Dominion Deck-Building Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide (2019)
Dominion is one of the most widely-played deck building games in the world. The Dominion core game is a great introduction to deck building mechanics for both new players and veteran gamers alike. Players will love the aspects of Dominion that allow for creativity and customization.
- You can create your own personal decks
- You will pull off ridiculous combos (to the dismay of fellow players)
- Every game will look different, while the general concept remains the same
With new expansions still coming out and countless supply deck combinations, there’s a lot to love about this game. Prepare to learn everything you need to know about the Dominion core game, strategies, cards, and combos, and why this game is such a modern gaming phenomenon.
- Introduction to Dominion and Deck Building
- A Brief Overview of Dominion
- A List of All Expansions
- Unboxing Dominion
- How to Play Dominion
- Your First Game of Dominion
- The Pros & Cons of Dominion
- A Sampling of Core Game Setups
- Dominion FAQs
We hope you enjoy this detailed resource! Feel free to skip around and don’t forget to let us know how you like your first game of Dominion.
Note: Dominion: Second Edition is the current edition that is available on the market. They have changed the art on the cards and swapped out some old cards for new ones. In this article, we will only be speaking about the cards from the Second Edition.
Dominion (Second Edition)
In Dominion, each player takes the role of a monarch of the land. Each deck represents your very own “Dominion”. What does every monarch need in order to increase their wealth and influence? Land!
Victory points in the game are represented by land cards, quantifying the prosperity of your dominion. The additional cards in the deck will represent various forms of wealth, assets, and citizens, which you can use to increase your wealth and increase your land (earn victory points).
The strategy of the game is intimately connected to the way you build your decks. There’s no one strategy that is better than another, and 4 players starting out with the exact same hand and given the same options, will each have a completely different deck and strategy by the end of the game.
Dominion was first published in 2008 by Rio Grande Games and was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino. He must be a really fun guy to have a beer with because the rulebooks (of every expansion) includes a hilarious introduction:
Dominion’s main game mechanic is deck building and was the first of its kind. Donald X. Vaccarino who was inspired by his love of games and his previous job working on Magic: The Gathering created something truly special in Dominion. The idea of a big box board game where players are able to draft or build a deck from cards in the box rather than purchasing individual card packs to build a deck (Magic, Yugioh, Pokemon) can be traced back directly to him.
Dominion has often been imitated, but never quite replicated.
It is the first and most popular of its type and usually a player’s first introduction to deckbuilding. Unlike other card games where players draw from a shared deck, each player begins the game with the same 10 card deck and uses their initial cards to buy others to essentially “build their own deck”.
Since its debut in 2008, Dominion has published a total of 10 big box games and 3 small box expansions. Both sets of core games (Dominion & Intrigue) have been recently updated with new cards and revised to fix some issues with the original games. It’s very easy to play just a few games of Dominion then wake up the next morning to a shelf full of expansions. (I am a terrible impulse buyer when it comes to games. We have every expansion.)
The good news is if you like the core game, you’re in for a real treat! Dominion has tons of expansions that will keep the game fresh and exciting for years to come.
If you’d like to dive into expansions, check out the Game Cows in-depth guide to Best Dominion Expansions!
Players who enjoy strategy and planning will especially enjoy building their decks and executing chained combos… to the annoyance of their fellow players.
We have played Dominion with every combination of players from 2-6 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Once, we even made up our own rules and played with 7 players by adding additional cards from another base set that we owned.
The ideal number of players: 4
Playing with 4 players ensures that each person will have plenty of options and the table won’t seem too crowded. Attacks also have plenty of targets so players won’t feel as if they’re being ganged up on, which can sometimes happen in a 3 player game.
Step One: Open the box.
Step Two: Cut a hole in the box… Wait, what? No, no, no! Stop that.
It won’t look like much at first glance. It simply includes several stacks of cards all put together.
The first step is taking out all of the cards and sorting them in the box. Dominion comes with an insert that should fit perfectly in between the two rows of cardholders and will show you where each card belongs. Personally, the only things I seem to be able to keep organized in my life are my board games (or so Kendra tells me).
