Review: Eminent Domain kick starts fun times with solid deck building, multiple paths to victory

Eminent Domain, from Tasty Minstrel Games, was the first game I supported through the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter. It was a long wait until the game finally arrived as I waited through production delays. But it finally arrived, and I was eager to play it. My wife and I have now played it several times over the last couple of weeks and have gotten considerable enjoyment with each play.

Eminent Domain box cover

Gameplay Overview

In Eminent Domain, players are trying to build their space empire, exerting the most influence on the galaxy. Influence is gained by adding planets to your empire by settling or conquering them; producing and trading resources; and researching advanced technologies.

Gameplay in Eminent Domain is card-driven with a role selection element similar to Race for the Galaxy. Each card can be used in one of two ways: it can be played for its action, using the action text on the card; or it can be played to increase the effect of the selected role using the icons on the card.

Each turn, players first optionally play a card from their hand as an action. Then they select one of six roles (Survey, Colonize, Warfare, Produce, Trade, or Research), taking an additional card of the selected role and adding it to their deck. They may supplement the selected role by playing cards from their hand that have the matching icon, gaining additional benefits for each icon played. All other players may then choose to Follow, playing cards from their own hand that match the icon of the selected role, or Dissent and draw a card from their deck to add to their hand. Each role also has a leader bonus which only applies to the player selecting the role.

The role selection determines how players will be able to expand their empire and gain influence. Additionally, with the deck-building aspect, the more you select the same role, the more cards of that role type that are in your deck. This makes you more effective at those roles that you select more often, but overspecialization can make it more difficult to perform other roles effectively. Each role also gives you a unique action: scanning planets, colonizing or settling planets, adding fleets or conquering planets, producing or trading resources, or researching technologies. Both aspects of role selection are important. Success depends on selecting the right role at the right time, as well as having the right cards in your deck to support your strategy.

The game also includes a deck of planet cards. Each planet has a type (Advanced, Fertile, Metallic, Prestige, and Utopia) and an amount of influence that you gain from adding the planet to your empire. Planets may also have a space for resource production or provide additional icons which can be used to supplement roles or increase your hand size. However, the influence, resources, and icons cannot be used until the planet is either settled or conquered.

Planets are brought into play using the Survey role, which allows you to look at one or more planets and pick one of them to add to your empire face down. On the back of the planet card are two values: a settle value and a conquer value. The settle value is how many colonies need to be established on the planet (using the Colonize role) before the planet can be settled, flipping it over to the face up side. The conquer value is how many fleets you need to use to conquer the planet (using the Warfare role), flipping it over to the face up side.

Once a planet is face up, you can produce resources using the Produce role and trade resources for influence using the Trade role. The type of the planet is also important, as they are prerequisites for researching technologies. There are three decks of technology cards which are related to a specific planet type (Advanced, Fertile, and Metallic). Each deck has three levels of technologies which require one, two, or three planets of that type. Utopia planets are wild and count towards any of the three planet types for the purposes of meeting technology prerequisites. So for example, to acquire a level three Metallic technology, you would need either three Metallic planets, or two Metallic planets and one Utopia planet face up in your empire.

To acquire a technology, you use the Research role. Each technology card has a prerequisite (number of planets of a certain type) and a cost in research icons to acquire the technology. Technology cards give more powerful actions to use during your action phase and also have two icons, allowing them to be used to supplement either of the roles depicted. This adds some extra strategy to selecting which technology card to research, as you need to consider not only the action but also the icons and how they fit into your overall strategy. Each technology card is unique; some may have the same action, but they have different combinations of icons depicted. Some of the technology cards are marked as “Permanent” cards. These cards provide a permanent benefit every turn and are played in front of you instead of adding it to your deck.

After you’ve executed your role and all other players have had the opportunity to Follow or Dissent, you may discard any number of cards from your hand and draw back up to five cards. This adds a hand management element to the game, as unlike many deck building games, it is not obligatory to discard your entire hand. This adds strategy as you can choose to hold on to cards for next turn or discard them in hopes of getting the cards you need.

