I finally got the opportunity to bring out this game, which had been sitting unplayed at the top of my pile. I have only played 2 games of Domaine so far, but I think that is sufficient to be able to make a decent review. Domaine is supposedly a redevelopment of Lowenherz, but i have not played it
Domaine is a game of area enclosure. But unlike Go or Through the Desert where areas remain relatively fixed once they are created, Domaine allows these areas to be in a state of constant flux. Also, you do not simply do anything you want each turn. You must play cards to take your actions, and cards cost money.
The first bit of fun in Domaine is the setup. The board is a hollow frame that is filled in with 9 large tiles. The center tile is a special one, but the other 8 are shuffled and randomly placed. All 9 tiles can go in any orientation. This makes the board different every game, which is very nice.
There's a deck of Action Cards with A, B, C, or D on the backs. The cards are sorted into piles by letter, each pile is shuffled, and then stacked A/B/C/D with D on the bottom. Each player gets 3 cards.
Each player also gets 4 Castles (3 in 4p game), 15 Knights, and 7 Ducats (money).
Players take turns placing a Castle/Knight combination on the board. Castles of the same color must have 6 orthogonal spaces between them. This can make placement very tricky. For example, if you place your first Castle in the very center of the board, you will have to place the rest of your Castles on the edges or in the corners. In the 2p game, players also take turns placing 4 Castles of a neutral color.
The game ends when a player reaches a pre-determined number of victory points (2p=50, 3p=40, 4p=30), or the deck of cards runs out. Victory points are gained by creating domaines with various features in them (Forests, Villages, Royal City), and by creating monopolies in any of the 4 types of mines (Diamond, Gold, Silver, Copper).
Royal City = 5 VP
Village = 3 VP
Forest = 1 VP
Monopoly (3 or 4 mines of the same type) = 5 VP
All VP shown on the scoring track are a reflection of the current game state. If any conditions change that affect the above 4 scoring values, VP are adjusted for the affected player(s).
At the beginning of a player's turn, he collects a Ducat for each different type of Mine in all his Domaines. Then they take their action: play a card, or sell a card. If you play a card, you must pay its cost (upper left), and take its action. If you sell a card, you collect the number of Ducats shown on the card (upper right). The cost to play a card is typically more than the money you get for selling it. If you play a card, it goes to the discard pile. If you sell a card, it goes to the Chancery, a location on the board that makes it avaialable to the other players. At the end of your turn, you may draw a card from the draw pile or the Chancery (except the card you might have just sold).
I should define one important term here. A Domaine is a single Castle that is completely cut off from all other Castles by walls and the edge of the board.
The card actions are:
Build Walls: Add the number of walls shown onto the board. You can play anywhere except in a Domaine, or between Castles/Knights of the same color.
Expand: Add two locations on the board to an existing Domaine. This involves adjusting/adding walls to enclose the 2 chosen spaces. You can expand to any adjacent space, but if those spaces are owned by another Domaine, you must have more Knights in your Domaine than the opponent.
Play Knight(s): Add a Knight adjacent to any of your Castles/Knights.
Deserter: Remove a Knight from a Domaine adjacent to one of yours, and add a Knight to yours.
Alliance: Choose a Domaine of yours and an adjacent enemy Domaine. Turn a wall to indicate the Alliance. These 2 Domaines may not expand into each other for the rest of the game.
After each turn, any changes that affected VP are updated. This includes the creation of Domaines, changes in Domaines from expansion, and gain/loss of Mine monopolies.
There are a lot of interesting forces at work in Domaine.
The first is in the cards. Money is scarce at the beginning until you start to get some Domaines with Mines in them. So will need to sell cards often. However, you must balance what you sell with the fact that the opponent may pick up those cards.
The other thing with cards is that they are in a semi-order. At the beginning of the game, walls are the most wanted and common action, but as the game progresses, you will find that expansions and Knights are very valuable, and that walls are scarce. It may even seem like there are not enough walls. You need to realize that expanding a Domaine can be more valuable than adding walls, and that, in fact, expansion often adds more walls than a wall action does.
The desire to make huge Domaines must be tempered by the fact that an opponent's Domaine, however small, can have its way with your yet unformed huge Domaine. That is, you cannot use expansion cards unless you have a Domaine. Also, no matter how many Knights a Castle has, it can be encroached upon by any Domaine if it is not yet a Domaine itself.
Another tough choice to make is where to play walls. You can play to make your own Domaines large, but that takes time and a lot of actions and money. You can play to make your opponent's Domaines small, but that allows them to make a Domaine faster, allowing them additional options.
The final tough choice is during expansion. Usually, you will have many options as to which locations to absorb. You can go for locations that score VP themselves (Royal City, Villages, Forests), you can go for new Mines types to increase your Ducats each turn, or you can go for more Mines of types you already have to get the VP for the monopoly. All of these actions, of course, can also steal the same VP/Ducats from the opponent.
Components: 9 (Mayfair). This game is surprisingly well done for Mayfair. My only gripes are small ones about the box insert, the cards, and the walls. The board is thick and fits snugly together. The rules are easy to understand, colorful, and have nice examples.
Overall: 8. This will likely only go down if the game starts to stagnate. The fact that the board is different every game, and that cards control your actions gives the game a slightly different quality with each play. In some ways, it spans a gap between a lighter game in its play, and a medium weight game in its choices. This could be a problem in some games, but the span in Domaine is small enough to not be prohibitive.