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Subject: If you don't like Dominion, should you avoid A Few Acres of Snow? rss

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Russell D
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This review is especially aimed at people who are intrigued by "A Few Acres of Snow", but have heard of similarities to Dominion, and don't like that game. I hope this review will explain why that shouldn't put you off.

I played Dominion a fair few times when it first came out, but I tired of it pretty quickly. I felt that the actual play of the game (as opposed to devising my strategy at the beginning) didn't have any interesting decisions. For me, it was drawn out and pretty boring. The Intrigue expansion rekindled my enthusiasm for a short time, but now I really would only play Dominion when there is nothing else on offer.

So the game billed as "Martin Wallace's Dominion" wasn't necessarily going to enthral me. I like most of Martin's game which I've played, but my wife doesn't, nor does she like wargames. Since my wife is my main two-player game opponent (and this is a two-player game), there seemed to be plenty of reasons not to buy "A Few Acres of Snow". But on an impulse, at the last minute I ordered a limited edition copy. And, as I'll explain, I am very glad I did.

The game's theme involves the wars between the British and French during the eighteenth century in Canada and North America. Although there is a fair amount of peaceful expansion, settling, and trading, the two sides also come into conflict, so this is by some measure an historical wargame.

The game itself is beautiful, great cards that conjure up images of the period and a very nicely designed game board. I initially thought that the map took up too small a proportion of the board (most of the space is given over to space for the cards) but in playing it works really well. Some people have complained about the very small (limited edition) components, but I think they work very well giving an intricate feel, almost more like a map than an ordinary game. It's great to have plenty of dedicated space for all the cards in their different piles, so the board design works as it should.

The game involves the deck-building actions familiar from Dominion and its clones. Cards are bought or otherwise obtained and placed in the discard pile. When the draw pile is exhausted, it's shuffled, and your new and old cards are mixed together ready for future draws. If you need something in a hurry-- tough! If you draft in some infantry, say, you usually need to wait for a reshuffle before there's any chance of getting it in your hand.

To mitigate the randomness of the deck, there are some very nice features such as a reserve pile where you can store some cards for later (at a small cost), and the French player's "intendant" who can retrieve a card from the discard pile. "Home support" lets you draw additional cards, and "Governor" lets you throw one or two cards out of your deck. So there is some limited control over the deck, but most of the time you are doing the best you can with the cards you have drawn.

Once you have your hand of cards, there are lots of options. This is where, to my mind, the game diverts from Dominion and is so much better. You can settle, raid, ambush, lay sieges (which is the main kind of battle), trade, improve or fortify settlements. Many cards have multiple uses: do you keep a card in hand waiting for the killer combo, or use it now to clear space in your hand? Do you need to keep some defence against possible raids and ambushes from your opponent? Or do you go all-out on the offensive? There are many strategic options for both sides in how to expand settlements, by land, sea, or river, each with their pros and cons. You'll find yourself studying the map and the various connections between locations of varying strategic importance. You can see what cards your opponent is buying, and so you find yourself trying to second goes his or her plans, buying cards that will help you defend, or fortifying your weakest areas. Every time I play I want to play again to try out different things and see how the game develops.

Of course, I realise it's completely unfair to compare this game to Dominion-- they share a deck-building mechanism, but the actual play of cards and the development of the narrative is totally different. "Dominion" is useful short-hand to describe deck-building but "A Few Acres" has an entirely different feel.

The game ends when a certain number of settlements have been built or captured, and points are scored based on settlements which score VPs, and successful sieges and raids. In the four games I've played, France has won every time, but the game has developed differently each time, and I actually think France is harder to play (fortunately, France starts with a VP lead to compensate). At the moment, I don't have any worries about game balance.

The rules are very clear, although after a few plays there are one or two questions I have had about 'edge cases' (which I've asked about here on the Geek.) I realise this is quite usual for a new game of this kind. The rules are well-written and after a couple of games, very few references are needed to the rulebook.

I've found the game plays in 90 minutes or so. Other people have reported a 60 minute playing time, I can certainly see that as achievable with the right players who are familiar with the game. There's an incredible amount of depth and narrative development that fits into such a short game.

Best of all, my wife and I both love the game. It doesn't remind me at all of the things I find annoying about Dominion, and I love both the play of the game, and the theme and narrative feel that support it. My wife says she loves this game: which is unusual for her when it comes to a game on the war-game spectrum, or from Martin Wallace, so it's a real winner and highly recommended whether you like Dominion or not.
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Matthew Rooks
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Nice review! I agree with your sentiments. Dominion was an interesting game that I enjoyed through the first few expansions, but it quickly lost its zeal. "A Few Acres of Snow" has the mark of one of those rare games that promise to remain at the top of my favorites list for a long time to come...
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Simon Webster
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Great review, thanks.

