Dominion Killed Replayability

Our hobby has conjured the niche word ‘replayability’ to describe how well a game cultivates a desire to return to it. A game that is highly replayable is one that players want to explore repeatedly. It’s something we value because every prospective purchase exists conceptually as our next favorite game. Every title is graded out the same way, expected to stand up to endless plays and continue blowing our mind over and over again, indefinitely.

Despite how flawed that reasoning is, I say fair enough.

But something happened. Replayability was once evaluated on very broad terms of strategic depth and emergent game states. A title like Tigris & Euphrates boasts strong replayability due to the multitude of tactical and strategic intersections as a result of player input. No two plays are the same because participants continually find themselves in unfamiliar precarious positions. A player utilizes developed pillars of strategy to make on the fly judgments and respond to current circumstances as best they can.

Replayability is also whether we desire to explore that dynamic tactical puzzle again. It could even be thought of as an opportunity cost. Is Wiz-War worth returning to when we could be playing Galaxy Trucker instead?


Most games I examine have such a quality. Certainly the best do.

But that’s not what we talk about anymore. At least, not in that way.

Now, often replayability is appraised through the lens of content. Strategic depth and system exploration has retired, phased out like a horse being run into the ditch by an automobile. In modern times, content discovery is the primary factor associated with replayability. A game’s capacity to be re-experienced with satisfaction is framed around each play seeing a new piece of content. A new setup. A new set of tiles to bid on. Dozens of variable player powers. A fresh asymmetric faction for each of the 23 plays we imagine for the future. A campaign with at least four branching narratives. Four extra expansion boxes so every time you encounter a foe, it’s a one you have to dig out of its tray and find the matching ability card.

I think you got it.

We live in the age where games sell themselves based on the number of tokens, cards, and miniatures they contain the box. No two plays will ever be the same.

Dominion ruined us.

Donald X. Vaccarino’s influential 2008 title changed the game. I’m not talking about the mechanism of deckbuilding, but the notion that setup was entirely variable. It’s the essence of Dominion’s strategy landscape. You look at the set of Kingdom Cards in the center of the table and devise a rough shopping list and hierarchy of purchases. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion.

This was the first game to really emphasize variable setup as an anchor of its central loop. Nothing else did such a thing in 2008 and it was wild. It’s overshadowed by the creative genesis of deckbuilding, but it’s equally as significant to the evolution of thought and culture.

Hundreds of games came before it with variable setup, but none presented it as such a crucial element of the play experience. Dominion’s structure requires variable setup in order to experience it anew. This is significantly different than a game like Cosmic Encounter which would stand up to many plays using the exact same alien powers. In many ways, Dominion is defined by variable setup in order to vary the strategic puzzle, as the bulk of decision making is front loaded to the moment before play begins.

It hooked us up to an intravenous line of content and we’ve been trolleyed ever since. The model demanded expansions. Eventually, you would see enough patterns in the original game’s setup that the card selection would feature a repetition of basic strategic patterns. And we can’t have it. That’s antithetical to Dominion’s ideology.


This framework was insidious. It didn’t radically alter designer or consumer reasoning immediately. It slowly ate away at our expectations. The tenor changed and discussion concerning variability shifted to the physical as opposed to the abstract. Other games started to slowly incorporate a focus on content diversity. Titles like Smash Up, Earth Reborn, and Legendary followed.

Then, Kickstarter cranked that jack-in-the-box like Lincoln Hawk. Zombicide was born. Everything accelerated.

Without an appreciable way to demonstrate rich or lasting gameplay, crowdfunded games have to win the consumer over with visuals. While the fascinating dynamics of tangled social collusion or cunning brinksmanship cannot be captured in a JPEG, a coffin-box of miniatures can be. Content is visual. Even something imperceptible like campaign play or scenario assortment can be quantified. It’s a losing battle, and it’s why artwork and components sell games.

