Results tagged “card games”

Ascension is a popular game, I personally am hooked on it, and it has an expansion. Therefore: I indulge myself by imagining cards for another expansion.

I am not the only one, certainly. But I have not flipped through BGG or game forums looking for other people's lists. So this may repeat ideas you've seen before.

Try the two-rows Ascension variant

The next time you play a non-digital edition of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (or any of its followup titles), give this simple variant a whirl. My local Ascension-fan friends taught me the game this way, in fact; I tend to agree that it makes the game more interesting, without wandering far from the core ruleset.

Origins 2011: Fighting monsters through deckbuilding

DeckbuildingAs I wrote earlier, I hadn’t attended the Origins Game Fair (or any tabletop-focused game expo) since 2006, so I suspect that my shouting Holy grog, so many deck-building games! will sound a year or two out of sync with the forefront of game news. But I’m shouting it anyway. To my eye, Dominion-style deckbuilders seemed far and away the most prominent genre represented among new-and-newish games on display last month in Columbus.

I played no fewer than four new (or at least new-to-me) deckbuilders, and that still left a handful unplayed. The unifying theme among the whole field seems to be “Gee, Dominion doesn’t have any hit points or leveling up or monster-killin’, so clearly we can compete with it by adding all that stuff, because it’s awesome.” I’d argue that that’s rather missing the point of Dominion’s delicious rules elegance, and after playing a few, I find myself standing by that notion.

Which is not at all to say that these newer games are not worth playing. Allow me to now inevitably and at great length share my impressions of them with you!

Ascension polish

Jmac referred to UI issues in this morning's post about Ascension for iPad. I have indeed been swearing and muttering about the UI (as I play incessantly). But don't get your hopes up for another tirade of designerly bile. This isn't the sort of bad UI caused by being an idiot, and then patching the patches on the patches until the result sinks into its own mire. Ascension just isn't right. It can be made right.

I rather assume that Incinerator Studios knows they have lobby issues, and decided to ship something rather than delay the project for a complete lobby rewrite. Nonetheless, for the sake of my own serenity, I will run through the diagnosis.

Descending beneath Ascension's surface

Tribute day3While I have a half-written post about my Origins 2011 adventures, I must defer it to address instead recent iOS adaptation of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. I’ve been playing an awful lot of Ascension (originally designed and published for the tabletop by Gary Games, iOS version by Incinerator Studios), and planned to write about it anyway. But it won priority in the wee hours earlier this week when I discovered myself hallucinating my way through a game. Only several moves in did I realize that I was lying on my side in bed, staring at a wall in the dark.

I did in fact enjoy a very real game just hours before that, sitting on Cambridge’s riverside esplanade with several excellent friends, passing my iPad around while we waited for Boston’s Independence Day fireworks to start. And while memories of a good game session have often rolled around in my head for hours after playing, I don’t recall the last time my subconscious mind blustered in and demanded to watch the tapes in full as soon as my head hit the pillow. So, something’s going on here.

US Postal Service shows some gaming love

Love stampsDelighted to discover this USPS stamp design, depicting a quietly romantic moment between one of western culture’s most cherished (if occasionally cursed) couples, during today’s post office errand. It was designed by Derry Noyes and Jeanne Greco.

Sure, like all their court, they have a reputation for fickleness. But isn’t it always nice to see them together like this anyway?

The Bridge in the distance

Speaking of card games, I’ve been enjoying the Bridge-related articles by Brian Bankler over at The Tao of Gaming. The most recent post responds to this NYT feature on the promotion of Bridge in American schools, a development I wasn’t previously aware of.

I’ve always wanted to learn more about Bridge, which looks (from a distance, anyway?) like a solid blend of overall strategy with short-term tactics, centered around intriguingly constrained partner-communication rules. I also might like its abstract bidding mechanic over Poker’s freeform, psychologically charged betting: the focus, to my vague understanding, seems to lie more with sussing out what your partner can accomplish than on what deceitful tricks your opponents are up to. That’s a space I would like to explore further.

