Deck-Building Games Pros/Cons: Dominion

I will be posting my opinion of some of the pros and cons of some of the best deck building games ever made

I am only looking at games that use deck-building as their core mechanics. Therefore I will be omitting collectible card games such as Magic the Gather.


I will admit right now, I am biased towards this one. The first deck building game ever made, Dominion, is by far my favorite. But let’s look into the cons first. One of the biggest complaints I have heard is that it is just turn based solitaire. To an extent, I agree, with two caveats. Firstly, Dominion is a race. Not directly, admittedly, but you’ll definitely feel the pressure as the piles run out. Secondly, there are “attack” cards. There are also cards that are not labeled “attack” cards that still feel like attacks. However, these aren’t directed at any one player, and mostly they feel like “take that” cards. So yes, direct player interaction during the game can be a little sparse.

The next big con, albeit a necessary one, is the way money works. If the world worked the way money works in deck builders, you would order something off the dollar menu at McDonald’s, wave a dollar in their face, stuff the dollar back into your pocket and walk out with your McChicken. Every time I have begun to teach a complete neophyte the ways of the deck-builder, they have a hard time with this.

I’m not sure this is a con or not, or how much of it extends beyond the deck-builder genre, but the need for being a lawyer. Dominion’s turn structure is simple, but the text on some cards refer to very specific parts of your turn that aren’t very intuitive. For example, let’s say I have two cards that say, “At the start of your turn, do something.” What is the start of my turn? Can I play both cards, or does playing one card signify the start of my turn such that the second card can no longer be used?

So, what about the pros. The core mechanics of Dominion, the ones that are there regardless of what cards you have, are incredibly simple, and if you teach them to a newbie as they are written in the manual (minus the whole money thing) they become easy to grasp. The manual describes a player turn as “A,B,C” which stands for “Action, Buy, Clean-Up” and you only get one of each. Action means you may play an action card, usually a card with a white border. Some cards give you more actions, but if the card you played doesn’t, that’s it, you’re done. Same with Buy. Buy simply means provided you have the money you may buy one card from the market and put it in your discard pile. Want more? Play an action card that gives you more, period. Clean-Up means take all cards in your hand that you did not play and all cards that you did play and place them in your discard pile, and then draw a hand of 5 new cards.

Now, being limited to being able to only play one action card and purchase one new card every turn sounds kind of lame, but that’s what makes the game fun and interesting. There are cards that let you draw more cards, but if that is the only action card you played and it doesn’t give you more actions, oh well. Planning out your turn so this chain of more actions, more cards, more buys and more money is what I love about Dominion. If you plan your purchases well, you can almost gaurantee doing sommething like that every turn.

That leads me to my favorite part of Dominion: the static market. Once the game starts, the cards don’t change. You can come up with a strategy, realize it’s not working, re-strategize and maybe still win. The only hidden information is what’s in your deck, and if you build your deck accordingly that shouldn’t be a problem.

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