Alchemy in the Hinterlands

Hey everybody!
It’s about time I wrapped up that look at the Dominion expansions I started back in July last year, don’t you think? It’s been on my mind, anyway, so let’s get to it – starting with some Alchemy! (If you haven’t already, make sure to read my blogs on the Base Game and first Expansions!)

Alchemy was the first small-box expansion for the game back in 2010, and introduces a new resource to the game: Potions. Potions cost 4 gold, and come into play when you’re looking to buy some of the particularly powerful cards that form a strategy of top-deck manipulation. There’s also the new victory card Vineyard, which is worth VPs for each 3 action cards in your deck at game end, which can be particularly good for rewarding you for getting cards you need to play the game anyway. However, you don’t want to go buying up all the Potions cards as you would the big money cards, as you still need the gold to make them work for you. It’s an interesting expansion, though probably not one you want to mix in with other expansions.

Hinterlands is another interesting expansion, though a curious one, at that. I once read a review that called it “the Dominion players’ expansion”, which fits quite well, really. There is a broad theme of orientalism in the box, though in terms of mechanics, it’s just filled with interesting cards that bring about some interesting gameplay decisions. There’s no over-arching strategy to speak of, you just get more of the same but in a sort of niche way – it’s the sort of expansion you’ll want if you already own several expansions, but not if you’re looking to get your first. Ironically, Hinterlands was actually my first expansion for the game, bought primarily because I was interested in that orient flavour.

Dominion Dark Ages

Dark Ages is something of a behemoth expansion. The most card-heavy non-base-game product in the line, it has 500 cards for you to enjoy whole new ways of playing the game. Let’s take a look…

Dark Ages professes to be all about the trash, and all about the upgrade. Rather than Estates, players start with the Shelter cards in their hand, which provide you with bonuses when you trash them, allowing you to do stuff right off the bat. There are two cards that allow you to gain new cards when trashed, Urchin (to gain a Mercenary), and Hermit (to gain a Madman). These new cards can be quite powerful, but won’t stay with you for long. There are also Rats cards that can overrun your hand, which I find quite thematic!

A lot of the cards in Dark Ages have a sort of dingy, “used-up” feel to them. In a sense, this is the antithesis of Prosperity, where everything is new and shiny and expensive. It’s quite a nice feeling, in a weird kinda way! This is nowhere more plainly seen than in the Ruins cards – five sets of ten different cards that evoke earlier versions, such as Ruined Market or Ruined Library. These cards have a 0 cost but are generally not as good as other cards on offer. But at least they will allow you to get something you can later use if you’re running short of money. Continuing the theme of trash-interaction, there are cards that directly work off the trash pile, including the Rogue, which actually allows you to take a card from there. Some very interesting concepts and ideas available here, anyway! I actually found it took some getting used to this one, and would probably recommend playing some of the others first.

Finally, we have Guilds. Released back in 2013, at the time this was said to be the final expansion to the Dominion game line. It’s another that comes with metal coin tokens (shiny!), and features a new mechanic around overpaying for stuff. The coin tokens are therefore used to facilitate overpaying to gain maximum effect without spamming your deck with gold cards. A lot of positivity came out of this box, largely due to the theme of overpaying and such. Because you will likely go through the game gaining a lot of gold, it’s also one that combos well with Prosperity and all those big money shenanigans. A wonderful addition, at any rate!

As a postscript, let’s talk briefly about the new Adventures game that came out earlier this year. Some new card types come in the shape of Event cards, which grant an effect when purchased, and Reserve cards, which can be set aside for when you need it most. Duration cards make a return (originally introduced in Seaside), and there is a Traveler card that can be upgraded much like Dark Age’s Urchin/Mercenary or Hermit/Madman combo. It sounds like another solid expansion, at any rate, though I haven’t bought it so don’t know how it actually plays.

But there you have it! The full trawl through the game line of Dominion. I must admit to feeling fairly tired of the game these days, as I find myself sticking to the more thematic deck-building games such as DC or Marvel Legendary. I’ve had some fun with Dominion, don’t get me wrong – it can be really awesome when you set up a mega-combo that lets you buy half a dozen cards and draw most of your deck, for instance. But ultimately, it’s still just down to basic mechanics, without much in terms of theme coming through. You buy cards for their in-game effects, and nothing else, so it can be quite mechanical. Sure, some cards will have that flavour about them – Market forever springs to my mind – but I don’t feel it in the same way as I do with other games.