Sometimes when you unbox a game you get a ton of components, and the box organizers are completely inadequate to handle it all (Arkham Horror is an example of terrible box organization). Every Dominion expansion, however, is perfectly organized. Each card has its own individual home and the cardboard insert fits flawlessly to ensure you can read and see every card.
TL;DR – If you want to dive right into the game, skip to “Your First Game of Dominion” below.
Now that we’ve unboxed and organized our Dominion game let’s actually start to learn how to play it.
The object of the game:
To acquire more victory points in your deck than any other player when the game ends.
That is a complete oversimplification of the rules but it doesn’t make it any less true. At the end of the game, your deck doesn’t matter. Your cool combos don’t matter. Your treasures don’t matter. Those are all a means to an end. It all comes down to how many victory points are in your deck at the end of the game. However… getting to that point is the fun part of the game.
What can I do on my turn?
At its simplest form, every player can make one action and make one buy from the supply pile.
There will be many cards that change what you can do in every game, but we’ll discuss that later. What you need to know is that its core every player on every turn has 1 action, and 1 buy.
Ending the game:
The game can end one of two ways. When either scenario occurs, players must then count up the victory cards in their decks. The player with the most victory points (after subtracting curses) wins.
Game End Scenario #1:
The last province card is purchased.
Once the last province card is bought then the game is immediately over. Players will then count up the Victory cards in their deck and a winner is announced.
Game End Scenario #2:
Three (3) of the supply piles are empty.
The game requires 10 supply piles. These are the cards that players can purchase for their decks in the game. Once 3 of them are completely empty the game ends, regardless of how many provinces are still in the game.
That’s the beauty of Dominion. The rules are simple, are easy to pick up and play, yet it offers so much strategy and depth that you could spend days going down the rabbit hole and playing different combinations of cards without ever reaching the limit of what you could potentially do with a deck.
Now that we understand the goal (acquiring victory points), let’s look at the terminology and the other types of cards that you’ll see for the rest of the game.
- Copper (Cost: 0 / Value: 1)
- Silver (Cost: 3 / Value: 2)
- Gold (Cost: 6 / Value: 3)
Treasure cards are used to purchase other cards. The more treasure cards you have in your deck, the more likely you’ll be able to purchase higher cost cards. Be careful though, if you only buy coppers it’ll be more difficult to purchase high-level cards without the help of some combos or action cards.
All three treasure cards are used in the base setup of every game. You will pull these out of the box every time you play.
- Estate (Cost: 2 / Value: 1)
- Duchy (Cost: 5 / Value: 3)
- Province (Cost: 8 / Value: 6)
- Gardens (Cost: 4 / Value: 1 for every 10 cards in your deck) (Not part of the core set)
- Curse (Cost: 0 / Value: -1 victory point) (Sometimes included in the core set)
Victory cards will be outlined in green. They represent the territorial assets of your dominion and are the way you win the game.
“So,” you may find yourself asking, “Why don’t I just buy victory cards right away if that’s how we win?”
Good luck with that. You can definitely try that strategy, but I can almost guarantee that you will lose. The downside to having too many victory cards in your hand is that they (usually) don’t do anything. They just take up space in your hand and your deck and have no value until the end of the game.
If you start buying victory cards too early then you’ll find yourself with a hand full of useless cards that you can’t use. However, if you buy too late, you might find that you won’t have enough turns to buy victory cards before the end.
When you decide to start collecting victory cards is an important aspect of any Dominion player’s strategy. What usually happens, though, is when one person starts buying victory cards, everyone else does too – so as not to be left in the dust.
Curses will be outlined in purple. They are their own separate category because they are worth negative points. We’ll discuss those in detail with action cards.
- Action Cards
- Attack Cards
- Reaction Cards
- Victory Cards
Every game there will be a combination of 10 chosen cards (excluding the base cards mentioned earlier). These 10 cards will make up the supply decks.
