The King has left the country, and the dukes are carving up the kingdom. A streamlined remake of Lowenhertz, from Settlers of Catan author, Klaus Teuber.
After creating the incredibly successful Settlers of Catan, Klaus Teuber put out Lowenhertz. Lowenhertz was a nasty game, with blind choosing for the opportunity to carry out various actions, with negotiation going on when multiple players chose the same action. Many liked the game, but some felt it was a bit too slow and long, and that it was just too nasty. Domaine is a reworking of Lowenhertz, with the blind choosing and negotiation removed, making it a far quicker game to play.
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Before the game starts, the board must be assembled. The board consists of 9 tiles, each containing 16 squares. On these squares are forests, mines, villages and empty meadows. One tile has the "Royal City". This tile is placed in the center, and the others are placed around it to create a 3 x 3 set of tiles. Each player takes a set of really nice plastic castles and knights, and take turns placing a castle and knight onto the board. Castles must be placed in meadows, and knights must be set up next to the castle, and cannot be placed on villages or mines. Also a player cannot place their castle within 7 squares of one of their existing castles. After all players have set up their castles, the game begins. The basic goal of the game is to enclose your castles with walls, creating domaines. When you complete a domaine, you score points for each forest square (1 VP), village (3 VPs), and Royal City (5 VPs), within the domaine. Mines do not score victory points by themselves, but provide much needed income. Each player has a hand of three cards, and on a player's turn they must either play a card or sell a card. When a card is played, its actions are carried out, (more on this below), and when it is sold it is placed face up in an area of the board called the Chancery. The player then either draws a card from the deck, or picks up one of the cards from the Chancery. Each card has two numbers on it. The first is the cost in ducats to play the card, and the second is the amount of ducats a player will get from selling a card. There are five different types of card actions depicted on the cards: 1) Place walls - Wall cards show between one and three wall symbols on them, and playing one of these allows you to place that number of walls on the board. Walls are placed between squares, and can be placed anywhere on the board, as long as they do not separate a knight from its castle. 2) Place Knights - Knight cards allow you to place one or two knights on the board. Knights must be played orthogonally adjacent to an existing knight or castle, and cannot be placed on mines or villages. If a knight is placed on a forest, a player must pay one ducat more than the cost shown on the card. 3) Expand a domaine - Expand cards let you expand one existing domaine by two squares. A player takes as many walls as are needed to expand an existing domaine by two spaces, and places them on the board, scoring any VPs gained and taking away VPs if the domaine expanded into belonged to another player. You cannot expand into another player's domaine unless your domaine has more knights in it that the opponent's domain, and the two squares cannot have a knight or castle in them already. 4) Alliance - An alliance card allows a player to declare an alliance or truce between two domaines, which prevents either one from expanding into the other for the rest of the game. 5) Deserter - The deserter allows a player to take a knight from an opponent's domaine that borders one of the player's, and then placing that knight in the player's domaine. Mines come if four varieties, (Gold, Silver, Copper and Diamond), and for each type of mine you have in your domaines you receive one ducat at the start of each of your turns. So while you can at most get four income per turn from mines, this income is crucial to being able to spend your tuns playing cards instead of selling them. If you can get three mines of the same kind in your domaines, you have achieved a monopoly on that type of mine, and get 5 VPs. Play continues around the board until either one player reaches a certain number of VPs, (depending on the number of players), ending the game immediately, or until the deck of cards runs out, in which case players play out their hands until they have no more cards and the player with the most points wins.
I find the game very interesting, with several different strategies available. There is a basic script, which consists of getting a domaine closed as early as you can, the using expansion cards to get a mine in that domaine, then begin walling off other domaines and expanding/protecting them. The way the deck is seeded, (the card backs are grouped into four categories, with walls being far more prevalent in the beginning than later in the deck, when expand cards are more common), and the fact that expansion is much more efficient, (as many as 6 walls can be placed via expansion), mean that getting a domaine finished early is crucial. The decision of whether to take a small domaine right away, or wait and try to get it just a bit bigger to get a mine or village into it is a tough one. Also, choosing which cards to sell is agonizing, as you can be sure that the card you sell will be needed by one of the other players. The placement of knights present interesting tactical possibilities, and the way the board develops is very interesting. Generally there will be domaines around the edges of the board, which creates a large negative space in the center of the board. How this space fills in can create a huge domaine for a player, so a player has to remain on their toes while expanding outer edge domaines. The game plays quickly, (45 minutes to an hour) and also has top-notch components.
Most of the people who don't like Domaine have played Lowenhertz and just find it to be a meatier, more interesting game. Those who are coming to Domaine fresh, and who don't like it feel that it is either too nasty, too influenced by the luck of the draw, or feel that the best strategy is to beat on the weakest player. I will agree that it is nasty, but I think it is in a good way, as the entire game is about stealing stuff from other people, so it isn't a "stab you in the back" kind of nasty, nor is it the kind of nasty that has you targeting a player, (other than the leader), in a way that will feel "unfair". I haven't seen the luck of the draw cause too many problems either, though if you absolutely can't get any wall cards, you are going to have problems. As for the "beat on the weakest player" complaint, I'm not really sure what that means. Certainly you can beat on the weakest domaine of a player, but they should have others that are not as weak. Perhaps they mean weak as in having no mines, and therefore less cash to use to defend themselves. This is a problem, and it must be stressed to new players how vitally important it is to get a mine or two early on.
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