Full House Poker vs 1 vs 100

5638935722 cebd40cfc3 bMy online-multiplayer itch has been acting up again, so on the recommendation of some of my Xbox Live-playing friends, I recently started playing Full House Poker. Designed by Microsoft Game Studios, it provides a satisfyingly polished implementation of Texas Hold ‘Em. It manages to really impress me in a couple of more subtle and surprising ways, though, one of which has little to do with Poker itself.

With delight did I realize, after spending an evening with it, that Full House Poker is the spiritual successor to the late and quite lamented 1 vs 100, a game killed long before its time. I managed to write about that one only once during its brief life, recounting a wonderfully humiliating moment I suffered before an audience of thousands. Between the banter provided by a live host, the clever blend of game show and videogame tropes, and the simple fact that it really was a simultaneous ludic experience shared among a huge and diverse audience, 1 vs 100 was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to true interactive television.

And I assume that’s what did it in, too; when you mix a videogame with a television show so successfully, I suppose you must also introduce television-specific risks to your game’s health. And so I witnessed a game near to my heart suffer the same fate that befalls half the TV shows I discover and love: it got cancelled two seasons in, for reasons the audience can only guess at. It will almost certainly never come back, forever buried under the immovable weight of expired intellectual-property agreements.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover though Full House Poker that Microsoft didn’t write off the entire parcel as a failed experiment. While it doesn’t present the same experience, or at the same scale, I find it very clear that a great deal of technology, philosophy, and in-house experience developed by Microsoft for 1 vs 100 lives on in Full House Poker, despite the significant differences in the games themselves.

Boston Cardboard Game Jam

Last weekend, I attended the first Boston Cardboard Game Jam. It was like one of Boston Game Jams' usual events, but this time for card and board games instead of videogames. The basic idea is that a bunch of people congregate and split up into teams of 3–4 people and make a game over a weekend. I've never been to any of the videogame ones, but according to Jeff Ward, this one was way better.

It was a really great experience for me, and I'm really glad I went. The key takeaway for me was that being forced to collaborate with a small group of people for many hours with a hard deadline really gets the creative juices flowing, even if it can be frustrating at times. One of my teammates does a great job of explaining the various iterations we went through. There were definitely times I felt like quitting, and I'm sure my teammates were similarly frustrated at times, but we kept at it and developed a pretty nice auction card game that plays in around an hour. And having other people there to playtest it was key, since we certainly wouldn't have gotten it to where it needed to be without some key insights from other smart people.

I thought it was some neat synchronicity when, this week, Craig Perko talked about how college should be about doing lots of projects with people who share your interests, and last weekend really felt like a mini version of that. I'm keen to try this again in the very near future, although I don't know if I'd be able to organize something like this before Boston Game Jams decides to do it again. I'm also keen to just make more games, even on my own. If you're keen to do that, too, then you could do worse than checking out Ian Schreiber's free blog-based course that he ran two summers ago (and that is still around) called Game Design Concepts (and you could also check out his book with Brenda Brathwaite, Challenges for Game Designers).

I had a simple game idea, too, which I actually solidified enough to pitch at the game jam. I didn't get anyone to work on it with me, but I've been thinking about it since then and definitely have a set of rules to try out with some people the next time I can find three other people and have my Sevendeck and Icehouse pieces handy.

And I'm serious about wanting to think about pulling together another cardboard game jam, even if it's only with a group of 8–10 people (I'm not sure what the critical mass is, since having people for playtetsing, as I mentioned, is pretty key). If something like this were to happen again, even if it didn't take place in a cool place like GAMBIT, are there any Boston-area Gameshelf readers who would be willing to give it a shot?

Friday links: Race and Dominion online

RFTGScreenSnapz001.pngTurns out that both of the card games I wrote about Monday have officially sanctioned online versions. Dominion’s had an internet-playable implementation on the beloved BrettspielWelt for some time, but I only today got around to trying Race for the Galaxy’s computerized counterpart (pictured here). Both games are perfectly functional and free to play, but have a cost in… well, let us say that a polished user interface is not the top priority of either effort.

