‘Magic the Gathering’ is a term that everyone and their grandmother has heard of before. There are hundreds of thousands of cards in the main game. There are thousands of product lines. There are hundreds of sets. And of course, there is a massive fan base to go along with such a beast in the gaming world.
But what happens when the world’s most popular card game starts dipping its toes into the world of board games? There have been flurries into the board game space in the past with games such as Ravnica Inquisition and the Arena of the Planeswalkers series. When it comes to Heroes of Dominaria however, I believe that it is the board game that has made the biggest splash. However, big splashes aren’t always a positive thing. Is this game making waves in the community, or is it sinking under its own brand? Let’s find out.
Side note: Due to the IP of Heroes of Dominaria, I will make comparisons to the Magic the Gathering card game throughout. I will refer to the card game as MTG and this board game as Heroes of Dominaria to try and save any confusion.
Card Game To Board Game…
You would be forgiven for thinking this game is worth giving a miss. Magic the Gathering is of course an incredible game. It has a large fan base for a reason. But we all know that usually when companies start to dip their toes into different interest pools that it doesn't usually work well. But in this instance, it is a toe well dipped? (I am not sure where I was going with this metaphor).
I am a fan of MTG and I own the board games previously mentioned. Heroes of Dominaria is by far the best board game that I have played with the MTG IP.
Having a base knowledge of how to play MTG will help a lot in Heroes of Dominaria. The game hits a really comfortable middle ground for fans of the card game and fans of euro games. Coming primarily from MTG and using this game as a way to delve into board games as a whole is a great move.
The abilities in Heroes of Dominaria follow the same costing mechanic as playing the cards in MTG. So, knowing how to pay mana cost for cards in MTG will definitely make your time playing this game smoother.
But there is a lot to this game that may overwhelm some inexperienced players to the hobby as a whole. As you unpack the box and start to punch out the tokens you might feel a little overwhelmed with how much is in the game. There are 15 different tokens, meeples, 2 different wooden pieces, 3 different decks, a small tile deck and a potential headache to boot. But fear not.
The game comes with an incredibly well written and well explained rule book. I first played this game when I was relatively new to the gaming hobby and learned how to play very quickly. I am in no doubt sure that any other new gamers will follow suit. Anyone versed in euro games will of course pick this game up easily too.
So Many Flavours…
The game is a simple race to grab the greatest number of points over a set number of rounds. But the number of options available to you to do so offers up several ways to approach the game. As in true euro style fashion, you have many options available to you, but resources are needed to engage these options. The resources come in the form of the 5 different colours of mana. Each mana colour is associated with the different character actions available to you. If you are familiar with MTG then the mana will be inherently familiar to you. As to will be the way in which you use this mana to use abilities.
The start of each turn triggers a mana round in which the top card of the Dominaria deck is revealed. Every location that shares a mana colour with the location will receive a mana token (resource token) of the same colour. The card may also reveal a specific location that will receive an artifact token or Cabal token.
This will slowly populate the board throughout the game as these tokens continue to accumulate until someone collects them. You also get to keep this mana between turns unlike tapped mana in MTG. The downside to this is that in a 2 player game, the resources available to you don’t change as much as they would in higher player counts by the time it comes back to your turn.
You will use your collected mana to trigger abilities that will extend your power within Dominaria. The main thing in your way will be the covetous Cabal who are also collecting mana. If there is a Cabal token on a location that also houses mana tokens, then you will have to confront the Cabal before you can claim the mana yourself. This is of course all dependent on luck. Both the distribution of mana and where the Cabal claim stakes are determined by a card flip.
This can be frustrating if it is blocking you from progressing a quest or strategy. But it can also make you adapt and pursue other avenues of the game instead if you are unable to confront the Cabal.
Traversing the lands of Dominaria to take down the Cabal is a viable option to trigger the accumulation of points, but there are other options. You can build leylines between locations, extending your reach of mana absorption. You can build manaliths on locations, giving you permanent access to coloured mana. You can collect artifacts at the location you visit.
