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Only two of us tonight, out of the four of us who originally said they could make it, train troubles prevented Boog from turning up and as a result Oggie troubled by his ongoing World of Warcraft and Pot Noodle addiction, decided to cancel (who needs Chinese gold farmers when there is an Oggie about). So after much debate (i.e. 30 seconds) we decided to give Dominion a good two player thrashing to see if it really cut the mustard in a two player setting or was just another over-hyped Magic the Gathering (MtG) replacement.
Five (!) games later we had run through the remaining untried start-up variants and a more advanced variant where we started with all the action card sets out on the table and took turns discarding sets until we hit the requisite number to allow us to start the game.
Both Steve and I have played MtG and in fact the Piddinghoe gamers started out as a regular Tuesday night MtG session down the pub. In other words we both have an affinity for deck building including creating card combos to follow a certain strategy to win. Of course Dominion is all about drafting the right mix of cards into your deck as you play, gaining additional money, victory points or action cards, all of which cycle back into your deck constantly changing the feel of the game.
Depth and replayability is a natural concern when playing a non-CCG game based around CCG drafting principals and mechanics and it probably comes as no surprise that a large number of expansions are rumoured to be planned for the game. In this respect it was good to note that every game played differently and whilst it is simpler to play vs MtG, there is sufficient strategy to suck you into the game and to have fun whilst doing so. A major advantage to me over MtG is that because all players start each game with a basic deck of 7 gold+3 VPs and all players have access to the same set of cards to improve their deck, it avoids MtGs poor starting hand syndrome. In other words if the combos you create don't come off, then it's entirely down to your own ability to draft as you play vs poor randomization of your starting deck.
Parallels with MtG aside, the game is essentially a race to collect sufficient VPs to win the game when one of the ending conditions is met and to put it simply, the player who is the most efficient at this will win. Interactions between players are fairly limited in the sense that only a few cards negatively impact your opponent and using them doesn't always seem to yield an advantage plus if you focus too heavily on being nasty then you may well lose the game. This said the nastiest card of this type (by far) is the one that allows you to take gold out of your opponents deck and this card in particular seemed to be worth using a fair amount. Counter-strategies are usually possible but as I have already said sometimes that over-use of nasty cards can lead to your opponents downfall anyway, so why prevent it!
One thing to note is that both of us found at times that our decks became too ordered over time and so we adopted a house rule that of our own choice or by request a deck could be given a thorough shuffle.
As you may gather I quite like this game, it does appear to be a best as a two player game but since the game is open to variants, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see someone came up with a better 3 or 4 player variant vs the vanilla version of the rules. With 8 plays this has already become the most played game of Essen 2008 and I doubt it will be consigned to the loft anytime soon!