Dominion should definitely be tried at least once by any serious gamer, even if you’re already familiar with other deck-building games (indeed, particularly if you are familiar with them). However, I’d definitely advise caution before you drop a ton of money buying the expansions all at once, as I did…

Buy it from amazon:
Dominion
Dominion: Alchemy
Dominion: Hinterlands
Dominion: Dark Ages
Dominion: Guilds
Dominion: Adventures

Why I like deck-building games so much

It’s time for something a little different for game day here at spalanz.com today! While I normally showcase something awesome from my game collection, today I thought I’d just talk more about what seems to be the largest-represented subtheme of games that I have, the deck-building game, and why I like them so much.

Dominion, of course, is the grandfather of the deck-builders, and has a whole slew of expansions. First released in 2008, it ignited the spark that brought us so many more since. However, precisely because of the developments that have taken place in board games over these past seven years, I find Dominion to be quite a dry experience today, with its generic medieval-themed cards and its basic mechanics of buying as many cards as you can to win. There’s more to it than that, of course, and I won’t deny, managing to set up those killer-combos can be a lot of fun, but I eventually sold my Dominion collection earlier in the summer, as it had become a game that merely took up too much shelf-space.

Thunderstone (2009) immediately began to shake things up. Following the basic idea of having a set of cards that you can buy from, the game included a separate action that felt so much more like an actual game, where you went into a dungeon to fight some monsters. This is where the deck-building game really takes flight for me. While Dominion’s premise was to build a deck as the end result of your game, Thunderstone combined deck-building with an actual game to simple yet highly effective ends. Fans of Dominion will recognise the village as the usual card pool, but while in the older game, you bought cards which would allow you to buy more cards, and the goal was all about trying to refine your turn and maximise your resources, here you buy cards to actually do something with them. You hire warriors and buy equipment to outfit them better to fight the monsters.

There’s something about Thunderstone that remains highly appealing to me, and it’s a game that I continue to enjoy the more I play it. It’s the idea of deck-building for a reason that is so enjoyable for me.

Ascension (2010) is a curious blend of the two, I find. The biggest departure from both is that the “village” idea of a collection of cards you always get to choose from has now been replaced by a centre row of just six cards. This combines the idea of buying cards to refine your deck, as well as elements of the dungeon from Thunderstone, so that heroes and monsters can both emerge from the main deck. I think Ascension is my favourite type of deck-building game, and it’s also one of my favourites for the theme, also. It’s a fairly generic fantasy-style world, but the theme of each faction you can recruit really comes through very strongly. The best thing about this, however, is the variety that comes from having an ever-changing line-up of six cards. No two games will necessarily be the same, while Thunderstone has the potential if you use the same set-up (though the monsters will change as you go through, of course). Of the three games mentioned so far, Ascension wins hands-down for its variety!

I play most of my Ascension through the app, which is actually pretty awesome as well, and definitely worth downloading.

Rune Age (2011) is a curious mix from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a little bit like a pared-down Thunderstone, with just a few cards on offer to buy rather than the whole village. It also uses an event deck, which can be both beneficial and harmful. The greatest departure here, of course, is that you start out in a specific faction, and build up your deck from there. The object of the game varies with each event deck in play, and the result is almost like a third way for deck-building games. I love this game for so many reasons, chiefly among them of course is the setting of Terrinoth. However, while there is so much to enjoy right out of the box, it’s unfortunately starting to get a little stale for me now, as so much of any deck-builder is dependent on the different ways you can build your deck. For Rune Age, that depends on the faction you play, and also the event deck you use, and with only six of each to choose from, it has become clear that more variety is needed! But when it’s been a while between plays, it’s always a real pleasure to come back to this one.

DC Deck Building Game (2012) is almost a straight copy of Ascension, featuring a main deck and centre line-up of six cards, where you recruit heroes and fight villains. However, there’s an added element that makes it a little more exciting, but the theme is perhaps the greatest draw here. You get to play as classic DC superheroes, and fight the arch-nemeses such as the Joker and Lex Luthor. The design isn’t particularly ground-breaking, but the execution is really great, leading to a fairly straightforward, yet super-fun game. While the base game may be a pared-down Ascension with a superhero theme, subsequent expansions have introduced several different keywords that alter play a lot, while the Crisis expansions have really served to deliver a really interesting game experience. Importantly, Cryptozoic have used the game engine for several other deck-building games, that are all compatible with each other – Street Fighter, Naruto Shippuden, and Lord of the Rings to date!