This is a problem because the current concept of replayability is throw-away. It’s a facade as soft as wet cardboard and the term has been rendered less comprehensive and less meaningful as a result. Instead of a discussion point, it’s a checkbox publishers must mark before hitting that ‘launch campaign’ button.

It’s not that content discovery is valueless or undesired. I certainly enjoy this quality at times and appreciate a big voluminous box as much as the next sucker. But content on its own is meritless. If you add a thousand more cards to Candyland, the experience is not improved. The core fundamentals of play need to be sound and impervious. These traits are what ultimately establish replayability, whereas content merely supplements that sturdy basis.

The connection between Dominion’s headlining of variable setup to crowdfunding’s vulgar display of content is logical. It’s the natural conclusion of this principle. In totality, this genealogy changed the discussion, altering our conceptual framework of replayability. Throw a dart in any direction and you will land upon board game content utilizing this word usage. Language is forever changed and the discourse has become shallower as a result.


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  52 comments for “Dominion Killed Replayability

  1. Darren
    February 2, 2023 at 9:13 am

    Hear, hear – well said.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. February 2, 2023 at 9:53 am

    This is so brilliantly spot on. I’d never considered Dominion as the jumping off point for this doubtless dominant meme: at least among the hobbyists. Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 2, 2023 at 10:07 am

      Thanks, James. The premise is a little thin for an entire article, but I didn’t want to push the idea through a forum post or Twitter thread, making it impossible to find in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 2, 2023 at 10:18 am

        Its short but sweet! Totally worth its own article. A useful academic *paper* could probably be written about this aspect of Dominion’s influence if it truly was such a pivotal moment.

        The change from the meaning of what replayability means to hobbyists is a seismic one. Ever since Nick Bentley tweeted now “now replayability = content” I’ve keep wanting him to be wrong – at least a *little* wrong. Sadly I think not. To be fair I suspect there is a somewhat more general malaise going on: the sheer quantity of new TV shows also keeps me away from rewatching and re-appreciating older ones.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. cdennett
    February 2, 2023 at 9:54 am

    I generally agree with the sentiment that expansion bloat is blight upon the gaming landscape, especially the Kickstarter day 0 all-in four expansion sets. Dominion is an excellent example of a game that’s play does not support all the different expansions. I was bored after two plays, but I find I’m in the minority here.

    However, there are games where more is truly more. Ones that immediately come to mind are Wiz-War and Argent. Wiz-War is already highly interactive and would be fine with a smaller, but wacky, spell list. But trying out different spell books definitely changes the way the game is played without suppressing the core enjoyment of the game. Or if you choose the big book of spells, things only get zanier, if sometimes less effective. As for Argent, the game setup drastically changes the feeling the of the game. One game were a resource is plentiful and easy to obtain, the next it may be extremely tight in supply, forcing players to compete heavily for it or give up and go for a different avenue of victory. Because the game is so interactive, having a degenerate setup can be a feature, not a bug.

    But yes, in the new normal of crowdfunding, “What about replay value?” is a sucker’s question for a game you’re lucky to get to the table twice, on average. If we weren’t a slave to the supply limitations and FOMO, if the game is good, the expansions would come. Alas, not the world we live in.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. February 2, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    Didn’t RoboRally use a variable setup?

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 2, 2023 at 1:10 pm

      Many games used a variable setup prior to Dominion. But I would argue none presented as such a crucial element of the play experience and something necessary for the game to function.

      For instance – replaying a RoboRally setup would yield emergent gameplay with altogether different situations. I’d say the variable setup in this instance is more a feature.

      Imagine Dominion with the same Kingdom card setup. It would be antithetical to the game’s philosophy as so much of Dominion’s strategic blueprint is in identifying which pattern of cards to go for. That’s the puzzle of Dominion, unlike RoboRally where your opponent’s positioning and maneuvering highly influence your decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gregarius1
        February 2, 2023 at 1:22 pm

        Good point. Thanks for the clarification. Nice post, btw.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Alec
    February 2, 2023 at 4:38 pm

    I disagree entirely. “Replayability” has never meant “amount of content,” to me. Sure, that’s *one* form of measuring it – but that never supplanted “strategic depth” or “potential for new emergent states” as other equally valid measurements (if not more so).

