In June 2008, Dominion hit game groups like a card-carrying bullet train, overrunning play sessions for months at a time and racing high up Boardgamegeek's Top 100 list. A rapturous hit for publisher Rio Grande Games, Dominion won many awards, including the 2009 Spiel des Jahres (the German Game of the Year award), and to date has spawned 10 foreign editions and an online version.
What's the big deal? Rio Grande's own page offers few clues, and the BoardGameGeek page makes for dry reading. The best path to Dominion, and nowadays to every popular board or card game, is through YouTube. Start with Tom Vasel's "Dice Tower" Dominion video review, then click around for tutorials and sample games. (Spend a rapt hour watching grainy webcam vids of your favorite hobby to understand, bone-deep, why network TV is doomed.) Oh, and while you're on YouTube, check out the 1987 Sisters of Mercy hit "Dominion/Mother Russia," which has nothing to do with the game but helps me suck up to my editor.
Then buy Dominion. Just do it. Get three other players, stack the card piles and watch your group get bulldozed too.
The Big Deal
Dominion is a highly original deck-building game that feels like an entire Magic: The Gathering tournament draft in 30 minutes. Nominally it's about building a medieval kingdom, but that's all abstract so nobody cares. The playing area presents face-up stacks of cards representing coins, actions and victory points. In each game you lay out 10 sets of action cards, selected from a larger group of nearly two dozen sets. Each player starts with a fixed 10-card deck and, drawing five cards per turn, uses them to buy new cards from the central stacks. Some action cards grant additional coins, card draws or further actions. As the game progresses your deck grows and becomes unique. The object is to accumulate the most victory points in your deck by game's end.
Five minutes into your first Dominion game, you feel that Magic buzz all over again: the thrill of Tinkertoys, of two tons of Lego parts waiting for you to snap them together. Fast, elegant and balanced like a yogi, the design reveals tempting new tactics turn by turn. You'll probably lose that first game - calamitously - yet your fingers will twitch with eagerness to shuffle and try again.
Dominion's approach plays to one of the major cultural forces of our time: unbundling. The newspaper, a patchwork of content with only a few articles that interest any given reader, has given way to aggregator sites and build-your-own RSS feeds. TV networks are weakening against on-demand viewing and (see above) YouTube. The act of unbundling, of fine-tuning your engagement with the material, encourages a unique, involving, creative experience. In card games like Magic, you can customize your deck to so fine a point, it practically embodies your life philosophy.