Oct 29, 2014

[Games] Dominare

The AEG release of Love Letter introduced us to the world of Tempest, the pseudo Ventian city-state full of intrigue that is the setting for many of their games. Each game is unique in terms of its play style, but share connections in terms of the narrative behind the game. I've found this to be a rater clever innovation to add more character to the game while obviously leveraging the brand to push more sales.

Dominare is the second Tempest game that we had a chance to play thanks to a friend. Our very first game convinced us to find a copy of the board game for our own collection given how compelling it was.

The game is highly strategic in nature and it certainly provides an interesting degree of challenge for players. And as a bit of a side bonus, it was nice to see the different Love Letter characters in this game, even if their functions here were rather different.

Dominare is a strategy game designed by Jim Pinto that has players vying for control of the city. Given 2-6 players, each player will do their best to exert their influence across the city while blocking similar efforts by other players.

Over the course of 7 seasons (or essentially rounds), players will use their agents to try and take control of the city. The board presents the city divided into several districts, each one representing a different faction such as the Merchants or the Senate. Your agents will really define how things go and there's the challenge of selecting the right agents and placing them in the slots that provide the greatest effect.

The game is divided into four phases. First there's the Conspiracy phase where a new agent is selected. The cardinal order of the agent matters since his or her place in the sequence determines which abilities are activated. Thus an agent in with abilities that correspond to seasons 3 and 5 will be pretty useless in the slots for seasons 1 and 2.

The comes the Events phase, when a random event is declared in the city-state of Tempest and this affects all of the players. And from there things progress to the Canvassing phase, where income is earned based on the values indicated on the Agent cards along with influence associated with the district that the agent is from.

There's also a networking bonus that comes into play when two agent cards that share a trait with either agent cards beside it. At its most basic you might base this on their districts of origin, but there are other traits that aren't necessarily tied to a particular faction. So it becomes a bit like a game of dominoes as try to chain charges together in order to ensure continuous card benefits as the game progresses.

And finally there's the Action Phase, where the bulk of the action takes place. You can Recruit more cards, thus added agent cards to your hand. You can Replace, which means to swap an agent in play with one from your hand. You can Whitewash to reduce your level of exposure (more on this in a bit). And then you can Inspire, which means spending money in exchange for influence spread in the appropriate district tile. There are  nuances to properly spreading influence that you'll better appreciate in the rules.

At the end of the game, players determine who controls the most squares in each district to determine who rules the district as a whole. And each district will have a particular number of victory points associated with the district. This can shift throughout the game because of agent actions, so sometimes the district that you focused on gaining control of may end up being worth very few points. And then there's your overall Exposure, which can ultimately lead to significant penalties. After all, if you're going to be the secret puppeteer who pulls the strings in Tempest, the last thing that you want to is be seen manipulating forces in the city. And again your various Agent actions will have Exposure ratings associated  with them.

So basically each Season involves adding another agent, taking advantage of their abilities and trying to control majority of the spaces within each district in order to win total control. And thus with each additional Season, you'll have more and more options at your disposal. Each Agent can only use one power per Season, but that still means an increasing number of actions as the game progresses. And naturally there are those Agents who give you extra actions, which can become pretty critical in terms of winning the game.

The game is strategically brilliant and it drives a particular degree of challenge. And there are so many different ways to play the game - although it really depends on what Agents you get in your starting hand and which Agents you draw later on. Naturally everyone wants to get the various networking bonuses, but at times there are just those powerful cards that are hard to ignore.

Dominare is a game that I highly recommend and provides a really serious game experience, which is a somewhat stark contrast to Love Letter. But that's not a bad thing at all since it provides greater game variety for everyone concerned. The game gets a full 5 awesome higher level Agent powers out of a possible 5.

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