    If the only reviewers or discussions you’re seeing are those that use “amount of content” as the only valid metric, then you’re just reading lazy reviewers or having discussions with dolts.


    • CM
      February 3, 2023 at 1:33 am

      Yeah, I think Greg should use a specific term rather than the ambiguous “replayability”. Frex, with Ameritrash games like Arkham Horror, you constantly need new encounter cards, stories, etc. so that players will *replay* the game. CCG’s are also infamous for requiring new content so players will play the game again. Roleplayers do not play the same adventure twice, so expect new content.


    • slayerx1779
      February 4, 2023 at 4:44 am

      I disagree with this.

      The point of the article is that Dominion’s release began a shift in popular discussion about replayability: both what it means as a player and how to sell your game with it as a marketing exec.

      Replayability used to be achieved in many ways based on the game’s mechanics and themes (and still is, but that’s not the popular discussion). Now, replayability often just refers to how many pieces your box can hold. The fact that “dolts” would describe and quantify replayability in such a shallow way doesn’t oppose the article; it’s the thesis of the article, because it hasn’t always been this way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 4, 2023 at 9:03 am

        Yes, exactly. I’ve received so many responses to this article on Twitter/Reddit/here, that it’s been difficult to keep up. I didn’t have the energy to respond to Alec yesterday, so appreciate this response.


  6. Nic D
    February 3, 2023 at 1:14 am

    You make some good points and connections, and your article is well thought out. I think it’s a matter of perspective, though.
    As an early adopter, I absolutely agree that Dominion begged for some expansions right away… the play got formulaic fairly quickly if it was played over and over and over in short succession with the same players… but personally, I’d say Kickstarter is more the cause of what you I interpret you to mean… Dominion was just another boardgame that got popular, and popular board games get expansions… Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride… all were forebears of that trend, and all see expansions to this day.
    The particular type of “extended gameplay equals more stuff”; to me anyway, existed before Kickstarter in the… maybe call it “designer wargames” category? Game like Battlelore, Axis and Allies Miniatures, X-wing, Descent & Imperial Assault… and the intro of legacy games like RISK: Legacy, coupled with Kickstarter and it’s intrinsic need to create an insatiable desire for “MOAR STUFF!!!”… I think had a greater effect on perpetual expansions and bloated content than Dominion.
    My perspective could just be different because of where I was in my “journey” with board games was when it came out. I had only discovered Catan a few years earlier, and was deeply in love with so many games that, despite loving Dominion, it rarely got more than 4 or 5 games in with any given group of friends a few times a year. I had too many other games I was discovering at the time, and so it got spread out more… we’d easily forget the macro strategies that worked between games, and my wife and I having played it the most, largely played… funner, more engaging, “suboptimal” strategies to explore the game more. Spread out between games of Tigris & Euphrates(still in my top three), Catan, probably Alhambra, Carcassonne, and, well, SO many other games, it was always a nice light refreshing game to break up bigger, more brain burny games like Tigris & Euphrates, Power Grid, and Puerto Rico.
    I definitely can see your point more if Dominion had to be THE game that was played, and only Dominion, for weeks or months on end, but as an avid boardgamer for decades now, we typically all have games that rotate in and out of the cycle, and I really feel like, for me anyway, they all need to be judged as part of an ecosystem rather than as a be-all… unless that’s the specific audience for the review/article.


  7. WP
    February 3, 2023 at 6:02 am

    I’ve been bothered by exactly this for quite a while. Not only the discourse, but the games themselves have become shallower as a result….

    Liked by 1 person

  8. February 3, 2023 at 6:37 am

    Great article, though the word ‘killed’ in the title gave it a dramatic spin that I associate with clickbait and poorly thought-out articles, so I skipped over this in 3 different places before the 4th encounter where a friend linked it to me.

