Eminent Domain

Board games again, folks! This time I’m going to talk about one of my favourite strategic deck-building games, the wonderful Eminent Domain. I’m not feeling too good today so apologies in advance for the inevitable spelling errors, likely repetition and doubtlessly-lazy conclusion. Here goes:

If you’re a fan of games like Dominion (the grand-daddy of deck-builders) it will come as no surprise when I tell you that, often, deck building games lack real theme. Sure, the game play is usually top-notch – Dominion in particular is a bastard to master, but when you do there’s a real sense of achievement – but, for me at least, it doesn’t really matter what’s on the cards. The artwork and flavour on Dominion cards (I talk of Dominion only because it’s THE deck-builder, isn’t it?) is superb, but they may as well really be plain black cards with the title, cost and action typed on. Some may disagree.

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However, Eminent Domain is one deck building game where the theme really feels like it belongs. Your aim is to inhabit the galaxy as efficiently as possible using various cards representing methods of advancement. So, for example, on your turn you’d draw a card from one of five draw piles, each representing an action – you can survey (for planets to conquer), develop your warfare, colonize a planet, produce or trade goods or research new and improved technology. The card you choose allows you to perform the leader action printed on it, then in turn each other play may follow (perform a similar, slightly less effective action) or dissent (draw a card from their deck). Using an eventually-well-built deck you’ll either attack planets you’ve surveyed or colonise them peacefully, depending on your current hand’s leaning. Each action can be powered-up by playing more cards with matching symbols from your hand. Attacking is fun, since you do so with small plastic spaceships (which you may recognise from other games) gained through warfare advancements.

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When one particular method of advancement has been extinguished (when there are no cards left in that particular draw pile) the game ends and players score points based on their captured or colonised planets. The highest-scoring galactic empire wins.

What’s great about Eminent Domain is that you have an aim above “collect victory point cards” (or at least a more thematically acquirable means of the same). Improving your deck represents your society improving its technical prowess. Boosting a survey action with more survey cards from your hand increases the range of your scan, resulting in a higher number of available planets. Some planets are more resistant to attack than others and more susceptible to non-violent colonisation, or vice versa. Each type of planet produces a different type of resource, which can – through trade – be spent to gain extra advancement points throughout the game.

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Through research you’ll gain individual action cards that allow you to do some pretty amazing things, from improved and devastating military attacks to ahead-of-their-time technological progressions. There’s no way to master this game since your game truly depends on the tactical approach of your opponents. Whereas sometimes Dominion feels like the same game, over and over, but with different cards Eminent Domain gives you only six actions (including the politics wildcard) but a much wider scope for tactical play. Winning depends on choosing the right method of colonising the right types of planets, on producing and trading effectively and on balancing your research against the means your choose to apply when colonising.

I fear, in my shaky state, that I’ve failed to do the game justice. All I can say is this, really: It’s the best deck building game I’ve ever played. There’s so much more to do than most games of its type give you in the base set. There are expansions available, but I haven’t yet felt the need to get any in the year I’ve owned the game. Plus, the box is gorgeously understated. Eminent Domain is excellent. I love it.

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