Dominion: Digital App ★★★★ | Review
Dominion is one of the most dangerous time wasters I’ve gotten my hands on. Whenever it comes to the table, it’s hard to resist not playing one game after another. And now, I have it on my phone. After years of clunky implementations, subscription-only services and picture-less apps made by fans, we finally have a digital version of Dominion that can be called complete. May the Heart of the Cards have mercy on us all.
Dominion has always been slower than its gameplay. Decisions can be made in seconds; shuffling, reading and setup, do not. And while fancy graphics and cute animations may seem appealing, waiting for each and every move wears down your patience. The fact is that the most important decisions are made at the start, which coupled with the game’s inherent randomness makes quick play a top priority.
Thankfully, Temple Gates’s app is fast. Menus open without delay and the game moves at a good pace. Cards make an unique sound when played, which helps recognize them, and our opponent’s actions are logged next to their name. On the phone, we are also given the choice between dragging and clicking, whatever we find smoother.
The most underrated feature? No load screens. There are no splash screens on startup, no slow-moving internet connection like in Through the Breach or Slay the Spire. It loads instantly. Two clicks is all that separates the main screen from the start of a match. It may seem silly, particularly for those who are not as impatient as I am, but it makes all the difference while commuting.
You can also play fast because you can have an undo button. A well-made one, at that. It lets you undo without issue as long as you didn’t gain any extra information. And if you did, it still lets you go back, it just disables any achievements. In multiplayer games, it asks your opponent for permission, which is a great way to handle it.
The app follows with the same focus on functionality. Its appearance is bland, but clear. There are never many icons or other instructions cluttering the play area. If too many cards gum up the view, they are automatically folded together. Available actions, money and buys are clearly shown on the screen, as are any special effects, tokens and little bells and whistles.
AI AND OTHER OPPONENTS
The second thing I wanted for Dominion was a tough AI opponent. No match can be quick if you have to find an opponent to play it. Or, at least, it cannot be as quickly put away as it is started. Be it for time, convenience or practice, having access to a computerized opponent is a must if we hope to play on the regular. Given I lose to the Hard AI about 75% of the time, it clearly succeeds on that basis.
Of course, I’m not the world’s strongest player. Like the best of us, I’m guilty of stuffing my deck with Villages and Gardens. But I have played several hundred matches, starting back with the original 2008 board game, and can play it better than most people I know. The fact that the computer not only knows how to play, but gets to the point of beating an experienced player is a huge point in its favour.
Most notably, the AI understands general strategies. It builds an economy before scoring. It avoids cursers if trashing would make them meaningless. It even sets up for megaturns! I was delighted to see it chain Bridge after Bridge to lower the cost of Provinces and then buy all of them in one fell swoop. Perhaps it won’t hold up after a month of practice but, for now, it’s more than enough.
For those who are not up for the challenge, the AI can be set to medium or easy. Here the machine makes more mistakes, it’s sloppier and goes for the wrong strategy more often. It’s a blunder-based approach. Sometimes it plays extremely well, sometimes it doesn’t do much. Occasionally, and if set to the lower difficulties, it stumbles to the point of never scoring. That could be improved.
Against humans, the options are equally great. There’s ranked play, quick matches, lobbies, private games and simply going back and forth on the same computer or phone. Games can be played in real time, using a chess clock, or asynchronously. Sadly, the shortest time frame for the latter is an entire week! I would have liked an option to play this way, but over the course of a single day.
Either way, it’s better than expected. Matches aren’t slow at all! It’s still faster and leaner than the tabletop. And while there’s no chat, an increasingly common feature, it’s not like Dominion ever required it either way. Lastly, the app features a daily challenge against the AI, with a unique kingdom setup.
One of the odd things about Temple Gates’s app is how long it has been in the making. Videos of it can be found online as far as three years ago. And it’s not the first time Dominion has had an official digital release, but the fourth. Fears of splitting the community or being forced to downgrade may give us pause.
The good news is that this is the best of them all. It’s cleaner, more convenient and better supported than Dominion.games and other previous releases. Most notably, it’s the first time we get proper AI opponents. And unlike them, this newer version is available for iPhone, Android and PC. My experience with the latter two has been excellent and forms the basis for the pictures in this article.
The app is currently available in four languages: English, Japanese, French and German. Price varies per region. The base set is always free and, here in Spain, large expansions (Like Dark Ages or Prosperity) cost 12€ and small ones, like Alchemy, cost 6€. In order to play ranked, we need to have three of them. Once we do, the setup will include expansions owned by at least one player. Either way, if you set up a lobby or invite your friends, you can choose exactly how to play.
There’s also a simple system where you can ban cards, in case you don’t like Possession or Chapel. But it can still be overbearing. Being thrown into a game where you don’t know any cards is a challenge! Even though the app includes tutorials for each and every expansion, information still feels scarce. I would have to see extended descriptions in some of the menus.
Temple Gate’s Dominion app is as great as it should be. All I could ask of it are minor improvements: Tournament support, clearer matchmaking, improved collection management, a deeper soundscape and more charming music. In this regard, the only additional bit of detail are the 1st edition cards, which were left out in newer releases. You do have to pay for the privilege, though, and they were cut for good reason.
And yet, as I type this, I’ve opened the app again on my phone. I flicker through the menus and set up another match. A new kingdom unfolds at my fingertips. It’s time to play again.
|DOMINION APP (2024)
|ORIGINAL 2008 DESIGN
|Donald X. Vaccarino
|Temple Gates Games
A digital copy of the game and its expansions was provided by Temple Gates Games for review purposes.