The reviews in this two-part series cover two of the most popular deckbuilding card games available, Dominion and Ascension.
Deckbuilding games are different from the more popular Collectible / Trading Card Games such as Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and The Pokemon TCG. If you’re not familiar with how deckbuilding games work, click Here.
Dominion is a deckbuilding game by creator Rio Grande Games, and is widely recognized as one of the more popular options in a genre that isn’t very popular.
Dominion’s theme is that of two competing medieval rulers, and adopts the more strategic outlook of the two games. Since the equal standings caused by a deckbuilding game naturally lend themselves to being more competitive, it makes sense why dominion is the more popular option.
And although I’ll go into more detail here, if you’re looking to get a more complete picture, go here – The base game is offered totally free-to-play in a digital format, no download required (But the service charges for any of its numerous expansions, which can add crazier mechanics and new cards to the pool).
Dominion offers a great deal of restrictions over what a player can do during their turn. Cards are separated into three types: Coin cards that earn you money, Action cards that perform various other effects, and victory cards that determine your total number of victory points. On each turn, players can spend their money to buy, by default, 1 card and play, by default, 1 action card. Some action cards might grant additional actions, while others will not. If one doesn’t plan carefully, they can easily end up with more action cards in their hand than actions to spend, leaving them at a significant disadvantage.
Then there’s the mechanics for actually trying to win the game, which will actually punish you for focusing too much on total victory.
These are the victory cards, which range from cheap early-game cards granting a single victory point to the most expensive cards in the game, granting 8 victory points – very difficult to afford, but cheaper per-point than the single options. It’s a lot like buying food in bulk.
There are three variations of Victory Cards, and 8 cards of each variation are placed in the center pool, in three individual stacks. When any one stack runs dry, the game ends and players count up their points.
But there’s a catch: The victory cards are cards, and get added to your deck just like everything else you’ll buy. Which means they can also show up in your hand, which becomes a bigger problem when you realize that they don’t do anything. They display a number of victory points that only matters when the game and you count totals, but sitting in your hand, they’re basically dead weight. So if you focus too hard on only buying up victory points, you’ll soon be stuck with a deck that’s next to useless, with most of your hand doing literally nothing.
So what does this do? Similar to the last set of restrictions, it forces players to more carefully weigh their decisions and purchases against one another.
“Do I want to come closer to winning the game with this card worth 1 Victory Point, or buy something that will allow me to get more money to afford that other card worth 3 Victory Points? It’s more points, and less useless cards, but that’s also more time, and if my opponent buys out a stack before then, the game won’t last that long…”
It’s questions like this that make up the majority of Dominion, at least the base expansion. Of all the deckbuilding games I’ve ever played (which isn’t very many tbh), Dominion is one of the slower and more methodical titles. Cards are safer and more well-balanced, and deckbuilding happens slowly, giving each player plenty of time to make the best choices based on both their goals and the goals of their opponents. It’s more balanced, more fair, and offers more of a basis for competition among a serious audience.
On the other hand, all the restrictions also severely limit the number of strategies that are effective. Due to how easy it is to wind up with a hand you can’t even use, the game can be difficult to grasp for newer and less experienced players. In addition, the need to constantly balance your deck with cards that use actions versus cards that grant them, cards that allow you to spend more money versus cards that make money and so on, many decks will end up relying on a near-identical set of “enablers” and will only differ in what they do with the actions in play.
So if you’re looking to tactics-it-up in a test of skill and wits, Dominion might be the one for you. Give it a shot here, but if you’re looking for something a little more fast-paced and nutty, check out Part 2 of the faceoff where I take a look at Ascension.
Featured Image Via Flickr / Lillume