Marvel Legendary (2012) continues the superhero theme, and has been one of the break-out games from the deck-building genre of recent years. Of course, the runaway success of Marvel movies no doubt has a part to play here, but the game is actually really, really great, more than justifying its success. It plays very much like two games of Ascension happening at the same time – or more accurately, a game of Ascension where the heroes and the villains have been separated out, so you have two decks that are spewing cards each turn. However, we’re very much back to deck-building with a purpose here, as the villains are being led by a Mastermind, who is trying to get his scheme to go off. The object of the game is always roughly the same – defeat the villains and the mastermind – but the addition of schemes means they always play a little differently. Subsequent expansions have succeeded in both appeasing the fanboy need for more superheroes and also enriching the game experience.

Marvel Legendary is definitely the deck-building genre grown up.

So what is it about these games? Why do I have so many, and why do I keep coming back to them?

Well, first of all, I love variety. I could have the same game in several different themes, and love them all equally. I love card games such as the LCGs from Fantasy Flight and the recently-discovered Magic, and deck-building is obviously a highly intrinsic part of such games. I’ve said it before that, for me, the best part of Android: Netrunner is the deck-building, as you try to put together the perfect deck that should, in theory, run like clockwork. Getting to make a game out of building a deck just sounds so cool, and the fact that it actually is cool is just the icing on the cake, really. In a game like Ascension or DC, you get to choose the cards you want to buy not because they’ll be worth a lot in the end (though that is certainly a strategy you could go with), but because they’ll allow you to do much more. It’s always fun to see people around the table start with the same basic cards, but end up building entirely different decks as they attempt to go about their strategies.

I said at the beginning that I’m not the biggest fan of Dominion any more, but I’m certainly more than grateful to it for having provided the basis for so many of my favourite games!

Prosperity at the Seaside!

Hey folks!
It’s Tuesday, so it’s game day here at spalanz.com! Today, we’re taking a look at some of the expansions to that behemoth of a deck-building game, Dominion! There are lots of these, of course, so I’ve decided to split the expansions into two groups, so we’re going to start at the beginning!

Dominion came out in 2008, and after a second core set, Intrigue, was followed by its first proper expansion in 2009, Dominion: Seaside. This is actually a great expansion, as it takes care of some of the principal weaknesses of the base game. Firstly, it brings in Duration cards that are orange in colour, and are played into your play area as normal. However, they provide an action for you next turn as well as this one, so it allows you to form more of a strategy for what you’re going to do. Secondly, there are cards that allow you to set cards from your hand aside, in particular the Island card that allows you to set aside it and another card for the duration of the game. This is particularly good for deck efficiency in keeping victory cards out, while still allowing them to count at the end of the game.

Overall, Seaside is a really strong expansion to the game, and you should definitely consider picking this one up if you’re a fan of the base game!

Seaside was followed by Prosperity in 2010. The second big-box expansion, Prosperity is all about the big money. Big Money is a common strategy in Dominion, of course, where the objective is to convert all your copper to lots of gold, which will allow you to buy up all the Provinces and win the day. Prosperity works with this by having a lot of expensive cards, including the more expensive Colony victory card, but it also has a lot of interesting Treasure cards anyway, such as Contraband that gives you 3 gold and allows you to make an extra buy (but the player to your left determines what you can’t buy). Counting House is actually an interesting card when working within the Big Money strategy, as it almost encourages you to keep those Copper cards in your deck.

Both of these expansions come with metal coin-like tokens, which really excited the nerd in me, as so many games like these have cardboard tokens for such things. Prosperity also includes victory point tokens, because there are a few Action cards like Monument, which will give you +1 VP token when you play it.

