SHOWDOWN! Core World vs. Eminent Domain

Back in January, I did a post where I compared two Carl Chudyk games, Innovation and Glory to Rome, in my first SHOWDOWN!  I found it to be a good way to review two similar games at once, and I’ve wanted to do another one for some time.  I’ve now gotten a chance to play two science-fiction deck-building/tableau building games, and thought they’d make the perfect subject for my second SHOWDOWN!  So, here are your contestants:

image by BGG user otrex

CORE WORLDS

  • Designed by Andrew Parks
  • Published in 2011 by Stronghold Games
  • 2-5 players ages 10 and up
  • 90 minutes to play
  • Warring factions are trying to gain control over the crumbling Galactic Realm by building drafting new units and invading worlds
image by BGG user binraix

EMINENT DOMAIN

  • Designed by Seth Jaffee
  • Published in 2011 by Tasty Minstrel Games
  • 2-4 players ages 12 and up
  • 45 minutes to play
  • Building up a space civilization by colonizing or conquering planets and harvesting resources

Here’s how the SHOWDOWN! works.  I’ve chosen 11 categories to compare these two games.  There are three points to award in each category, though neither game can get more than two.  I will award one point if I think the game has done an adequate job to be recommended in the category, and a bonus point for the one game that I think was exceptional.  I’ll keep a running score count, and the game with the most points at the end is the winner of the SHOWDOWN!

COMPONENTS: Eminent Domain and Core Worlds get similar marks here.  They are card games, and a lot of care went into making the cards easy to read.  Both make use of some symbology, but neither relies on it exclusively (as in Race for the Galaxy).  The art for both games is very different from the other, but both are really nice in their way.  Eminent Domain feels a little more cartoony than I would like, but it’s still good and I’m not going to deduct for it.  The cardboard pieces and boards are good for both, though the player boards in Core Worlds could probably be sturdier.  I’ll be awarding one point to each game here, but I’m going to give a bonus point to Core Worlds because of the way it was thought out.  There’s more than enough of everything you need, whereas I think there should be more cards in Eminent Domain.  Also, Eminent Domain features plastic ships that were leftovers from Eclipse.  That in itself isn’t bad, but the ships are in three different sizes, and there’s no difference between them.  It’s a little confusing, and I think that was kind of a silly choice.  SCORE: Core Worlds 2, Eminent Domain 1

THEME: Both games are space-themed, but I feel that Eminent Domain’s theme really doesn’t relate so much to the play of the game itself.  You have some different types of planets and some space related things going on (spaceships, for example), but the theme doesn’t really grab you.  In the end, it’s about trying to score points, and there’s kind of a disconnect with the thematic elements in play.  There’s also not a lot of variety within the cards, and one planet starts to look like every other one after a while.  With Core Worlds, you get different planets, different units, and what feels more like a space conquest game.  So I’m not going to give Eminent Domain a point, but I will give one to Core Worlds.  In addition, I’m going to award Core Worlds with the bonus point because it has a very clear narrative arc – you have to build up your empire before you can tackle the Core Worlds in the last two turns of the game.  It makes a lot of sense, and it works together very well.  SCORE: Core Worlds 4, Eminent Domain 1

CENTRAL MECHANISM: Both games are deck-builders, though that’s not really the central purpose of either game.  It’s simply an element of the games.  They both combine some of the elements of pure deck-builders (like Dominion) with tableau building games (like Race for the Galaxy), and go from there.  Eminent Domain adds a role selection element reminiscent of Glory to Rome.  On your turn, you can play a card as an action, then choose one of six roles, playing as many cards from your hand as you wish to go with it.  Other players may also follow that role, or may draw a card instead.  When you choose a role, you’ll be taking a card from a central supply to add to your deck, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a role that is in your hand when you claim it.  Worlds are played out in front of you, and have the potential, once settled or conquered, to produce resources or give you extra action symbols.

Core Worlds has more going on.  There are cards in the center that you can try to spend resources in order to claim.  These resources include energy (which is produced by worlds your control), ground forces and air forces (spent to conquer planets).  You also only have a certain number of actions you can spend in a turn, and once you’re out of actions or energy, you’re pretty much done with the round.  So you really need to manage your resources in order to get the maximum benefit.  Meanwhile, you do want to be drafting cards from the center that will build up your deck and make it more effective in future rounds.

I’m going to give both games a point for their mechanisms.  Each works well, and moves the game along.  I’m going to give Core Worlds the bonus point here, however, because I like the way the deck-building works with the resource management aspect.  Resources in Eminent Domain are pretty much only there to give you extra points, whereas resources in Core Worlds have much more long-term effects.  SCORE: Core Worlds 6, Eminent Domain 2

TIME: This is a hard category for me.  Eminent Domain feels too short, Core Worlds feels too long.  However, I think that neither are major problems.  Eminent Domain ends after one or two of the role decks have been depleted, and you can easily add some to that total to extend the experience.  Core Worlds has a set number of rounds (10), but there’s a lot of bookkeeping that people need to do on their turn, particularly if spending resources to invade worlds.  I think it will go quicker with experience, however.  It really comes down to what you want out of your sci-fi DBG.  If you want a quick one, go with Eminent Domain.  If you want something longer, go with Core Worlds.  Both get a point.  SCORE: Core Worlds 7, Eminent Domain 3

