Good morning, cats and kittens.
Dominion: Guilds is the eighth (and final?) expansion to the deck-builder that defined the genre. (If you’re NOT familiar with Dominion, then I kindly invite you to crawl out from underneath whatever rock you’ve been hiding under for the last five years. Play some Dominion, get caught up on Doctor Who, and come back to this review when you’re ready. I’ll wait.)
Dominion happens to be my VERY FAVORITE game in the known universe, so it was fate that the final set should be released mere weeks before my birthday. (Don’t worry, I promise to give an objective review.) I bought the game at Cafe Mox, Seattle’s finest game shop & tavern under one roof, and my LOVELY COMPANION ordered a round of drinks. Is there a better way to enjoy a new game than with a pint of locally brewed stout, in the company of a beautiful woman?
Side note: Guilds was supposed to be a brief interlude before the grand finale, Dark Ages, but the schedule was shifted around, so the epic that is Dominion ends on this subtle denouement instead of the rousing climax that Dark Ages would have been.
Was it worth the wait? (Spoiler alert: it was worth the wait.)
What’s inside the BOX?
I assume you are familiar with Dominion and its expansions.
Guilds is a small expansion, like Alchemy and Cornucopia. It includes only 13 Kingdom cards (10 of each, plus one Randomizer) unlike the other expansions which have 25-35 Kingdom cards. Like all other expansions except Intrigue, it does *not* contain the basic treasure, victory, and curse cards needed to play — this is a pure expansion, and you need either the base game or Intrigue to go with it. Another option would be to buy the stand-alone Basic Cards, but since Guilds only has 13 Kingdom cards, you are going to want at least one or two other expansions as well, in order to get any good variety.
Like the other Dominion sets, the artwork on the cards is by a wide variety of artists. The styles are very different, but in this set they mesh well together. Some of the cards have fairly detailed and shaded paintings that attempt a “realistic” look, while others are simpler and a bit more cartoony. None stand out as exceptionally great (like Cornucopia’s Jester), and none are horrifically bad either (like Harem from Intrigue). They serve their purpose of making the cards easily distinguishable from each other, without being distracting.
Also included are 25 coin tokens, identical to the ones found in Seaside or Prosperity.
The rulebook is exactly as we have come to expect from this series. The best part is the FLAVOR TEXT on the cover. “Ironic tilling” indeed.
A few words about THEME
Most of the cards represent the humble artisans and craftsmen who keep your dominion running smoothly. I am TICKLED that the game includes a Butcher, a Baker, and a Candlestick Maker. The only flaw is that the Butcher is the only one out of the three that does not have +1 Action, so another card is required to play all three of those cards in order.
Applying the cards’ theme literally leads to some fun situations. Butcher is a trasher/upgrader. It makes sense, because a butcher turns a dead cow (which isn’t worth much to anybody) into tender and delicious steaks (which are more valuable to the average monarch). But when you play with Dark Ages, you can Butcher RATS into GOLD, which doesn’t say much for the cuisine of that era. IT WAS A DIFFERENT TIME.
What makes this game UNIQUE?
Despite being a small set, Guilds adds not one, but TWO new mechanics to the game.
Coin tokens: five of the action cards in this set allow the player to collect a coin token, which can be spent immediately or saved for a future turn. One card, the Baker, issues every player a coin during setup, which makes buying a Gold on turn 1 or 2 a possibility. Sweet! The other new mechanic is “Overpay”. Four cards in this set have a minimum cost, but give the buyer some benefit when paying above the minimum. For example, Masterpiece is a treasure with a value of 1 and a cost of 3+. For each coin overpaid, the buyer also gains a Silver. So if you buy a Masterpiece for 6, you get 3 Silvers as well. This is a clever twist on the “on-buy” effects in Hinterlands.
What makes this game FUN?
For me, it’s all about the coin tokens. Although they look identical to the ones used with Pirate Ship (Seaside) and Trade Route (Prosperity), they are used in a TOTALLY DIFFERENT way. Those older cards require you to collect coins ONLY under certain circumstances and store them on a mat, and they can be used ONLY by waiting for Pirate Ship or Trade Route to reappear in your hand, and then using up an Action. Coin tokens in Guilds may be spent during your buy phase ON ANY TURN.
When spent, they go back into the supply instead of sticking around until later, but they are MUCH MORE FLEXIBLE than coins on Trade Route or Pirate Ship. This leads to a lot of “oh goodie” moments — when an “oh crud, I only have seven to spend” turns into, “Oh goodie! I shall buy a Province.” Also note, Coin Tokens can’t be discarded or trashed by attacks.
The Overpay mechanic is a little trickier to pull off, but it is satisfying to find a good combo. In the example above, spending six for a Masterpiece (essentially a Copper) and three Silvers may not seem better than just buying a Gold, but having a trash-for-benefit card on the board (like Bishop) will turn this into a great combo over the long term. Another card with Overpay, the Stonemason, costs 2+ and gives you two copies of any Action card equal to the value you overpay. But its primary ability is trashing a card into two cards costing less than it. Turning a Gold into two Duchies is a great tactic on the last trip through your deck.
Who should buy this game?
If you are a Dominion fanatic like me, you will want this regardless. But I realize there are certain deeply disturbed individuals who are SELECTIVE about which Dominion sets they buy.
I would say this is the most “crowd pleasing” expansion since Prosperity. By that, I mean many of the cards are easy and obvious to use. The cards with Coin Tokens, in particular, are especially good for groups of mixed skill levels; beginners make excellent use of them, and those who have mastered more subtle strategy will able to use them in deadly combos. Some cards, like the Baker (+1 Card, +1 Action, +1 Coin Token) are going to be desirable in nearly every game. Of course, if you have Knights and Pillage on the board, then the humble Bakers will be caught in the crossfire (not even the tastiest loaf of bread is a match for forged steel swords.)
The Coin Tokens synergize well with the “money” theme of Prosperity, and I predict those two sets will be a popular pairing. There is something about buying two Colonies on a single turn that feels like PUTTING YOUR FIRST DOWN PAYMENT ON A HOUSE in real life.
The Overpay mechanic is a little tougher to master, but these are the cards that provide the depth that the power gamers crave. However, Guilds does not have that “my brain is broken” feeling that I got from some of the more complex cards in Dark Ages.
If you are one of those Dominion players who loves the subtle complex combos you get from Dark Ages and Alchemy, you may find this set a little “light”. But everyone else will be pleased. This is easily the best and most “complete” of the small expansions, and a solid entry when compared to the big ones.
Until next time!