Cornucopia came out shortly after Prosperity, and is a more small-scale expansion to the game. The main mechanic here is that some cards will give you bonuses for having different cards in your hand or deck, such as Harvest, which gives you money for each different card on the top of your deck. There are also the five Prize cards, only one of each is included in the game. They come into play with the Tournament card, where you gain a Prize for revealing a Province from your hand. They have some fairly interesting abilities – certainly, they’re useful – and it’s nice to have something that rewards you for having Provinces in your hand (meaning playing with the Islands from Seaside might lead to some interesting decisions).

Dominion promos

Finally, let’s take a look at the five promo cards available for the game!* Out of all of these, my favourite is the Walled Village card, which was released at Origins 2011 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Carcassonne winning the Spiel des Jahres (the original German-language card is actually named after the French town). Its effect is a little too specific, if I’m honest, but it’s just the fact that it’s Carcassonne, y’know? Awesome times!

All of these expansions are really good additions to the line, providing a lot of more of the same while also introducing new strategies and a couple of extra mechanics. Dominion remains a very straightforward deck-building game, and these expansions manage to enhance the experience while at the same time keeping the gameplay fairly uncluttered and clear. I must admit, I’ve not played with multiple expansions, but the basic rules for choosing kingdom cards will mean that your games will never get truly complicated, allowing you to enjoy the game for its own sake, rather than providing an exercise in remembering rules. In this respect, they continue the tradition of German games being among the most clear in the world.

However, I kinda like the complexity that US designs have added into the deck-building mix. Dominion is actually fairly abstract, and while it can be a very rewarding experience to set up the perfect chain of action cards that allow you to do all sorts of shenanigans on your turn, ultimately I find it can be a bit stale after just one or two plays. Other deckbuilders, particularly Thunderstone and Marvel Legendary, have an actual gameplay mechanic, where you’re building a deck for a specific purpose, and I’ve become such a fan of these types that the pure deck-building of Dominion seems somewhat lacking. It’s great to come back to every once in a while, but I wouldn’t honestly say it’s something I love, even with expansion goodness added in.

So there you have it, my first-look at some of the Dominion expansions available. Not sure when I’ll get to the next lot, but hopefully it’ll be soon. At any rate – if you enjoy the base game, you’ll pretty much enjoy any of these, as they all work great with just the base game alone, offering new and exciting opportunities and combos that are definitely worth investigating!

Buy it from amazon:
Dominion
Dominion: Seaside
Dominion: Prosperity
Dominion: Cornucopia

*The promo cards are available through the boardgamegeek store, and there are actually now six such cards – the Prince came out in June last year. 

Some Sunday musings

Hey everyone!
It’s been something of a quiet week here, hence the solitary game-day blog on Tuesday I suppose. Did anyone read it? It’s about Dominion, the grandfather of the deck-building games, and one that I often enjoy, but rarely get to play. See, deck-building games have evolved so much since Dominion burst onto the scene that going back to the original can sometimes be a little, well, boring. Take, for example, Marvel Legendary, which is a deck-building game where you also get to fight classic Marvel villains (or heroes!) as you build your deck. Or Thunderstone, where you have the option of acquiring cards in the deck-building manner or delving into a dungeon to fight monsters in your search for the legendary thunderstone. These games, with their increased options that have refined the deck-building genre into a more recognisable game usually find their way to the table more often than the one that started it all. A shame, really.

This coming Tuesday, I hope to do something a bit different with my game day blog, so hopefully you’ll all enjoy that!

I have an essay due next week, so have been working on that for the past few days, also. Have you read the Odyssey? It’s a really good book anyway, but studying it can make it so much more interesting. The book details the return of Odysseus from the Trojan War, when he finds his palace overrun with suitors to his wife Penelope, all of whom believe he is dead. The book begins with his son Telemachus on something of his own hero’s journey, and the essay poses a question about hospitality in the ancient world as seen through his experiences. It’s a cracking read, like I say, but the translation that forms the set book for my course is really uninspiring. If you’d like to investigate what on earth I’m talking about, I recommend the Penguin translation, by EV Rieu. I used that when I studied the Odyssey at A level, and it’s much more readable.

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The Fall of Altdorf #Warhammer

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I’ve been reading The Fall of Altdorf since its release earlier in the month, and finished that at the beginning of last week. The second book in the End Times series, it loosely follows on from The Return of Nagash, though the events of that book take on much more of a back seat. At the end of the first book, Nagash raised Vlad von Carstein back from the dead (again), and that provides the link here. In this book, we see the forces of Chaos march against the Empire, with the Vampire Counts forming a third arc to the story. The book has obviously strong ties to the Glottkin release it accompanied, so we see the pestilent swarm cutting a huge swath through the Empire, decimating all that it leaves behind.

