Dominion Card Game review

Dominion Card GameDominion is the award-winning deck building game that has received a ton of rave reviews all over the world. While perhaps not as good as the hype, it‘s certainly a lot of fun with good strategic depth, chained actions and quick, quick gameplay. Dominion comes with 500 cards in the base game and another 500 cards in its expansion, making sure that this is a game that has immense replay value.

Appearance: Dominion’s appearance is mediocre – it’s functional, the artwork is good but not exceptional and the information and the way it is presented is clear and concise. Perhaps the biggest plus for Dominion in its appearance is the well thought out and useful box insert, where each set of cards has a specific slot. This makes keeping and setting up the game very fast, whether you store the game vertically or horizontally.

Rules / Ease of Play: Dominion is a deck-building game where all the players receive a similar starting hand. They must then use the starting hand on their turn to purchase additional cards for their deck, shuffling the used and newly bought cards when they are out-of-cards.

The cards in Dominion can be split into three type of cards – Estate cards (victory points); Gold cards (used to pay for the purchase of other cards) and Kingdom cards (which allow you to do everything else in the game including drawing more cards, buying cards, discarding cards and affecting other players). These Kingdom cards are where the main gameplay occurs, with cards providing additional draw, buy and discard actions each time they are used.

It should be noted that only 10 sets of the over 20 ‘Kingdom’ cards are in play in any one game. This provides Dominion it’s vaunted replay value, as players can switch out one or two sets each game to keep the game ‘fresh’. And as any player can tell you, even switching out a couple of cards from the base game will alter the game flow completely.

A game ends in Dominion when all the ‘5’ point Estate cards are purchased.

Gameplay: Dominion fits its billing in many ways – the speed of each turn and each game is quite high, the rules are simple enough to teach most gamers in 10 minutes at most and each game has a tendency to leave players wanting more. There is also a lot of strategic depth and replay value, as players get a better understanding of the most appropriate cards to purchase each game and which actions to take each turn, along with how the combination of cards will affect their deck.

The challenge in Dominion is the card purchase decisions, with the necessity to ‘optimise’ your deck on the fly from the cards available. Deciding whether to ’junk’ cards, which card to purchase and when to switch over to purchasing ‘Estate’ cards (which are, in the end, the victory points after all) is the most difficult and thrilling aspect of the game.

Luck from shuffling and the draw is actually less of an issue than you would expect as it is possible to chain actions together to draw even more cards and your ability to optimise your entire deck to allow for bad draws. As such, while luck could decide a fight between two highly competitive players, over the course of the game, the overall effects are generally quite low.

What are the negatives of the game? Depending on the cards that are put into play, interaction between players can be quite low. When there is interaction, many of the cards in the base game make it almost a secondary affect on other players. This can frustrate certain players since an experienced player could get his ‘deck‘ really going without a problem. In addition, as always, the theme is rather low. It’s just not that engrossing and the cards, while okay, aren‘t written in that ‘tight‘.

Lastly, because of the way Dominion works, there is a decided advantage that more experienced players have. This translates into experienced players burning through their turns at an amazing pace generally, putting undue pressure on new players as well as allowing them to truly ‘chain’ their actions and rounds to purchase a large number of cards.

Conclusion: Overall Dominion is a great card game that combines some of the deck building elements of a CCG but makes it unique in its own right. With the ability to create your deck on the fly and adjust it to your opponents actions, the amount of reply value available in Dominion is very high. Dominion is certainly worth the game price and the awards it has been winning.

Site hosting and other problems

We’re currently looking at shifting hosting which should significantly increase the speed of the site and deal with a few other issues related to hosting.  However, one of hte issues we recently located was that we are currently using 120GB of bandwidth a month, which is rather significant considering our new hosting limits us to 50GB!

So for the next little while, the site will be running slower as we log where all our bandwidth is flowing and then figure out how to fix it.  In addition, we’re going to keep major changes off the site  as the shift over might ‘lose’ our code.

Small Publisher Contest : DriftWood Games

Well, the MaxVeld Games contest has completed and this month, we’re introducing Drtiftwood Games, the publisher of Arctic Scavengers.

A deck building card game, Arctic Scavengers has palyers in a dystopian future struggling for survival.  You’ll need to grow your tribe as fast as possible with numerous tools, tribe members and medical kits required to successfully battle and win the resources in play.  A deck building card game with great interaction, Arctic Scavengers is a solid first game that has an expansion already in the works.

