Dominion by Donald X. Vaccarino for iPhone/iPad Review
My love of video games has historically not translated well into other forms of gaming. When it comes to card games, I don’t play anything more complicated that Klondike Solitaire. As far as designer card games go, anything beyond Uno I either classify as too complicated, too boring or too nerdy for my tastes.
While I still hold that general sentiment around card games (designer card games in particular), I fell in love with Dominion not too long ago. My girlfriend invited me to a game night hosted by one of her coworkers, and we spent all night playing Dominion. What surprised me most about the game was how easy it was to learn while exhibiting a great level of depth. I told Steff multipe times as we were playing it that the mechanics that drive Dominion scratches an itch that I normally get out of Street Fighter.
Immediately after our first game, I searched the iTunes app store to find a Dominion equivalent. To my surprise, it’s available as a free download. While you won’t need to read my review to decide if it’s worth your money, you may want to see if Dominion on the iPhone is worth your time.
If you’ve never played Dominion, let me give you a quick rundown of what it is. It is a deck-building designer card game, where the end goal is to have the most victory points. Aiding and hurting your cause are cards that represent treasure, actions, and reactions. It’s up to you to make the proper strategic and tactical choices that will help you end the game with the most victory points. Yes, I understand that my description doesn’t sell it very well, but I can assure you that the underlying mechanics of the Dominion card game are great. If you’d like to learn more about the particulars about the mechanics, you may be better suited to visit a site like Board Game Geek.
That core gameplay is translated perfectly on iOS. Veterans will be able to jump right in and have a blast with the game without any learning curve. I’ve put in a number of hours into Dominion on my iPhone and iPad so far and it probably won’t leave my rotation any time soon. However, if you’re new to Dominion, the learning curve to the game itself can be steep without having an experienced player explain it to you. The game does have a tutorial option in it, as well as some prompts that sort of tell you what to do, but it’s no ideal at all. If I were to approach this app as a brand new player, the tutorial alone would not get me off the ground.
The cards feature in the Dominion iPhone and iPad app are from the base Dominion set. As someone who has only played the Intrigue and the Seaside expansion, all of the action cards were new to me. However, because of my general understanding of the game, acclimating to the new cards took no time at all. Currently, there are a number of expansions available for the card game, none of which are available here. The core package is more than enough game to last you for awhile, but it would be a big miss if the ability to add expansions was never included.
What is a miss however, is the limited feature set. For one, the game is only designed to accommodate one player vs. 1-3 AI opponents or one player vs. one other player via online. If you want to play this locally with a few friends, you are out of luck. While I understand that having this feature available makes the $40+ dollar card game obsolete, I’d actually prefer the game to not be free in exchange for local multiplayer. The other weird exclusion here is the ability to tweak AI difficulty, which can be problematic when you’re first learning the game.
I applaud Hammer Technology for making this a universal app that works for iPhone and iPad, but the interface on the iPad version doesn’t make the best use of the added real estate. About 40% of the screen is covered only by wallpaper, while most of the action cards aren’t legible unless you click on the card itself. I am by no means a user interface designer, but I feel like this could have been designed in a way that would make better use of the bigger screen.
Dominion as a card game is amazing. Having a version of Dominion you can play anywhere at the cost of $0 is also amazing. The execution of the app itself…could have been better. Still, the quirks around its execution shouldn’t deter you from picking this up, especially if you’re a fan of the card game. For new players, I’d still recommend picking it up, though don’t hurt yourself trying to learn the game through its weak tutorial. Either consult in a site like Board Game Geek or have a Dominion veteran show you the ropes and you should be good to go in no time.