Please be aware, I’m discussing spoilers for the book here!

I was really, deeply impressed with this book. While I have, to some extent, enjoyed every Warhammer novel I have read so far, this one was like a new experience for me, as I devoured as much as I could of it night after night. I’ve never really been all that interested in the Empire before – it’s always been just the humans in a setting with much more fantastical creatures to pique my imagination – but Chris Wraight has successfully interested me with this book! I already have the Swords of the Emperor omnibus, along with Luthor Huss and the War of Vengeance novels, so have now moved onto Luthor to see what I’ve missed! Of course, it feels a bit daft, as the Empire is pretty much left in tatters at the end of this book, with some pretty major characters killed off or MIA. Currently, Luthor is one of the latter, so at least there’s the outside chance that we’ll see him again. But what on earth was all that stuff with Karl Franz? Jeez! Looks like this book might also have been the turning point in the End Times: while in book one we saw the great necromancer Nagash rise, presumably with evil intent, here we’ve seen the rise of “a new god” to possibly oppose this. Makes me wonder if the series will end with something like triumph, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

At any rate, I really enjoyed this book, and cannot recommend it enough. Pretty much every GW store I’ve been to still has copies left over, so it shouldn’t be as hard as the Nagash novel to pick up, anyway!

End Times Glottkin

The two-book release for the Glottkin continues the standard of that for Nagash, though they do appear to be a little thinner than the first set. Hm. At any rate, beautiful artwork and amazingly painted miniatures accompany the story of the fall of Altdorf, laid out in a series of chapters that almost form set-piece battles in the first book, which are then given battleplans and rules in the second for you to recreate on the tabletop.

On the subject of Warhammer, remember my Tomb Stalker? That painfully intricate model that took me about two weeks to assemble and paint? Well, he fell off the bookcase last week, breaking the body in half, and snapping most of the legs off. So it was a pain in the ass but I managed to put him back together again, and I’m hoping that you can’t tell…

Necron Tomb Stalker

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Chickpea dahl

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I’ve decided to keep up the tradition of Big Game Saturdays leading up to xmas, so following on from Runebound last weekend, I had an epic game of A Touch of Evil, with the Something Wicked expansion thrown in. That proved to be a really awesome game, and really goes to reinforce just how much I enjoy that whole game line!

A Touch of Evil

Epic, and wonderful! I think next week I might give something like Eldritch Horror an outing, as I haven’t played that game since May…

Going back to Flying Frog, however, we had another Shadows of Brimstone update this week, which told us that the games are currently stuck in transit between Germany and the UK, but should hopefully be shipping out within the next week. I’m starting to lose faith in this, to be perfectly honest, as it’s been taking so long and stuff, but we’ll see what next week brings! I’m sure, when the game and all the additional kickstarter goodness is in my hands, this will all be a distant memory…

My other kickstarter nightmare, Fallen, seems to be going equally badly. It’s coming up to a year since the game was initially supposed to be shipped, of course, and the most recent update (which arrived this morning) puts it at four weeks before we should all have the game in our hands. That seems to be cutting it awfully close, to me, and I don’t actually expect to have it before xmas. Of course, I might be pleasantly surprised, but still.

These two experiences are really putting me off the kickstarter thing, anyway, and I’m thinking I might not actually bother with any more. But anyway, at least Lagoon was a breeze! I still want to try that game out…along with about a dozen others…

The grandfather

Morning everybody!
Today I’m going to make good on something I’ve been talking about, it seems, since my blog began. I’ve been looking at a lot of my favourite games over the course of this blog, a fair few of which are deck-building games. Almost par for the course, one game has been mentioned in those blogs that I have yet to get to – but no more! For today, I’m going to throw the spotlight of awesome onto Dominion.