The brazenly unstyled HTML of Keldon Jones’ Race for the Galaxy page lets you know from the start that he isn’t out to impress you with a razor-sharp UI. But if it’s Race practice you’re after, I find his solution far more satisfying than the solitaire variant that comes packaged with the card game’s first expansion set. Keldon has been developing this AI in the sunshine for nearly a year, updating it frequently, and it’s very good. It consistently kicks my butt, anyway, whether with the base deck or any of the expansions — every one of which the programmer has implemented, and which you can mix in or out before each game.

In the tradition of one-hacker game-adaptation projects, obsessive focus on the rules and AI leaves the UI a secondary concern. Even with the simplest setup, it’s hard to tell with this Race board when anyone draws cards, for example, or which turn-phase is active. However, it quickly earned my trust that it wasn’t skipping any of the growing pile of interacting rules-exceptions that build up over the course over a single game. The requirement for every player to perform their own bookkeeping represents the weakest part of the physical game’s UI — one that I mess up all the time, to the annoyance of my friends, who grudgingly allow me to draw the bonus card I forgot to draw two phases ago. But this computer game quietly makes a non-issue of it, and I like that.

The day I skunked MacCribbage

If you’ll permit me a bit of silly personal nostalgia:

skunk.png

I came across this screencap, dating from the summer of 1994, while pawing through some old files. Apparently I managed to skunk my Mac at Cribbage — that is, I crossed the 121-point finish line before it hit 91 points, which my dad taught me counts as a double-win, especially if you’re playing for stakes — and was so thrilled with my achievement (and perhaps chagrined that the final scoreboard didn’t acknowledge the mustelid nature of my victory) that I took a screenshot and filed it away.

Please note that the size of this image was the size of my entire monitor at the time, at least in terms of resolution — when projected upon my screen via jet-age electron-gun technology, it measured 12 inches along the diagonal.

Incredibly, MacCribbage’s homepage still exists. Despite the page’s year-one webdesign (and, indeed, an on-page timestamp reading 3/14/95), you can still download the game there, though it’s been many years since any Macintosh computer has shipped with the means to run it.

Meanwhile, the game’s author, Mike Houser, has carried his work into the future with an iPhone version. My heart aches to see the stylistic differences in those two pages’ screenshots, comparing the pixel-perfect artwork of his 1990s work with the flat, anti-aliased color fills of the 21st century adaptation. Fortunately, he still sells a handful of Mac OS X-friendly solitaire games that make use of his charming original deck art, including those smileymac-visaged court cards.

The Race to Expand your Dominion

expanding colony028.jpgThe only thing worse than a flawed expansion to a good tabletop game is listening to some know-it-all groan about it. Complaints about expansions, after all, suggest their own unbeatable counterargument: So, don’t play with the expansions, then! It’s not like eschewing an expansion makes the basic vanilla game suddenly stop working, right? Perhaps we don’t enjoy Knightmare Chess, but we don’t therefore conclude that the original game is forever spoiled.

So, in an attempt to turn such grumbling into an essay worth reading, let me turn it around: I hereby declare that it is not just desirable but possible to design an expansion set for a good game in such a way that actually improves the game as a whole, rather than simply making it larger. So this fact makes it that much more disappointing when a solid game releases an expansion that adds stuff, but fails to add an equal-or-greater amount of fun. Fair enough?

As it happens, I can find one example of each between two often-compared games of recent vintage. Dominion (Donald X. Vaccarino) and Race for the Galaxy (Tom Lehmann) are both quick-playing card games that have earned tremendous cachet from tabletop gamers in the last two or three years. (The Gameshelf has itself ruminated about both games, via Kevin and Zarf, respectively.) Both proved successful enough to spawn several expansions apiece; Race got its third such set into print earlier this year, and Dominion — despite being a slightly younger game — will see its fourth in stores by the holidays.

Let’s look at Race for the Galaxy’s general expansion philosophy. What comes in each of its little boxes?

