Dominion – Review – Best New Game I Played in 2008

Normally I am rather reluctant to call anything “the best”. This is true both with games and the rest of my life. The reasons are many but it often boils down to my feelings that things feel better at certain times or are better for certain reasons but will falter at other times. For example, when you’re in the mood for a comedy it is unlikely that a horror movie will fit the bill and is thus not “the best”. Perhaps that’s a rambling bit of nonsense but essentially what I am trying to say is, that I sort of feel like I am going out on the proverbial limb when I call Dominion the “Best New Game I Played in 2008” and yet I am still willing to say it. Which hopefully says a lot.


Dominion is one of the simplest, most elegant and intuitive games I have ever played and yet it also manages to be one of the most fun and addictive games I have played in a long time. The game is played in a series of turns with each player’s turn being divided into three parts:

  1. Action Phase – Each player has one action each turn
  2. Buy Phase – Each player may purchase one card during their Buy Phase
  3. Clean Up Phase – Once a player has completed their actions and buying, all of the cards they have purchased that turn or played that turn are placed in their discard pile.

The goal of the game is to use your actions and purchases to put Victory Points into your deck and have the most VPs when the game ends.

More Specifically, How to Play

Players each begin the game with their own deck of cards. Each deck has 10 cards in it, 7 Copper Coin Cards (worth one treasure each) and 3 Estate Cards (worth one VP each). Before play begins players draw a hand of five cards. On a player’s first turn they have no actions to play (as they have not yet purchased any action cards) and thus can only use their single buy to purchase one card from those available.

The available cards include 10 Kingdom Cards out of the 25 provided with the game (most of which are Action Cards), Treasure Cards (in three denominations – Copper (1), Silver (2), and Gold (3)) and Victory Point Cards (also in three denominations – Estate (1). Duchy (3), and Province (6)). Technically there are also Curse cards worth -1 VP available but these are generally ignored unless the Witch Kingdom Card is in play as the Witch adds these cards to other players’ decks.

The basic play of the game involves players attempting to purchase cards that will make their decks be capable of purchasing more cards. However the way to win is to have the most Victory Points at the end of the game and the VP cards are “dead cards” when they are drawn. Thus players need to balance their decks in such a way as they can maximize both their VPs and the effectiveness of each of their turns.

At the end of every turn a player places any cards purchased into their discard pile, discards any unplayed cards and redraws a hand of five cards. As many action cards allow a player to draw additional cards and/or give extra actions a lot of the game is about combining cards in such a way as to allow the players to build up treasure and thus be capable of purchasing the more expensive cards. The Province cards cost eight treasure for example and thus it is hard to have a hand capable of purchasing one outright unless a player uses action cards to draw additional cards or supply themselves with additional treasure.

A Few Words on Strategy – A lot of Dominion depends on the Kingdom Cards currently being played with. Because of the vast amount of combinations available the strategies are equally numerous. While some could say that the general strategies remain unchanged – get more treasure so you can buy more cards – which cards work best is often dependent on those available and which work well together. Also, the cards that other players are buying can and should affect the choices you make as you will need to brace for their Attack Cards as best as you are able.

While most cards in the game simply assist the player in gaining additional resources (actions, buys, or treasure) others called Attack Cards also attempt to hurt other players. An interesting thing to note is that all Attack Cards affect all other players so that there is less chance for “king making”. Also, most Attack Cards have benefits to the player who plays them so the player is not simply focusing on hurting others but is also working to better their own deck at the same time.

The game ends when either the Province deck has been emptied or any three other decks have been emptied. Depending on which Kingdom Cards you are playing with one or the other of these conditions will be more common.

THIS is the Best New Game You Played in 2008

Yes. Absolutely. I think so. I should say that in the past I have played games that I loved at first but came to loath later on. The most memorable example of this is Risk 2210. When I first got this version of Risk we played the game for as many as eight hours straight for several days in a row, grabbing every possible chance to play another game of it. Now it sits on my shelf and has not been touched in years. I did purchase the Mission Pack but I have not yet gotten around to trying them out.

Could Dominion go the way of Risk 2210? It could, but I doubt it will. Still, some people might have read my description of play and been confounded by its banality. Sure, they might say, it’s a neat concept – building your deck as you go is a fairly innovative idea – but that doesn’t make it fun or interesting to play. Well, let me go into what I love about this game.

