All images used in the article are of a prototype and may differ from the final product
live long and prosper
Civilization games have many things in common. You play as a race of homo-sapiens with different starting stills. You start with small buildings and then make bigger and better ones. You spread out like a virus on your table top. And then you attack your neighbours with sticks then swords. All to make yourself triumphant.
The latest game from Holy Grail Games is very much like that. Apart from the latter. Dominations: Road To Civilization, is more about getting your civilization to where it needs to be, without war and aggression. In fact, most of the time, everyone is helping everybody else, in some fashion. You place a domino to gain knowledge, adjacent another domino that contains another players city, and they gain knowledge as well. Another player starts construction on a Wonder next to your city, you gain victory points instantly. A player generate a lot of one type of resource, you gain one, grace of them. The player who's house your playing in, turns on their Michel Bolton greatest hits and all players experience the same pleasure...
There is a “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” feel to it although you are not deliberately trying to scratch anyone's back. And all of this is the fault of the domino's.
steppingstones to civilisation
Another difference to other games is that fact that it is an abstract game. There are no hillocks to build a fortress on, no forests to collect wood from and no units of workers to move around. The world that the players will construct will be of some Tron style universe. Coloured, triangular domino's that generate resources. Each is composed of three of six different colours in each corner and one central colour, called the “Camp.” In the Expansion Phase of your turn, you'll add a domino to the “Cradle Of Civilization,” connecting two faces. The adjacent touching colours and the “Camp” of your domino, then generate resources that you add to you player board. A bonus can be scored in many ways. If the colours adjacent are the same, they produce one extra. Playing next to a domino with a city already build upon it will allow the owner of the Provence to gain a resource based on the “Camp” colour.
As the game goes on, you'll have more and more choices on where to place you domino, as the Cradle grows and expands. Each turn will take a little longer as you search for that optimal place that will help in the next two phases of your turn. But as your hand size reduces, your options are a little more clear to see. As every tile you place, you are trying not to help the others. Or even set them up for a big scoop resource ice cream.
Building A Domino Rally
After placing a domino, you then have the chance to build in the (you guested it) Build Phase. You won't need bricks, wood or sheep (however the help, I'll never know) to create cities and monuments. This will all be done with the power of know-how. The resources in this game are knowledge, Commerce, Craftsmanship, Art, Science, Government and Religion. Players will be racing to gain as much as they can so they can create a civilization that resembles their own, as indicated in their secret objective card. Spending three of the same knowledge will allow you to create a level 1 city on the corresponding coloured “Camp.” If no such colour is available, you can't build a new city. These cities are important at the beginning of the game as they help collect bonus resources. They'll increase the size of your reserves of knowledge, meaning you can hold more information about how Government works. Also giving you access you more expensive items to purchase. You'll also gain influence points that are scored and used to make you extra intelligent. Having the most at the end of an age, grants to the chance to learn something from the other players.
As the game unfolds and you unlock vaster holds for your resource, Wonders can then be constructed. These are multi layered buildings that have conditions on how they are constructed. Each layer has a different resource as a requirement and gives out very different rewards. Some big points here and there or maybe a power that may come into effect later in the game. Most importantly, they give you a card that can be integrated into your technology tree, that helps with end of game scoring and your secret objective. All players can contribute to it's construction and maybe you'll be the one that claims it as your own, by constructing the most segments of this wonder.
There is always this dilemma of “what to build?” As building a city opens up your reserves and may gain you a bonus if someone builds next door. But maybe that Wonder will help boost your score, help in your technology tree or give a unique power. Or should you not build at all! Saving the resources to master a Mastery. And a powerful one at that.
House Of cards
After the Build Phase has terminated, you move into the Mastery Phase, to master a skill or ability from a large selection of Mastery cards. Each knowledge has three levels of these cards and within each level there are around three or four different types of card to add to your tech tree. This tree relies on connecting coloured nodes or Nodus as they are called in game, together to form a complete circle. Each side of the card has different colours in the Nodus and luckily, each Mastery card has multiple versions with the colours shifted to a different edge.
Building your technology tree is a puzzle in it's own. “What Mastery cards do I need to complete my objective? What cards have the best powers? Which have the coloured Nodus I need to gain extra points? And what position should I lay them out?” This mini game is a nice little addition to a what seems to be a dry euro game. As playing multiple times will give you the upper hand, having foresight in some of the card and how they interact in the game. Everyone will start their trees with the basic level one cards that are all identical for each knowledge. Swap 1 colour x with 1 colour y. If another player collect 3 of a colour, you gain one too. And these are easy to keep tabs on.
But as your tree grows, you capacity of powers grow and the time between turns does to. As each time a tile is played, you are franticly looking at your tree, like someone looking for their lottery ticket, trying to find that card that tells you that you have inherited something as well. But not all cards have powers. Some have straight up victory points. And each card can be upgraded to a more powerful side that may offer both. But which do you choose? So many decision and options that will leave you thinking, “next time, I'll try that.”
And that is a great aspect about the game. It's leaves you with this replay feeling. As your first games will be part of a learning curve. How and when and where to build your cities. And how should I develop my tree.
the end of time
Player will preform these three phases, five times before this signals the end of an age. This is a chance for you to regroup your thoughts and collect more domino's. You'll gain points for your cities and the player with the most has a little power over the others. They have proved their dominance in this universe and require to absorb a Mastery from another player. Not taken directly from the play, but from the pool of cards, this player adds it to their tree...if possible.
Experts are then assigned to each player. For each knowledge as play has the most remaining resources, they get to collect a role card that gives VP's and has a power that can be use in the next turn. Some are weak powers, but contain lots of VP's, while other are the reverse. So, is it best to save your penny's for that rainy day or go all out? Or maybe, like me, you ride the waves as they came. Another dilemma that the game gives you. As after role are assigned, all knowledge is lost. Yes, you may have ten points in Art and seven in Crafting, but they are now gone. Be happy you have the roles.
Three ages will be played in the game, meaning you'll have placed 15 tiles and built 15 times as well as mastered 15 things, it's time to count the points and see who has domination.
living up to your dominations
Dominations is a game that is for those euro players that like a deep and reflective experience. You will be constantly interacting and reacting to the other players as each action will have an effect in game, on you or on others. With it's vast array of options, pre-planning is hard to narrow down. Unless you are strictly abiding to your objectives, sticking to your guns and blinkering yourself. But doing so could loose you lots of points or worse, resources.
The mechanism's are very simple as they are the basics of most tile laying games. Therefore, anyone could pick this up and play it. Although it is quite a profound game with lots of layers, as it is wrapped in real history. Eric Dubus, one of the designers is a professor of history and has added real elements from our past into the game. From the technology's, to the race based objective cards. Maybe due to the art or the mechanism's, this does not stand out. You will be constantly saying “I collect five red,” and “I'll spend three green...” Which I suppose helps simplify the games entry level.
Every decision is an important one as you'll need to balance your resources, watch your opponents, build the right buildings and make sure that you remember where you are taking your race. There are a myriad of details that you need to check and remember. It can be quite easy to forget that you are trying to have eight cities completed while you opponents take the majority of a wonder away from you. Forcing you to preform an action that you did not want do this turn.
This is a very interactive, yet non aggressive, abstract, strategic civilisation game. Deep in decision making, that will take a while to unfold. Although lacking a little in theme, this is a very thought provoking puzzle of a game with a thousand different possibility's. One that will bring you back to the table again and again, just to try a different approach to constructing your glorious civilisation.