These cards give you actions. Just because you start the turn with one action doesn’t mean you only get one action. Many cards will show +1 or +2 actions, allowing you to play multiple action cards in a single turn.
Be mindful of the order in which you play them to maximize the number of cards you can play.
Draw and/or discard cards:
These are just as they sound. Certain action cards allow you to discard cards and/or draw cards. This will allow you to draw more treasure to use on your turn or to mill through your deck if you’re looking for a specific card.
Game Cows Tip: Timing is important when using your last action on a draw-card because you might end up drawing additional action cards that you won’t be able to use.
Trashing a card removes a card from your deck and permanently out of the game.
Trash cards go into their own discard pile that is basically a card graveyard that nobody touches for the rest of the game.
There are Dominion expansions (read more about expansions here) that allow you to retrieve cards from the trash pile.
Attack cards are types of action cards that give you some kind of advantage while putting the other players at a disadvantage. These cards force other players to discard cards, making them play the round with a smaller hand, thereby limiting their strategic options. Attack cards can give other players a curse card, which ends up filling their decks with useless cards that are worth -1 victory point each at the end of the game. (Curses are the worst.)
Attack cards sometimes force a player to trash a card (removing it from the game completely). In addition to pissing off your fellow players, attack cards can also give you some kind of advantage (just like an action card).
Reaction cards are a special type of action card. When playing them they work just like a regular action card, but they also have additional text that can be activated when the conditions on the card are met.
- Reaction cards can be used as normal action cards.
- If conditions on the card are met can perform an additional action that gives the user some kind of benefit.
Let’s look at the Moat card as an example. If played as a regular action, a Moat allows you to draw 2 cards on your turn. If you have a moat in your hand when a player plays an attack card on you then you can reveal your Moat to the attacking player and you are unaffected by the attack.
Moat’s reaction condition is met when you are the target of an attack and the result is that you are unaffected by the attack and can ignore the attack just by revealing a Moat in your hand. You do not have to discard it and it can still be used on your next turn.
Some reaction cards require you to discard or trash cards for other benefits but in the core game, your only reaction card is the Moat.
For each game setup, there will be the base common cards that will always be in every game of Dominion.
Supply Deck: For each game setup, 10 cards will form the supply deck.
Discards: Every player will have their own personal discard piles. Whenever you no longer can draw cards you’ll reshuffle your own discard pile and put it under your current draw pile.
Your Hand: Players draw up to five cards, and actions and attacks can either reduce that number or increase the size of your hand depending on their abilities. Having more cards is definitely an advantage, but sometimes you get a handful of awesome cards, but you’ll only have one action to play or one buy.
Draw Pile: Every player will be building their own deck (deck building, get it?) Each players deck will be unique and made mostly of cards they’ve chosen.
Step One: Gather your players and grab these base cards.
First, every player is dealt 7 coppers and 3 estates. This is the general starting hand for every game of Dominion. Some expansions will sometimes change the starting cards and swap out the estates but every expansion (up to this point) keeps the coppers the same. No need to worry about this yet, as we are just getting started with the Dominion base game.
Next, you need to choose your setup and build your supply decks. In the instruction booklet of every Dominion game, you will find several preset setups and usually options for how to integrate that particular expansion with others.
For your first game, I would suggest the “First Game” setup which is also listed in this article.
This setup is designed to give players an even advantage and to get used to the cards and how the game is played. Overall, it’s a nice introduction to the game. As you play more, you can randomize games, but sometimes you might end up with cards that don’t make sense together, and I prefer to see how the cards interact. It’s one of my favorite parts of the game.
So if you’re following along we’re going to play with the “First Game” setup.
Let’s get started! You’re going to want to grab the following stacks out of the box. These will be your supply piles for the first game.
Once you’ve selected all the cards you need out of the box, you can arrange them in any order you want. Alphabetically, by card cost, by color, or whatever takes your fancy. It doesn’t particularly matter, as long as everyone can reach and see the cards. We usually like to arrange them by card cost: least to most expensive.
