- Dominion is a multiplayer card game originally released as a complete base set (nothing more to collect) back in 2008; since then, 13 expansion sets have been released
- During the game, you construct your decks by buying cards from a set of randomly selected cards per game – these get shuffled into your deck accordingly
- You win by having more Victory Points at the end than everyone else. To do this, you’ll need to have a better economy or cards that combo well together
- Dominion Online is the official online multiplayer version of the game developed by Shuffle iT. It has one of the least intuitive and worst-looking interfaces I’ve ever seen for a card game. But it’s free-to-play with the base set.
Back when I was in middle school, I, like many nerdy kids my age, played a collectible card game called Magic: The Gathering. The premise was that you were some kind of wizard that could draw power from lands to cast spells or summon creatures, with the sole goal of depleting your opponent of his life force.
Each player needed to have a deck of at least sixty cards to play, but beyond that rule you were free to create any kind of deck from any of the sets that were out – they all played together. It made for some amazing combinations and exciting one-on-one card duels. The possibilities were endless. But the game’s biggest draw – buying booster packs that had rare and uncommon cards – was the game’s biggest weakness, since the best cards were usually the rare ones. You needed either a lot of cash, or good tradable cards, which basically required lots of cash.
Fast-forward to Coronavirus Times. Magic has fallen out of favor, even though I still have at least a thousand Magic cards sitting around that I believe are now worth about 20 cents. But there are better, smarter card games now, and one of them is Dominion.
Dominion is technically a collectible card game, but not in the traditional sense. There’s two base sets and a crapload of expansion sets. The base sets come ready to play, with twenty-five different cards and six resource/victory cards. The expansions come with new action cards but no resources.
During a standard game, you choose ten cards (either randomly or by using recommended sets) that are placed on the table. These are supply cards that are “buyable” during the game. The resource (copper, silver, gold) and victory cards (estate, duchy, province) are placed nearby and also available for purchase.
To start, each player gets the same starting deck made up of seven copper cards (worth 1 treasure point each) and three estates (worth absolutely nothing until the end of the game). Your typical turn consists of drawing five cards, using any action cards in hand, and buying new cards – whether they’re treasure, land, or action cards. If you run out of cards, you simply shuffle up and redraw.
And here is where the brilliance of Dominion lies. Since everyone gets access to the same ten cards (and begins with the same starting cards) during the game, the playing field is as level as you can get. By buying cards on the table, you essentially construct your deck piece-by-piece, turn-by-turn. Whether you win or lose fully depends on what cards you buy, how well you manage your resources (through buying treasure cards or treasure generating cards) and how well you adapt to other players’ strategies. And a strategy that may have worked for you this game probably won’t work in the next due to the action card randomization. Sure, there’s still an element of luck, but it’s more controlled luck.
Nearly every card in the basic Dominion set has a place somewhere. There are your standard draw action cards that allow you to take extra cards or extra actions. Then there are nastier cards like The Thief, which forces all other players to reveal the top two cards in their deck and trash or discard them if either is a treasure card. Still others let you trawl through your deck for treasure cards (The Adventurer) or protect yourself from player attacks (Moat). In completely random games, sometimes you’ll end up with lots of attack cards, forcing everyone to go on the offensive, and other times the game will be more mellow, with players spending their turns building their resource-generation engine.
The game ends when either of two conditions occur: three piles of supply cards are completely exhausted, or all provinces (the highest value victory card) are purchased. The winner, of course, is the player with the most victory points.
Dominion is not too far away from the likes of Starcraft, where resource management is absolutely crucial. Do you opt to buy more treasure cards, increasing your odds of drawing large amounts of treasure in one turn (allowing you to buy the bigger lands), do you go the draw card-combo route, where you try to collect as many “draw +x” cards to maximize the chances of do you invest in action cards that damage your opponents’ economies (the witch, for example, forces other players to draw a curse card, worth -1 victory points, while diluting their deck), or a mixture of both? It’s up to you.
One of the great decisions in the game is figuring out when to start buying up victory cards. Snap them up too early and you just diluted your deck and gimped your resources for the rest of the game. Too late and…well, you lose.
And that’s Dominion – at least the offline card game – in a nutshell. For the physical game, there’s not much else to say other than it’s a fantastic, friendly, and competitive experience overall.
And so that brings us to Dominion Online, the official online multiplayer version of the game developed by Shuffle iT. To say it’s rough around the edges is kind of just stating the obvious:
Cards don’t look like cards. There’s an incredible amount of visual clutter everywhere. You can’t see what’s on your opponents’ boards easily. You can’t do anything during their turns. There are no animations other than cards moving around. To see what all cards do on one screen, you need to click the “Kingdom” link in the top-right corner.
And don’t get me started on the mobile experience. My friend plays on a Kindle Fire tablet and it’s pure hell.
To be fair, while there’s an easy comparison to actually-polished card games like Hearthstone and Legends of Runeterra, these are solely 1v1 experiences. There’s no juggling multiple players, and adding players has to add a fair amount of complexity.
I imagine Dominion Online to be the kind of game you get when you ask a programmer to develop a card game. Functionally, it’s all there. It’s just things might not be where you expect them to be.
So should you bother with Dominion Online?
I think if you’re a group of friends with prior Dominion experience, you’ll be okay. The (base) game is free. The interface can be figured out. If you’ve never played any flavor of Dominion before, know that there will be a hefty learning curve, due to how whack the online version is combined with the complexity of the actual game.
So, that’s a maybe.
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