For the contest, we’d like you to suggest the best new tribe member that needs to be added to the game, his abilities and what the tribe member would add to the game.  The winner will be announced in the September newsletter.

Note: If you have purchased the game from us and win the contest, we will substitute a coupon code of the equivalent amount.

Arctic Scavengers Review

Arctic Scavengers is an independently printed and designed board game that combines the deck building aspect of CCGs within a controlled set of cards. Set during a period of decline for humanity, players in Arctic Scavengers are the leaders of their respective tribes, attempting to grow the largest and strongest tribe to claim resources and survive.

Appearance: As an independent, self-printed card game, Arctic Scavengers does not reach the same standards of artwork or finish quality as games produced by companies like Fantasy Flight Games or Days of Wonder. The artwork is amateurish, the box cover is pasted directly onto the cardboard box itself and the cards are wrapped in a plastic bag and taped shut. On the other hand, the rules aren’t badly written, the icons and information on the card are easy to read and everything works. Overall, I’d give Arctic Scavengers 2 out of 5 stars for appearance.

Rules / Ease of Learning: In Arctic Scavengers, players receive a set of 10 cards that are exactly similar – the starting tribes. Each turn, players can take one of five actions – Digging in the Junkyard, Drawing from their Deck, Hunting for food, Hiring new Mercenaries or Junking their existing hand. Any cards not used for any of these actions go into the ‘Scrimmage’ pile and will fight over the contested resources.

Generally, there are two major type of cards – tool cards and tribe cards. Tool cards must be used with tribe cards and each individual type of tribe card will have different specialities that aid them in the above actions. As an example, Scavengers can take any of the above actions, but do so at a 1 point while a Thug can ‘Dig’ and ‘Fight’ at ‘1’ and ‘2’ points only. He cannot Hunt or Draw cards however.

The winner is the player with the most tribe members at the end of the game which is triggered when all the contested resource cards are gone. It’s worth noting that some cards (e.g. Tribe Families) are worth more Tribe Members than others (anything from 2 to 5).

Having introduced the game to two different groups, I can safely say that it’s not a complicated game to teach to gamers. New gamers might take a few rounds to learn ad get a hang of the game, but even then, most of them get comfortable after these few rounds. And since no contested resources occur in the first few rounds, they would not be unduly harmed by this.

Gameplay: Arctic Scavengers provides solid gameplay with easy to learn rules and sufficient variation to make the game interesting. Immediately, there are a few strategic options available to players – go aggressive and slow down other players, focus on burning through your deck for numbers or focus on winning the contested resources with lots of thugs. This makes the first few games quite accessible for everyone, eve against more experienced players. In turn, more experienced players have a better understanding of the deck, the options available and timing each action.

In fact, one of the more interesting aspects of the game is that players might not necessarily care to take part in the vast majority of skirmishes. With only tribe families offering 3 to 5 tribe members, the other cards offer between zero (for items) to 3 tribe members. A player could easily gain the same number of tribe members without risk by purchasing the specific mercenary, guaranteeing an increase in their points without risk (both in the randomness of the contested resource and the chance of losing). I addition, the bluffing element is quite amusing and can make a bad hand of cards quite, quite effective, especially if you are fortunate enough to take a peek at the contested resource card that turn.

I should also mention that the theme is very well integrated into the game. The idea of hiring mercenaries with medicine and food, of contesting resources and digging through the junkyard (which gets more and more ‘junky’ as the game progresses) is very post-apocalyptic and the gameplay elements suit all these aspects well, making the game easy to pickup.

Now, on to the bad points. Luck is a major factor in the game and can seriously wreck or derail player plans. In one game, one player had all the luck and managed to get all but 3 medicine cards. This put her at quite an advantage over other players (though I should point out that she did not win). It certainly made hiring other mercenaries much more difficult for the rest of us. In addition, the luck factor can force players to go down specific strategies that they might not prefer (e.g. beefing up on Scavengers because of the lack of Hunt abilities). It sometimes felt that even if you decided to choose a specific strategy, a bad series of draws on your card could force you to make tactical decisions that could dilute that strategy (e.g. being forced to dig for items even though you’d prefer to constantly contest resources). Of course, a lot of this can be mitigated by planning what to do with your deck, but it is an element of the game design that gamers should be aware of.