My game group is especially particular about the card order and we set up our cards like this.<
Starting the Game
Every player should now have a deck of 7 coppers and 3 estates, the supply should have 10 piles, and the base cards should all be set out.
First thing I like to do is read through all of the card descriptions as a group to give each player an idea of what the cards do. This allows us to start formulating our strategies and planning out the cards we want to buy.
Once that’s done, every player will draw 5 cards (your hand) and the first player begins. Because everyone starts with the same number of cards in their hand, the maximum treasure that any player can draw on their first turn is 5 coppers and the lowest anybody will ever draw is 2 coppers. This can seem insignificant, but being able to buy a 5 cost card from the start can make a huge difference at the beginning of the game.
Your First Buy
The first player will then choose to buy a card from the supply pile and show the required number of Treasure cards in their hand and draw one card from the supply pile. You do not discard the treasures as you use them, you simply show them to make your purchase, then discard them into your own personal discard pile, along with the action/treasure/victory card you just purchased.
On the first and second turn nobody will have action cards to play on their turn, so after their buy phase, the turn will end. When your turn ends you discard the entirety of your hand (even if you didn’t use all of the cards) and redraw a new hand of 5 cards.
Here is an example of how to keep your personal deck organized during gameplay:
The Rest of the Game
Simply follow the instructions on the action cards and always take your action phase first and your buy phase second. You can always refer to the more complete descriptions of the cards in the rulebook if you have questions.
The turns will then continue and players will play as many actions and treasure they can to build their decks until all the provinces have been bought, or until three cards in the supply piles are empty.
That’s it. It sounds so simple and that’s the beauty of Dominion. The instructions are simple and easy to follow but the strategies can be insanely complex and some turns can last quite a long time with players chaining card after card.
This Never Happens… But It’s Still Awesome
With the right setup from several expansions, one player was able to find a way to win the game on his first turn by continuously chaining cards and abilities. This isn’t typical at all and required a special setup that was still technically legal, but you get the idea.
Simple rules. Endless possibilities.
Card Breakdown For your First Game
Cellar (cost: 2)
If you keep finding yourself drawing a lot of victory point cards on your turn then it may be time to buy a cellar. Cellars will allow you to discard any number of cards in order to draw more from your draw pile. You can choose to discard victory points, actions that you can’t use, or even coppers.
Cellar is a very useful card for the price, but possibly not the best use of your actions.
Market (cost: 5)
- +1 card
- +1 action
- +1 buy
- +1 $
This is never a bad card to have in your deck. It gives you an extra card and if it’s an action, you can use it immediately. If it’s a treasure card then you can put it towards your extra buy and if it’s an unusable card (like a victory card), you automatically get an additional treasure to add to your purchasing power this turn.
Merchant (cost: 3)
- +1 card
- +1 action
- The first time you play a silver this turn, +$1
Merchant is another all-around good card to have in your deck. Once you acquire a Merchant, you’re going to want to start picking up a few silver (treasure) cards to maximize its effectiveness. On the turn you play a silver, you will get an additional $ in your treasure pool to spend on cards this turn. Maybe not as useful as a Market, but it’s much cheaper and easier to acquire early in the game.
Militia (cost: 4)
- +Each other player discards down to 3 cards in their hand.
This is your first attack card. The person playing this will receive extra treasure and every other player will have to discard down to a 3-card hand. This can be particularly devastating in opening rounds where players will need all the coppers in their hands to purchase anything.
Mine (cost: 5)
- You may trash a treasure card from your hand. You may gain a treasure card costing +$3 more than it.
This is an excellent choice if you can get it early. You could immediately start to trash your coppers to gain silvers and upgrade your silvers to gold. This will give you a huge early advantage when your deck is small and consists of mostly coppers.
Moat (cost: 2)
- +2 cards
- Reaction: When another player plays an Attack card, you may first reveal this from your hand, to be unaffected by it.
This is the only reaction in the core dominion set, but probably one of the most useful. If played as an action you can draw 2 extra cards.
The true value of this card comes with the reaction. Whenever an attack affects you, all you have to do is reveal this card and the attack doesn’t affect you. Just by revealing it, you can be safe from multiple attacks, and you don’t have to discard it, which allows you to use it to draw extra cards on your turn. If there are attacks in the supply pile, then picking up a Moat is a good idea, especially considering the inexpensive card cost.
Remodel (cost: 4)
- Trash a card from your hand. Gain a card costing up to $2 more than the trashed card.
Smithy (cost: 4)
- +3 Cards
Extra cards in your hand are always useful, even if it’s only to mill through your victory cards. If all three cards you draw are victory cards or curses, that’s still three cards on your next turn that won’t end up in your hand. Three additional cards could be treasure cards, used to increase your purchasing power.
The only time Smithy could be bad is if you end up drawing really good action cards, and you used your last action to play smithy. This is why it’s very good to try to pair up smithy with Village (the next card on the list.)
Village (cost: 3)
- +1 Card
- +2 Actions
This is another excellent card for the cost. You gain one additional card and two extra actions. This will usually be the start of any combos that you may attempt in your first game. Step one is usually getting enough actions to play multiple cards and village gives +2 actions, which is extremely useful, especially with the aforementioned card Smithy.
Workshop (cost: 3)
- Gain a card costing up to $4.
Workshops can quickly help fill up your deck with cards. You could fill up your deck with Villages and Smithy’s or you can fill your deck with a ton of Villages and Workshops. Once you can continuously play these two cards, you can fill up your deck with an endless amount of Silver which should be enough to afford all the Provinces you need to win the game.
There’s not a whole lot of combos that can be done in the “First Game” setup, but it does give you a little bit of everything. You’ll have action cards, reaction cards, and attacks. There are several cards that you could possibly chain together to increase your buys and actions to get the most out of your turn. There’s only one attack card, and luckily, no curses. Have fun learning with the first game! Try to play around with some of the cards and see what works together and what kind of play strategy you’re looking for.
Here is a list of recommended setups for playing the Dominion Base Game. They’re all fun and will give you a basis for more complex versions later on.
First Game: Cellar, Market, Merchant, Militia, Mine, Moat, Remodel, Smithy, Village, Workshop
Size Distortion: Artisan, Bandit, Bureaucrat, Chapel, Festival, Gardens, Sentry, Throne Room, Witch, Workshop
Deck Top: Artisan, Bureaucrat, Council Room, Festival, Harbinger, Laboratory, Moneylender, Sentry, Vassal, Village
Sleight of Hand: Cellar, Council Room, Festival, Gardens, Library, Harbinger, Militia, Poacher, Smithy, Throne Room
Improvements: Artisan, Cellar, Market, Merchant, Mine, Moat, Moneylender, Poacher, Remodel, Witch
Silver & Gold: Bandit, Bureaucrat, Chapel, Harbinger, Laboratory, Merchant, Mine, Moneylender, Throne Room, Vassal
Basic Combos to Get You Started
Gardens and Workshop – Gardens is an incredibly powerful card. For every 10 cards in your deck, each Gardens is worth 1 point, so the more cards you can acquire throughout the game, the more points they are worth. Very often the Gardens will outperform the Provinces if you try and build up a massive deck.
Combining Gardens with the Workshops, you can quickly amass a substantial deck that can turn your gardens into heaps of points. This is most players’ first introduction to adding combos into the game and is an easy strategy to play with from the outset.
Chapel – Chapels are fantastic cards. The issue many players find themselves in is that they have a lot of cards that lose effectiveness in later parts of the game. Coppers are necessary in the beginning but you’re never going to be able to afford a Province with a hand full of Copper. It’s sometimes better to trash the dead weight of your deck and streamline it with higher cost cards towards the end game.
Witch – If you’re playing with a Witch in the supply pile, then there’s really no reason to ever not use it. The Witch allows you to gain 2 additional cards while forcing every other player to draw a Curse (-1 point). Two extra cards could be extra actions (if you have more actions to play), it could be additional treasure, or even a point card, which removes it from the deck into your discard. This will hopefully give you a better draw next turn.