ACCESSIBILITY: I personally don’t think Core Worlds is a difficult game to learn.  But there’s a lot going on, and I think non-gamers would be highly confused.  Eminent Domain, on the other hand, is very simple to understand and has very few rules.  Eminent Domain gets a point, Core Worlds gets nothing for this one.  I’m not going to give Eminent Domain a bonus because it is just foreign enough that I don’t think new gamers will catch on immediately.  SCORE: Core Worlds 7, Eminent Domain 4

REPLAYABILITY: I’ve played Eminent Domain three times now, whereas I’ve played Core Worlds once.  But every game of Eminent Domain I’ve played has felt exactly like the others.  Part of the problem is that there’s a limited number of planet types, and the bonus actions you can purchase are almost the same for each planet type.  I think the game would have been better, and more replayable, if there was more variety between those decks.  At least then, you’d have a reason to pursue different strategies from game to game.  In Core Worlds, you are constantly adjusting based on the cards that are available, and the deck you build will be important in your strategy later in the game.  That in itself makes the game much more replayable.  Plus, there are symbols on some of the cards that will be used with the upcoming expansion.  So, no points for Eminent Domain here, and one for Core Worlds.  I think the length might limit plays of Core Worlds, and besides, I’ve only played once, so no bonus this time.  SCORE: Core Worlds 8, Eminent Domain 4

SCALABILITY: I think Eminent Domain plays best with 2.  I’ve played with 2, 3, and 4, and I think that having more than two means that the game will be over just as you’re getting your engine going.  Core Worlds played well with 4, though the down time would probably be shorter with fewer.  Core Worlds has more rules for scaling the game, so I’ll give it the point.  Again, no bonus, mostly because of my lack of experience with Core Worlds.  I’m just going off a gut feeling for this one.  SCORE: Core Worlds 9, Eminent Domain 4

STRATEGY: The strategy in both games mostly revolve around how you want to score points.  For Eminent Domain, do you try to produce lots of resources and trade them in, or try to conquer/settle lots of worlds?  For Core Worlds, do you load up on units or try to get some tactics cards that will help you during battles?  DBGs always feature decisions with long-term effects as you determine which cards to purchase for your deck.  However, there’s usually a heavy element of luck as you don’t really have control over what comes out when.  Both games here have interesting ways of dealing with that problem.  With Eminent Domain, you can discard as many cards as you want after your hand.  In Core Worlds, you don’t typically shuffle your deck, so the order in which cards get discarded is the order they will come out later.  Both games have an over-arching strategy, so I’ll give both a point.  However, I think that you’re more in control during a game of Core Worlds, and your decisions seem to have a more long-term impact, so I’ll give it the bonus.  SCORE: Core Worlds 11, Eminent Domain 5

FUN FACTOR: Fun is a very subjective term, and what is fun to one person is not fun to another.  I can only give my interpretation.  To me, Eminent Domain suffers from repetition, which to me decreases the fun factor.  I got more enjoyment out of a single game of Core Worlds than out of three games of Eminent Domain, partially because of its story, partially because I felt like I was doing something meaningful on my turn every time.  Core Worlds gets a point, Eminent Domain does not.  I won’t award a bonus because I think Core Worlds is kind of a brain burner at times, and that would not be fun for a lot of people.  SCORE: Core Worlds 12, Eminent Domain 5 (we have a winner!)

VALUE: Eminent Domain lists for $40, while Core Worlds lists for $45.  And I have to say $40 feels like a ridiculous price for Eminent Domain, especially considering what you get (or don’t get – it needs more cards!).  I think Core Worlds comes with much more of a game in the box for the price point, and I think that’s very important.  I think Eminent Domain’s price is suffering from Kickstarteritis.  Looking on the Kickstarter page, I see that one game went for pledges of $35, two games for $60, three for $90, and six for $150 (that’s $25 per game).  I think $30 would be an appropriate price for the game – I don’t think the components are of a quality or quantity worthy of the $40.  I’ll give Core Worlds the point because I think $45 is appropriate for what you get in the box, from the components to the amount of game.  SCORE: Core Worlds 13, Eminent Domain 6

ORIGINALITY: Both of these games feature fairly unique looks at the deck-building genre.  Eminent Domain features elements of Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, and Glory to Rome in a pretty unique way, so I’ll give it a point.  Core Worlds takes deck-building into a space conquest game, and combines deck-building with resource management very well, so I’ll give it a point as well.  The bonus point goes to Core Worlds, because it doesn’t really feel like another game, whereas I always describe Eminent Domain as Dominion meets Race for the Galaxy meets Glory to Rome.  FINAL SCORE: Core Worlds 15, Eminent Domain 7

Our first SHOWDOWN! went down to the wire, but this one wasn’t even close.  I think it’s important to point out that I don’t think Eminent Domain is a BAD game, I just don’t think it’s great.  Core Worlds, on the other hand, is a game that’s unlike most other DBGs in that you feel like you’re building something more than a deck.  They’re really different experiences, however – I think Eminent Domain would be better for the casual gamer, while Core Worlds is much better for the more experienced crowd.  So, for what it’s worth, there’s my comparison.  Thanks for reading!

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