Anomia

I went to a game night this past week at my FLGS (friendly local game store). One of the new games I played was Anomia. It’s a fun little quick-thinking social word game. It’s pretty similar to Jungle Speed but with words instead of grabbing. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, read on.

In Anomia, there is a face-down draw pile of cards. Each card contains one of 8 or so symbols and a category (“Shampoo Brand”, “Restaurant”, “Radio Station”, etc.). On your turn, draw a card and place it face up on top of a pile in front of yourself. If at any time the symbols on two players’ top-most face-up cards match, those players race to name something from the category on their opponent’s card. Whoever manages to get something out first gets to take their opponent’s card as a point. Play continues until the decks run out.

There’s a nice tension between your turn and everyone else’s turn. When it’s someone else’s turn, you know what symbol is face up in front of you, so you’re just looking to see if that one symbol turns up. But on your turn, once you turn up the card, you have to see if your new symbol matches any of the other three. Switching back and forth between those modes, especially if everyone is playing quickly, is very mentally stimulating. And there are a couple of twists thrown in, in the form of wild cards (where it declares two different symbols as matching in addition to the normal matching rules) and lower cards being revealed when a card is taken for scoring (we had a chain of three scores in one of the games we played).

There was quite a bit of laughter in the game, and I think everyone had a good time. The game comes with two different decks, and after we played two games in a row with the same deck and found some of the same answers coming up, we made the rule that you couldn’t say something that had already been said, which made it even more interesting. And I can’t pass up the opportunity to mention that one of the points I scored with the category “Palindrome” was “Able was I ere I saw Elba” (generally, the shorter the response, the more likely you are to score a point, since we were awarding the point to the person who finished first, not started first).

And since I’m known as the person who hypes local things on this blog, I’ll mention that the game was self-published by someone living in Boston.

Sevendeck now on sale

A plug for a little bit of local craftiness:
7deck-joker-med.png

The Sevendeck is a deck of playing cards containing seven suits of seven numbers each. The suits are ranked both by color (ROYGBIV) and by the number of angled corners ("points") on their pips. As with a regular deck of playing cards, there are several games that can be played with a Sevendeck, with more on the way.

Sevendeck's designers are fellow Bostonian game fans Andrew Greene and Denis Moskowitz. You'll recognize Denis as an occasional poster here, and also as a frequent face on the show (he was Germany in the Diplomacy episode).

I have had the pleasure of helping them playtest some of the games posted on the 7deck.com website, and playing with a prototype deck. The new decks cost eight US dollars each, and they're accepting orders for this first print run only through Nov. 30, so hop to it if you'd like one for the holidays!

Game Design Concepts | Free Games

Ian Schreiber posted his last blog entry for the Game Design Concepts course today. My Russia trip followed by actually working derailed my plans to work along with the whole course, but I plan to go back and finish it some time soon. And you can too! He's leaving the course up, and there is a lot of valuable information in the 20 posts. In his last post, he says that he plans to do a class with a similar structure next summer, but this time on game balance.


I just won my second free game from Out of the Box. They have a contest in each monthly newsletter (you can have it emailed to you or you can grab it from their website), where you usually have to solve some kind of puzzle associated with a game. They have 25 winners each month, either the 25 best answers or randomly selected from all the correct answers. I won a copy of Letter Roll a few months ago, and I was just informed that I won a copy of Super Circle Stacking. I'm not sure how fun either game is yet, but, hey, free games!

Wishing Well

Last weekend, I visited my FLGS and picked up two games. Both were expansions, Dominion: Intrigue and Citadels: The Dark City Expansion (an older expansion, but not one I'd run across before for some reason). And there was a bit of interesting synchronicity: both games include a card called "Wishing Well". I did a brief search but couldn't find any other card games (collectible or otherwise) that contain a card called "Wishing Well".

Does anyone know of any other games with a "Wishing Well" card?

Games in Russia

I'm in Russia for 2 weeks. I thought it would be relatively easy to find a game shop in Moscow, find some nice games that haven't been released elsewhere, and bring them back home to play.

