Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Seth Jaffee


No. of Players:
2 - 4



The release of Dominion has triggered a widespread boom of deckbuilding games, and many different authors have tried to find their own approach to this class of games, using the basic mechanism but enriching it with new turns and twists. Some of these games were just released at the SPIEL '12 convention, and so avid fans of deckbuilding games now can try to overcome a nasty witch in Spellbound or build their own business empire in Briefcase. However, the list of new releases does not stop on planet Earth, and so author Seth Jaffee has taken the deckbuilding mechanism on a trip into space for his game Eminent Domain.

Unlike games like Dominion or Thunderstone where players may construct their deck from a rather big choice of cards which are available in high numbers, Eminent Domain falls into the category of restricted deckbuilding games where the players construct their decks from a rather limited choice of cards. In fact, only five different types of basic cards may be added to a player's deck, so that the players can choose to specialise their decks in the different available types of actions: Exploration, Conquest, Colonization, Research and Production/Trade. Some additional variety is added by Technology cards which may be researched by the players, and these cards will be added to the players' decks in order to increase the efficiency of the five types of standard actions or to get the possibility to perform special actions.

During the course of the game the players try to collect victory points, and these can be scored by conquering/colonizing new planets, by trading produced resources and by adding Technology cards to the player's deck. The course of the game will show which player succeeds best in this task, but at the beginning all players start with an equal playing deck which is composed of one Conquest card and two cards of each of the four other types. In addition, each player is assigned one randomly drawn starting Planet card, and these planets are placed in front of the players with their undiscovered side facing up, meaning that the planet yet needs to be conquered or colonized.


The normal limit of hand cards is 5, and so each player starts the game with a hand of five cards from his own deck. During his turn, a player usually goes through two different phases, and each of the five types of cards may be used in a different way in each of the two phases. The first phase of a player turn is the action phase, and the active player may use this phase to play one of the cards from his hand, use its specific action and then discard the card to his own discard pile. The five standard cards offer the following types of actions:

  • Exploration: The player may draw two additional cards from his drawing pile to his hand.
  • Colonization: The player may build a colony by adding this card to an undiscovered Planet card in front of himself. Or, if the Planet's requirement for colonies has been met, the Planet card can be turned over to its discovered side, and all colonies (Colonization cards) from this planet then are discarded into the player's discard pile.
  • Conquest: The player may take one spaceship from the stocks. Or, if the player has enough spaceships to equal the defense capabilities of an undiscovered planet in front of himself, he may turn the planet to its discovered side by discarding the required number of spaceships.
  • Production/Trade: This card's action either can be used to place one resource on a discovered Planet with a free resource storage symbol in front of the player, or it may be used to discard one resource from one of the player's Planets in order to get one victory point.
  • Research: The action of this card may be used by the player to remove up to two of his hand cards from the game.

As said, the active player may discard one card from his hand to trigger the associated action in this phase, but it is up to the player to decide whether a card should be used at all, since it is not mandatory to perform an action during a player's turn. However, in opposition to this first phase the second phase of a player's turn is mandatory, and in this second phase the active player has to choose a role associated to one of the five standard types of cards. Choosing this role first means that the player receives one card of this type from the stocks which he now adds to his hand, and after this the player is allowed to collect the benefit of his role. Although these benefits in part are similar to the actions described above, actions and benefits greatly differ because the value of the benefit gets better with each matching card the player can play from his hand.

  • Exploration: For each Exploration card the player may draw a Planet card from the Planet card deck, look at all cards and their backsides and finally choose one Planet which he places in front of himself (undiscovered side up).
  • Colonization: The player may distribute all Colonization cards from his hand to his undiscovered planets, thus building several colonies at once.
  • Conquest: The player receives one spaceship for each played Conquest card.
  • Production/Trade: The number of played Production/Trade cards determines the number of resources which can be produced or traded for victory points.
  • Research: The player may combine all Research cards from his hand to purchase a new Technology card (provided he possesses a certain number of discovered Planets). As can be guessed, the more expensive Technology cards are more effective and will grant more victory points at the end of the game.

Unlike other deckbuilding games where each player performs his turn on his own, the Role phase described above will be played not only be the active player but by all players. This compares a bit to Race for the Galaxy where all phases chosen by the players will be played by everybody, and the similarities are even closer because the active player gets a special bonus on his benefit whereas all other players have to stick with the general benefit. This possibility to act which is open to all players is one of the highlights of Eminent Domain, because it causes some player interaction. Interaction is indirect since the players cannot fight each other or do other acts of sabotage, but nonetheless the players are forced to keep an eye on their opponents in order to decide whether it may be wise to go for a specific type of benefit when an other player could profit from this as well.

In addition, the restricted choice of five different standard cards gives the players a higher degree of control over the efficiency of their decks. Whereas the player decks in Dominion or Thunderstone get bigger and bigger, a well-constructed player deck in Eminent Domain works more reliable since the players have a better chance to get matching cards. Quite interesting here is the possibility to remove cards from a deck by the use of a Research-card action, since this allows a player a stepwise change of the composition of his deck in the middle of the game.

Finally, the possibility that players may feel too restricted with the five types of standard cards has been cleverly countered by the Technology cards which can be obtained through research. As indicated earlier, the Technology cards usually will be added to a player's deck, and when a player draws such cards to his hand he may decide either to use their special action during the action phase of his turn, or he may use the benefit symbols printed on the card to give an additional boost to the benefit he chooses during his role phase. Novice players first need to familiarize themselves with all the Technology cards which are available in the game, and this hurdle is not too easy because they also need to get used to the layered playing mechanism on which the game operates. For this reason the rulebook suggests to play the first game without the Technology cards, but once the initial hurdle has been taken the players quickly will appreciate the much bigger choice of possible actions and combinations which becomes available through the Technologies.

In fact, the game feels rather well balanced when played with players of equal experience levels, and in this constellation there will also be some direct competition since all the better Technology cards are restricted to one card each. Thus, some players will compete to be the first to get cards which may add to their general strategy, but at the same time they should be wary of players who do not go for research but instead generate victory points through trade, colonization or conquest. These players will aim to deplete some stacks of standard cards to end the game before the researchers get too many good cards, and so the game features some different ways to win which all contribute to an interesting playing constellation.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany