Tonight, I mixed two of my favorite things about Tuesday board game night: Dominion and playing games in Muddy Waters. Why I like Muddy’s is easy: it’s a generally relaxed atmosphere with homey decor — lots of exposed timber beams and brickwork — an eclectic selection of music and enjoyable refreshments. Dominion is a little trickier.
See, I tend to go for games with a strong theme that appeals to my own tastes, or a sense of humor. Arkham Horror is a prime example, as is Frag. Dominion has a medieval theme of nobles, villages, artisans and what-not that could be scraped off the game mechanics and replaced with anything. Take this reskinning to a zombie theme for example. So it’s rarely mechanics that enthrall me, but the theme or backstory of a game.
Dominion is different. In the end, it boils down to using your starting cards to buy other cards, which have various abilities, allowing one to go beyond the basic “play one action, buy one thing.” The game reminds me of Fluxx in that regard. So as a player builds their deck of cards, they’re not only looking for abilities to work in synergy, but resources to buy new cards, as well to stockpile victory points. Victory point cards do nothing but add to one’s score at the end, so there’s a balancing act of having enough points to win versus the danger of clogging one’s deck with cards that don’t do anything useful during the game.
The ability to chain effects really excites me, for some reason — I say “for some reason” because ultimately, that’s what a lot of economic engine games are about, and I find those immensely tedious and opaque. But with Dominion, it’s amazingly satisfying to slap down a chain of effects that allows one to draw a fistful of extra cards, play the actionable ones and use the rest to buy a Duchy, the most valuable victory point card. It may be the immediate gratification factor that gets me; rather than waiting for a plan to come together over several turns and, in my case, likely forgetting what the plan was halfway through, the plan begins anew every time I draw a new hand of cards.
What makes Dominion even more interesting is it comes with dozens of decks. Each game only has ten decks of identical cards for players to select among to add to their own decks, but a sufficient combination of which decks you play with as long as you keep switching them, the odds are low of a series of games ever feeling repetitive. The rulebook suggests five or so sets of decks whose individual effects interact in fun ways. Some of the most satisfying experiences come from just throwing a random deck into the mix to see what happens. I learned to hate the Thief that way.
Dominion has quickly become one of those games I’ll jump to play whenever it’s offered, which can only be a good thing, because there are few enough of those that make Tuesday nights something of a trial when there’s nothing new to try out and the recurring choices aren’t what I’m looking for in a game experience.