Each Dominion set has a general theme/mechanic. Seaside had durations, Prosperity had a lot of treasure, Cornucopia had variety, and Dark Ages has trashing. Many of the cards give you a benefit when you trash them, or let you interact with the trash. Dark Ages is probably the deepest of the expansions so far. Many of the cards present subtle strategies, and interesting interactions. They also enhance many earlier cards which have fallen out of favor, or were deemed to never be great.
If you don't want to read all my thoughts on cards, go ahead and skip down to the end now.
Dark Ages also provides a new way to start the game. Players now start with 3 unique Shelters as opposed to 3 estates. These shelters don't provide victory points, and only one is even classified as a victory point card. Necropolis is an engine builder's dream with +2 actions. Now, this is worse than a village, since it doesn't have a card draw, but you get it to start. The Overgrown Estate is 0VP, but when you trash it, you get to draw a card. Not great, but it's not meant to be in your deck all game anyways. The Hovel takes up space until you buy a victory card. At that point, you can trash your Hovel. The Hovel is the worst of the shelters, the Overgrown Estate is nice to get an extra card one time, and Necropolis is great for the bonus actions.
Some other general cards are
Spoils - A one shot treasure card worth 3 money.
Ruins - cards you typically don't want to see. Not as bad as a curse, they are action cards, but they don't cost you VP. There are 5 different types
- Abandoned Mine: +1 money, basically a copper that takes an action
- Ruined Library: +1 card
- Ruined Market: +1 buy
- Ruined Village: +1 action, would only be good in a Peddler game, or Throne Room, so you at least get +2 from it.
- Survivors: Look at the top 2 cards on your deck, and either discard both, or put both back on top. This is the Ruin I mind the least. I like setting up my next hand. Still, it's not great.
If you haven't guessed it, I'm going to briefly talk about each card, and give some impressions on them.
- Altar (Cost 6) Trash a card, gain a card costing up to 5. This is a simple card, it lets you trim down your deck, and gain useful cards. Early on you can gain big action cards, late game, gain duchies. A very solid card.
- Armory (4) Works like a Workshop or Ironworks in that you gain a card up to 4, but you get to put it on your deck. I like using this early to gain a silver into my hand, but it also works well with action cards.
- Band of Misfits (5) Use this as if it was any less expensive card in the set-up. I've yet to play it, but it seems really powerful, but not brokenly so.
- Bandit Camp (5) +1 card, +2 actions, gain a Spoils. I like spoils cards. They do help you out, even if they're temporary. Probably not the best 5 in the game, but still a solid one and a viable strategy.
- Beggar (2) Gain 3 coppers in your hand. Also a reaction, when someone plays an attack, discard this to gain 2 silvers, 1 to your discard pile, the other to the top of your deck. This helps mitigate attacks like Swindler and Saboteur, ones that mess with your deck. It makes Margrave and Minion a bit less hurtful to you. The normal action is great for a Moneylender(Base) deck, or Gardens(Base) deck, also helps Counting House(Prosperity) and Coppersmith(Intrigue). For a 2 cost, it's got some good things going on. Just be careful to not over copper.
- Catacombs (5) Look at the top 3 cards of your deck. Either put them in your hand or discard them and draw 3 cards. If you trash the Catacombs, gain a cheaper card. It's a solid card. Seeing what you would draw and deciding if you like that or not is a good ability. It's a better Smithy, which is why it costs more.
- Count (5) Do something bad: Discard 2 cards, put a card from your hand on top of your deck or gain a copper. Then do something good: +3 money, trash your hand, gain a Duchy. I've seen Counts work really well in 2 games. The ability to combine saving a card and then trashing, or discarding 2 cards and then trashing is good. Late game, take a dead end action, forward it to next turn, and then grab 3 money. At worst it's a gold that makes you lose a card or two.
- Counterfeit (5) Worth $1, +1 buy. Take a treasure card and play it twice, then trash it. It turns copper into silver, silver into $4, Gold into $6, and Platinum into $10. It works really well on Spoils, since you're losing them anyways. Counterfeit works well early to trim your deck of Coppers, and then works late to get you extra money to buy victory cards and get rid of the money that doesn't help you in the end. One of my favorite cards in the set.
- Cultist (5) +2 cards, each other player gains a Ruins, you may play another Cultist (meaning you can chain them for a grand total of 1 action). When you trash a Cultist +3 cards (so yes, sacrificing Cultists on the Altar is both a viable strategy and a really fun combo). I like Cultist. I think the chaining is something fun in Dominion, but I'm glad it's not overdone.
- Death Cart (4) +$5. You may trash an action card from your hand. If you don't, trash the Death Cart. When you gain this, gain 2 Ruins. Death Cart isn't without it's drawbacks, but the ruins give you something to trash from the get-go. Yes, Death Cart does make you want to say "Bring out your dead!" Trust me, it's more fun that way. Solid card here.
