In the past week I had a chance to play the 6-player variant of Dominion made possible when one possesses both the base game and the Intrigue expansion.
The reason for creating this variant is obvious: sometimes you have more than 3 friends over to play a game, and Dominion is one of the best games out there. It’s fun, it’s easy, you never know what to expect, and it’s fast. Games are meant to be a social experience, after all, and why should such an experience be limited to 4?
Unfortunately, adding more players creates a problem that just about EVERY game has to face – downtime. Waiting for 3 people to take their turns? Not so bad. Waiting for 5? Now that’s a different story. In addition, the more players you have, the more likely that one or more of those players will talk a long, slow turn, thinking too hard when they should have been planning ahead during the other players’ turns.
However, I’d have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the 6-player experience. I went into it willingly, though expecting a dull and impossible game, only to enjoy some gaming time with a few younger cousins who seem to be growing quite into real board-gamers. Fortunately, I found myself to be playing a game that was much like Dominion.
The key element here is that we were all experienced Dominion players. With a 50/50 split of base-set and Intrigue cards, a couple players had to study the cards for a moment. However, after that, people formed strategies, planned ahead, and played their hands almost as smoothly as possible. It played in about the same time it would take to play a 4-player game of Dominion with 3 brand-new players, but without all the boring nothing-is-happening moments and incessant questions about the function of things.
Being the board-game blogger and reviewer that I am, though, I did immediately notice a few items worth criticizing. Most notably, I think, even when you have experienced players and the game plays smoothly, you lose an element of control and reaction time. With 4 players or fewer, you can watch the others as you build your deck towards perfection. Hopefully you can get to the point when you feel like your deck is ready and start hitting those provinces hard before anyone else, but sometimes another player goes for the big ones and you have to react – are you really ready for point cards, or should you go all in to balance out the game before it swings wildly away from you? With 6 players, it goes through a lot more people before it gets back to you again. There are a lot more people that might jump on the Province train, forcing your hand before you really want to. Because so many people are drawing from the pile, it’s a lot easier to run out of those cards before you make your move.
But there are 3 additional provinces added to the game per additional player, so the real problem encountered with this large circle is that no additional Duchys (Duchies? Duckies?) or Estates are added. These cards are less important than Provinces, but in larger games they can push one player over the top. Our Duchies and Estates ran out long before provinces did, simply because people lost the ability to purchase provinces once tehy had too many in their decks. We circled around that last province twice, but really no other card was worth buying. Extra Duchies or Estates could have drastically changed the balance of the game, but they weren’t there because the 6-player table had made short work of them.
Intrigue cards also tend to slow down the game a bit, which affects the waiting time until your next turn, and it’s hardly unreasonable to expect those cards in play since the 5-6player variant requires that game.
In the end, I’d say the 5-6player variant is a reasonable inclusion and a laudable effort on the part of the designers. It’s tough to get a fast-moving 6 player game going, but I have definitely played games with more wait time and less interaction between turns, so Dominion does hold up pretty well. My complaint about duchies and estates may or may not be a consistent problem, but could probably be remedied simply by adding an appropriate number of respective cards to their supply piles. (but then, maybe this would give too much point-power to the Duchy deck. Not sure, this idea is untested.)
I wouldn’t recommend actively seeking out a 6 player Dominion game, but in a pinch, with a 5 or 6 person group of experienced players, you’ll still end up with a good time. After all, it’s more about getting together with friends and enjoying yourselves than it is winning, is it not?