Another concern I have with the game is the repeat play value. The game certainly does not have the same level of replay as for example, Dominion. Since all the cards available must be used in play, the strategies at a certain point will become quite clear and the game could become ‘stale’. Of course the game costs about 2/3rds of Dominion and an expansion is already in the works.

Lastly, let‘s tackle the most common comparison.  Dominion provides more replay value, flows faster, looks prettier and feels ‘tighter’ as a game than Arctic Scavengers. On the other hand, Arctic Scavengers has more direct conflict and a more integrated and interesting theme. I would have to say that Dominion overall is a better game, but Arctic Scavengers doesn’t hold up badly to it at all.

Conclusion: Arctic Scavengers is a deck-building card game that has a well integrated and interesting theme, easy to learn rules and good gameplay. It’s artwork and presentation could have been better, but it’s not bad and rarely detracts from the actual gaemplay. If you’re looking for a more interactive, more aggressive deck building game, Arctic Scavengers should be right up your alley.

Business growth and time issues

You can tell things have gone crazy busy for a while, since posting on general articles and business information had taken a drop off the map.  The busier I get, the less time I have for external marketing.

Between issues with Canada Post, losing my passport , distributor problems, shipping new orders out and site issues, it’s been a crazy few weeks.  On top of that, my sis had come to visit, so I had to play host.

Time issues and business growth is an aspect that I’ve been thinking about the last little while – the slow decrease in time I’ve had for marketing.  As the number of orders we receive grows, the amount of time I need to spend doing customer support, shipping and logistics increases too.

Not that I’m complaining about growth, it’s just an interesting wrinkle in the business – the better you do, the less time you have to do the marketing to drive new customers in.   Which means the slower your growth… till we have sufficient funds to hire someone else.
The danger of course is if we hit a point where we aren’t growing any further because we don’t have the time to grow the business but don’t have the funds to hire someone else to take over the work.   It’s not a likely scenario, but certainly one that has to be considered.

Changes in the category navigation

We’ve decided to update the Strategy category navigation pages so that the ‘Development‘ and ‘Resource Management‘ sections were smaller and better focused, instead of the catch-all categories that we were using them for.

We also removed the ‘Trading‘ section and changed it into the ‘Economic‘ board games section so that we could fit a few more games into it and provided more categories.

Lastly, we have the new ‘Civilisation‘ section on the site that includes all the civ games that we have including Age of Empires III or  Through the Ages or Tempus.

June Bestsellers

And we’ve updated our best selling board games again. So here’s what it was in June…

Small World

1. Small World

2. Dominion

3. Settlers of Catan

4. Agricola

5. Cutthroat Caverns

6. Galaxy Trucker

7. Tigris & Euphrates Deluxe

8. Blokus

9. Carcassonne Big Box 2

10. Power Grid

In addition, here are the bestselling board games that were released in 2009.

Small World

1. Small World

2. Red November

3. Battlestar Galactica

4. Chicago Express

5. Ghost Stories

6. Tigris & Euphrates Deluxe Edition

7. Galaxy Trucker – the Big Expansion

8. Carcassonne Big Box 2

9. Cosmic Encounter

10. Le Havre

Top Ten Board Games for Beginners (original)

It’s interesting how as games change and are released you need to go back and swap out games and information from old articles. In this case, I’ve decided to edit the Top 10 Board Games for Beginners article again to include some great new releases.

What I’ve decided to do is to repost the original here, for prosperity’s sake.  Check out the new recommended board games on the main page though.

Settlers of Catan 1. Settlers of Catan Settlers of Catan is the game that started the ‘German invasion’ with award winning game play and a constantly changing board. Players strive to develop the newly found continent of Catan, building roads, settlements and cities while fighting off the predations of the thief with knights at the same time. A fun combination of strategy in settlement placement and development and luck with resources being created by the roll of a dice, Settlers of Catan has great replayability. And to add further spice to the game, multiple Settlers of Catan expansions have been released.

Ticket to Ride 2. Ticket to Ride A game that can be learnt in minutes, Ticket to Ride takes much longer to master. The goal of the game is to build and control railway routes across North America. The tension and fun in the game comes from the need to balance greed – drawing more cards to develop railways – with fear as competitors claim routes. As an added twist, Destination Tickets to new cities provide more points to players, adding complexity. Often considered a ‘gateway board game’, Ticket to Ride is simple to learn but provides a high level of tension and action for new players.