It turns out that adults in Russia play three games (if they play any): chess, backgammon, and a card game whose title translates to "Fool". I asked a number of people about other games, the kind of European strategy games I was hoping to find, and they were all baffled, suggesting that I should check out stores for children.

Well, there are games in stores for children, even some things like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. I didn't see any games that seemed to be Russian originals (except for uninteresting-looking games for little children). I saw a few that might be, but my Internet access has been almost non-existent here, so I couldn't easily check things out.

Someone asked me the other day if I could see myself living in Moscow. I had to answer that I couldn't, and one of the reasons is the lack of gaming culture among adults here (at least that I could find; I imagine there might be something among some small subsets of university students).

We gave a couple of games as gifts to people we were visiting: Modern Art (which I just recently played for the first time) and Coloretto. I doubt that the copy of Modern Art will ever get played. We managed to play several games of Coloretto with the people we gave it to (relatives), and they seemed to really enjoy it, but I imagine that the next time they will play it will be the next time we visit.

I'll have to investigate Russian gaming culture more once I get back home, so that I'll be prepared for my next trip here (probably in two to four years).

Game Design Concepts: Level 2

I'm not necessarily planning on doing a post for every lesson (twice a week for ten weeks), but I thought I'd post today since I made two games.

Today's lesson talked about what game design is, the iterative process, and the benefits of paper prototyping. The readings were the second chapter in Ian and Brenda's book and an article by Doug Church.

At the end of Chapter 2 of the book are five challenges. The first challenge is basically the same as the challenge from Monday, so I decided not to repeat that. Challenge 2 is to make a territorial acquisition game, and Challenge 3 is to make an exploration game. I did both of those, and I'll present them next. Challenge 4 is to make a game with the mechanic of picking up things by passing over them, like you would in many video games. I have the germ of an idea, but I want to think about it a bit more, since this is a bit tougher than the previous challenges. Challenge 5 is an "Iron Designer Challenge", similar to Iron Chef, where two teams are supposed to work on the same design. I may or may not get to this, as it is fairly specific (make a game about a Civil War battle without using territorial acquisition or destruction of the enemy as the primary mechanic), and I think this kind of specificity would make the resulting game interesting only if there were others to compare it to. Of course, there are 1400 people taking this course, so I may end up doing it.

Now, on to the games I made today. I welcome any feedback on the games.


The first game is a territorial acquisition game. I couldn't come up with a good name, so I'm just calling it Outgrow.


(Pictured above: The endgame of Outgrow. The four players were blue/purple, green/yellow, red/orange, and white/clear.)

Game: Outgrow

Players: Two to four

Theme: Each player represents a fungal colony, trying to outgrow the other colonies in the limited space available.

Materials: chess board, two Icehouse stashes for each player (10 each of small, medium, and large pieces)

Setup: Each player places a medium piece from his stash in a corner of the chess board. Randomly determine the first player.

Gameplay: A player may make one action per turn. There are four allowable actions:

  1. Grow a small piece into a medium piece.
  2. Grow a medium piece into a large piece.
  3. Make a medium piece spawn. Place two small pieces orthogonally adjacent to the medium piece, then replace the medium piece with a small piece (if you run out of small pieces, use a medium on its side to represent a small).
  4. Shoot off a spore from a large piece. Place a small piece up to three spaces away from the large piece in a straight line, either orthogonally or diagonally, then replace the large piece with a medium piece.
The one constraint is that you may not occupy a space that is already occupied.


Game end and winning: The game ends when there are no more empty spaces on the chess board. The winner is the player occupying the most squares. If there is a tie, then the winner is the tied player who has the larger pip count (small = 1, medium = 2, large = 3). If there is still a tie, then the winner is the tied player who had the fewest number of turns.

Analysis:I played one test game with four sides, and the final scores ended at 17, 17, 16, and 14, with one of the 17s having a medium while the other one had all smalls. Interestingly, the tied players started out by spawning their medium, and the other players started out by growing the medium to a large.


