean-Up.  Take any cards left in your hand, any cards you played, and any cards you acquired, and place them in your discard pile.  End your turn with D is for Draw, drawing five new cards into your hand.  If there aren’t enough cards in your deck to draw, draw what you can, shuffle your discards, and continue drawing.

The game continues until the pile of Provinces (the 6-pt cards) is gone, or until any three piles are gone.  At that point, everyone counts up the points in their deck, and the player with the most wins.

When Dominion came out in 2008, it set the world of gaming on fire.  Deck building was not new – CCGs like Magic: The Gathering are games where you build a deck for competition, a deck that will be different than your opponents and that will hopefully give you some advantages.  Deck building was not a mechanism of the game, however – it was more like a pregame ritual.  Dominion marked the first time anyone successfully turned deck building into a game.  You have to build your engine throughout the game, trying to produce tons of points at the endgame.  You could try to get points at the start, but point cards generally did not provide any in-game benefit (this was changed in some expansions), so generally, early turns are spent acquiring actions and money.  You want to try to get actions that will combo with other actions, giving you a string of things you can do with more cards, more buys, and more money to spend.  There are lots of different strategies to pursue, and since the game changes every time, you’ll never play the same game twice.

I know I’ve talked about the expansions on the blog before, but as a quick overview: Intrigue, the first expansion, was the only standalone expansion in the series (meaning that you didn’t need the base game to play).  It added more interaction between players, as well as choices between options on the cards.  Seaside introduced duration cards, those that could be played one turn and kept until the next.  It also gave the first extra tokens and player mats seen in the series.  Alchemy gave us potions, extra treasures needed to buy certain cards.  Prosperity emphasized money, adding very expensive cards, colonies (worth 10 points), and platinum (worth 5 money).  Cornucopia tried to get people to have variety in their decks, while Hinterlands gave you extra things you could do while gaining cards.

This game was the clear winner in the D category, and I heartily agree.  It won the Spiel des Jahres in 2009, a well-deserved honor that emphasized its value as a family game.  I think it’s a pretty good gateway game as well.  With simple rules and engaging gameplay, I think it’s pretty accessible to a wide range of players.  Even if they don’t get it right away, there’s enough there to keep them coming back, and I think that’s key.  There’s been some that argue against it, saying deck-building is not a natural mechanism for people to grasp.  Well, fine, but I would argue that Dominion is a good enough game to make it more natural.  As the DBG spreads more throughout gaming, I think Dominion will be seen as the way to get in.

In second place came Dominant Species, last year’s big hit from GMT and Chad Jensen.  That game about evolving different species has really captured the hearts of a lot of people, and I still need to play it.  Dixit, the 2010 Spiel des Jahres winner from designer Jean-Louis Roubira, came in third.  This is a party-style game about coming up with stories based on art, and then guessing what the storyteller had in mind.  The classic 1979 game Dune (designed by the same team that did Cosmic Encounter) came in fourth.  This political game set in Frank Herbert’s world is really not my cup of tea, but it’s being reprinted soon by Fantasy Flight as Rex (set in the Twilight Imperium universe).  Descent: Journeys in the Dark was #5 – a Kevin Wilson designed dungeon crawl which is really a lot of fun, and is getting a second edition soon.  Dungeon Lords (from my boy Vlaada Chvátil) came in #6.  Other was #7, and nominees included Dice Town, Diplomacy, Divine Right, Domaine, The Downfall of Pompeii, Dragon Delta, Dragon Dice, Duel of Ages, Dungeons & Dragons, and Dust Tactics.  #8 was Defenders of the Realm, the Pandemic inspired fantasy co-op from Richard Launius.  Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game (the second in a recent series of D&D board games) and DVONN (the fourth game of the GIPF project) tied for ninth place.  Dream Factory came in last – this Reiner Knizia designed game has previously been known as Traumfabrik and Hollywood Blockbuster.

Another letter in the books.  What will E be?  Thanks for reading!

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