Introduction to the Dominion Card Game
The Dominion card game was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and initially published by Rio Grande Games in 2008. While the game is fairly easy to adapt for larger numbers, the best gaming experience is usually had when four or less players compete. With five to ten minutes of set up and at least thirty minutes of actual play, the gaming experience usually takes between forty and forty-five minutes. For beginners, it would be wise to plan on at least an hour.
Dominion is a designer card game, not one played with a standard deck of playing cards (the kind used for Spades or Hearts or Poker, etc.). To be successful, cards are acquired and added to each player’s deck during game play. Thus, the Dominion card game is a “deck-building” card game. During the game players use cards drawn from their individual decks to purchase or otherwise obtain more cards according to their chosen strategies the perceived value of available cards.
Each player’s deck is considered a Kingdom. And, the storyline of the game is that each Kingdom is being employed to conquer as much “territory” as possible. This is done through the acquisition of specific types of Dominion cards, which leads me to…
Dominion Card Game: Card Types
There are five main types of cards in the Dominion game. The types are as follows: Action, Reaction, Treasure, Victory, and Curse. Each serves a unique function within the game, although several cards are hybrids that can function as dual-type cards (i.e., a single card could be both an Action card and a Victory card).
Action Cards in the Dominion Card Game
While all five classes considered as a whole make Dominion what it is (an exceedingly popular and enjoyable pastime!), the Action cards are what give lasting vibrancy to the game. They are the primary class of cards that actually DO things and generate effects within the game and provide the great variety that characterizes it. Action can when played: gain more actions or buys (see the next section for more details), gain positive cards or get rid of negative cards, have multi-turn effects, or be used to attack opposing players. Including the latest expansion, Dominion Hinterlands, there are 157 Kingdom cards presently available in the Dominion world, and most of them are Action cards.
Treasures in the Dominion Card Game
Treasure cards are the game equivalent of money. They all play some sort of economic role within the game. There are both static Treasure cards (Copper, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Potion) and dynamic ones that carry an economic function within the game. These are the initial, and often primary, means of deck building as they allow the purchase of other strategic cards during play and are almost always played during the Buy phase. Treasure cards are denominated in “Coin,” with the standard Treasure cards being denominated as follows: Copper = 1 Coins; Silver = 2 Coins; Gold = 3 Coins; Platinum = 5 Coins. The higher the Coin value of the card, the more expensive it is to obtain.
Victory Cards in the Dominion Card Game
Obtaining more Victory Points (VPs) than the other competitors is how a person wins a Dominion game. Some expansions allow for varied means of obtaining VPs, but most iterations of the Dominion card game are won or lost based on the primary source of VPs, the Victory cards. The three main types of Victory cards are Estates, Duchies, and Provinces. As with Treasure cards, there are also Victory cards that provide Victory Points based on varied criteria. Usually this entails a tally of some sort and VPs awarded based on the tally results. At the end of each game, the VPs contained within each player’s deck are counted, and the winner is the player with the most of them.
Curses in the Dominion Card Game
Curses are simply cards that represent -1 Victory Point. They are usually involuntarily obtained as a result of an opponent’s attack. They not only decrease the VP total, but they also bog down a deck, thus minimizing the ability to successfully implement a planned strategy.
Reaction Cards in the Dominion Card Game
The last major class of cards are Reactions. Reaction cards are cards that called into action in response to external events, usually the playing of an attack Action card by an opponent. Most Reaction cards also carry a more primary function and can be used as either an Action or a Treasure if there is nothing to which they may react. Reaction cards are important during game play, but since they are only triggered by certain external events, they are a less-central game component.
Dominion Card Game: Setup
There is not a specific appearance or order mandated when arranging the cards prior to playing. There is, however, an example tableau depicted in the instruction manual that comes with the Dominion card game. In general, most people play with the Treasure card stacks and Victory card stacks arranged according to the cost and relative strength of the cards and with the Action cards arranged in rows according to ascending cost.
This playing area is the “Dominion Board” (Dominion is not actually a board game). Surveying and analyzing the card offerings laid upon the board is the first step toward success. But, that is not the focus of this article and is addressed elsewhere on this site.
While the physical order of the Dominion card game is not specified (and doesn’t really matter), the components of each game are well-defined. Each game setup must include 10 stacks of Kingdom Cards, at least 3 stacks of Treasure cards, at least 3 stacks of Victory cards, and one stack of Curse cards. The Copper, Silver, Gold, Estate, Duchy, Province, and Curse card stacks are present in every game. Determination of which 10 Kingdom Card stacks accompany the 7 stacks just mentioned can be done at random or by selection. Once the card stacks are arranged, the Dominion card game is set to commence.
Basic Play of the Dominion Card Game
At the beginning of the game, each play shuffles 7 Copper cards together with 3 Estate cards and randomly draws 5 cards from the newly formed deck. These cards are then used during the three phases of a player’s turn. The three phases are the Action, Buy, and Cleanup phases – which conveniently forms the acrostic “ABC” for easy remembrance. If a player is indicated to draw at any point during a turn and no cards are left in his deck, all cards in the discard pile are re-shuffled and may then be drawn.
Each player begins his turn with one Action. To play an Action card, the Action must be used, and the instructions on the played card must be followed exactly. Many Action cards grant more actions, buys, or Coins. Strategic use of Action cards can greatly increase the number of cards played each turn by creating “chains” or “engines.”
Once a player either exhausts available Actions or runs out of Action cards to play, the Buy phase is entered. Each turn is started with only one Buy, but more can be generated during the Action phase. Treasure cards may only be played in the Buy phase, and additional cards may only be bought during the Buy phase. Additionally, Coins generated during the Action phase may also be spent during the Buy phase, but the number of purchases is strictly limited to the number of Buys available. The cost of each card is noted on its bottom left corner.
The cleanup phase is simply collecting all played cards, spent cards, and cards gained during the turn, putting them into the discard pile, and then drawing the next hand of 5 cards. If there are not 5 cards available on his deck, the number available are drawn. Then, the discard pile is shuffled and the remainder are drawn until the player holds 5 cards in hand.
Ending the Dominion Card Game
The game is over when all the Province cards have been bought (or Colony cards if playing with Dominion Prosperity) OR when any three card stacks are exhausted. Either case ends the game. Then, all the Victory Points in each deck are counted, and the player with the most is the winner.
Helping you be the winner is why this site exists, so keep working your way through this introductory tutorial. Before you know it, you’ll be winning your fair share of games!