Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Artist: Multiple artists
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
The base game for Dominion has been in my collection since it came out. I never found a need to add multiple expansions for the game since I like the base game enough. So, Dominion pops up on our table every so often but it no longer receives a similar amount of attention. I have always enjoyed Dominion and the deck building mechanism. Unlike Dominion, most of the current games in the market are no longer pure deck builders. Many have incorporated deck building as part of a larger mechanism and I have to say, I like it better. Take for example, Race for El Dorado which I feel pulls off deck building really well and combines it with a race game. This is of course an unfair comparison since Dominion is widely recognized as the earliest if not the first deck builder out there.
There really is no reason to go into lengthy detail on how Dominion is played. The game is after all, the great granddaddy of deck builders and is the foundation for the more recent games that employ the mechanism. It’s incredible how pedestrian the basic Dominion feels playing it now. Draw 5 cards, play all 5 cards to build your deck and purchase victory points. Rinse and repeat. The base game of Dominion definitely feels…aged partly because there is nothing surrounding the main mechanism: the game is the mechanism. The more recent adaptations of deck building uses the mechanism either as part of a larger effort or by building a game around it. Rarely do I see a pure deck builder any longer. Perhaps, that’s one reason why the game feels bland to lifestyle gamers because the core game no longer offers anything that other games doesn’t also showcase. Now, to be clear, there are so many expansions for Dominion that the base game is probably not the same game with these additions. This review is focused on the base game as I have a feeling that each expansion will make base Dominion play differently. Unless you are a newbie, most gamers who play Dominion for the long-term probably have multiple expansions in their collection.
I noticed that some card combos are also quite unwieldy and drag, especially those that feature Gardens for additional scoring. I think it is possible that some combinations just aren’t as streamlined and efficient. It also means that there is a optimal way to go about this. While there are alternate paths for victory, I suspect the most efficient and lean deck will still win the game, always. Basically, if you have enough “3” treasure cards in your deck, you are in great shape.
Playing Dominion now brings up a certain amount of nostalgia. I can see how the game set the standards and also the strategy for all future deck builders. For instance, the idea of culling a deck with Chapel is still pretty much around these days. Most seasoned veterans know how important it is to keep the deck lean and uncluttered. Clogging your deck by buying loads of cards is bad. Buying the right cards and thinning or culling the deck is just as important. After playing half a dozen back to back games, I remain impressed at how simple and quick each game is. The setup and tear down is quick and the initial set of cards in the base game is perfect and well-balanced. It provides enough variables to make the game interesting without getting bogged down with too many details. What Vaccarino and the playtesters did for Dominion is impressive and noteworthy. Just because the deck builder genre has evolved, doesn’t mean the foundational game is obsolete. Many of the current games owe a shout out to Dominion.
I also noticed that Dominion is a pretty big box for a deck of cards. I have forgotten how much empty space there is in the box. I thought they were meant to accommodate expansions, but even the immediate expansion (Intrigue) after the base game was a gigantic box. These days, that amount of air in a box should not be acceptable and companies should do better for the environment.
I know many gamer friends who have parted with their copy of Dominion. This is perhaps not surprising as new things arrive and old things fade away. Part of the evolution of a gamer. Regardless, the base game of Dominion is still a piece of history that is worth holding on to if only because the game is still a pretty good gateway game and a solid introduction to deck builders. Space permitting, I think Dominion should occupy a small slice of your shelf space, especially if Rio Grande Games can shrink the box size by half.