Eminent Domain is the second game I’ve bought from Tasty Minstrel (the first being Homesteaders, which I enjoyed) and I am quite interested in their other future offerings: Belfort and Kings of Air and Steam. I’ve been quite happy to support them as a new company, as long as they continue to produce interesting games. Homesteaders I liked, but had some component quality issues with the printing I got. Even Eminent Domain had some minor issues with the finishing of the cards, but I can see that they are trying to improve the quality of their components to complement the game designs. They have recently been funding their board game projects via Kickstarter, which I think is a good way to start for a new company like this. I really hope they continue to do well, as I have enjoyed the games I’ve bought so far.
Now, on to the game itself. Eminent Domain is yet another deck building game. Wait..come back! I know deck building games seem to be a dime a dozen recently, and I wouldn’t fault you if you gave this one a pass and you’re ready to move on to other board game genres. Now, I have only played it once but I think there is some potential here that sets it apart from the Dominion-clones. For one, it is actually quite similar to two other card games that I like: Glory to Rome and Race for the Galaxy. In Eminent Domain, you don’t start out with resources as cards in your deck which you then use to buy other cards. Oh no. Like Glory to Rome, each card actually represents a specific Role that allows you to take particular actions. It’s like Donald X. and Carl Chudyk made the sweet sweet lovin’ and gave birth to this hybrid. Hold on, I’ve got some fanfiction to write…
Okay, I’m back.
Each turn you could play a card for its Action and/or Lead a Role. Actions are optional, but Leading is mandatory. To Lead the role, you pick a role from the central display to Lead and add the corresponding card to your play area. You then have the opportunity to Boost the Role by playing out similar cards with the same Icons in your hand. Icons on active Planets you own also count when Boosting or Following. Other players can then choose to Follow and execute and Boost the same action, minus the Leader benefit, or Think..Oops I mean Dissent, and just draw a card. At the end of your turn all cards in the play area are discarded and you can also discard any number of cards from your hand. Then, you draw cards to refill your hand to the default size of 5. If you cannot draw a card, shuffle your discard blah blah blah. Thus, as you execute roles you are also adding those Role Icons to your deck which makes you better at them and more likely to continue to Lead and Boost those roles. There are 6 Roles that you can Lead:
Survey – Look at the Planets deck and choose a Planet to start settling. The Planet card gets added to your play area face down. Boost to increase the number of Planet cards you can look at. Leader Bonus: Look at 1 extra Planet.
Colonize – Establish a Colony on a face down planet, tucking the Colonize card underneath the Planet. Once a Planet has Colonies at least equal to the Colonize number on its back, it can be Settled and flipped over to its active side. Active Planets are worth Victory Points as well as provide Icons and Goods slots. Boost to add more Colonies as part of the same action. Leader Bonus: Can Settle a Planet instead. You can’t do both in the same action.
Warfare – Collect a Fighter. If you have Fighters at least equal to the Fighter number on the back of a Planet, you can return that many Fighters to the supply to Attack the Planet, turning it over. Boost to collect additional Fighters. Leader Bonus: Can Attack a Planet instead. You can’t do both in the same action.
Research – Acquire a Technology card, if you meet its requirements. There are numerous Technology cards which provide special actions, and also can be used to Boost Roles by matching the icons on the card. Technology cards usually require you to have a certain number of Planets of a certain type face up, and a number of Research Icons played including the Research Icon from Leading the Role. Boost to add Research Icons. No Leader bonus.
Produce – Produce a Good on one of the empty Slots on your Planets. Boost to produce additional Goods. Leader Bonus: Gain an additional Produce Icon, only when the supply is exhausted.
Trade – Trade a Good for a Victory Point. Boost to Trade additional Goods. Leader Bonus: Gain an additional Trade Icon, only when the supply is exhausted.
There are also various Technology cards and the Politics card which provide unique actions and additional Icons. Think of the Technology cards as the Kingdom cards in Dominion, except that they are all always available until they are bought. In my first game, we were quite slow to buy technologies but quickly realised how useful they are and will probably explore them more as we play. The Technology cards add a lot of different options and complement different strategies.
The final turn starts once a certain number of Supply piles run out or when the initial supply of 24 Victory Point tokens run out. The game ends with the final turn of the person to the right of the starting player, such that every player has the same number of turns, and the player with the most Victory Points is the winner, winner, chicken dinner.
The First Impression
I can’t really call this a review, as I’ve only played the game once so far. However, that first play has got me intrigued. I like that it’s not the same old take on the deck building genre with a different theme. The role selection and boosting mechanic that adds the role card to your deck, as well as the potential to Follow on to other Players’ roles could potentially lead to interesting decisions. If you diversify too much to try to piggy back on actions outside your turn, the actions you take may not be as efficient as you are not boosting as much. On the other hand, if you specialise too much, then you miss out on out of turn actions and your action economy suffers. You have to tailor your strategy to account for other players’ behaviour, as I found out in my first game as I was the only one ever Leading Warfare and missing out on a lot of the Colonize action. Luckily, I got some really good planets off Surveys and I managed to come in second. It’s also nice that you feel involved outside your own turn as other player’s Role choices could affect you.
Also, I like the clean visual design of the game components. Fantasy Flight games on the other hand, tend to add a lot more chrome and art that sometimes ends up making the design too “busy” and hard to parse. Colour-blind friendliness is an issue there too. However, the art design for Eminent Domain makes everything clear and distinct. Some people might feel it’s a bit too sterile, but I appreciate how functional it all is. I think my friends would call it the “Engineer’s Beauty”, one that emphasises function over form. Plus, hey lots of cool spaceship fighter minis! WOOOOOOOSH!! Lock S-Foils in attack position! PEW PEW PEW! Launch photon torpedoes! EEEEEAAOOOOOWWWW! BOOOOOOOM!!
The Produce/Trade cycle was very similar to Race for the Galaxy, but I felt it was pretty weak and felt just like more clutter to the design. However, this could just be due to us still learning the ropes and not realizing its actual value yet. Our first game ended with a fairly small margin between each player, so perhaps Goods are good after all (see what I did there? Hurr hurr) as every point is crucial. I’ll wait a few more plays to decide on this part of the game. It was also quite overwhelming to have the full choice of Technologies to pick and choose from, which lead to some downtime as we all read the cards. The rulebook suggested playing the first game without the Technologies, or at least without the full complement, which may be a good idea since there’s a fair bit to get used to if it’s your first game. I do see a lot of potential with the different Technologies and Planets that could be used to expand this game, but right now there seems to be still plenty for us to explore.
Overall, I am very pleased with the design of the game so far and I look forward to exploring it more in the future. I give it an early 3 out of 5 PEW PEWs, with my long-range detectors scanning for signs of further gamery in the future.