Dominion: The Game

Among all of my board games, which include Ticket To Ride, Tichu, Scrabble and Settlers of Catan, I have a proclivity for Dominion.

It was given to me by my former colleague and fellow board game enthusiast, Mike Duncan, and it was designed by a man whose name, Donald X. Vaccarino, is frighteningly similar to that of our former CEO. My wife, my in-laws and my friends are also partial to the game, making it a popular choice when anyone suggests playing. For me, though, Dominion’s real appeal lies in one simple mechanic, a system that strikes a chord in me and resonates with what I value about people, organizations and companies.

In the game, a player’s deck of cards is his Dominion, which the player cycles through many times throughout the game. Throughout, he adds cards (he generally cannot discard them) that enable him to gain “skill” cards, gain money cards and gain victory cards. It’s these victory cards that are so interesting, because while you need them to win, it’s a disadvantage to have them until the end of the game. That’s because they don’t do anything. They have no value except the value ascribed to them, and serve only to bloat and clog your deck of useful cards until the end of the game.

What the victory card mechanic rewards is leanness. It creates a situation where a deck devoid of victory cards is a powerful Dominion, with each card providing some tangible benefit or benefits. It’s not until the tipping point is reached toward the end of the game when it behooves players to race for the victory cards.

The game is a beautiful metaphor for a lot of things. It reminds me of my possessions, my baubles, and how they can clutter my life without providing any real value. It reflects how I want capability to be rewarded in the workplace. It suggests that the larger an entity gets, the more susceptible it is to gathering trappings of little value, or value as defined in a narrow and unimaginative way. It’s notable that the game isn’t typically enjoyed only by the victor, and the victor tends to be forgotten while the sense of society and pleasure remains among the players.

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