Play Time: 30 Mins / Players: 2-4 / Complexity: Medium / Age: 13+ / Publisher: Rio Grande Games / Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Dominion Ratings and Summary
Teen rating from our son (15).
Despite being over 15 years old, the game that started the deck building genre has still got plenty to offer deck building fans. Simple rules, satisfying combos and plenty of replay value out of the box mean it stands up well today. Although if you want a more thematic experience Dominion may not be for you.
- Innovative game that introduced the deck building mechanic
- Great replay value with a wide variety of cards in the base game
- Lots of strategic depth
- Cool trade-offs between accumulating points and keeping your deck efficient.
- Artwork on cards is not particularly striking
- Not very thematic.
What You Will Find in Our Dominion Review
My son and I love deck builders, it all started with an addiction to Legendary Marvel Deck Building Game which we now have more expansions for than we could ever hope to totally explore. Thunderstone Quest, Aeon’s End, Hero Realms, and others soon followed. So, it’s safe to say we have no shortage of options in the house to satisfy a deck building craving when it arises. But for all the deck building games we have tried over the years, I never really felt compelled to try the one that started it all, Dominion from publisher Rio Grande Games. When I noticed our local library had a copy available, I thought I would see how well this classic deck builder held up against the more modern iterations we had tried. Would it somehow feel dated compared to more modern deck builders? Does it still have anything to offer in the crowded deck building market? I had a lot of questions, and now that we have had a chance to explore this classic, I can share my thoughts.
How to Play Dominion
In Dominion you are a monarch competing with other monarchs to expand your kingdom. To rise to dominance you will hire minions, construct buildings, increase your treasury and improve your castle all through effective deck building.
Players will each start with a standard set of basic cards (7 copper and 3 estate cards) and purchase cards from the common market to improve their overall deck. Also known as deck building. There are 6 main types of cards in Dominion:
- Action cards grant you some sort of benefit when played, this could for example be to draw more cards, grant extra actions or provide extra income
- Treasure cards are used as currency to buy more cards
- Victory cards represent your victory points, the player with the highest total sum of victory points by the end of the game wins
- Curse cards deduct points for each curse card in your deck
- Attack cards harm other players in some way
- Reaction cards allow you to react to cards played by other players, for example preventing the effect of an attack card.
The high-level game play here involves players building up their buying power to purchase better market cards that will synergise well with each other. Players will draw 5 cards each turn, play one action card if they have one, purchase one card with any treasure they have and then clean up by discarding any remaining cards and drawing back up to 5 cards. Any cards purchased will go to a player’s discard pile and so you will have to wait for these to cycle into your hand before you can use them.
In the early game things will feel a bit slow with players largely being constrained by how many cards they are able to play and being restricted to purchasing cheaper cards. The trick is improving your deck in a considered way to enable you to start stringing together cards that will give you more powerful turns. For example, purchasing cards like the Cellar that allow you to play additional action cards, or cards like the Village that allow you to play additional actions and draw an extra card.
The base game comes with 26 different kingdom card types, given you only use 10 of these card types per game there are plenty of different combinations to explore. Most cards in the base game provide you with a benefit and don’t affect your opponent but not all. Cards like the Militia for example will force other players to discard down to 3 cards, slowing them down a bit. If you happen to have a Moat though when a Militia is played you are safe, so there are counters to attack cards.
If you can build your deck well, you will eventually end up drawing and playing a continuous stream of cards while your opponents look on impatiently waiting for their turn. This is where the real game is, getting the proportions and card types you purchase balanced right so that you squeeze so much more out of each turn than your opponents can.
But it’s not the only key decision. To win you need points, to get points you need Victory cards. The downside is that Victory cards don’t serve any other purpose. Get too many early on and your deck will feel bloated, clogged, and sluggish giving your opponents a chance to outpace you later in the game. Time it right though with a solid treasure generating engine and you can scoop up vast swathes of estates, duchies and provinces yielding an avalanche of victory points in the late game.
The timing is key here. Knowing how close you are to the end game is important, you don’t want to time your run for victory points too late. If the Province pile runs out or any 3 different supply piles are empty the game ends. This means there is little point in buying more kingdom cards if there are only a few turns left in the game because depending on how big your deck is you may not get to use them. This is a mistake we made early on when we were getting used to Dominion, there were plenty of times the end game caught me by surprise because I was so focused on buying shiny new cards, I forgot the goal was to get points. My son used to have a good laugh at me purchasing expensive cards with only a few turns left ‘great buy dad, shame you won’t get to use those.’
When the game ends, players will add up their total victory points from all their victory point cards with the win going to the player with the most points.
Dominion Gameplay Experience
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, although I had heard a lot about Dominion over the years, I was never really that compelled to try it. I felt quite satisfied with the more modern deck builders I had bought over the years and didn’t really feel like there was anything about Dominion that would entice me to give it a go. Well, turns out I was missing out. We enjoyed Dominion so much that it made it to our best deck building game list. So why did this classic have such an effect on us?
I think the thing that impressed me most about Dominion is that it feels like the deck building is the big focus here, nothing fancy, no extra superfluous twists, just solid, simple, clean design. Now that I have played it, I can understand why it won the prestigious Spiel Des Jahres award in 2009 after its release.
It’s interesting to see how more modern games differ to the game that started it all. Most deck builders we have tried over the years seem to accelerate those big combos by allowing you to play your entire hand, drawing a card, essentially means you can play an extra card in games like Hero Realms, Legendary Marvel, and others. In Dominion the act of drawing a card differs from being able to play an action. This is the part that I love so much about Dominion. You must work to construct a deck that balances drawing cards and playing actions otherwise your engine won’t work effectively. It just seems like you have to be more considered in your purchasing decisions to strike a balance. It feels like this is missing from a lot of more modern games we have tried.