Dominion

This is the original deck-building game – the game that has spawned so many since:
Street Fighter
Marvel Legendary
Thunderstone
DC Deck Building Game
– Ascension
Dark Gothic
Arcana
Rune Age

The list goes on and on. All of these would not have been possible without Dominion, which first saw the light of day in 2008. The game is gloriously simple – you are trying to score Victory Points, which you get through buying cards. In order to buy these cards, you’ll have to buy other cards. From your starting hand, you have to build your deck to gain the cards you need from an available pool. When either three stacks of cards in this pool have been run down, or when the highest-scoring Victory Point card stack has run down, the game is over and the player with the most VPs wins. It’s very straightforward, but it can also be very strategic, and a whole lot of fun!

Dominion

Dominion

You start the game with a basic hand of seven Copper cards and three Estate cards, so the lowest score you will ever have is 3 VPs. The strategy comes from the Kingdom cards, which are the ones that allow you to do stuff to manipulate the basic flow of the game. On your turn, you can buy one card, you can play one action card, then you have to discard any unplayed cards and draw a new hand. Action cards can allow you to do other stuff, however:

Dominion

Being able to set up chains like the above is something that I love about this game:
– You use your action to play Festival, which gives you 2 more actions, as well as allowing you to buy up to 2 cards, and gives you an extra 2 gold to use;
– You play Market, which gives you another action as well as another buy and another gold, plus allows you to draw another card (3 gold/2 buys/2 actions left);
– You then play Village, giving you 2 more actions and drawing another card (3 gold/2 buys/3 actions left);
– You then play Smithy, to draw 3 more cards (3 gold/2 buys/2 actions left);
– You then play Woodcutter, which gives you one more buy and two more gold (5 gold/3 buys/1 action left);
– Your final action is to play Workshop, which allows you to immediately gain any card from the Kingdom costing up to 4 gold (5 gold/3 buys left).

Depending what gold cards you drew in your initial hand (with this sequence, you could potentially have four additional cards in your hand with this action chain resolved), you have a lot of options now!

Dominion

The other “strategy” that seems to be popular is the Big Money idea of buying up Gold cards as soon as you can, and trashing your Coppers. The idea being that you can then have a better chance of buying Province after Province and getting a high score that way. I put the quotes there, however, because this seems like an extremely boring way of playing – aside from missing out on the depth that comes from the various action cards, it just seems really meh. The other thing to remember, of course, is that the VP cards don’t do anything for you in-game, so if you go on a buying spree like this, you run the risk of clogging up your hand with cards that you can’t do anything with.

Dominion also includes player interaction, with certain action cards being attack cards. One of these, the Witch, gives your opponents Curse cards that are worth negative VPs at the end – having a Moat can help to ward off these attacks, however.

Dominion

Player interaction isn’t really what Dominion is about in the core set, however, as you’re trying to build your own domain rather than hindering others from building theirs. Later expansions do build on this, however, with more attack cards coming. And luckily, there is a whole slew of expansions for this game!

Dominion

I’ll be taking a look at these in another blog. I was originally intending to include them all here, but each expansion introduces new mechanics that, taken together, would create something of a monster blog. However, I will mention the next box in the set, Dominion: Intrigue.

Dominion Intrigue

This is basically a second core set for the game. While the expansions focus on adding new Kingdom cards, Intrigue does this but includes all of the money and VP cards you need to provide a self-contained game. As with pretty much all of the Dominion line, the experience is very much a ‘more of the same’, however there are some differences. Intrigue introduces hybrid cards that provide VPs as well as in-game effects, as well as focusing on cards that present the player with a choice in how they are used.

Dominion

The last box I’ll look at here is the replacement basic cards.

Dominion

This box includes new art for the base cards used in the game, some of which is really very nice, I have to say! The base cards included here take in those from the entire line, so we also have stuff from Prosperity and Alchemy.

Dominion

When I first came across this, I was a bit confused as I thought it could potentially undermine the need for the base game – getting this box and one of the expansions would allow you to play the complete game. However, it’s not really cost-effective to do that, as the core box is cheaper than two combined boxes. But anyway.

Dominion is a subtle and elegant little game, with a lot to enjoy about it. While I tend to vacillate in my enjoyment of it, as I sometimes find the collection of victory points a little less than stimulating, I nevertheless appreciate it for what it is. If you’ve never played a deck-building game before, you should definitely try it. Even if you’ve played one of the other games mentioned at the beginning of this blog, you should still take a look at the grandfather of them all!

Buy it from amazon:
Dominion
Dominion: Intrigue
Dominion: Base Cards