Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm Going to Warfare Your Planets

Detail on the two bigger ships

Eminent Domain
  • Designed by Seth Jaffee
  • Published by Tasty Minstrel Games
  • For 2-4 players
  • Plays in 30-60 minutes, or roughly 15 per player

Eminent Domain was the first game that got me on the Kickstarter bandwagon.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kickstarter, the basic idea is that a person/company puts up a project and offers various funding levels for the public.  If the project is successfully funded the backers get charged and eventually get their product.  If it isn’t funded, then no money is charged.  I’m a subscriber to the TMG newsletter, so that alerted me to the project.  My first reaction of Em-Do was that it was just another deckbuilder, this time set in space.  It still looked interesting, and there was more to the game, so I decided to fund it.  It took awhile to get the game, roughly 9 months after funding, but it was well worth it.  The game offers a bevy of strategies, and a lot of choice for each player.
A pile of ships destined for great warfare
I was pleasantly surprised by the component quality.  The cards are excellent quality, the wood tokens are solid, but the warfare ships are amazing.  I’ve actually considered using them for painting practice, since there are so many, but I’ve yet to get there.  This game doesn’t have a lot of components, but what is has are great quality, and they get big credit for having plastic ships when they could have just done warfare counters.  Em-Do gets a 10 for functionally, a 6 for amount, and an 8.5 overall in components.
Game Mechanics
The mechanics of Eminent Domain are fairly simple to someone who’s played other deckbuilding games.  On your turn you may take an action, which is playing a card from your hand for it’s effect.  After your action, you take a role card from the center, and you may “kick” it with like cards from your hand.  Then each of your opponents may take the same action without the leader bonus, or they may dissent, and by dissenting they draw 1 card from their deck into their hand.  
The different types of actions and roles are fairly straightforward, but deciding what the best one is at any point creates a strategy that trumps Dominion.  There’s also a very interesting take on technology in Em-Do.  What you can research depends on the planets you control, and once one player takes a specific thing, no one else can get that.  There are also 3 technology levels. The first consists of improved versions of the standard actions There are also 4 versions of each one, so these don’t run out.  The second start to do unique things, with one acting as a permanent tech that stays in front of you rather than cycling through your deck.  Level 2 are also worth 2 points a piece.  Level 3 techs are all permanent and are worth 5 points.  There’s only 1 in each of the 3 research branches, and offer the user rather game changing benefits, such as drawing 2 cards when dissenting as opposed to just 1.
I had 4 "advance" planets, at least 3 produced resources
All in all, very interesting mechanics, and a lot to explore still for me. A very solid 9/10.
Player Interaction
There’s no direct interaction in Eminent Domain, rather the designer opted for a more subtle route.  The ability to anticipate your opponent’s role and follow or dissent accordingly is very intriguing, though when you play with the same people, you start to notice tendencies, and plan accordingly. 
9/10 for taking the subtle approach, but it would be nice to affect what someone else does in their empire.
Eminent Domain takes place in space and I suppose you can read more into things. You play a galactic ruler, deciding between warfare and colonization of planets.  You can survey new worlds, produce and trade resources or pursue technology, but don’t get fooled into thinking that Em-Do is a space civilization game.  You could peel off the space theme, change some names around, and you’d still have the same game.  For me the theme here isn’t that important, nor does it shine through.  
A “meh” 4/10 in theme for me.
Some of the different role cards
Learning Curve 
I’m going to give two cases for a learning curve here.
If you’ve never played a deckbuilding game, it’s a Moderate learning curve.
If you have played a decbuilding game, it’s a Short-Moderate learning curve.
Both ways you probably need a game to understand why things work the way they do, but you may catch on earlier depending on your teacher. 
Why I like this game
I like Eminent Domain because the gameplay is straightforward, yet I always have choices to make on my turn.  I’ve also played almost all close games, usually 1st and 2nd within 3 points of each other, and to me close games make things more fun.  
Why I don't like this game
I already talked about theme, but that doesn’t really bother me.  The main aspect I don’t like is how the game feels the same most of the time.  There isn’t tons, aside from technology, that make the game feel different from play to play.  Sure, different planets do different things, but that’s not going to last forever.  
My Empire with resources, and 3 permanent technologies

There are a lot of different victory paths to explore in this game. You have to choose how to turn over planets, either warfare or colonization.  Both have merits, and it’s hard to do just one exclusively.  The other thing is how much technology do you pursue?  Tech will help you do different things, but alone it won’t win you the game.  The thing I’ve noticed lately is how useful a produce/trade strategy is.  It rarely depends on other players, but it can be helped immensely if someone works with you on that route.  
All that being said, I fear how long Em-Do will be interesting.  I think they need an expansion to increase the tech options, and maybe add in a new action/role card.  I like the game, but I want more from it.
It’s a fun game. I like playing it, and I love how 3 or 4 of us can all take different paths to victory and end up really close to one another.  It proves the game is balanced and we all enjoy it.  It’s enjoyable to try new things.  I’ve yet to explore all the technology cards, but I’ve made good use out of some I never thought I would play.  
Overall I give Eminent Domain an 8.5/10 with the caveat that given an expansion, this could jump to a 10.
Will you like this game?
If you enjoy deckbuilding games, this is one of the better ones out there.  Also, if you’re looking for a quick 2-player game with a lot of options, this is probably a good bet.  It’s hard for me to explain why I like this game so much.  I think it did what I wanted Race for the Galaxy to do, and it was easy to pick up and play.  Maybe it was the months of anticipation with Kickstarter, or maybe it’s having my name in the rulebook.  All in all, it’s just a fun game.
Each Planet has a warfare cost (ships)
and a colonize cost(colonize cards under planet)
If you complete one, you can take it over for an action
Amusing Story about a Gameplay
The first time we played with 4 players the final scores were along the lines of 32-31-30-30.  Right then, I knew we’d play a lot of games, since we have nothing else that gives us tight games.  Also, there’s nothing like using a tech to score 12 points on your last turn, ending the game, and then losing by a single point.  I was out of it all game, and to be that close to a win was a great personal triumph.  
Final Thought
Thank-you Seth Jaffee and TMG for creating an in game start player method.  Saying something like “players choose a method that they all agree on” is just a cop-out.  Putting first player on one player aid while the others were blank was just brilliant, so thank-you for that.

(All photos are taken by the writer and part of actual gameplay)

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1 comment:

  1. Great review. As for the "Samey" feeling, give it a little more time... the strategies present themselves very slowly. I do believe Seth is working on an expansion (or 2) as well, so those will most likely bring some variety.