Dominion: Dark Ages (Game Review)

Dominion: Dark Ages box

Dominion: Dark Ages

After my lukewarm reception of the last couple Dominion expansions, I’m pleased to say that Dominion: Dark Ages makes the game feel truly exciting again. Its main themes (trashing and upgrading cards) are not new, but they provide plenty of territory to explore. There are a lot of clever abilities here, but even the cards that don’t seem original are consistently interesting, balanced, and have strong artwork. This are also a lot of combos, making this a great engine-building deck for experienced players.

Maybe the best part is the sheer quantity of gameplay that Dark Ages adds. The standalone Dominion sets have 500 cards, but half of those are used for the basic Treasure and Victory cards. The later “full-size” expansions had fewer cards to make room for mats and tokens. Dark Ages has no supporting bits like that, so it is the first to include a full 500 cards devoted to expanding the game. This means 35 Kingdom Cards, almost as many as a previous full-size and half-size expansion combined.

Rats and Graverobber cards

Two cards that do new things with the Trashing mechanism

Cards are a much more economical option for a game. Those 35 Kingdom Cards only account for about two-thirds of the cards included in the set, so the others can extend the gameplay in new ways. The lack of boards and counters doesn’t feel limiting at all. The Dark Ages theme is reinforced with Ruins cards (a deck-clogging type similar to Curses) and Shelters (new starting cards that give players more choices in the early moves). There are also several special types of cards which can only be gained by other specific cards. These feel like nothing that has come before.

A sub-theme seems to be a focus on cards with a cost between 3 and 6 coins, which form the “core” of most decks. It’s good to see certain abilities restricted to work only in this range, especially attack cards that otherwise would have had much more random effects on opponents’ decks. While for the most part, new Dominion cards stake out new territory without replacing old cards, this does seem to be a case where it specifically improves on some previous attack cards.

Hermit and Madman

A new type of upgrading: The Madman is a powerful one-shot card that can only be gained by trashing a Hermit.

It’s a little weird to consider the theme of the Dark Ages in this game, given that the trashing and upgrading abilities featured here actually help you make stronger decks. But no one would actually want to play a drawn-out game where everyone struggled through a representation of the collapse of civilization. The more important criticism is the one that has been present for the past few expansions: At this point, there are a lot of Dominion cards. With well over 200 types available and only 10 used in each game, you could play for a long time without missing any one set. Dark Ages is one of the best yet, but the game’s own success means that no expansion truly feels essential any more.

Yes, the biggest problem with this set is that Dominion is so consistently good that even excellent expansions stop being exciting. But it still ranks among the best, possibly second only to Dominion: Prosperity. It’s well worth buying.

Grade: A-

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