Dale Yu: Review of Dominion: Allies

Dominion: Allies

  • Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
  • Publisher: Rio Grande Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 40-60 minutes
  • Times played: ~12 games with cards from the new set, with review copy provided by RGG

dominion allies

“It’s a celebration! People are dancing in the streets, and riding horses through the dance halls. You’ve finally formed an alliance with the barbarians to the north. Instead of the streets running red with blood, they’ll run, well, the usual color — let’s not focus on what color the streets run. The point is, there’s peace. Sure, negotiations were tricky. The barbarians are uncouth; they have no five-second rule and stick out the wrong finger when drinking tea. There are perks, too, though. They’ve given you skulls to drink mead out of and spices to get rid of the skull aftertaste. And you’ve given them stuff in return: forks, mirrors, pants. It’s great for everyone. And with this treaty out of the way, you can get to work on your other neighbors. Soon, all the allies will be yours.”

Dominion is one of my all time favorite games. Though, I’m biased as I was one of the developers of the base game and worked with the designer and publisher thru Dominion: Prosperity. Since then, I have had no involvement in the series, but I still remain a great fan of the system and the game. I have no stake in Dominion Allies at all, I’m just a fan boy like everyone else now! And as I’m just a Dominion player like everyone else, it’s definitely fair game for me to review this new expansion.

This newest set is the 14th expansion to the original game, and there are a number of exciting and interesting ideas injected into the Dominion world with these cards. This is a “full” expansion – it comes in a full size box and includes 400 cards; divided amongst 31 different Kingdom piles. I would like to talk about the three themes that I found in this box (Allies, Split Piles and Choices). I will leave the descriptions/previews of the new cards to Donald – as he has already provided a number of preview articles on BGG, and there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel here…

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Note that Dominion Allies is an expansion set to Dominion. If you’ve never played Dominion before, the rest of this preview/review isn’t going to mean much to you… You could look here for more info on the original game…

Allies

Well, it makes sense to talk about Allies first; after all, that’s the name of the whole expansion! There are 23 Allies in the box, and in any particular game, you’ll only play with a single Ally card. These special cards are landscape in orientation, to prevent confusion – though you arenot prohibited from playing any other landscape cards from previous expansions (Ways, Events, Projects or Landmarks). You will only need an Ally if your game includes a Liaison card – easily seen as a card type at the bottom of the Kingdom cards.

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Each Ally provides a special rule which is activated by the use of Favors. Favors are represented with the coin tokens that you’re likely familiar with from previous expansions. You’ll get a Favor mat to store your coins on; this is especially important if you are using the coins for other things as well (such as Villagers and Coffers). The rules tell you to choose one at random, but we’re having a lot of fun choosing one.

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Depending on the rules for the particular card, you might be required to spend Favor tokens to get a new ability. Other cards simply confer bonuses for having a certain number of Favors in your possession. In any event, the special rule introduced by the Ally card should not be ignored, as they often give significant and powerful options to the players. The four cards in the example above show the range of possible game-changing rules.

With 23 different options in the box, I haven’t even played with them all – but having spent some time reading through them all, it is clear how much this single card will change how any given set of Kingdom cards will play.

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Additionally, the way you get favors will change with the different Kingdom cards that were chosen for the particular game – and depending on what is available, some games will provide you ways to earn dozens of Favors while other games may limit you to only a few throughout the entire game!

Split Piles

There are six different split piles in this expansion; each of these piles is made up of 16 cards – 4 cards of 4 different types. Each of the six split piles has a single Randomizer card that shows the graphics of the four different cards in the pile. Each of the split piles has a particular feel/theme to the cards.

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When chosen in setup, the four cards in a Split Pile stack are organized by cost, with the cheapest on top. When you are playing, you can only buy whichever card is visible on the top of the pile. Normally, you’ll have to work your way through the pile to see the later cards; but it should be noted that the top card of every pile has a special ability to cycle through the Split Pile to the next type of card.

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There can be some interesting shenanigans if one player is allowed to buy the top card of a pile and then he/she cycles the pile before anyone else can buy it. In this case, only one player has the chance to change that particular pile. Not sure if this is a big deal or not….

Choices

So, this third “theme” of the set isn’t explicitly delineated in the rules, but after multiple plays, I’m struck by how many of the cards in this set give the player a choice of things to do. I have a love/hate relationship with these sorts of cards. I do really like the way that the choices give a lot of strategic latitude to the player, and it gives the particular Kingdom card multipl possible uses in a deck.

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However, I dislike the way that the choices can sometimes slow a hand down. Having conservatively played 3,000+ games of Dominion, I have developed a personal style of quick and snappy play. For me, Dominion is a game best played quickly. Many of the cards with choices will cause the player to have to really step back and figure out what is the best option at any given time. This decision can be further complicated by the possible rotation of the Split Piles as well as the Ally in play.

But, like every Dominion card, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I love the way that this game is able to adapt to most any gamer’s desire. The cards in this set do tend to the more complex side, and lead to somewhat increased thinking time. There are also a lot of cards which allow you to burn through your deck, and we’ve had a couple of Allies only setups where it was not uncommon to play through your entire deck each turn! The end result is a all-Allies game that tends to the longer side. My normal Dominion games might be 15 to 20 minutes, we were nearer to 30-40 minutes with these cards.

Of course, you probably won’t be playing with only Allies cards in your setup — nor would we… But for the purposes of this review, and our excitement to try as many of the new cards as possible, we were concentrating of the new cards when we played. I think that if you sprinkled in these cards, you might get an enjoyable increase in complexity/game time without it being overwhelming.

The rules also provide nice suggested setups for all sorts of expansion combinations – this is a good way to try out the new cards in a way where you can learn how they might work together. And of course, don’t forget that many of the Liaison cards will play differently depending on which Ally card has been chosen.

Like all the other Dominion expansions, if you already like Dominion, you’ll love this and will enjoy the exploration of the new cards. Even more so if you like more complex cards and long churning turns.

Rating: I like it.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Dominion: Allies

  1. Jacob Lee says:

    Dominion has been a fixture in my top 3 favourite games of all time since it came out. I look forward to every expansion (except Nocturne). Cornucopia has been my favourite expansion, which seems unusual by Dominion fans, but that set holds my favourite cards ever. But Allies, man, this is so good! This is the first one to overtake Cornucopia for me. The whole ally concept is so simple and, yet, ingenius for replayability and creating interesting twists mid-game. I’ve never considered a Dominion expansion to be nominated for an award, but next year I would push for Allies to be in that best expansion category. If this is the end of Vaccarino’s expansions, he goes out on a soaring high note.
    May I also ask you a question, Dale? I was aware of your role in Dominion’s beginnings and, I think your whole team did fabulous work. But why did your involvement stop? I could think of a hundred reasons, but I was just curious considering your obvious talent (I’ve seen your other credits).

  2. spalanz says:

    Wow, I thought this game had ended years ago! That is a lot of expansions of which I was not aware. I’ve not played the game in so long, this expansion seems like a long way away from when I last played!!

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