Conquer planets and colonise new worlds as you expand your empire into the farthest reaches of the Galaxy. Eminent Domain is a deck-builder game that enables a player to have grand ideas about ruling the cosmos with influence spreading far and wide. If you fancy carving out a niche using technology to terraform, or perhaps, prefer to battle your way to the top then read on.
Eminent Domain is a deck-builder in the purest sense of the genre. This means that players will start with a small set of cards. These can be played to acquire more cards (resources) or perform actions and so the deck grows. Within a few turns, every player’s hand will be different- affected by the decisions made and the cards acquired. Pure deck-builder games are precisely that- a series of cards in a number of decks and a few components.
This is a game for two to four players. The decisions made and the duration of the game (about 60 minutes) means that it is best for 11-year-olds and older. Ultimately this is a game where the winner is the one with the most influence in the Galaxy. Influence is gained through trade. Trade can only occur if a player has goods and resources. Resources are acquired by terraforming or farming planets. Planets are ruled and brought under control through colonisation or more aggressive tactics.
Start your Engines
Every player starts with the same deck of just ten cards. Five are drawn to the hand and it is these that can be used to generate resources and perform actions. Players take it in turns being the leader (or first player). This allows one player to “direct” play, but only for that turn. The role of the leader passes with each turn. The benefit of being a leader is that they can perform a specific action for themselves and then select a role for themselves and the other players.
Each turn the leader can choose to select one card from their hand and perform an action. The card is then added to their discard pile. This is an optional action and the leader might pass on this in order to keep more cards in the hand for the “role” phase.
Are you a Leader of Action?
The actions available to the leader can be used to enhance the role phase of a leader’s turn. There are six actions, each represented by a different card. Surveying the draw deck will allow the next two cards to be brought into the hand. Depending on the cards drawn these might help in the next phase of the turn. A leader might choose to settle a planet (if the colonisation requirements are met) or if not, start preparing a planet for colonisation. If a planet is weak militarily it might be subdued by force. A leader’s action could be to acquire another fighter spaceship or even claim a planet.
Once a planet is under a player’s control its resources need to be harvested. Other specific actions might be to gain a resource or trade that resource for influence. Finally, a leader might turn to research and science to help them in their quest. This action allows them to draw more cards and cull a few weaker cards from their hand. This enables their entire deck to become more streamlined and efficient. The six different actions available may only be performed by the leader by playing one card. It is often useful to use these specific actions to “prime” the cards in the hand ready for the “role phase”
What is the Use of Politics in Space?
This game has little room for politicians. In these uncharted parts of your empire, democracy and government mean little. However, every player can play one politics card as their action. This swaps this card for one of the main role cards. This action is optional and enables a player to tweak their deck towards a certain strategy. This might be to acquire an extra warfare card (and increase military strength) or perhaps enhance research opportunities. Ultimately, a leader with a politics card in hand can choose how and when to put this into action.
Are you a Role Model?
The role phase allows the leader to choose one card to add to their deck and also to perform the actions associated with this. By selecting a role they can add cards from their hand to enhance their ability. The roles are; surveying, colonising, warfare, produce, trade and research.
Early on in Eminent Domain, it is useful to survey new planets. Selecting this role and adding more cards from the hand will allow the leader to look through the top cards of the planet deck. They can choose their next planet in their conquest. The other players also have the opportunity to play cards of the same type from their hand and also perform a similar action but without the leader’s bonus. (The leader’s bonus is the ability to add their newly drawn card to enhance that action).
The “colonise” role enables the leader to place a new colonise card, and other colonise cards from their hand, under any newly surveyed planet. This is to prepare the planet for occupation. Other players can share in this opportunity by playing cards from their hand under their planets. Each planet has different requirements for terraforming. A planet is not ready for settling until sufficient colony cards have been placed
A player will start with one un-colonised planet but it is always good to have a few planets surveyed and ready to take on. Often the more valuable planets will require more effort (cards) to colonise. The choice of the planet also influences future galactic expansion. The type of planet has an impact on the technology development phase.
Are you Spoiling for a Fight?
A planet might be settled under a peaceful occupation but sometimes military might is quicker. The leader chooses this role and collects one fighter token for each card laid. Alternatively, as a bonus, the leader can use previously acquired fighter tokens to attack and gain one of their planet cards.
Whether a planet is fully colonised, or successfully overrun, it remains under that player’s control. Now is the time to make that planet work for you. This role gives the leader (and others) the chance to gain one resource on a planet for each card played; water silicon, food or iron. Usually, just one resource per card is generated but if other planets or cards are in play some bonuses will allow extra resources to be developed. The resources that you have are of no value unless you use them for trade. With this action, playing cards allow resources to turn into influence tokens. These are used as end game scoring.
Are you a Visionary Leader?
