Spring cleaning.

It’s not spring at all, is it?

Feh, regardless, we’ve done a little touching up here and there. It might not be visible. On the whole, we’d like to spend a bit more time blogging than we have been… other things have proven a distraction (including, most distractingly, a novel that we’re working on). Perhaps a light dusting will encourage us to swing by more often, and maybe talk about why we enjoy Dominion.

Well. [Shifty glances]. I guess nothing’s stopping us from doing that right now, eh?

Dominion is a deck-building game. It’s THE deck-building game. If you haven’t played it, then you should. It’s excellent. The basic deal is that you start with a deck of seven coins and three victory points, and a table covered in additional coins, victory points, and action cards which let you (among other things) acquire new action cards, coins, and victory points. The conceit is that you are a lord expanding your territory; you spend gold, silver, and copper to but provinces, duchies, and estates (the VP cards) as well as useful allies and additions to your territory (a village, which lets you play more cards in a turn, or a woodcutter, which brings you some money and buying power). In a turn, you can generally take one action, buy one card (which involves playing money in your hand, not losing it… think of it as investing in a new card for increased returns), and then drop your hand on the discard pile and draw a new one. Over a game, a hand of ten cards shoots up to fifty or more surprisingly quickly, and as it does, it does something really great thematically, and really fun mechanically.

Thematically, it makes you feel like a lordling over a growing spread of land. That is to say, you are less and less able to accomplish what you want, because you are concerned with the petty affairs of state; when you draw a hand with a province card in it, you can’t play it, or benefit from it at this point. It’s worth VPs in the end, but at the moment, it’s clutter. Owning vast swathes of property takes your time and attention, and some days the issues of your estates prevent you from being able to go out and invest in more estates!  Dominion isn’t an RPG, but it can have a coherent fiction to it (and is more fun if you treat is as a pseudo RPG, if only because you can shout “Ah, but you didn’t count on my SPY!” every couple turns), and the clutter of victory points helps maintain that fiction. Successful lords are a distracted bunch, don’t you know?

Mechanically, it’s all about a concept which I’m going to call “Benevolent Dross.” When you get a victory point card, you are beating a path towards winning, yes, but you’re also weakening your entire deck, by cluttering it up with something useless. Or, at the very least, conditionally valuable. Money in Monopoly is always good to have, but trading it for resources is never a bad idea because you need houses, which are always good to have. There’s nothing conditional there. Every resource in Settlers of Catan is necessary, more-or-less equally useful, and good to have on hand; likewise VP-generating structures. Oh, victory points from development cards have no use, but they aren’t dross–they don’t clutter your hand or weaken your position, they are only ever beneficial, even if that benefit only comes when it’s time to win. But not so in Dominion… these things hurt you, or at best weaken you, until such a point as they become essential. I like this. I like the balance it adds to play: the better you are doing, the weaker the hands you are likely to get (to a certain point, of course, as a clever player is probably also stocking up on gold and fancy actions to offset the VP problem). The decision to pursue victory must be a Decision, not a mere background noise of the game… I don’t buy an estate because I had some spare coppers, I buy it because, dammit, the trade-off is worth it right now. Neat!

Of course, deck-building games are the New Hotness right now, so I’m not the only one who’s excited about this, but I’d be interested to see its use outside of that particular genre… a Catan where cities reduced how much resources a tile produced, weakening your position while shuttling you to victory, for instance.


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