    I agree with this viewpoint and there seems to be a lot of pushback against the sentiment that kickstarter is steering the industry towards aesthetic, immediately demonstrable qualities, and away from what I think are more valuable abstract qualities.

    What can we do? My plan is to play at both. Kickstarter is largely (to my perspective) a money makes money system in which people can expand their investments, so I’m working towards that. Save up money, spend it on kickstarter to fund some fun games, make more money, and sneak in good game design whilst I’m doing it all. I don’t feel like that last part matters much anymore on kickstarter, maybe it never did, but I can sneak it in anyway.

    I will note however that though an apparently vast minority, some kickstarter publishers are hiring me and others to develop and improve their games, and some are even working with designers, and some of these have solid fanbases. So there is still a part of the industry that seeks and will pay for that strategic replayability.

    I suppose there’s also what I call the curse of a good dentist; If you make strategically replayable (let’s call it actual replayability) games, people spend more time playing them rather than buying new games. Tricky one to get around that. You can’t charge more for quality design because I don’t think people will buy it, for the reasons you seem to be outlining in this article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 3, 2023 at 7:08 am

      “You can’t charge more for quality design” is mostly true, but a quality design is needed for a game to have legs and continue to sell over multiple print runs.

      Good comments.


  9. Derek Thompson
    February 3, 2023 at 7:15 am

    Magic: the Gathering, 1995, not Dominion.


    • February 3, 2023 at 7:20 am

      Magic certainly influenced this, but I’d argue not entirely in the same way.

      Dominion needs variable setup to exist. Virtually no one would play the same Kingdom card setup twice. Whoever identified the winning strategy would do the same thing, as there’s an optimal selection of cards to pursue. With base game Dominion, experienced players can identify the optimal path relatively easily.

      Magic is robust enough to stand up to many plays with the same well built decks. Different interactions and abilities would occur and the randomized nature is much more significant than in Dominion.


      • Mike
        February 3, 2023 at 9:10 am

        I think Magic does exhibit the same sort of issue, it’s just on a much different scale. Building the best meta deck for a current rotation is similar to solving a specific game of Dominion. With paper Magic there’s enough friction that this doesn’t necessarily become a problem for an average player, but playing online speeds up the cycle considerably.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Derek Thompson
          February 3, 2023 at 10:19 am

          You guys were playing another game than I was while I played Magic exclusively for 15 years. The entire point from the get-go was to convince players they needed more and more cards.

          Liked by 1 person

          • February 3, 2023 at 10:22 am

            I think you’re right, but I think the link between Magic and board games using variable setup is more distant than Dominion and the redefining of the term replayability.

            I see Dominion as a crystalization of the modern usage I suppose.


  10. Anonymous
    February 3, 2023 at 8:33 am

    Of course, the title wants to catch attention. Some areas of your article are good thoughts, and It’s really well written (I enjoyed reading it all), but I disagree that Dominion started something, as part of the text suggests. At most, Dominion is just a symptom, not the cause. And I still see many games that are fresh and offer lots of replayability without pushing content like crazy. It’s definitely a phenomenon I see on Kickstarter, but I shy away from these miniature-and-content feasts. One of the causes of less replayability in new games is maybe more the fact that the sheer amount of new games is exploding. Obviously, there are also more shallow games. But also more good games. It’s a great time for boardgamers, as many new great designers get a chance to publish their games. I also end up playing my games less often, which is sad but inevitable, as my time is limited.
    I agree that Dominion creates a lot of “urge to play” through new cards and more content. But this was pretty much the same with Magic the Gathering or Carcassonne. In the same way, Dominion went stale for me, as it didn’t offer that much fun, even with new cards, as some deeper games.
    What about Azul? There are now 5 different versions, all similar, but adding new twists to the same formula. For me, this is still a great game, because the core of its design is more solid. I can’t see any trend in less replayability, as the amount of new games is just too big to see certain trends – it all depends on your perspective of a pretty narrow view on a small part of new published games.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Philomorph
    February 3, 2023 at 8:41 am

    Good points! Though it’s easy enough for the true hobbyist (as opposed to the FOMO-driven KS Superbacker) to ignore this shift and look at games through the lens they prefer. For me and my group, “replayability” still means “Is it still interesting/fun to play after three games?”.

