Cool Things: Dominion

I’ll admit it – I’m a card game fanatic.

Board games are fun but card games have this special appeal. It comes from the mix of available and hidden information, the randomness of the shuffle and the feel of the cardboard. Card games can run the gamut from something that you can play with your typical 52-card, four suited deck to an absurdly complicated, 12,000 plus card monstrosity that’s been growing for the last 20 years. Finding a card game among all those with depth and replayablity that won’t break your brain or your budget can be a real chore.

One game that I’ve found scratches the itch well is Dominion (specifically the Intrigue card set, but either version of the game is good.) The basic purpose of the game is easy – score the most points and you win!

Of course the real trick is in scoring those points. Dominion is what is known as a “deck building” game, a kind of game where everyone starts with the same basic cards but picks new cards to add to their deck every turn. Some cards are used to buy cards, some cards score points, some cards do other special actions. Easy, right?

Well, the real challenge of the game is long term planning. See, the vast majority of cards that score points don’t do anything else – you can’t use them to buy cards (and point cards have to be bought), you can’t do special actions with them, in short they’re dead weight until the end of the game. This means you have to spend time amassing resources to buy points with, and find ways to do it faster than everyone else. Each game is a race to find something that works well, rack up resources with it and then score points fastest.

Adding another layer of complexity is the fact that Dominion offers more cards than you can possibly use in a single game. The basic resource and point cards stay the same but you can change the special action cards every time you play, making the game fresh and different for a long time. And if you finally use every possible combination of special cards in your games you can always pick up additional card sets to keep things changing. While it’s not exactly a collectible card game the basic format makes expanding your game very easy to do.

Dominion is a game with a lot going on. There’s time management, resource management, opportunity management. It can be used to teach critical thinking, long term planning and the significance of opportunity cost. Like the best games, it can teach valuable life skills in a simple and engaging way. Or you can just play to show your friends who’s boss. Either way, win or lose, you’re probably going to have a good time.

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