OxCon 2009 – Part 1 – Saturday

The weekend just past was the date of the annual OxCon event at The Mitre in Oxford. Since I’ve found out about it, I’ve tried to make it every year, and this was my third time there.

Saturday was Puerto Rico, and the less said about my performance there the better, it isn’t my best game, but I managed to make several boneheaded moves during the day that left me cringing afterwards. I didn’t bother to try to figure out my ranking.

Around the Saturday competition, we managed to fit in a few pick-up games. Dominion proved to be very good, at least initially. Describing it by comparison to other games is difficult, so I won’t try.

Photograph of a game of Dominion in progress

In Dominion, there are three types of cards (yes, it is a card game).

  • Money
  • Victory points
  • Actions

These are all oragnised into piles in the middle of the table (one pile per card name. So all the Action: Market cards would be in one pile, and all the Victory points: 3 cards would be in another.

Each player starts with a seven of the cheapest money and three of the smallest victory point cards in their deck. These are shuffled and a starting hand of five cards is drawn.

Each turn a player can play and action card and then can buy one thing.

An action card will have one or more special effects. It might allow cards to be drawn, or allow a section action card to be played – but with double effect. Some will hurt other players (such as by making them discard cards from their hand) and some will be useless under current conditions.

When buying, a player looks at the number of coins in their hand, and then takes a card from one of the face up piles and adds it to the discard pile.

Then they discard their entire hand, and draw more cards. Play then proceeds to the left.

The game is one of balance and timing. You need to add money cards to your deck in order to afford more powerful cards, you also need action cards because their effects are so powerful. Of course, if you haven’t bought any victory point cards when the game ends (when three piles of cards, or the pile of Victory point: 6 cards, are exhausted) then you’re certainly going to loose.

The problem is that if you have too many cards that are not money, you won’t be about to afford to buy the cards you want (since your hand of five cards won’t have enough coins in it to afford the good stuff). The same problem applies to action cards.

This all means that it can become a fairly strategic game.

To make things more interesting, the game comes with something in the order of 25 different types of action card – but only 10 are used in any given game.

This means that the combinations of cards that are available changes, so games can be quite variable.

Unfortunately, when selecting the cards at random, we found that they would often turn up sets with one very powerful combination effect in them. When that happened, everybody would tend to blitz those two or three card types and the game would end very quickly and without a great deal of satisfaction.

We found it worked better using the preconstructed sets in the rulebook.

I don’t think I’ll buy this one, but I will play it again. Having had half a dozen games (more of them quite short), I’d suggest that every circle of gamers should have a copy. My opinion might change after I have another dozen games though.

Photo credit: Trevor Coultart

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