    There are plenty of games absolutely stuffed with “content” that nevertheless are boring in all other respects after a few times at the table. Now it just takes a bit more digging and savvy to spot them.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. February 3, 2023 at 10:29 am

    Since World War II, we have focused more on presentation and less on actual substance as time has passed. “Those who have too little, value quantity; those who have enough, value quality; and those who have too much, value presentation.” (Originated with Will, aka the Class Guy (twitter))

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Will
    February 3, 2023 at 10:42 am

    “It’s something we value because every prospective purchase exists conceptually as our next favorite game.”

    I don’t disagree with that sentiment at all, but I think the increased focus on, and discussion of, replayability as much (or more) to do with the cost-benefit analysis that goes into buying games. As the price tags on games increase–especially those that are heavy on plastic/miniatures or that have a number of expansions–players must consider whether they are going to get their money’s worth out of the investment of purchasing the game. Replayability thus becomes a selling point in justifying the purchase cost of the game and creating an inherent and objective increase in value. You sort of get at this with your discussion of content, but I think the underlying reality (the increased content drives increased cost) is at the heart of the replayability obsession.

    Very interesting article.


  14. Anonymous
    February 3, 2023 at 12:49 pm

    This argument doesn’t really hold up. Dominion introduced a revolutionary game mechanic but it didn’t shape market forces. Expandability has always been a huge factor in getting games to print. If you make a perfect game, everyone buys it once and thats all the money you’ll ever get. But expansions are relatively cheap to make and already have an audience built in. In the end, our villain turns out to be capitalism all along.

    Dominion certainly didn’t make this trend. Race for the Galaxy came out the previous year and already had an expansion in 2008, full of unique cards Carcassonne had 6 full expansions by that point, each with special new meeples and tiles. Munchkin was released in 2001 and had more expansions and spin offs than I can count in the following 7 years (and these added very little beside what we are here calling ‘content). Even the 1977 edition of Cosmic Encounter had NINE expansions in the following 6 years. One added *15* new aliens.

    And while one may cry that “dynamic tactical puzzles” and “strategic depth” are a higher form of game design than something that leans heavily on novelty, that’s just personal preference. Both those much lauded qualities are factors in games with a high player interaction/competition component, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Dominion doesn’t have that and doesn’t try (at least in the base game).

    While Kickstarter palates of plastic miniatures may be the board game equivalent of “low art” they don’t mean that good games aren’t still coming out. If anything we are still on a decades long upswing as years of clever ideas breed more clever ideas. Dominion inspired dozens of other deck builders that are more interesting and complete game experiences and those brought more ideas to the table as well. One may not like Dominion for perfectly valid reasons, but its hardly ruined the hobby and has had functionally nothing to do with replayability as a concept.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 3, 2023 at 12:53 pm

      Variable setup being core to Dominion’s experience is the central thrust of my article, expansions and product bloat is a secondary point.

      I’m also not claiming Dominion ruined the hobby. I’m claiming it ruined the language we use when discussing replayability.

      I actually quite like Dominion.


  15. Bryan
    February 3, 2023 at 1:58 pm

    Isn’t setup variability core to the Settlers of Catan experience? Who would want to play the same board with the same numbers and the same player turn order (short of curiosity about roll luck)? I suppose people could pick different spots, but that’s still just variable setup. Different rolls and a different order of dev cards could change things, but the base game (which already can be tedious for extended stretches) would fall apart without the variable setup.


    • February 3, 2023 at 2:02 pm

      Even if you didn’t want to play that setup again, it would produce very different results and events during the game.

