Over the weekend, I was introduced to a new tabletop game that I absolutely fell in love with.

It’s called Dominion. It’s a card game but don’t worry: all of the cards you’re going to need are included in the box. (There are expansions as well, but those too come with everything you’re going to need. None of this 4 bucks a pack for cards that may or may not be useful to what you’re hoping for.)

The basic idea of the game is this: there are 20ish kinds of cards in the game. There are the money cards: Copper, Silver, and Gold. Three types of land (worth 1, 3, or 6 points, respectively). Then there are the action cards: Chancellors, Throne Rooms, Markets, Mines, Bureaucrats, Feasts, Militias… all kinds of stuff. The various decks of these cards are laid out on the table (and each of these cards is identical to any other card with the same name, all Bureaucrats are the same, no Market is better than another, so on and so forth). Everybody gets dealt the same deck. The game variant that I played had everyone be dealt 7 copper and 3 of the land cards (the lands that were worth 1 point). Everybody shuffled their decks and we went around the table.

Every hand plays out the same way. Draw 5 cards from the top of your deck. Play an action card if you are inclined to do so. Use the money cards in your hand to purchase a money, land, or action card. Throw the remainder of your hand into your discard pile. It’s the next person’s turn. If you need to draw a card but all of your cards so far have been discarded into your discard pile, then shuffle the discards and return the shuffled cards to your deck.

Each action card costs anywhere from 2 to 6 coin (a copper card is worth 1, silver worth 2, gold worth 3) and, once purchased, costs nothing to play. Once played, they do all kinds of things: playing the chancellor will give you an additional 2 coin to spend this turn and let you shuffle your discards into your deck early. The mine will allow you to trash (rather than discard) a coin card and upgrade it to the next better coin card. The throne room card will let you play a different action card *TWICE*… so, in this case, you could throne room a chancellor and have 4 coin to spend in addition to whatever coins you happen to have in your hand. (Don’t worry if you have a hand with zero coin in it, a copper coin card has a cost of zero. You’ll never be forced to waste your buy phase.)

Now, everybody starts with the same identical hand but, I’m sure you can see that three or four turns into the game, everybody has different cards and different ideas on how to best leverage their decks… at the end of the game, the points on the land cards are counted up and the winner is the person with the most land. Interestingly, while the game is going on, land cards are useless… you’d much rather see a hand full of gold or useful action cards. At the end of the game, though, both coin and action cards are worthless. So you have to watch to see how your deck is tuned as you play.

I’m probably making it sound much more complicated than it is. This game is a lot of fun and there are tons of game variants… you play this game with these 7 different decks of action cards, you play that one with a different six decks. Sometimes you play with cards that allow you to directly antagonize your opponents, sometimes you play only with cards that allow you to merely indirectly annoy them. It’s seriously a delightful game with tons and tons and tons of replay value (and then, on top of that, expansions to give even more).

So that’s my recommendation for you this week.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com


  1. I have played Dominion and thought the Build-Your-Deck-As-You-Go mechanic to be very interesting. My main complaint with the game is that it felt like I was playing a four player game of solitare. The sets of cards I played with had very little interaction with the other players. There was one that would let the person who played the card draw three more cards while the other players draw one extra. Then there was one that made the other players discard down to three cards. Everything else was just stuff to play on your turn. I guess I am looking for more direct conflict with those I am playing with.

    • While Magic: The Gathering (or Netrunner or Battletech or whathaveyou) is a game mostly like football or tennis where there is a clear Me vs. You thing going on, this is more like bowling or golf. It’s the best you can do (with minimal poking from others) against the best they can do (with minimal poking).

      I found it downright refreshing!

      • Four-player games of solitaire would be refreshing at times.

        If nothing else, games with less interaction with other players don’t take as long if you have a Laggard in your normal playing group, so it’s nice to have the option in the Available Games Pile.

        • Well, each person does take turns. There are cards that can minorly mess with your opponents when it isn’t their turn, you see.

          • Yeah, but there’s a difference between scales of interaction.

            On the far side, you’ve got Magic The Gathering, where interaction is almost a given on every card play. Just to the left of that are games like Mille Bornes or Uno, where interaction is very common. Left of *that* are games like Gin, where there is interaction but it’s all one-way or through a single mechanism (pull the last player’s discard). Left of *that* are games where the interaction is mostly outside the actual card play, like Poker. Finally on the end you’ve got Solitaire.

            Sounds like this is right between the Mille Bornes-Uno level and the Gin.

          • Yeah, that’s about right. (Though there are game variants where there is much more interaction… witches, for example, can cast a “curse” which costs all of your opponents a land. Militias can steal coin cards from them. Bureaucrats can force their next hand to include a land card… but not every game variant uses these particular cards.)

          • I definitely prefer the Magics of the world for my cards games, but I have enjoyed others like Mill Bornes. Still, another card game that is very good, but close to four player solitare is Race for the Galaxy. The interaction is through the phases of each turn. Each player determines a the phase they want and only those phases selected by all the players happen in the given turn. Otherwise you are building your empire on your own.

        • Puzzle Strike is a deck building game with mechanics similar to Dominion, but more player interaction. Instead of playing to gain victory-point cards, you’re trying to send gems into your opponent’s pile while keeping your own pile clear–anyone with 10 gems is eliminated.

          Heroes of Graxia and Nightfall are both a little further away from Dominion mechanically, but offer even more player interaction.

    • This is why I’m looking forward to Rune Age. It has the same “buy your deck” mechanic as Dominion, but it has 4 different scenarios – some of which are multiplayer solitaire, others are direct combat, with a couple of intermediate states.

  2. Some of the “interaction” comes from everyone playing for scarce resources–there are only so many copies of each card. I played a game of Dominion online yesterday where I wasn’t throwing cards that directly messed with my opponent, but my early land grab made her have to scramble to change her strategy. So while I can certainly understand that some people might like a more head-to-head game, I do find that the mechanics still force me to engage with what my opponent or opponents are doing.

  3. I like Dominion but there’s only so much of it I can stand and also; some advice. -Do not- play it with people who play it a great deal. Especially -Do Not- play it with people who play it a great deal and talk about the statistics or value of the cards. Dominion is awesome and really fun but it is very reducible to statistics and math. That is to say when you play against people who are really into it they make it a lot less fun. For those people any combination card choices has one or maybe two obviously superior cards followed by another one or two etc etc and the game becomes a relentless grind as each pile is diminished with virtually no variation and the statistically superior deck effortlessly crushes the more interesting and varied decks.

    But… outside of being excessively familiar with it the game is awesome and the cards themselves smack of Tarot etc with really cute little pics and it really does have a ton of flavor to it.

    • I’ve recently discovered that deck-building games are a *GENRE*.

      And Dominion is considered the ENTRY LEVEL GAME.

      Oh my.

    • That strikes me as a significant flaw in game design. Games should not have equilibria in pure strategies.

      • I may be overstating the case. Equilibria is not easy since there are multiple different means to attempt to win the game.

        That said, I’ve found that the especially proficient players have a computer like mein and you can just see the algorythms flying as the options for cards are identified. Then as the turns progress everyone who can gets just one card until that stack is depleted. Then the next then the next. I just feel like it drains some of the soul from the game.

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