The next game is an exploration game. I've been interested in games that use a tarot deck where each major arcana has a different special ability (and this is now the second time that I'm mentioning that I intend to post about that here at some point, and maybe this will actually inspire me to do so), so I decided to make this game with a tarot deck. I didn't manage to get a special ability for each major arcana, but I think I got a decent selection of abilities. I may come back to this game idea and flesh out more powers (feel free to suggest some!).

Game: Tarot Dungeon (I couldn't come up with a decent name for this game, either)

Players: Two to four

Theme: Each player is a representative of one of four major powers who are working together to explore a dungeon and loot its treasure. Of course, each player has received secret instructions to get out first and seal the rest of the players inside.

Materials: tarot deck (can use a regular deck plus counters in seven different colors)

Setup: Separate the tarot deck into the major arcana and the minor arcana. Shuffle them separately. Put the minor deck in the middle of the table and set the major deck off to the side. Each player should choose a different suit (cups, disks, wands, swords, or whatever your deck uses). Randomly determine the starting player.

Gameplay: There are two phases to the game, going into the dungeon and leaving the dungeon. In the first phase, the starting player flips over the top card of the minor deck. If it matches his suit, he sets it in front of him and draws the top card from the major deck (he's found a treasure!); otherwise, he puts the card in the discard pile. Play continues clockwise until the minor deck is exhausted. (In the unlikely event that the major deck is exhausted, then play continues as normal, but new treasures are not drawn.)

This is the end of the first phase. All of the treasure has been found, and so players must race to the exit.

The first player of the second phase is the player with the least number of treasures. If there is the tie, then the first player is the tied player who went closest to last in the first phase. Reshuffle the minor discards (but not the ones that the players have kept) to form a new minor draw deck. The first player flips over the top card of the minor deck. If it matches his suit, he keeps it (separate from the cards drawn in the first phase); otherwise, he discards it. Play continues clockwise.

Game end and winning: The game ends when one player has collected five cards in the second phase. That player is the first to escape the dungeon, and he triggers a collapse, sealing the other players in the dungeon.

Treasures: Each treasure has a special ability. On a player's turn after he has flipped over a card (or sometimes before; see the list of abilities), that player may discard a single treasure card in order to activate its special ability. Once the active player has played a treasure card or passed on the opportunity to do so, each player in turn order has the option of playing a treasure card or passing. This continues until every player has passed in turn (i.e., there have been four passes in a row). A player may play more than one treasure card (assuming he plays one, then someone else plays one), and a player may pass but play a treasure card later in the round (assuming someone else plays a treasure card).

There are seven abilities, as follows:

  • Flip 2 - The player flips two cards instead of one. This is played before flipping. (Assign to major arcana 0-3.)
  • Denial - This is played when the active player flips a card that matches the active player's suit. That card is discarded. (Assign to major arcana 4-6.)
  • Leavings - This is played when the active player flips a card that matches your suit. You get that card. (Assign to major arcana 7-9.)
  • Counter - Nullifies the effect of the last-played treasure card. Note that a counter can be countered, which would let the original treasure card stand. Also note that Flip 2 can be countered (you go around playing or passing after a Flip 2 just as you would after a card is flipped). (Assign to major arcana 10-12.)
  • Double - If the card flipped is the same suit as the last card flipped, take the card that was just flipped. (Assign to major arcana 13-15.)
  • Weak Force - Take a card that you just flipped, even if it does not match your suit. (Assign to major arcana 16-18.)
  • Strong Force - Instead of flipping a card, simply take the top card. This may not be countered (but you might end up taking a card of your suit, thus wasting this treasure). (Assign to major arcana 19-21.)

Analysis: The idea is that the player with the most treasures will be bogged down the most, so they will be slower in getting out. For the second phase, in the minor deck, there will be the most cards matching the suit of the player with the fewest treasures. So theoretically, that player's lack of power will be balanced by their being more likely to flip a card that matches their suit. In the two test games that I played with four sides, one game was won by the player with the most treasures, and one game was won by the player with the fewest treasures. It's unclear whether the players in the middle are at a disadvantage.