I also love the concept of having to time your run at victory points effectively. Another simple concept that may frustrate some people, but I adore. It’s another aspect of this game that forces you to strike a balance and time your purchases for points carefully. These aspects of Dominion are simple but result in a nice depth to decisions.
I may not have felt compelled to try Dominion initially, but once I did try it, I felt compelled to play over and over again. The rule book has some helpful suggested market set ups and my son and I found ourselves methodically working through these set ups exploring how the new card combinations worked together. This is the fun of deck building games, the card variety and exploring how different combinations of cards synergise with each other or don’t. Somehow this 15-year-old game managed to keep us coming back over and over again, even after our experiences with more flashy and modern deck building titles.
Although Dominion now has well over a dozen expansions, it feels like there is so much to explore in the core set that it will keep players engaged for a very long time without the need to add more content. Given Dominion has been around for so long, I am sure that there are probably people out there that have an optimal strategy developed over many years, but we haven’t yet settled on one.
So, after all that is there any reason people may not like Dominion. Well, the fact that your actions are limited can feel very constraining for some people. Wait, didn’t I say that this was one of my favourite parts of the game? Yes, but my son finds this frustrating at times, having to work carefully to ensure you can string together a balance of cards that generate additional actions and action cards to play is quite different to a lot of modern deck builders that simply let you play your whole hand. Although my son really enjoys Dominion, at times he finds this aspect too constraining. Especially when he has a hand of great action cards available and doesn’t have enough additional actions generated to play them.
Dominion as you would expect comes with a mountain of cards, as I mentioned earlier you have 26 different kingdom cards in the core set which is enough to keep you going for a long while. The insert provides a spot for each card to make it easy to organise and find the different card types.
Each card has clear instructions on it and generally you have everything you need on the card but if you need clarification the rule book also has a fuller explanation of each card’s abilities.
The artwork is fine but not a standout for me. It isn’t particularly striking compared to more modern deck builders out there.
I think the difference now to when Dominion was released is that it could stand purely on innovative game play even if the theme wasn’t appealing to some players. Now there is so much choice, and there are so many great deck builders that you can probably find one with a theme that really interests you, superheroes, movies, fantasy, sci fi, you name it, it’s probably available in some form as a deck builder. For me personally the theme is not particularly strong here and not something that I keep top of my mind as I play. But the gameplay is so enjoyable that it isn’t a problem for me.
Final Thoughts on Dominion
When Dominion was released, it was so successful that it launched a new genre of games trying to emulate its popularity. Although it’s now a crowded market for deck building games, Dominion still holds up well today. The gameplay is simple but still very engaging and addictive. There is still plenty to explore here for fans of deck building games who might be surprised by how well it’s held up over the years. If you are after something deeply thematic Dominion may not be for you though.
Is Dominion easy to learn? Yes, the cards are very well laid out and the core gameplay is quite simple.
What will Dominion teach my kids? Like many deck building games, it encourages careful consideration of how cards will interact with each other and exploration of different deck combinations.
What age is appropriate for Dominion? The box says 13+ but I think a couple of years younger is fine.
Does Dominion have good replay value? Absolutely, with 26 different kingdom card types there are plenty of market variations to explore.
We hope you enjoyed our Dominion review. If you have any more questions or just want to share your thoughts on this game please leave a comment below, or get in touch through our contact page.
About the Authors
We are parents who love board gaming. We have three children and have been enjoying board games as a family ever since we had our first child. We share our real unbiased experiences and opinions on board games so you can decide if they are right for your family. We also write guides and articles to help you get the most out of your family game time. If you enjoy our content and want to support us you can do that through our Ko-fi page by clicking on the button below.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does the garden card work?
Garden cards provide you with 1 point for every 10 cards in your deck. Simply count the total number of cards in your deck and divide them by 10 to calculate the points they generate. The effect stacks with each garden card you have.
Do treasure cards count as a supply pile to trigger the end game?
Yes, for the end game to be triggered any 3 supply piles must be empty, treasure piles are included in that. Alternately the province pile running out will also trigger the end game by itself.
Can you buy more than 1 copy of the same card type in your turn?
You can only buy 1 card per turn unless an action permits you to buy additional cards. If you do play an action that allows you to buy more than 1 card, you may buy multiple copies of the same card provided you have enough treasure to cover the cost.
When are the curse cards used?
The curse cards come in to play when the Witch kingdom card is included in the set up of the supply.
Are actions on kingdom cards optional?
Yes, you can choose whether to use a kingdom cards action but if you do use it you must use all effects in the order listed.
There are probably many in depth strategy guides out there for Dominion given how long it has been around, but here are some tips to get you started:
- Trash your starting cards quickly. Find ways to trash your starting cards quickly so that you will see your better purchased cards more frequently.
- Play kingdom cards that give you more actions first. This may sound basic but ensuring you have enough actions generated to play your action cards means you will want to play these sorts of cards early in your turn.
- When you have to discard, discard victory cards. These cards serve no other benefit than granting points so discard these when you have to discard.
- In the early game build up your buying power. In the early game you want to build up enough buying power to get better cards and start to trash the starting cards in your deck
- The mid game is when you want more buying actions. Once you are generating a good income each turn you will want to be able to buy more cards per turn. This will mainly help you to generate victory points fast for the end game.
- Late game shift to buying victory point cards. It’s easy to get so caught up in buying good cards you can miss the point where the end game is approaching. Don’t get caught out, shift to buying victory cards and focus exclusively on those.