Carcassonne 3. CarcassonneOne of the most popular board games, Carcassonne has a wide variety of expansions that add to the basic game, providing even more fun down the road. Carcassonne’s main mechanic is the drawing and placement of the tiles that will make up the game board. Each tile represents a unique opportunity to take control of a new land feature which include roads, cities and farms to gain victory points. As points are only counted when a feature is completed (or in the farmer’s case, when the game is over) players must balance long-term goals with short-term gains. Like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne is highly replayable as each tile is drawn randomly, forcing new strategies on players each game. Less competitive than Settlers, Carcassonne is often considered the better gateway game.

Lost Cities 4. Lost Cities Lost CIties is a fast-playing two player card game of archelogical digs. Players take on the role of competing archelogists who are searching for 5 legendary locations including the lost city of Atlantis. Each turn, players have to decide whether to draw a new card to gain additional clues or place a card down to progress on their exploration. However, too many digs started will result in less success (and lower points) at the end of the game. Playing like an advanced version of Gin Rummy, Lost Cities has definite replay value.

Coloretto 5. ColorettoColoretto is another fast-playing card game that is easily portable and involved. Coloretto uses the theme of chameleons, where players are striving to collect cards of the same colour. Each turn, the players must either draw and place a card or take from the row of cards placed. Scoring is based on having the most cards of the same colour. In Coloretto, the simple gameplay mechanics will draw in any player while the choices available are intriguing.

Blokus 6. BlokusBlokus is an abstract strategy game with multiple, tetris-shaped, colored pieces that are placed on the board. With only two rules that dictate the game, this is a fast and intriguing game that can be learnt quickly and finished in a short space of time and yet has a high level of depth and strategy. It’s a great game for quick, fast and fun rounds.

Citadels 7. CitadelsIn Citadels, players are attempting to develop their cities across a number of turns to create the most prestigious city of all. With 8 roles to choose from each turn ranging from the King to the Merchant to the Assassin, players must gain gold, build their cities and thwart the plans of their opponents. Citadels is the perfect game for players looking for a portable card game that can be expanded to large parties and is easy to teach.

Guillotine 8. Guillotine Guillotine is a humour laden game set in Revolutionary France. Players are competing Guillotine operators who are competing to receive the most prestigious and well known nobles to service. Guillotin is a game that can be easily played within 30 minutes and that is sure to have you and your friends laughing out loud all through the game.

Battlelore9. Battlelore Battlelore allows players the feel of commanding vast armies of troops in a magical Medieval Europe. With a complex but easy to understand rules system based on the Command Colors system (the same system used in Memoir ’44), Battlelore is easily expandable to a more complex game with additional expansions. Using a customizable War Council of Wizards, Clerics, Warriors and Rogues to aid in the battle, Commanders must deeply consider their initial battle strategy and adapt to the fluid pace of combat in this war game. With a ton of replayability in the base game and a number of expansions already released, Battlelore is a must for any fantasy war gamer.

Alhambra10. Alhambra Alhambra places you in the Middle Ages, developing Alhambra – a palace, fortress and small city all rolled into one. As a player, you compete to purchase a variety of building types in 4 different currencies, forcing you to balance both cash and building types as well as an overall strategy for wall types. With multiple building types available, the path to victory is constantly evolving, creating an intriguing board game that is infinitely replayable. A family oriented game, Alhambra can fit up to 4 players at a time.

July Newsletter at Starlit Citadel

July Newsletter

Small Publisher Contest

Contest Winner Announcement
Our second small publisher contest is over, and SmartAss Games has chosen a winner Roberta Taylor with Battlefields of Olympus: Campaigns of Glory. The number of great suggestions from this contest was incredible, and Peter mentioned how hard he found it choosing a final winner. Thank you all for taking part.

European Distributor

We received our German game imports last month, and we have some great new games including Keltis and …aber bitte mit Sahne . You can check out the full games brought in at our new product page.

Site Updates & Events

We’ve updated the site with some major bug fixes that should resolve some issues highlight by our customers and increase our page load time. We expect to do some more work within the next couple of weeks, now that the major update has occured to iron out some minor fixes, so if you come across any problems on the site, do feel free to highlight them to us.

Anime Evolution was a ton of fun and we met a lot of great people. The new Vancovuer Convention Center was a site to behold, and we certainly enjoyed doing it again this year. In addition, we also took part in the Serenity Charity Screening for Equality Now.