The idea of deck-building combined with a board seems like such a simple one. When I first played this it was a 'Why hasn't anyone done this before?' moment.
Yeah I know. Dominion isn't actually that old and game development takes time...

I doubt if it will be long before we see more DBG with a board.
But it works so well here. It helps that the thematic integration with the deck-building mechanic is spot on too.

IMHO despite the deluge of games that may follow in it's footsteps, A Few Acres of Snow deserves to be remembered as the ground-breaking title it is. I'm sure it will.
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Robert Forrest
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Great review, thanks! My copy should be turning up any day now, and I hope my wife and I enjoy it as much as you guys.
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Blue Fox
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I think your review just moved this from interested to buy, great review..
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s m t
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Thanks for the great review.
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Clyde W
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I'm totally in your boat (well, minus the wife thing): dislike Dominion buy preordered this because I think the deckbuilding mechanic is awesome but Dominion's implementation of it is boring. My copy arrived yesterday and I'm playing tomorrow night against a coworker after work. Wish me luck!
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Ove Ahlman
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I'm kinda in the same spot. I was pretty okay with dominions mechanich, but completly hated the intrigue expansion, which is about messing with your opponeny. So I was a bit sceptical when I read about a few acres, but now when I've played It I'm happy I got a limited ed copy.


The two times I've played it the brittish have been dominating, not the french as your case. So I guess its well balanced since we have opinions from both camps :-)
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Norman Hedden
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Dominion makes me wanna puke. Tyvm for this review. Must have it now especially if your wife likes it. My finance is also my gaming partner. Thx for clearing up the mechanics.
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Roland Wood
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Normandy wrote:
My finance is also my gaming partner.


My finances (or lack thereof) are my gaming enemy... laugh
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David Janik-Jones
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Nice review, also someone who likes Dominion but would play others from my collection much more willingly. I like the idea of the drafting mechanics applied to a wargame, very well done by Wallace. The review's good an has made me put this on my highly considering list.
 
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Balint Weisz
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WrenHong wrote:
Great review, thanks.

The idea of deck-building combined with a board seems like such a simple one. When I first played this it was a 'Why hasn't anyone done this before?' moment.
Yeah I know. Dominion isn't actually that old and game development takes time...

I doubt if it will be long before we see more DBG with a board.
But it works so well here. It helps that the thematic integration with the deck-building mechanic is spot on too.

IMHO despite the deluge of games that may follow in it's footsteps, A Few Acres of Snow deserves to be remembered as the ground-breaking title it is. I'm sure it will.


For a "deckbuilding game with a board", check out StarCraft and Middle-Earth Quest. Although the deckbuilding mechanisms in these games are a bit different from that of Dominion and it's not the only or even the main mechanism in either of them, the former came out one year before Dominion, and the latter just one year after it. So it's not only that A Few Acres Of Snow isn't the first "deckbuilding game with a board" but Dominion wasn't even the first game with a deckbuilding mechanism.
 
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Nathaniel Todd
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A few acres of snow sounds very intriguing and groundbreaking. I'm afraid, however that I won't be able to get it to the table, as the other somewhat wargamish 2 player titles I own (Neuroshima Hex, Memoir '44) never see play as the Mrs. is my primary 2p gaming opponent and doesn't care for them! I do love Dominion personally, but I would love to see how added depth, play choices, and board could integrate into a new type of game...
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Jimmy Okolica
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fadeproofvision wrote:
A few acres of snow sounds very intriguing and groundbreaking. I'm afraid, however that I won't be able to get it to the table, as the other somewhat wargamish 2 player titles I own (Neuroshima Hex, Memoir '44) never see play as the Mrs. is my primary 2p gaming opponent and doesn't care for them! I do love Dominion personally, but I would love to see how added depth, play choices, and board could integrate into a new type of game...


Yes, it is (or at least has the potential to be) a war game, but not at all like Memoir 44. Frankly, my gf plays it as an interactive, deck building area control game. At most, you will be capturing 6 of your opponent's units. However, generally it is less. There is attacking and defending, but that's no different than a game like Blue Moon. At this point neither my gf nor I play any war games (and we've tried and traded away Memoir 44, Twilight Struggle, and Labyrinth: War on Terror) but we both really love AFAoS. Personally, I'd suggest giving it a try.
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Keith Ferguson
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Well, I'm one that does not like Dominion at all - and I tried AFAOS to see if there was a difference. Not for me. I still found the deck building aspect to be incredibly annoying.

I may be biased, however. I learned this at Prezcon, where the guy running the tournament told everyone up front that the game was broken, and he was refusing to run it as a tournament game. So, before I had even played the game, I was told about the "Halifax Hammer", which significantly reduced the interest of the game for me.
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