Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Year Published: 2008
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Play Time: 30 minutes
Set-up Time: About 5 minutes
Ages: 10 and up
Table Size: Small or Medium (depends on number of players)
Despite the incredible amount of time I have spent playing the game, it has taken me a long time to write this review. I don’t usually have trouble coming up with words to describe something, least of all games, but with Dominion something is different. It is, perhaps, the epitome of what “accessible” means in relation to games and that, oddly enough, is what makes it so difficult to write about. How does one describe Dominion, with its near-infinite replayability and ease of access, in a one- or two-page review? While I still don’t have the answer to that question, I will give it my best in the paragraphs to follow.
Dominion is a deck-building card game released in America by Rio Grande Games. Though it was only released it 2008, it has already been expanded upon four times, with a fifth expansion to come later in 2011. It has won several “Game of the Year” awards and has been well-received by nearly every person who has spent even a short time playing it. Perhaps that is what makes Dominion so hard to describe: no matter how much I say about the game, there are thousands of other people who will have something else to add — each one bringing something unique to the table.
Perhaps what makes Dominion so great is its simple, easy-to-learn rules that still allow for virtually unending variety. All you need to know can be boiled down in to a few short steps:
1. Play an Action card
2. Buy a card from the supply
3. Discard your entire hand
4. Draw 5 cards from your deck at the end of each turn
5. Play passes to the left
With such a simple concept, it is easy to see how nearly anyone can learn the rules for the game in just a matter of minutes. It is easy to explain to new players, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t complex. Every single card in the game has some different rule associated with it, and the rules are clearly described, in plain text, on each of the cards. it is here where the game gets its complexity and it is here where the fun truly begins.
The object of Dominion is to earn the most Victory Points by the end of the game. Victory Points come from different cards which you can buy with varying types of money you acquire: Copper, Silver, and GOld. In order to buy these Victory Points you must accumulate enough money in a single turn to purchase them during your Buy phase of the game (step 2). To get the most money possible, you will purchase a variety of Action Cards, which will change the course of play dramatically depending on what you choose to purchase, what you choose to play, and in which order you choose to play them.
Action Cards are really where the meat of the game lies. Some allow you to draw extra cards, others allow you to play additional Action Cards during your turn, and still others give you additional money to spend during your Buy phase — oh, and don’t forget that some Action Cards can also give you additional buy phases in a single round, so you can purchase more than one card at a time. This isn’t where the action cards stop, though; they can do so many more interesting things; from attacking your friends, blocking their attacks against you, getting rid of older and more useless cards for newer and better ones, etc.
What makes the possibilities so endless is that each game starts with a different set of cards in the market. There are about two dozen different card types, but only 10 different Action Cards are in play at any given time. Changing the combinations of available cards will dramatically change the strategy you employ throughout a given game; what works with one set of cards does not necessarily work with another. This flexibility in game play and strategy will keep you coming back to the game for a long time, and it also adds to the game’s nearly infinite expandability (as evidenced by its 4 expansions, as well as numerous fan-made expansions that you can find on many different web sites).
Often dubbed a “gateway game”, Dominion is suitable for most ages and playing styles. Even people who have never played a similar style of game will find it easy to pick up and learn, and by the end of their first game or two will have no trouble identifying strategies that will work for them. It is a game that can be played with multiple generations of people at once, from kids to grandparents, assuming you can get the whole family in one place at any given time.
The Dominion base game (without its expansions) consists of a whopping 500, beautifully illustrated cards. Aside from a handy storage tray with card seperators, that’s all you’ll get — and that’s all you’ll need. You may wish to buy plastic sleeves to protect your investment, but do bear in mind that it takes a long time to sleeve 500 cards.
Additional expansions, which I will leave for later individual reviews, come with still more hundreds of cards and expand your variety of game play options dramatically. Once you’ve picked up Dominion, it will probably be only a short matter of time before you decide to spring for at least one or two — if not all — of the game’s expansions. Though you can spend dozens of hours playing just the base game by itself, it gets more and more complex and creative with each additional set of cards that you add to it.
If you’re looking for a game that nearly everyone can get involved with and enjoy, that doesn’t take up a lot of time or table space, and that you can play a hundred times without getting bored, Dominion may just be the game for you. It is my gaming groups “default” game when we cannot decide on another to play. Dominion is great for experienced gamers and newcomers alike, making it a stellar choice for any crowd.
As I mentioned previously, Dominion is one of the most accessible games I have encountered to date, regardless of how you define “accessible”. With that being said, there are a few concerns that should be addressed.
In-game Text: Dominion is a card game, with all of the rules and actions printed directly on the cards that you will be using regularly throughout the game. This is of special consideration for anyone who:
* is visually impaired
* is dyslexic
* does not read the language printed on the card
* has a low reading level
This is one game where the divide between players who are visually impaired and those who are totally blind is immense. Most of the text on the cards is large enough, and has enough solid contrast against their background colors, to be readable even by people with very low vision. If all else fails, a magnifying glass or electronic magnifier can help make sense of the letters on the cards, and eventually you will remember which cards you have in play and will simply need to scan the names to know what you have and what you can use.
For totally blind players, Dominion becomes, sadly, almost unplayable. It simply isn’t feasible to braille all 500 cards and, even if you did, it has potential to change the way the game plays if you mix with sighted players. Part of the nature of the game is to not know which cards are sitting on top of your deck, and players who can spot braille cells which eventually learn what the letters mean and potentialy have a heads up on what is coming next. I would not recommend Dominion to totally blind players, but if you are totally blind and have had success please let me know and I’ll be happy to update this recommendation.
For dyslexic players, players with low reading levels, and players who don’t read the printed language, the challenges Dominion presents are obstacles that can be overcome. Most of the printed text on the cards is simple to read, with plain English notes like “+1 card”, “+1 action” and “+1 buy”. Some of the more complex cards may stump players on occasion, but with some capacity to remember what cards do by just looking at their name, you can overcome these obstacles by simply memorizing what’s in play (this is another tactic usable by low vision players as well).
I have played Dominion with a dyslexic player and observed that, while he occasionally mis-read some of the text, he rarely misinterpreted the text in such a way that would “break” the game for anyone. A simple correction or a little help from other players went a long way to helping him get the most out of the game. When interviewing him briefly about his experience afterword, he said the amount of text he had to deal with wasn’t too daunting, and that he would definitely play the game again.
If the printed language is not your first language, you may be able to get by with a translation dictionary or the help of another person at the table who speaks both languages. The game is printed in several languages though, so you may be able to find a localized version that will suit your needs.
Fine Manipulation: As a card game, Dominion certainly requires some amount of manual dexterity to manage. Each turn begins with only 5 cards in your hand, but through the course of gameplay you may acquire several more. Players also shuffle cards constantly, every time they run through their deck, so that may be an issue for people who have trouble with manipulating cards.
Card holders are useful tools for people who need to keep track of large hands, and with a bit of patience there is no reason that you could not overcome the obstacle as long as you can pick up and play your cards with some effort. Automatic card shufflers can be utilized to handle that task, though you may need to play with your cards unsleeved for them to work with that device.
Families with Children: Dominion has a lot of cards — 500 just for the base set. Thankfully, there are no other small pieces, board game tiles, or anything else which could pose as a choking hazard for youngsters. You may want to make sure to sleeve your cards to protect them against spills, but otherwise Dominion should not cause any problems with small children.
Overall, I would rate Dominion highly as a game that is accessible both for people with disabilities, and for the general public with players from nearly any age range. Most of the game’s obstacles can be overcome with a little creativity or adaptation, which is a lot more than can be said for some games.