Saturday, February 13, 2010

Finally! My First F2F Game Of Dominion

If you have read my previous posts on Dominion, you would have discovered both my disdain and yet strange fascination for it. I have only played the original game over BSW and while I applaud its unique mechanic, I can't help but feel in my gut that this wouldn't be a game I pay to own.

Just like my recent comments on Tribune and Race for the Galaxy, one of my concerns about Dominion was its multiplayer solitaire tendencies. Particularly in the original, the game is very much of a race in building a deck engine capable of purchasing Provinces (6VPs) on a consistent basis. Chris aptly described this in his response to my views on Tribune as a "heads down" approach, where you tend to focus on your goals rather than worrying about the actions of your opponents and actively thwarting them to your betterment.

My second concern was that after playing quite a number of games on BSW, I found that most hands tended to play themselves. Its fans argue that the heart of the game lies in its deck-building mechanic. I however couldn't help but be put off by the 'auto-pilot' nature of the game.

Where the game fascinated me was in the ease of its rules and the depth offered by a game of its length. In the latter, it arguably surpasses Tribune since it plays in about half the time. It offers a gateway sort of game which I as a gamer wouldn't be bored to play myself as I intro it to my non-gamer friends.

The first expansion to Dominion, Intrigue was touted as one improving player interaction. The supposedly increased choices available on action cards suggest less of an 'auto-pilot' syndrome. Unfortunately, this is both a boon and a bane since it raises the bar for non-gamers.

I couldn't resist the temptation and eventually took the plunge. I managed to persuade Van to have a go today, curious at her reaction to the game. Van has always enjoyed highly interactive games and games like RftG have left her cold in the past.

What surprised me was the ease of explaining the rules. I mean I have heard of compliments in this area before but going at it for the first time, it went even smoother than I could ever imagine. I really need to applaud the designer Donald for coming up with such an excellent framework (ABC) to capture the gameplay succinctly.

Van and I were off and running and despite initial fears that the complexity of the Intrigue cards would put her off, they turned out largely unfounded. I suppose despite Van's fluctuating interest in gaming, she nonetheless is mostly a gamer, and thus the action cards were largely a cinch for her.

While the rules didn't pose a problem for us, formulating a strategy in terms of action cards to purchase was. I reverted to my past Dominion patterns and mostly purchased treasure cards in view of a subsequent rush for the Provinces. However, I couldn't help myself but join Van in a couple of random action card purchases to gain a sense of how they would play out. The game ended 36-33 in my favour which was a surprise as I had the impression halfway through that I might run away with it, purchasing the majority of the Province cards. Van to her credit did well to stay close in her first game.

Verdict? Van didn't hate the game, which I suppose was already a big plus. I think the tide turned when she realized that the game wasn't as complicated as the mass of cards made out, having commented at the start that it reminded her for A Game of Thrones LCG, which is likely never going to play again despite my absolute love for the game. Coupled with the short playtime especially with two, I can see her being open to repeat plays till she forms a firmer opinion of it. My concern though was that the limited interactivity might still put her off eventually.

We played with the "Well Wishes" set suggested in the rule book with only a single attack card - "Torturer". While I saw the possibilities with the other attack cards in the expansion, I couldn't help but wonder whether that level of interaction would be enough for me. Sure, you get to disrupt and hurt your opponents' next turn but cutting down their hand for example, but it doesn't seem as meaningful since that action doesn't really benefit you directly. It's a far more limited attack mechanism than say interaction in El Grande where messing with my opponents usually accord me a direct advantage in area majority. I need to mull over this further.

But I must say my first impression despite the above concerns was favourable. I was especially impressed at the ease of introducing the game and that the Intrigue cards weren't as complex as I initially feared. Looking forward to try it with some non-gamers over the CNY hols.

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