“Hey guys, let’s play this new game I have! It’s called Dominion and it’s totally awesome!”

These words I heard this past weekend. My normal group of friends and I, on roughly a bi-weekly basis, come together around a giant wooden table to play board games until the wee hours of the night, eating mouthfuls of M&Ms and making fun of the host’s dogs all the while. Geez… those fat, smelly dogs.

I had my reservations, as normally we play something cool like Arkham Horror. A fun card game, you say? Well I never! We must inform the Prime Minister! As it turns out, Dominion is so great that your pants my very well spontaneously combust.

Coming from Rio Grande Games (released in 2008), the company that makes the most excellent Carcassonne, Dominion is game all about building up a deck of cards that will hopefully lead to buying up certain victory cards that will THEN – as the term “victory” would imply – help you win the game. On the table you will find these things:

  • Three stacks of money cards (in quantities of 1, 2, and 3 “monies.” We have no idea what they are actually referred to.) labeled as copper, silver, and gold. Buying up money cards helps you buy up other cards. THIS GAME IS DIFFICULT.
  • Victory cards (in quantities of 1, 3, and 6) labeled as estates, duchies, and provinces, respectively. These are the cards you want and crave and need. At the end of the game everyone counts these cards and who ever has the most will win. They will win the game and also win life.
  • And lastly, a remaining ten decks are set up that are Kingdom cards. Each of them give you special actions to take during your turn that are generally awesome or help counteract something that someone else has done to you. These cost monies. You’d probably want to buy some monies so you can buy some Kingdom cards.

As you see all of these cards, your brain melts a little bit. “How can I ever comprehend such a complicated game?!” It is so much easier than it looks on the outset that future you will look back on your former self and laugh and laugh. You will be holding five cards at any given time (barring certain evil Kingdom cards that other players might play), and from those you will make your play. Each turn is comprised of essentially two phases, a third if you want to get picky. The first is the Action phase, labeled so because most people choose to yell “I will play a bridge card!” and slam it down on the table, effecting massive bridgy-ness to the rest of the players. During the action phase, you look at your cards in hand and see if any Kingdom cards are there. Most all of the Kingdom cards say “Action” at the bottom of them as a reminder that these are the most capable cards to play during the Action phase. You put down the card and do any sort of directions that are printed on them. For example, the Bridge card allows that for that turn, all cards on the table cost one less money. And this brings us to the equally important Buy phase.

So you’ve just placed your epic Bridge card, everything on the board now costs one less money, and remaining in your hand are three sweet, sweet, Copper cards. Now what? Well, you eye each deck of cards on the table with a boyish enthusiasm, each deck shining like a tasty square of Turkish Delight, all the while lamenting the fact that you didn’t pull a silver or gold card out of your personal deck for this round, and then you exercise your Buy phase powers to add either a Silver card to your deck (they cost three monies to buy) or opt for a Kingdom card. Once you have the card of your choice, after holding it close to your face and eying the other players menacingly, thinking to yourself how amazing that Moat card you just picked up will counter that blasted Witch card you know someone will play, you go into the Discard/Shuffle phase.

I am not positively sure – like mentioned above – if the Discard/Shuffle phase is actually a phase, but right after your turn, you discard your ENTIRE hand (even if some cards were not played) and then pull a so-fresh-and-so-clean-clean hand of five cards for your next turn. If you need to, you can shuffle your discard pile back into your deck. And that’s your turn. You are done. You now have to wait to see what ills everyone else bestows upon your newly drawn hand before it gets back to your turn.

What makes this game so great is its ability to be different every time. The rules will all be the same, but strategy will vary immensely from game to game. How this works is in the fact that there aren’t JUST ten Kingdom cards. That Bridge and Moat you pulled in one game may very well be nonexistent in the next. In the standard set there are 25 different Kingdom cards to pick ten from. The possibilities are endless! Or, at the very least, large enough for me to not even try and figure out how many combinations that is. And those 25 are not all. There are several expansion packs to the base game that add even more cards. This group I play with, for example, has one of the expansions and we have about 50 different Kingdom cards to choose from. With all the expansions, as of today, there are 91 possible Kingdom cards to choose from.

With so many cards, how will you ever hope to find good combinations? Lucky for you, each manual provides some starting setups to copy that generally have a good balance of cards that attack, defend, or help you get more money and victory cards. If you are technically inclined, and have at least purchased one of those fancy new iPhones that have come out in the last three years, there is an application that will help you make random setups with certain variables and also lists some of the default setups that are printed in the manuals. This app is called simply Dominion Kingdom Deck. The author’s website for it is here. It’s somewhat of a must-have if you own the game, allowing for an impartial picker for Kingdom cards rather than Bob who “always has to have the Market.”

And that is roughly all I can say about this most awesome game. Do yourself a favor and purchase it. Word to the wise: the MSRP on this sucker is around $40 (“For a card game?!” Well, yes, but to its credit there are 250 cards in the box, all with good art and such on them). I would suggest looking at Amazon; currently the game there is about $25.