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Monday, June 28, 2010

First Impressions: Dominion, Ra, and Samurai


This weekend, my lovely and talented wife was out of town for the wedding of her friend.  That left me to my own devices.  Friday saw me in my regular gaming group, and Saturday evening I drove out to Gameology for their Not Closing sale (yay!) and participated in some boardgamey goodness.  I racked up plays of Lost Cities, Fluxx, Citadels, and Caylus, as well as first plays of Dominion, Ra, and Samurai. I felt both very accomplished and highly sated.

First impressions after the cut.

Dominion was the Spiel des Jahres winner for 2009 so I had high expectations going into it.  Dominion did not disappoint.  It's been likened to card drafting in Magic: the Gathering, but I think that comparison is only superficial.  In Dominion, you start with a deck of 10 cards - three 1 point cards, and seven copper cards.  You draw a hand of five.  Victory point cards are worthless until the end of the game.  Copper cards can buy more valuable money or action cards that allow you to take specified actions.  You can play one action card and buy one thing per turn.

Dominion is incredibly simple to learn.  There are between 10-12 cards a player can buy in a game.  But the box comes with many, many more than 12 kinds.  You just select from the wide assortment so that you only use 12 for a given game.  The combinations are mind numbing (3,268,760 to be precise).  My first game used the suggested "start" cards for new players.  My second game used the "Big Money" variant with an all new set of 12 to purchase.

The play has a good luck element, but you are in near total control of it.  If you want to be able to draw better cards, you buy them.  However, you can't just pick up every action or copper available because then you'll flood your deck with cards that may not be helpful in future turns.  You have to manage what goes into your deck as you play.  Further, there is a nice tension between grabbing victory points (the only thing that matters in the end), and grabbing a card that will actually provide some use in the game.  Every time you draw one of the victory point cards you've purchased, that's one card in your hand that is completely worthless for your turn.

I'm looking forward to more Dominion.  The card and resource management, semi-random draws, and tension between play and victory, as well as the many variants, make me believe that this game will see a lot more play at my table in the future.

I've been looking in to Ra for a while.  I'd heard that it was one of the better auction games.  It's also one of Reiner Knizia's games - which is a cautiously good sign.  Despite being an auction game, there is a startling amount of strategy and depth.

Tiles representing different Egyptian themed elements are placed on the board as they are drawn randomly from a sack.  Each player also has three numbered tiles (between 2 and 16 if there are five players) to bid with.  The number one tile is in the center.  When a player wants to grab all the tiles that have been laid out, they can call an auction rather than draw a tile.  Each player has one chance to bid with one of their number tiles.  Highest bidder gets the Egyptian tiles.  He then puts his number tile in the center and takes the "1" tile that was there.  The next person to win an auction places his tile in the center and gets the tile that was there previously.  In this way, the players are bidding with position, rather than simple currency.  It also allows a lower bidder to trade in his low number for a higher tile in the following round.  Three rounds of play and the winner is scored.

I enjoyed Ra.  Bidding with position, and knowing that giving up my 12 tile meant someone else might have it for the next round, brought a different dimension to it.  There were also multiple methods of obtaining victory points at the end, so the strategy was individually tailored.  Some of the players went for monuments, others for floods or rivers.  I imagine Ra would see a lot replay value.

Samurai was another Knizia game.  Here, the board represents feudal Japan.  Each town or village has one or more resources on it - rice, hats, and Buddhas.  Your tiles represent mercenaries (who can get any kind of resource) or resource specific attacks.  Each player takes turns putting a tile on the game board.  Once any city or town is surrounded, the tiles are added up.  If the town has rice, then all rice tiles plus mercenaries surrounding the town are added.  The player with the highest number gets the rice.  If the town also has a Buddha, then all Buddhas plus mercenaries are added and the player with the most gets the Buddha.

Once the board is full, the players reveal the resources they've accumulated.  You add the two you have the most in.  Whoever has a higher count wins.  In a tie, you count all three resources.

This game was a particular delight because it wasn't even on my radar.  I'm usually wary of games named after Samurai or Ninja because the name can often be an unsuspecting lure, preying on the general coolness of the topic, to get me to purchase a lackluster game.  I'm pleased to report that such was not the case with Samurai.  Instead, the simple game became increasingly strategic.  The cities are close enough together that if you try to surround one, you will likely also be partially surrounding a second.  Thus, if you play a tile to get one resource, it may help an opponent surround a neighboring city get a resource of his own. 

I'm not sure that I liked it enough to own it, but I would definitely play it again if given the chance.


  1. I played the hell out of some Dominion when we first got it and got burnt out a bit...I have the two expansions but I haven't even opened Seaside yet.

    I'm also glad Gameology isn't closing! My gf went down for their closing sale and let me know it looks like they're staying open. We still ended up with Ticket To Ride, Arkham Horror, Small World and Murder City. Had to fill the gap since some of our gaming friends moved away and took their games with them.

  2. Aha! So you were the one that got Small World! I went there hoping for a discounted copy but they were sold out. :)

    Sounds like you got a pretty nice haul.