[Editors note: The following is a Nemesis Review, featuring opinions from our in-house thematic-loving @futurewolfie and his ferocious opponent, the stodgy euro-loving @Farmerlenny. Make sure to read both opinions to get a better overall picture of the game!]
One of the great things about Dominion is the wide variety of new cards that can be added to keep things fresh and always keep players on their toes—new cards added to the mix always changes up the strategy a bit.
Speaking of variety, the expansion Cornucopia adds a series of cards that reward you for having a variety of different cards in your deck. Being a Dominion expansion, Cornucopia plays functionally the same as Dominion (if you are unfamiliar with Dominion, start there first. Read our review and then buy yourself a copy!), but the cards added can drastically change up the strategy involved.
How It Plays
As promised, Cornucopia rewards you for having a variety of cards in your deck. Whether awarding you points based on your variety or boosting your buying power, you’ll be aiming to pick up every card in the supply if you can, which has never been the best strategy before. Cornucopia opens up the door for that kind of silliness.
Which brings us to the next major change-up Cornucopia brings: these cards run through your deck a lot faster. Many of the cards require revealing a series of cards from your deck; others reveal cards in the other players’ decks and discard them when a certain type of card is reached. Some cards allow you to reveal cards until you reach a certain type—such as the Farming Village card, which is +2 actions and allows you to reveal cards from your deck until you reveal an action or treasure card, taking that and discarding the rest.
In addition, several cards allow you to discard cards for an additional function, allowing for cards that are cheaper variants of cards from the base game—for example, the Young Witch, which is cheaper than the original Witch but requires discarding two cards (and adds a special “bane” to the supply—you’ll just have to buy the game to get the details on that) after you draw two cards. In effect, this allows you to pad your deck with crappy cards and useless-in-practice point cards without slowing you down. Discard a card for +1 buy? Sure, why not?
The last major game-changing addition to Cornucopia is the Tournament card. This card adds something unheard of before in Dominion: the ability to access powerful, powerful prize cards that are otherwise unavailable—and of which there is only one copy. The tournament is +1 action. If other players have a province in their hand, they can reveal it, but if no one else does, you also get +1 card and +1 treasure. However, if you reveal a province from your hand after you’ve played the Tournament, you discard it and take a prize card or a Duchy. These prize cards are incredibly powerful—some of the most powerful cards I’ve seen. These cards offer you bags of gold, bountiful actions and cards, or -2 to the cost of every card.
Cornucopia is pretty enjoyable fun. It mixes well with other expansions and, like the others, it adds a fresh direction to the game. Cards that burn through your deck quickly, cards that give something useful for your point cards to do (be discarded for bonuses), and cards that just skip over the curses and victory points in your deck. There are plenty of interesting new cards to try out, and as always some variations on the old ones. There are several new attack cards that are added, which can make things pretty tough if they all get into the supply at once, but they are interesting and not too mean.
The biggest area of uncertainty is the Tournament. It definitely adds some excitement to the game—struggling to be the first to not only get a Province in your deck, but get it to line up with the Tournament in the same hand—but on the other hand, those prize cards are heavily unbalanced in their power. If they get spread out between the players, all well and good, but all too often I’ve seen one player get most of them while the others don’t ever get the opportunity. The prizes aren’t guaranteed wins—often they come into play later in the game and if it ends soon enough, don’t swing it too much to make a huge difference. In fact, if you ignore the tournaments you have as good a chance to come out on top. It’s just when two or more people go for the tournaments and one ends up with the prizes, you get some imbalance. It’s a hard temptation to stay away from, though. At the very least, the Prizes have a cost of 0, making them excessively vulnerable to cards like Swindler.
As a fan of Dominion, I like Cornucopia a lot. If you already dislike Dominion, though, this expansion will probably not change your mind. The potential imabalance of the Tournament may warn some people away, but the collection as a whole is solid, interesting, and fun. Side note: while the card art is still hit-or-miss, the box art is my favorite of all the box covers in the Dominion series.
Cornucopia is fun and thematic (great for fall!), but being a small-box expansion, it’s not as essential as some of the others. From what I’ve seen, it’s not as narrowly focused as Alchemy and it mixes well with the other sets, but being half the size, the theme can also seem half-baked.
One thing I love about Cornucopia, though, is that it brings back the joy of the Dominion newbie. In my first few games of Dominion, I bought every card in the supply. Surely I’ll need that, I thought, but then realized the harsh reality of more discerning tastes. Formulating a strategy is usually a narrow path that involves buying multiple copies of a few cards and avoiding others entirely. Cornucopia opens the door to buying more cards and trying new combinations. Because it rewards players for variety, it encourages players to pick up Chancellor, or Woodcutter, or other cards that an experienced player might turn up his nose at.
Still, it should be mentioned that Cornucopia’s cards are also a bit harder for newbies to understand. There’s usually a lot of text on the cards that may trip new players up. It is an experienced player’s expansion, but one that returns the freshness of the first game. Cornucopia also lengthens the game (as all the expansions do, really) by increasing drawing, comparing duplicates, etc. This isn’t a deal breaker, and Cornucopia is fun to use. It’s not my favorite expansion, but if you simply can’t get enough Dominion, Cornucopia will scratch the itch for more.