      The optimal Dominion strategy for a Kingdom card setup will not change and very little randomness or external events will have an influence on tactical decisions as there is little no player interaction.

      But broadly, you have a point. I just see Dominion as a stronger crystalization of variable setup.


  16. February 3, 2023 at 3:20 pm

    Maybe Dominion is significant because it took the board away and annihilated space. I know other games before were tableaux builders — remember Illuminati? — and certainly Magic is engine building plus collecting, but Dominion brought that approach to a new shelf.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Dominic Crapuchettes
    February 3, 2023 at 5:33 pm

    I wouldn’t overlook Settlers in this discussion. The setup of Settlers greatly affects the strategy. Dominion took it a step farther because the roots of deck building come straight from Magic: the Gathering (a game where content lies at the core of the experience).

    Dominion and Settlers both have impactful variable setups, but I think they are also both packed with emergent gameplay. Some of the new Kickstarter games come with excessive content and very little emergent gameplay.

    I’ve been a eurogamer since the 90s. I think the importance of “new content” over “emergent gameplay” increased as more video gamers were introduced to our hobby because of PAX. The PAX video game halls would close down at 6pm and everyone would start playing board games. Exploring content is very common in first person 3D video games.

    I shared these ideas with Nick Bentley when he started working at our company over a decade ago to help explain the changes I thought were taking place in our industry.


  18. February 3, 2023 at 5:43 pm

    I definitely see the connection from both Magic and Settlers to variable setup, but in my opinion Dominion requires variable setup, whereas those two games don’t demand it to the same degree or at least in a different way.

    Magic in particular seems like a very different form of variable setup, and I don’t believe it had any direct influence on the board game community redefining the term replayability. Indirectly, it certainly did as Dominion wouldn’t exist without it.

    Settlers would still be interesting replaying the exact same setup due to the die rolls, trading, and card purchases having such a large effect.

    Dominion possessed extremely low replayability without variable setup. That distinction may not hold water for some, but I really see Dominion as a crystalization of the big change in the usage of the word replayability.

    Those PAX observations are very smart. I think you’re certainly right and no one has discussed that in the board game circles I frequent, online or otherwise.


    • February 3, 2023 at 5:48 pm

      Not sure I understand the focus on variable setup. Not only has variable setup been with us since Risk, Stratego, Stalingrad, and many other OLD games, it can be part of strategy. But that’s assuming the components of the setup are always the same. Perhaps the flaw is when the components keep changing (as in Dominion), as the players think about the components rather than the strategy.


      • February 3, 2023 at 5:52 pm

        I think Dominion focuses on variable setup in a much stronger way than any game that came before it. At least, variable setup in the way we often talk about that term in the board game hobby.

        Why variable setup itself is a point of focus is that replayability has been redefined as variable setup (mostly by the large swathe of YouTube reviewers). Variable setup and replayability are not identical and we’ve lost something by conflating them.


    • Dominic Crapuchettes
      February 3, 2023 at 5:55 pm

      As a publisher, I don’t generally post my observations of the market. They are frameworks I create to understand where the market is coming from and heading. My goal is to get our employees on the same page so we can work together with a common vision.

      I actually think the replay value in Dominion is quite good with only 10 cards. There was a lot of emergent gameplay to discover with just the core loop. Of course, the variable setup increased the replay value by many fold.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. jade
    February 3, 2023 at 10:16 pm

    I don’t think the replayablity of Dominion comes primarily from seeing new cards you’ve never seen before. After all, if you have the base game you’ll have probably seen all the different cards by the time you’ve played 10 times. And people played 100s of times when it came out.

    Yes, part of the game is assessing the kingdom and coming up with a plan then executing that plan. That’s also what Bridge players do when they look at their hands. And Bridge players don’t generally play the same hands over and over just as Dominion players don’t generally play the same kingdom over and over (though some do, and it can be a useful thing to do when you’re learning the game). The setup variability of having a new puzzle each time is inherent to card games and has been there long before Dominion.