- Feodum (4) Victory card worth 1 point for every 3 silvers in your deck. When you trash a Feodum, gain 3 silvers. I don't want to spoil too many strategies here, but Feodum is fun and makes for wonky math.
- Forager (3) Trash a card from your hand. +$1 for each differently named treasure in the trash. Most of the game, this is worth $1 for copper, or maybe $2 for copper and silver. I've yet to see this with loans, talismans, quarries, etc in play. I think those would make Foragers really good.
- Fortress (4) +1 card, +2 actions, when this is trashed, put it in your hand. It's a village that comes back to you when trashed. It works well with Foragers, Upgrades, Remodels. It's a safety for Death Cart and Rats. Not something to buy all the time, probably a weaker $4 in the grand scheme of Dominion, but a good card.
- Graverobber (5) - Choose One: Gain a Card from the trash costing $3-$6, or trash an action card from your hand and gain a card costing up to $3 more than the trashed card. Graverobber is a conditional Expand(Prosperity), but also a fun way to get cards back from the trash.
- Hermit (3) - Gain a card costing up to 3, you may trash a non treasure card from your hand or discard pile. If you don't buy a card, trash the Hermit, gain a Madman(Yes, Hermits turn into Madmen).
- Madman (0*) +2 actions, then you may return this to the Madman pile to draw 1 card for every card in your hand. Madman is a great draw card. You have to jump through a couple of hoops to get there, but a double Madman turn near the end can be the difference in the game.
- Hunting Grounds (6) +4 cards. When this is trashed gain a Duchy or 3 Estates. Great card to draw 4, cool trash ability.
- Ironmonger (4) +1 card, +1 action, reveal top card of deck, get something based on what it is, discard it or put it back on top. It's solid, but it can be luck based. As least you get something for it, either an action, +$1, or a card, so it's never bad, it just isn't always great.
- Junk Dealer (5) +1 card, +1 action, +$1, trash a card from your hand. The mandatory trashing can hurt at times, but you're in control of playing or not playing your Junk Dealer. Just be careful. At least with so many cards that have a when you trash do ... benefit, you'll rarely be in a no win scenario.
- Knights (4 or 5) Each Knight does something different. There are 10 unique knights with their own abilities. All have an attack though, which is each other player reveals the top 2 cards of their deck, and trashes one of them between $3 and $6. If a Knight is trashed, trashed the attacking Knight. I've yet to play with all the Knights, but I like the variety in them. Certain Knights are better than others, but you know what you're buying when you get one. A fun idea, maybe not the best execution, but enjoyable so far.
- Marauder (4) Gain a Spoils. Each other player gains a Ruins. This is a really good attack card. It gives you that temporary gold, it hurts your opponents, what more can you really want?
- Market Square (3) +1 card, +1 action, +1 buy. When one of your cards is trashed, you may discard your market square and gain a gold. The card action buy is a nice thing regardless of the setup, not great, but helpful at times. The reaction part is great because you gain free gold. This works when either you trash a card from your hand, or you are attacked and have a card trashed, i.e. Swindler, Saboteur.
- Mystic (5) +1 action, +$2, name a card, reveal the top card from your deck, if they match, add the card to your hand. This is the modified Wishing Well(Intrigue). The bonus, if you have 2 Mystics, you're getting +$4, and at least one card for sure. This combos really well with anything that lets you put cards back on your deck like Scout(Intrigue), Spy(Base), Wandering Minstrel(Dark).
- Pillage (5) Trash this. Each other player with 5+ cards in hand discards a card of your choice. Gain 2 Spoils. Pillage is mean, no doubt about it, but it's one shot. I like that you have to weigh the timing of Pillage with the fact that you're going to lose the card. You're buying it to gain 2 temporary cards which will hopefully turn into a Province. Not the best thing if you ask me, but still an interesting card.
- Poor House (1) +$4. Reveal your hand, -$1 for each treasure card in your hand, to a minimum of $0. This is interesting for two reasons. First, it's the first card that costs $1. Second, It can actually hurt you if you have too much money around, it will take money off the table from cards like Market(Base) or anything else that gives money. I've yet to play a game with it, but it seems to have some interesting dynamics going.
- Procession (4) Play an action card from your hand twice, then trash it and gain an action card costing exactly $1 more than the trashed card. Procession is an interesting twist on the Throne Room(Base). It's a good way to get rid of Ruins and Rats. It has other uses for getting rid of actions you no longer want. Overall an interesting card, but one that takes a good amount of forethought.
- Rats (4) +1 card, +1 action, gain a Rats, trash a card that isn't Rats from your hand. When you trash a Rats, +1 card. That's right, Rats multiply and take over your deck. They go really well with a card that lets you trash something, Death Cart, Procession, Hermit, Graverobber, etc. Rats take a careful balance, else you may find that you have nothing but Rats, and no one to rid yourself of them.