The game ends when one or two of the role card piles are depleted, or when all of the black bordered influence tokens are gone. The round is completed so that all players have the same number of turns and then influence is tabulated. Influence is totaled by adding the influence from all of your face up planets, as well as any influence tokens earned from trading and influence from level two and level three technology cards in your deck. The player with the most influence wins.

Impressions

We’ve played Eminent Domain with two, three, and four players, and found it to play well in all variations. Players have used vastly different strategies, both in role selection and in planet selection, yet a dominant strategy that wins every time is not evident. It is also not always clear who is winning at any given time. In each of the games, the player who won did not think they were winning at the time, and games have usually been determined by just a few points. These aspects make it a compelling game with strong re-playability.

Eminent Domain first caught my attention because it was a deck building game with a science fiction theme. We both really enjoy other deckbuilding games, like Dominon, Thunderstone, and Ascencion, but I’ve always been more interested in the science fiction theme over the more medieval/fantasy theme of those other games. The theme is handled well, as Eminent Domain does feel as if you are expanding your own galactic empire. The artwork on the cards is well suited to the game, and the cards are of good quality. It also includes a number of plastic ships to represent your fleets, wooden discs in four different colors to represent resources, and cardboard influence tokens. All of the components are of a high quality.

Turns are also relatively quick, and because of the nature of the ability to Follow other players’ role, there is very little down-time between turns. This flow and limited downtime is one of the strengths of the game. The ability to control your hand and keep some cards in your hand from turn to turn gives it greater strategy than many other deck building games where discarding your entire hand at the end of your turn is obligatory.

Another strength of the game is that there are multiple ways to earn influence. This leads to a many varying strategies that can lead to victory, which keeps gameplay interesting across multiple plays. There are also many choices to be made during the game, from which role cards to collect, which planets to choose to add to your empire, and which technology cards to research.

Playing Together

This game scales quite well. The box says it plays 2-4 players, and we’ve played with 2, 3, and 4 players. Each time, it has played well and it didn’t feel fidgety in any of those combinations. As a couple, we play mostly with two players, but we do have a weekly gaming group and we are able to pull this game out there as well for four players. This versatility makes this a great addition to our collection, and one that has seen and will likely continue to see plenty of use.

Some of the aspects that make Eminent Domain such a compelling game for us as a couple is that it has some interaction without being cut throat. That is, while the decisions we make, such as which role we select, do effect each other, we are not actually competing with each other. The planets that are placed in our respective empires cannot be conquered or settled by the other player. There is no direct attack interaction. For some, this may be a negative. For us, it allows us to play a game and still be competitive without the need to attack each other.

Eminent Domain is also a game that we can set up, play, and put away in about an hour. This makes it an easily accessible game that we can get out even if we only have a small window for gaming.

Our Ratings

Our ratings are based on a 0-5 scale. A 5 represents a nearly flawless game something that should be considered a classic. A 0 represents a very poor game that we wish we had never played. We mostly base this on gameplay, replayability, and overall how much fun we have playing the game, with smaller influences being theme, quality of artwork and components (and how well they fit the theme), and how well the rules are written.

Peter:       Peter_4-meeples

Heather:  Heather_4-Meeples

Welcome to gamemates!

Welcome to gamemates, a blog about games and the role they play in our lives. Heather and I are happy to have you as a visitor and hope you will come back often. As a couple that games, there will be a focus on games that we play together as a couple. But mostly, it will focus on games. We both enjoy gaming, but not always the same games. Heather tends to favor many of the social aspects of gaming and often opts towards party games. I tend towards more strategic fare most of the time. But there’s plenty of room in the middle, and we both enjoy games that the other more naturally gravitates towards. In these pages, you will find anecdotes about our life gaming together and reviews of games. We hope our reviews will be helpful, as they will give two very different perspectives from experienced gamers, as well as focusing on how well games play with two players in general and couples in particular.

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