The research role can allow a player’s empire to diverge and expand. Research will enable a player to invent a technology which can boost future trade, produce or even warfare. Sometimes this may assist colonising abilities and terraforming. Certain rules govern the type of technology acquired. Higher value technologies will require the player to have a number of planets in play, and cost more research, as well as having certain planetary types in their portfolio.
Are you the Ruler of the Empire?
Eminent Domain finishes when one (or two) stacks of role cards are depleted. For a simple two or three-player game just one stack needs to be exhausted. If you are after an extended three-player game or with a four-player battle, play will continue until two stacks have been used. For first-timers, the technology cards and bonuses can be overwhelming so it is usually best to ignore these for the first few games.
Thoughts on Eminent Domain
Eminent Domain sits very comfortably on the shelf alongside other science fiction board games. It is a large standard-sized box depicting a sun emerging from behind a newly discovered planet. Tasty Minstrel Games suggest it is suitable for players aged 10 or older. This is entirely correct. Although the gameplay is simple, some strategy and use of technology cards do require a degree of thought. Most games will take between 45 and 60 minutes to complete so this is definitely not a filler game.
Like 7 Wonders, this game has a real table presence. The centre of the playing area contains the role cards, stacks, tokens and resources. The fighter pieces are fun minis – so much better than just a piece of cardboard. Surrounding the central display the players lay their cards and grow their empires. This is definitely a tabletop game and a moderate-sized table is needed! Eminent Domain takes about two minutes to set up, a quick shuffle of the ten starting cards and technology cards and the players can get underway.
This game has a very quick turn-around. There is no downtime at all, even with four players. This means players are all fully engaged in the game. Even if a player is not taking the leader action, everyone can choose to play cards alongside the role phase. As the leader, your choice of “role” will determine how others perform. This is an interesting dynamic. At one level it might be advantageous to put your plans into building your empire. However, your selected role could enable others to develop and in effect, this becomes a free action for them. It might be better to consider an alternative role, second best for you, and let others select your desired role when they are leaders. This means you can then play it “for free”.
Deck this Out
With a deck starting with ten cards and just five cards in the hand, sometimes it can take a number of turns before more favourable cards come into play. It is a useful mechanic of culling cards from the hand by discarding research cards. This fits so well with real-life as appropriate research can make things more efficient and streamlined. The technology cards are of excellent quality. They have a linen feel. As a deck builder, the feel of the cards in the hand is so important. The clear artwork depicts a sci-fi world with representations of efficient machines and exciting new technologies. It is these that can enhance your ability to expand.
If peaceful colonisation is too slow then you can always try warfare. Choosing this role allows a leader to deploy his space ships to acquire new planet. However other bellicose players could also follow suit and before you know where you are, an arms-race might start. However, in the base game, there are no inter-player battles.
The different choice available to a leader enables them to choose a path, perhaps warfare, surveying or production as a way to expand. These early decisions will determine which planets you will try to survey. These will then assist your development plans a little like a positive feedback loop that reinforces your early thoughts. This means you need to choose wisely.
The use of the politics card is a clever idea. This allows a player to further personalise their deck at any stage of the game. If played in the first few moves the draw deck can become skewed toward a certain role. This will give an early advantage but may limit the flexibility of choice later on. Similarly, making a deck smaller and leaner will ensure valued cards come into play more quickly but can reduce the ability to survey or colonise.
Lots of Space
In this space game, there is no inter-player skirmishes or interaction. Whilst the chosen role can help others, there is no “tit for tat” battle. Therefore the game is about resource and influence acquisition through efficient hand management. Sometimes it is good to allow the “free role” to determine what you play rather than holding on to specific cards for when you are the leader. The more cards you can play through on the back of others moves, the better your empire will develop.
As the game draws to a close it is often impossible to see who will ultimately be victorious. The scoring combination of influence tokens, planetary bonuses and certain in hand cards mean any game outcome is far from certain. Often once the scores have been totalled a post-game discussion will ensue focusing on how certain technology cards have helped or hindered or perhaps how warfare didn’t live up to expectations. This is what playing a game is about. The very tactile nature of a deck builder game, coupled with an appreciation that the outcome is entirely on your decision-making, means that this is a satisfying game to play. Without the battling between players, Eminent Domain will always scale well. whether with two, three or four players.
Final Thoughts on Eminent Domain
This was another deck building gift from one of my sons. I was a little concerned initially that the big box would generate an over-optimistic feeling. Also, a previous deck builder I had been given a year ago was “a bit pants”. However, Eminent Domain fully justifies the big box. It is an experience that is quick and slick and before you know it you are starting to consider your final scores.
For a deck-builder for three players, I cannot think of a better game than this. It is about personal resource management as opposed to battling others. This almost has a Euro game quality to it. Having thoroughly enjoyed Eminent Domain with the family my next plan would be to see what expansions might be available, to see if this increases the inter-player interaction. Does Eminent Domain live up to its name? I would say an emphatic yes.