You can recruit extra heroes (moveable meeples) to spread your influence in Dominaria. All of these can be done apart from (or in tandem with) confronting the Cabal. And each of these will net you more and more end-game points the more you do them.
The Cherry On Top…
The abilities are not the only things at your disposal though. You will also have 5 standard public quests that you can complete for a boon of points. These are all small races such as being the first to confront 5 Cabal, or build all leylines etc. These are open to everyone but you also have personal, more detail specific quests to complete.
These are hidden from your opponents and can be collected from various sources. They feature things such as using your ‘discover an artifact’ skill using black and green mana. Or getting two of your heroes in the same space as an opponent’s hero. These net you boons as well as points. It is these quests that can shape your decision making and give you direction in Heroes of Dominaria.
You will also uncover artifacts on your journeys in Dominaria. These essentially function as the game’s way of making itself a little more asymmetrical between players. They give you permanent little passive abilities that will help make you feel more powerful the more you collect. When you get the option to obtain a new quest or artifact you are allowed to view the top two cards in the respective decks and choose to keep one of them. This allows you to tailor them towards what is best for your current situation or strategy.
The Sugar Dusting…
The production quality in Heroes of Dominaria is fantastic. I only have a handful of games in my collection that I can say the quality of components could not be better in relation to a price point. This is definitely one of them. Setting up this game is a joy due to how great it looks. The artwork is phenomenal. Anyone who has played MTG can attest to how amazing the artwork can be. This game follows suit accordingly.
The components are all of high quality. The player colours are all very distinct. There are enough tokens to never run out. There are extra leylines for each character for visual representation for longer lines. Symbology is very intuitive and easy to pick up. And for being a pretty medium weight euro game, the rule book is only several pages long. It is well written, well laid out and very easy to follow.
The Soured Cream…
Whilst I enjoy this game greatly, there are a few aspects that I feel don’t work so well. Much like my choice of strange metaphors in this review. The distribution of resources is evenly spread throughout the map due to the placement of locations and their respective colours. However, what location placement can’t eliminate is the randomness of a shuffled deck.
It is entirely possible to draw the same mana colour card many times in a row. This can be frustrating if you need red mana for example, but the only mana being produced on the map is green. You can argue that this kind of simulates being land-locked in a multicolour deck of MTG, but nobody wants this when there is a limit to the rounds.
Each player chooses a character at the start of the game, represented by a character board. And a fancy figure if you bought the deluxe version. As to the very nature of MTG and Heroes of Dominaria, players are taking on the role of planeswalkers. These are powerful beings able to traverse the multiverse.
They all have unique characteristics, personalities, and powers. This is not represented in this game though as all character’s abilities are exactly the same and cost the same to use. It would have been great to have the option of a second side to character boards that make them asymmetrical in some ways.
The game also feels far too short. Especially in a 2-player game. This can be a bonus as it never outstays its welcome. But each time I feel as though the game ends at a point where I have just about sculpted a strategy to be a well-oiled machine; only for the factory to close down for the night. There is even a variant in the rule book that suggests it will make the game last longer. But it doesn’t. I would suggest finding an actual round count that works best with your group.
The Final Crumb…
Heroes of Dominaria is a criminally undervalued game. It uses the MTG theme to a point where any fan should be happy with the result. The mechanics and resources work greatly in this style and I am hopeful that we will see more games in this series. Dominaria -if you haven’t figured out- is one of the planes in the world of MTG. It would be amazing to see distinctive styles of games come from different planes present in MTG.
This game can serve as the perfect stepping stone for anyone looking to get into the board gaming hobby who has a background in MTG. It is not a heavy game and can be enjoyed by fans of euro games as a whole. It is not, however, a game for fans of much more intense euro games, but I think it would be enjoyed by most gamers.
It is unfortunate that the game gets overlooked by those who are not fans of MTG. I highly recommend Heroes of Dominaria to anyone looking for an interesting, inexpensive euro game that doesn’t outstay its welcome.