What I Love About This Game

  1. It’s fast. Each game takes between twenty minutes and an hour. The hour-long games are rare and are usually caused by randomly choosing which Kingdom Cards will be used for the given game as this can cause poor interactions and grueling play. Generally speaking several games can and will be played in a sitting.
  2. It’s fast. Yes, I said that already but this time what I mean is that turns do not take very long so even in a four-player game you will not be waiting for very long before your turn comes up again. Also, as you have your hand already in front of you, the hand you will be playing on your next turn, you can make some decisions before your turn comes up. While many cards do cause you to draw new cards and thus your hand will change, most decisions are simple based on your current goals.
  3. It’s always different. Okay, fine, it’s not always different. Some people have said that the game gets fairly repetitive after 60 or 100 plays and I myself have probably only reached something around 40 plays but with all the options of cards and with different players reacting differently to those cards it seems that the game has stayed fresh, at least to me. Of course this does bring me to one of the biggest things I love about Dominion.
  4. It will never jump the shark. Many games that add expansions do so at a risk. While players can always purchase the expansion and then decide not to play with it many will feel obligated to include the expansion simply because of the money investment. This has led some games (at least in my admittedly rather vast collection) to see less play. Dominion on the other hand will not have this problem. While some of the Kingdom Cards that will inevitably be added will not be loved by all players (Rio Grande has said the first expansion should be “ready” – whatever that means – in March or April) only ten cards are used in any given game and thus adding new cards is always simply adding new options. None of my friends have seemed as fascinated by this as I am but it blows me away. I played this game a couple times and was dying for an expansion. I wanted more options and was not at all afraid of what those options might be. I am one who generally is apprehensive of movie sequels, game expansions, and new versions of things and yet with this game I have no fears at all.
  5. It works well with any number of recommended players. I have played games with two, three and four players and they have all been fun and interesting. I like it best with three or four but that is simply because I enjoy a bit more interaction which will be more common with more players. The fact that this is a great three-player game should be noted as there are not many of them out there. At least, a few years ago I had a lot of trouble finding one. I would say that Race for the Galaxy is another one but outside of these two, many games feel weak or unbalanced with only three players.
  6. It’s fun. Sure, this is relative. Some people will say “no it’s not, it sucks” and for them they would be right. As evidence to the contrary I offer this: I have played Dominion with more than ten different players ranging from hardcore gamers to non-gamers, and while not every player has loved it beyond all belief all have enjoyed it and most have wanted to play more. The appeal of this game is amazing and diverse and exceeded all my expectations.

So it’s Perfect?

No. I’m a critic and I try to be honest even about things I love as much as this. The game has a few flaws, some that bother me more than others.

First of all it could be said to be a bit pricey. Honestly, with the way game prices are going these days it’s not that bad but considering it is only cards paying nearly fifty bucks seems a bit steep. Of course, I have paid this much for several games that saw one or two plays and I always consider buying a game to be taking a risk so this game is worth the price for how much I’ve played it. I should add that when I mentioned this to my group they looked at me like I was an old man (which some days feels about right) and said that they felt it was a fine price to pay. Of course… they didn’t pay for it.

Another complaint some people have is the constant shuffling. This doesn’t really bother me too much but some have said (not in my group but in forums) that the shuffling turned them off and made them walk away from the game. I find this unfortunate but if you really hate shuffling decks then, yes, this is not the game for you.

One thing that bothers me about the game is the fact that it is two to four players only. Several times we have played it and had to take turns because we had more than four people but the group really wanted to play the game. This might simply be a complaint based on the size of my group but still it is a factor. We have never played with above the recommended players but I suppose it could be done. I almost wonder if you could simply buy an additional set of Dominion and then add in, say, two more cards of each type to compensate for the additional player. I’m uncertain if this would work and I’m even more uncertain I would want to pay to find out.

A Possible Flaw – Most of the things I have mentioned as negatives are not really game flaws but just certain aspects of the game some players might not like. The only real flaw in the game design that I have noticed is that unfortunately going first is a straight up advantage. While it is not a severe advantage it simply is an advantage. To compensate ties are broken by granting the win to the player who has had the least turns, but when the player who goes first ends the game and then wins by 3 VPs while you are sitting with a hand that could have purchased 6 of your own this is of little consolation. Still, the game is fast-paced and the advantage is small so it is not a game breaking problem for most people.

A last complaint about the game is that there is little player interaction. In my group of friends this tends to be a positive more than a negative but I would also say that there is interaction because of the numerous attack cards. Also, players need to pay attention to their opponents’ purchases to know how their deck should act. For example the Thief card can steal treasure cards from other players and thus works a lot better in your deck if you see your opponents purchasing Silver cards or Gold cards.


Again, I love this game. I like a lot of games I play but Dominion has really set itself apart in my mind. I am dying for an expansion (and the promo card that should be available through BBG in February). Board Game News has some information about possible expansions and on the design decisions behind Dominion if you are interested click here. While Dominion is not the only game our group is currently playing it is certainly a favorite and comes highly recommended from myself and many of my friends.

Feel free to comment below!

    james Says:

    thuggery helps alot…till the moats show up.


    I had heard a bit about the “build your deck as you go” mechanic, and it’s the sort of thing that seems almost obvious once you’ve heard about it but is rather a brilliant mechanic to build a design around.

    The kind of thing I could see others borrowing and imitating.

    Your review is certainly glowing, makes me want to check Dominion out when I get the chance.


    After playing the game about… oh… maybe 50 or more times some of the shiny new glow has warn off a bit but it is still a great game that I enjoy playing. The real reason I am still in awe of it is that it is so easy to expand and the expansions create so many new options that its hard to imagine the game ever truly getting old.

    Some people have commented that they got bored after 70 or so plays but it seems that with another pile of kingdom cards from an expansion the game becomes new and shiny once more. We’ll just have to wait and see.


    You’re starting to remind me of the way it felt to first play Magic: the Gathering…


    Dominion has been called a non collectible CCG. And honestly, when I first played it, it did kind of remind me of how excited I was when we first played Magic back in the day.


    Besides the two promo cards that can be gotten from BGG there are two expansions planned for release this year. As I understand it they will be stand alone games (including everything you need to play) and thus should each come with 25 new kingdom cards. With the current cards, promo cards and expansions that would make 77 kingdom cards to choose from before the end of the year. I haven’t done combinations in years but I think that we end up 1,096,993,404,430 different combinations. Anyone board enough to check my math (and my ability to copy down long strings of numbers for that matter).

    It does need to be mentioned that many of those combinations will not make for good games as this is already the case with the current cards.


    […] reading my review of Dominion it would be hard to imagine that recently when people have suggested it, I have shrugged and said […]