Dominion is a game where "you are a monarch, like your parents before you, a ruler of a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens. Unlike your parents, however, you have hopes and dreams! You want a bigger and more pleasant kingdom, with more rivers and a wider variety of trees. You want a Dominion! In all directions lie fiefs, freeholds, and feodums. All are small bits of land, controlled by petty lords and verging on anarchy. You will bring civilization to these people, uniting them under your banner.
But wait! It must be something in the air; several other monarchs have had the exact same idea. You must race to get as much of the unclaimed land as possible, fending them off along the way. To do this you will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up your castle, and fill the coffers of your treasury. Your parents wouldn't be proud, but your grandparents, on your mother's side, would be delighted."
This not being a game I have played myself, I can only note that this game obviously draws people in. Ranked an impressive 24 on Board Game Geek, I can only assume that our gamers enjoyed their first game as a second quickly followed. Aaron was victorious in Game 1 but clearly taught his young padawans a little too well, as the students become the masters, with Neil top of the class in Game 2.
Judging by these results, the game looks well balanced even between players new and old. In my opinion, this is a bonus for a game that may be considered a “gateway game” for those new to the hobby; nobody enjoys reaching the end of a game in a distant last place feeling like they haven’t even grasped the basic strategies needed to improve next time.
Meanwhile, on the other table…
Jon introduced Ash and me to Smash up, another card game where each player picks 2 ‘factions’ from the box. This kind of game will appeal to those among us who like a good expansion with new extra factions not included in the base game. With a randomised setup, Jon picked Vampires and Giant Ants, Ash selected Zombies and Mad Scientists while this crazy fool got Super Spies and Cyber Apes! The essential aim of the game is to ‘Smash up’ the bases to earn victory points; this is achieved by playing Minions and Actions, maximum 1 of each type of card per go. Each card has different powers or effects and careful strategy is needed to play the right card on the right base at the right time. For example, I was feeling confident about my upcoming go where I felt I could secure 5 victory points for myself in the near future. Jon had other ideas and was able to play a combo of such devastating power that he gained 9 victory points instantly and finished the game. This left me feeling a little frustrated, a similar experience to playing Saint Petersburg. I can’t help but feel that first-time players have little to no chance of being competitive, let alone winning. The same may even be true for the next few games because if you draw different factions you’re going to have to learn entirely new methods of playing which will leave you at a distinct disadvantage. But did the game draw me in enough to demand several more plays and help me improve? Not really; sorry Jon. It’s a nice game with pretty straightforward rules, but not one I’ll be rushing back for.
I will reveal now that I am still a little uncertain about card-based games and their place in my gaming life. A big draw for me, as my wife kindly described 2 weeks ago in the blog, is lots of fiddly pieces, tiles, boards, counters, tokens, meeples…all the things that you tend to find in a board game such as Caverna, Power Grid, Le Havre, Keyflower etc etc. I also like the visual appeal of board games; of course how a game plays is more important than how it looks but I love a game that combines the two. And here is the crux of the matter; in my very limited experience, I am yet to run into a card game that is visually attractive and expansive enough to really excite me. In Caverna it’s easy to feel drawn into the world of farming and cave mining and feel like you’re part of it. I honestly don’t get that with cards; maybe you need more imagination or the ability to visualise to get more of a kick out of them. There are exceptions to this general rule: there are games which in my opinion would only work as card games. Recent plays of Coup and Hanabi filled me with the joy of simple games where cards are all you need and a board and pieces would be not only totally unnecessary, but actually get in the way of the game. Smash up is, to me, a game where having physical armies attacking actual plastic bases would get me far more revved-up.
This writer got his sole victory of the night in Drakon, beating out Jon and Ash in an involving contest of wit and strategy (and understanding the rules). We then swapped Jon for Neil so Jon could teach Evolution to Aaron, Peter #2 and Sam while Ash experienced Ticket to Ride (America) for the first time. Drawing 3 almost-completed routes towards the end of the game, Neil strolled to victory (unfortunately lapping Ash in the scoring track in the process) while I finished a distant second.
Aaron showed his fellow players what gene selection is all about with an impressive victory in Evolution, beating out Peter #2, Jon and Sam.
My gamer of the week is awarded to Aaron Cox who triumphed in Dominion and Evolution.