- Rebuild (5) +1 action, name a card. Reveal cards from your deck until you reveal a victory card that isn't what you named. Trash the victory card and gain a card costing up to $3 more than it. Rebuild is a great way to turn Duchies into Provinces, Provinces into Colonies, and Estates into useful $5 actions, or Duchies. I haven't seen the full depth of Rebuild, but it's a good card, and a solid way to gain points.
- Rogue (5) +$2. If there's a card in the trash $3-$6, gain one of them. If there isn't, each player reveals 2 cards from their deck and trashes one of them costing from $3-$6. Like Graverobber, Rogue takes cards from the trash. Rogue has a way to put other player's good stuff in the trash, where Graverobber puts your own stuff in the trash. I've had both in the same game, and we all liked Graverobber better, just due to the trash your own stuff, but Rogue is still a good card.
- Sage (3) +1 action, reveal cards from your deck until you find one costing $3 or more. Put that into your hand, discard the rest. Sage is a great cycler. You're going to find something good, but near the end, you'll find Provinces and Duchies. I like sage a lot in the early game. It sorts through the copper and estates/shelters and finds what you're really looking for.
- Scavenger (4) +$2. You may put your deck into your discard. If you do, you may look through your discard pile and put one card on top of your deck. This is a better Chancellor(Base). The ability to have a card in your next hand for sure is a nice thing. Not amazing, but a solid ability.
- Squire (2) +$1 then choose one: +2 actions, +2 buys, gain a silver. When the Squire is trashed, gain an attack card. Squires are great for the trash ability alone. They're also good for gaining free silver, or giving you those extra actions to make your deck work. Squire is a card I would buy at $3, so $2 feels like a steal.
- Storeroom (3) +1 buy. Discard any number of cards and draw that many. Then discard any number of cards, +$1 per card discarded the 2nd time. Storeroom isn't amazing, but it is good. It lets you sort out the cards you don't want for new cards, and then the cards you don't want for money. It isn't the focus of a deck, but it plays an excellent support role.
- Urchin (3) +1 card, +1 action, each other player discards down to 4 cards in hand. When you play another attack with this in play, you may trash the Urchin and gain a Mercenary. Urchin itself is a nice little attack. The power of the card is in the Mercenary.
- Mercenary (0*) You may trash 2 cards from your hand. If you do, +2 cards, +$2, each other player discards down to a 3 card hand. Mercenaries work a lot better in +2 action games, just so you can use the cards you gain. They're great to thin out Ruins, Shelters, Rats, and Curses. The downside is the need to trash cards, but if you have things to trash, Mercenaries are great.
- Vagrant (2) +1 card, +1 action, reveal the top card of your deck. If it's a victory, curse, shelter, ruin, put it in your hand, else put it back. Vagrants set up your next hand. They aren't great, but for $2, they're ok. They stay useful all game, but are best early and late.
- Wandering Minstrel (4) +1 card, +2 actions. Reveal the top 3 cards from your deck. Put the actions back in any order, discard the rest. This card is an action lover's dream. I tend to like money a bit too much, so Wandering Minstrel fails me, but for action players, it dominates. It's cheap, so it's easy to get a lot of them. It feels a bit too good as a $4, but in some games it won't be great.
Some of my favorite cards in this set, in no particular order, are Rats, Counterfeit, Death Cart, Cultist and Mystic. I need to play a bit more to order that list, but you can bank on me doing a Top 7 list o Dominion cards sometime in the future.
So that's some thoughts of each of the cards. As you can tell, there are a lot of different cards here. There are 35 different kingdom cards for the setup, as well as Madman and Mercenary which are only from Hermits and Urchins. I've played a few games with all Dark Ages cards, and that seems to have the best mix of cards. Mixing them with all the others can leave you without trashers, and then the odds of Ruins and Spoils drop drastically.
Here's the big question, where does Dark Ages rate overall? Well, I really do like it. The set is not friendly to new players, trashing is a complicated mechanic as it is, and Dark Ages makes it more so with cards that do something when trashed. Prosperity is still my favorite expansion, and Seaside is still my #2, but I think Dark Ages has slid into #3 for me. It's still a bit early to tell, but it's done something no other expansion has done. It's made me excited for Dominion again. If you've been reading my blog, you've noticed that I haven't played a game of Dominion (in person) all year until the end of August. Well, you're looking at the reason I broke it out. These cards are interesting, there's tons of depth and options that I've yet to explore.
If I was telling you what expansion(s) to get for Dominion, I wouldn't say Dark Ages first. But if you've played some, and you're looking for something a bit different, get Dark Ages. It certainly has the best bang for your buck.
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