    The idea of adding to replayability by adding new content in the form of expansions to successful games was also happening prior to Dominion. Just look at the games that won the Spiel des Jahres only two winners prior to 1995 had expansions or spin offs (published within 5 years of the game) and from The Settlers of Catan onwards almost all of them do.

    In general I agree with you that it’s sad that people seem to be thinking that only variable setups and more content can make games replayable, which seems to be making games more and more into disposable products. But I feel that you’re laying the blame for this trend at the wrong target. I’m not sure this trend even has a single cause that could be pinned down, I think it reflects changes in how we approach other media too. Do we blame Dominion for that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 3, 2023 at 10:27 pm

      While I agree with much of what you’re saying, I don’t think anyone would compare a random hand of cards directly to the idea of variable setup in modern board games.

      There is absolutely a relation, but Dominion crystalized the modern idea of variable setup and how many people use the term replayability in current discourse.


  20. Polar
    February 4, 2023 at 5:36 am

    As someone who’s recently started delving from more basic mainstream board games—Catan, Betrayal at thr House on the Hill, etc, I feel all introductory board games are like this. More recent games I’ve gotten—Wingspan and Lizard Wizard, for example—have a LOT more optimization included rather than randomized board layouts. Other games I’ve been introduced to recently, namely Bloodrage, are good examples of middle ground: deckbuilding with slightly randomized board starting positions (NOT maps) that slightly affect game play.

    But my question is: what are some of your personal recommendations for games with less dominion-like qualities, that are almost completely geared towards strategic depth and replayability? With much less randomness and much more complications and thought?

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 4, 2023 at 8:55 am

      Dominion is geared towards strategic depth. Additionally, it has a ton of content to explore.

      Shards of Infinity is another deck builder with a lot of depth, though it’s only for really made for 2 players.

      Root and Gaia Gaia are two other games with strategic depth. They both have maps and are significantly more complicated. Rule for rule, Dominion might be your best bet when it comes to depth. It is deceptively simple.


    • February 4, 2023 at 9:00 am

      Hey Polar,

      I think it’s important to realize that I’m not complaining about games having too much variable setup or randomization, I’m mainly criticizing hobbyists and YouTube reviewers using the term replayability in a new way, as a substitute for variability. I actually think Dominion is a fine game, it just shifted how we talk about replayability in a negative way.

      Blood Rage is one of my favorite games by the way.

      I’m hesitant to recommend you games on the basis of this article, as think the subject of this article is more philosophical than practical. I wouldn’t recommend you worry about this topic at all. The only thing I would really suggest is to be careful with backing big miniatures games on Kickstarter. It’s easy to get sucked into the emotion of it and there are far too many fantastic games you can buy now, instead of waiting multiple years for an expensive promise.


      • Polar
        February 5, 2023 at 3:12 am

        Thank you for the advice!! I get more of what the point of the article was now (I’ve played Root before and understand that there’s a ton of depth and replayability, even without any expansions, as the strategy can go on for days). I’ve never actually played Dominion, so I’ll have to check that out, but I recently discovered deck-building board games, and as a huge fan of drafting in Magic: The Gathering, the idea of replayability in that way (without having to pay for cards each time) has fascinated me. Thank you!


  21. Jeff Kunkel
    February 4, 2023 at 10:07 am

    I think replayability is a complex concept. I don’t agree that Dominion “killed” replayability as there are still plenty of games being made that are considered highly replayable without variable setups or content, not including things like random starting hands and the like which are pretty standard mechanisms for introducing variance. However, I do think that Dominion introduced, or at least popularized, the concept that highly variable content could be SUFFICIENT for replayability.

    If you look at Dominion’s core game, would it be seen as replayable with no variance in the available market cards? I highly doubt it – the core game just isn’t interesting enough and there’s not enough interaction between players to sustain it over multiple plays. All of its replayability depends on varying the available cards from game to game. Fortunately the card design is strong and even changing a couple of the cards in the market can result in a very different puzzle for the players to solve, so even one or two expansions is enough to really extend the life of the game for players.