When do I shuffle my discard pile?
Whenever you need a card from your deck (your draw pile) and you find it empty. Most commonly you draw cards as a result of an instruction or for refreshing your hand after the end of your turn. You might also need a card from your deck if you must reveal or look at a card from it. Note that merely having an empty deck is not reason enough to permit shuffling your discards. You never reshuffle your discard pile if your deck is not empty (unless there is a card that explicitly instructs you to do so). You also never combine the deck and discard pile together and reshuffle them (again, unless the card instructs you to do so).
What does “gain a card” mean?
Gaining a card means taking a card from somewhere (usually the Supply) and placing it on your discard pile, unless instructed to place it somewhere else (for example, the Mine tells you to Gain a card and place it in your hand). The result of buying a card is gaining it. However, this is only one way to gain a card; you can also gain it through other means (e.g. with Mine or Bureaucrat). It is important to follow the instructions on Action cards correctly and see whether they refer to the cards that are bought or gained.
What does “resolving a card” mean?
It means following instructions on the card in order from top to bottom. As long as an instruction isn’t optional (“you may…”) you must do all you can–you are only allowed to bypass something if it is impossible (for example, the card states that you must draw cards, but you have your entire deck in your hand and no discard pile). Still, in that particular case you have to do as much as you can (in the same example, if the card tells you to draw 5 cards, and you only have 2 cards in your deck/discard, you still must draw those 2 cards). If a later part of the instruction is contingent upon you doing the first part, it doesn’t happen if you don’t do the first part.
What does “revealing a card” mean?
Revealing means taking a card from somewhere, showing it to the other players and putting the card back where it came from (unless instructed otherwise). Blue Reaction cards are a special kind of cards which can be revealed (and partly resolved) from your hand, outside your turn, when certain requirements are met. Currently, there are three Reaction cards (Moat, Secret Chamber and Horse Traders) which you may reveal when another players plays an Attack card, one (Watchtower) which you may reveal whenever you gain a card, one (Trader) which you may reveal right before gaining a card, one (Tunnel) which you may reveal when you discard it, and one (Fool’s Gold) which you may reveal when another player gains a Province. If you have multiple Reaction cards, you may reveal and resolve all of them. You only resolve the instructions pertaining to the revealing ability, not instructions that you resolve when playing the card in your Action phase.
What if the card says I need to make a choice, and one of the choices can’t be resolved?
You can still choose the “impossible” choice, and follow the rule of having to do everything you can do. For example, Torturer attacks you by making you choose between discarding cards or taking a Curse. If the Curse pile is depleted, you can still opt for the second choice (i.e. you “try” to take a Curse and find it to be impossible).
Does every blue Reaction card defend me from an Attack?
No. Reaction cards (and certain other Action cards) only defend from an Attack if it is written on the card. Otherwise, you still get Attacked. For example, the Secret Chamber card gives you an option of drawing and placing cards back on the draw pile, but you still suffer the consequences of the Attack.
Stats at a glance
It’s no wonder that Dominion has created and defined its own genre. It allows players to experience the fun of deck building without having to sink hours of time and hundreds of dollars on card booster packs to play the game. With one gift-worthy box, you have every card you need to play the game.
There are endless strategies and combinations of cards that can be played, so every game setup can have multiple winning strategies. If you ever feel like you need to mix it up, there are some well-established expansion packs, each of which brings a host of new cards to add to the fun. Some have some very drastic rule changes and ways to play.
If you’ve ever played Magic: The Gathering and wished it was easier to get friends and family into games, then this is an excellent gateway game. After a few games of Dominion, you can clearly see if this type of game is something your friends and family are into.
With endless possibilities and combination of cards, the question is: What are your favorite Dominion cards from the base game? We’d love to hear your thoughts or just chat about games with you.
Leave a comment below and share your experiences with Dominion.