Humor in Boardgames

After playing a game of Galaxy Trucker last night, I was pondering "funny" games. The post-game discussion consensus was that GT is "funny like RoboRally" as opposed to "funny like Munchkin.

In Munchkin-funny games, the components are funny. The cards have funny names or flavortext, and it's amusing to be attacked by thousands of orcs while you have a duck stuck to your head. I'd put Illuminati and Chez Geek in this category as well (not that Steve Jackson Games has a monopoly on these). These games are very funny to begin with, but (to me at least) become less amusing as you become more familiar with the cards. It's probably no coincidence that Munchkin and Chez Geek have a lot of expansion sets.

In RoboRally-funny games, the gameplay is funny. You make plans, you have an expectation of what will happen - and then something completely different actually occurs. Instead of sprinting along the conveyor belt and jumping off just as you reach the flag area, someone accidentally pushes you onto a turning block and you sprint in the entire wrong direction, jumping onto the conveyor belt that throws you into a pit. I'd also put Wiz-War and maybe Fluxx in this category. These games don't sound as funny on first glance or on a read-through but in actual play both the players and bystanders were laughing raucously as our Galaxy Trucker ships got blown to pieces by asteroids and pirates. These games stay funny as you play them.

A funny subject or cards, like in Munchkin, can be applied to a very strategic game (I'm sure there's some way to make Go funny) but RoboRally-funny games are by definition not strategic at all. I'm sure some people would be too frustrated by this to enjoy the game but I really like them.

Dominion and Race for the Galaxy (but mostly Dominion)

I went to a game night last week at my FLGS, Eureka! Puzzles and More, and I played Dominion. I had such a good time with it that I went and bought it immediately following the game night. I then played it the very next night with the same people I'd played it with at the game night, and then again quite a few times at a party last weekend instead of being social. It's one of my current favorite games.

Everyone starts with an identical small deck of ten cards consisting of money and victory points (worthless until the end of the game). You start out by drawing five cards, and then each turn you use some of them, discard all five, and then draw five more. So after the second turn, you're left without a deck. No problem! Just shuffle your discard pile, and that becomes your new deck.

The fun part comes with what you can do with your money. There is a common supply of cards in the middle of the table, each with a cost. Besides being able to buy victory points and money, there are also 10 types of action cards chosen from a set of 25. The rules list a suggested set of 10 cards to use for your first game, and they also list four other sets that you can use. There are 10 of each of these cards, more of each of three denominations of victory points, and more of each of three denominations of money. The game ends when any three of these piles are empty (i.e., people have bought the cards).

So what do you do when you buy a card? You put it in your discard pile. So you're adding it to your deck, but you don't get to use it right away. What you're doing, then, is slowly building your deck up so that it becomes able to do more and more, eventually letting you get victory points so that you can win the game.

I would almost describe this game as a multiplayer solitaire. Yes, there is indirect interaction with the other players in competition for the action cards (if you buy up most of one type, that leaves fewer for the other players), as well as some bits of more direct interaction through several of the action cards (there are action cards that attack other players, doing things like messing with the top of their deck, making them discard cards, and giving them curse cards worth negative victory points). However, mostly you're just playing your own game, trying to keep your deck balanced between action cards and money—you can only play one action card per turn (although there are action cards that give you more actions) and can only buy one card per turn (although there are action cards that allow you to buy additional cards)—while trying to decide when to add some space-wasting victory point cards (remember, you only draw five cards each turn, and every victory point you draw is a slot in your hand that's not something useful).

Most of the games I've played have ended up being races to get your deck working well enough for you to buy victory point cards worth six points. Six points for one space-wasting card is the most efficient way to do things, but it can take a while to get your deck to a place where you're able to buy those cards, the most expensive in the game. There is a second way to end the game, emptying the pile of six-point victory point cards, and this is how most of the games have ended.