    Compare this to Argent (a great example from a previous post). Argent has a ton of variability in its setup thanks to all of the different rooms you can include and the different types of student mages available in one of the expansions. However, I could easily see myself playing even the beginner’s setup of rooms for Argent many times without getting bored thanks to the much more interesting core game mechanics and win condition along with the high degree of player interaction. The variance in setup adds an extra layer of spice, but it only adds replayability to an already highly replayable game.

    There’s a third class of game that actually does need variable setups to work, but only as a means to prevent “rote” opening moves. Brass: Birmingham is a simple example of this, with its variable placement of external markets at the start of the game, changing the valuation of the locations from game to game. The game itself is deep and fascinating, but this small variance in the game setup helps keep it fresh. A more extreme example, and probably more in line with the thrust of this article, is the excellent Brick & Mortar by Octoraffe games. It has a very strong core game, but the variable availability of stores from game to game is absolutely needed to keep players from falling into fixed opening strategies. The variance isn’t the only source of the game’s replayability – the mechanics and player interaction are as well, but the three of those work together to create a highly playable experience.

    In the end, I think that what we’re seeing more frequently these days is variable setups and content being used as a crutch to enhance replayability rather than creating a core game that benefits from, but doesn’t rely on, that variance.


  22. Anonymous
    February 8, 2023 at 6:23 am

    Curious to hear your thoughts on Terra Mystica / Gaia Project as they seem to have a lot of both types of replayability presented here. The content side is really large but I think not quite approaching the levels of Dominion.


    • February 8, 2023 at 7:10 am

      I haven’t played Gaia but have played Terra Mystica. I think Variable setup is important in TM, but I don’t think it’s as core to the experience as it is with Dominion.

      If TM didn’t have variable setup, it would still stand up to dozens of plays. Dominion would not.


  23. February 8, 2023 at 6:24 pm

    That is an articulate description of what has been going on. In terms of replayability and a lot else, strategic depth has been replaced by mere variety.

    Gameplay depth is challenging, recognizing and coping with it is hard. Heck, it’s not easy even to define it. Variety (what some of you are calling “content”) is much easier to understand and work with.

    Many, many gamers *want* games to be, well, shallow, ones they can understand after playing one to three times and then they can move on to the next game. Their objective isn’t mastery of a game, it’s a simpler understanding of how the game works.

    Contemporary gamers often do not want anyone else to “mess up what they’re doing”, quite the opposite from the older opposed games. This is reflected in the change in “typical games” from opposed games to puzzles. A puzzle has one or more always-correct solutions. Remember “multiple paths to victory”? Yeah, that meant there was more than one solution to the puzzle.

    Opposed games, which are highly interactive, depend on other players to provide variety. When you take away the interactivity by making parallel competitions (aka multi-player solitaire) then the game has to provide an alternative – which is the shallow variety you discuss.

    Video games led the march toward puzzles. After all, a single-player video game is usually, if not always, a puzzle, and until recently most video games were single-player.

    To blame the trend you’ve identified on one (tabletop1) game doesn’t make sense. It’s a trend, something that has been coming gradually for many years. Don’t blame Dominion, blame video games, blame puzzles. (Though I have to admit, I have never had any interest in playing Dominion, I do recognize the brilliance of the deck-building idea.)

    [But both video and tabletop games have been reducing depth even more by not including everything in the original game, expecting to sell more of the game via expansions and downloadable content (DLC).]


  24. nemorathwald
    February 17, 2023 at 10:08 am

    This is a slight change of topic, but the popularity of randomized setups also affected quality control. Many players now encounter problems which were mathematically-impossible to catch the problem in playtesting.

    Games advertise that their setups are larger than the number of stars in the galaxy; players could play until the heat death of the universe without playing the same game twice. But that guarantees bad experiences.

    The world of board games, collectively, now has a larger total number of play sessions that are not fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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