This past weekend, my wife and I celebrated our seventh anniversary. Like any good geek couple shackled with the responsibilities of jobs, school, and parenthood, we didn’t have our hopes set too high for a night on the town or a weekend away. Instead, we celebrated the only way we knew how – by cracking open a brand new game. Lucky for us, it made our anniversary a memorable one. Why? Because Eminent Domain might just be our favorite game so far.
It’s probably important to note that my wife and I are fairly new to the hobby, falling in love with Carcassonne back in January and going on a whirlwind tour through the best of the board game world since then. So while Eminent Domain can best be described by its influences, I have to admit that our experience with those influences is limited at best. In some ways, Eminent Domain is a deck-building game. But we’ve never played Dominion, and thus far our only hands-on time with a deck-builder of any kind was Puzzle Strike. In other ways, Eminent Domain is a role selection game. And while I’ve played my fair share of Puerto Rico on the iPad, my gaming/life partner has never even given it a passing glimpse.
The point is, while the two of us are absolutely gushing over this game, there’s the distinct possibility that more veteran gamers may have a real “been there, done that” experience when playing Eminent Domain. I doubt that will be the case – because it’s really really great – but it’s still a possibility I can’t rule out.
But enough about my weaknesses. You’re here to read about Eminent Domain’s strengths!
The core concept behind Eminent Domain is simple. Players are each trying to expand their own individual empires by conquering planets. Each conquered planet will earn the player influence points, and other actions you take, like producing and trading goods on these planets or buying certain research cards, will also earn you influence points. The player with the most influence points at the end of the game wins.
Gameplay centers around five different card types; survey, warfare, colonize, produce/trade, and research. On a players turn, they’ll be able to do two things – play a card in their hand as an “action,” and take a new card from the board by selecting a “role.” Each card has an action and a role section detailing what happens when played during either phase. So for example, if you play the survey card as an action you’ll get to draw two more cards from your deck, but if you choose survey as a role you’ll get to find a new planet to conquer.
When a player chooses a role, the other players get to either “follow,” meaning they can play any cards in their hand that match the role and take the corresponding action, or they can “dissent” and draw another card from their deck. It should be noted that when you’re the one selecting the role, you’ll often get a leader bonus, giving you the chance to do something your followers cannot.
The use of the cards breaks down more or less like this: survey cards get you planets to potentially conquer, warfare cards get you spaceships and can let you take a planet by force, colonize cards help you take a planet peacefully, produce/trade cards let you make and sell resources on planets with open resource slots, and research cards let you buy special technology cards and add them to your deck. The more you select a particular role, the better you’ll get at that role because you’ll be adding its respective cards to your deck every time you choose it.
What’s really great about Eminent Domain is how fast-paced the experience can be. In many games, some players (like my aforementioned wife) are far too concerned with thinking out the best possible move to make. “It’s just Carcassonne for god’s sake, play the god damned tile!!” Because there are only five major card types, and what you’re working towards is always clear, you’re never left scratching your head on what might be the next best move. As a result, we often found ourselves with cards in hand ready to play before the opposing player had even finished their next turn. Heck – half the time we hadn’t even drawn new cards at the end of our turn before the other player was already in their role phase. “Wait, hang on, I need to finish picking up to see if I can follow” was uttered more than once at our table, and in case you’re not clear on this point yet, we can’t help but feel this was a good thing.
That’s not to say that the game’s accessibility and quick play nature mean it lacks depth. Quite the contrary, in fact. There’s a good deal of strategy to be had in which cards you choose to play and pick up – it’s just that it’s the kind of strategy that requires minimal effort to execute. When you have two research cards in your hand and three survey, is it best to buy a research card or find a new planet? Well, do you have any unsettled planets right now? No? Then take the survey role. Have two unsettled planets? Then you may as well buy a technology card. Or maybe you’re only one colonize card away from settling one of those planets – if so, take the colonize role. See? You’re given plenty of choices, but they’re not the kind of choices you’ll be agonizing over. Depending on your play style, the next best move should generally feel pretty clear.
As a game that’s fast-paced, offers distinctly unique roles, yet doesn’t throw so much at you that you’ll ever feel lost or overwhelmed, Eminent Domain ends up being a wonderfully unique gem of a game. As a two player game, which is how we experienced it, it’s second to none – at least in our admittedly untrained eyes. The game also supports three and four players, though it would be tough to speak to that given our lack of experience.
If you’re looking for something that accessible, speedy, and offers a friendly level of strategy, Eminent Domain is a winner. Don’t pass this one up.