Of course, one way (and the most fun way, in my opinion) to decide on the 10 action cards out of 25 to use is to do it randomly. It's almost like you're playing a different game with each combination. There are over three million ways to choose 10 cards from the set of 25 (and of course there are going to be expansions to add even more action cards), and some of those ways can be very different from each other. For example, some games you can have lots of money. The "Big Money" suggested set of cards in the rules is certainly not misnamed, as you can sometimes buy two six-point victory point cards in one turn. In other games, however, it can be a struggle to do anything. A recent game I played included three attack cards and no defense cards (the set of 25 only has one defense card). One of the attack cards gave every other player a curse card, which is bad enough that it gives you negative victory points at the end of the game, but it also takes up space in your deck. Another of the attack cards allows the player the chance to steal money from other players. With those two cards in each player's deck, there was only one six-point victory point card bought the whole game (there are a total of 12), decks didn't grow very large at all, and the total number of victory points in the game at the end was the same as at the beginning (i.e., the total number of curse cards given out exactly balanced the extra victory point cards players bought).

Having played close to 20 games of this so far, I think I can safely say that there's high replay value, and I will certainly be buying the expansions when they come out.


I've read a number of reviews for Dominion, and many of them mention another game, Race for the Galaxy. Most of the mentions are along the lines of, "Dominion is not like Race for the Galaxy." I suppose this is because some people have compared the two, and it's easy to see why. They're both card games, they both have you building up your own little world (in Race for the Galaxy, it's a tableau of planets and developments rather than a deck), and they both severely limit interaction between players.

However, Race for the Galaxy feels much more like a multiplayer game than Dominion does, even though the player interaction seems less important. Whereas in Dominion you can do some limited messing with other players' decks, in Race, you can't effect other players' tableaux at all. For those unfamiliar with the game (and I assume people are more familiar with Race for the Galaxy, since Dominion is much newer), in Race for the Galaxy, there are five phases (explore, develop, settle, consume, produce), and at the beginning of each round, each player secretly picks a phase. Then everyone plays each phase, but any players who picked that phase get a bonus associated with that phase (drawing more cards, spending less on developments, etc.). There can be times you want to do things in two or three different phases during your turn. Being able to only pick one phase yourself, however, gets you to playing the guessing game, trying to figure out which phases your opponents will pick so that you can pick another phase and get the bonus. It's possible, for example, that you want to play the develop phase, but you don't need the bonus associated with it. If you are reasonably certain someone else will be picking the develop phase, then you can safely pick, say, the explore phase, thus getting the bonus where you get more cards. However, if everyone thinks the same way, you could all end up picking the explore phase, and then you will have to hang onto your development card until the next round (when, of course, everyone else picks the develop phase . . . or will they?).

This form of player interaction, being able to do something based on which phase other players pick and giving other players the opportunity to do something in the phase that you pick, makes for a game with a lot more significant player interaction. Now, maybe I'm wrong about this. I've only played three or four games of Race (if you don't count the dozen or so games I've played of the solitaire game, which comes with the first Race expansion—I'd go into that, but this post is already long enough, and this is mostly a post about Dominion), but they've definitely felt much more interactive than any of my games of Dominion.

However, I'd be hard pressed to say which of these games I like better (and their BoardGameGeek rankings are currently 8 (Race) and 9 (Dominion)). The higher level of interaction makes Race for the Galaxy more mentally stimulating, but the constantly changing selection of action cards keeps Dominion very fresh, forcing you to reevaluate the strategy for each set of 10 action cards. Dominion is also quite a bit more friendly to people who aren't into games that are more complex, which means I'm a bit more likely to find people to play Dominion. I haven't bought Race for the Galaxy yet, but if I don't get it as a gift in the next month or so (I've dropped several hints), I will definitely pick it (and its expansion) up. Even if I don't get as much chance to play it with other people, the solitaire game is enough to make it worth the purchase.

I wonder what a solitaire version of Dominion would be like . . . (OK, after typing that, I went and checked BoardGameGeek. There is indeed a thread about solitaire variants, but none of them seem compelling enough for me to want to try, especially when compared to the quality of the Race for the Galaxy solitaire play.)

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