Eminent Domain Review

It is the dawn of a new era.  Unexplored worlds, ripe for the claiming, hang among the stars.  You and your fellow leaders share a single trait – ambition – and it calls you to action.  Gather your fleets, master your technologies, and be the first to claim the ultimate influence of Eminent Domain!

jessmJess: So…Sci-fi deckbuilder?

andysmAndrew: Sci-fi deckbuilder.

jessmJess:  WOOHOO!

Unique in many great ways, Eminent Domain really stands out...also, *literally* stands out, because it's in front of the oh never mind.
Unique in many great ways, Eminent Domain really stands out…also, *literally* stands out, because it’s in front of the oh never mind.

Eminent Domain, by Tasty Minstrel Games, is a card game for 2-4 players that plays in about 30-45 minutes.  Designed by Seth Jaffee (Isle of Trains, Terra Prime), Eminent Domain sees players expanding their galactic empire either by colonization or by military conquest, as well as fostering trade and technological developments, all in the name of earning the most influence and thereby winning the game!

Now, we’re big fans of deck builders here at Gameosity, with games like the Legendary Encounters Alien Game, Ascension, and Star Realms leading the pack (though with some tweaking, we found that the Resident Evil Deckbuilding Game can be surprisingly nuanced).  But I have to say, none of those games share the unique and ultimately awesome mechanics of Eminent Domain.

Your empire awaits!
All the tools you need to forge an empire

All players start with the same basic deck of cards as well as a starting planet.  From there, how you build your deck and approach the game is up to you.  Like many deck-builders, Eminent Domain has players gathering cards from the same pool of options – a pool which is actually quite limited.

Unlike many other deck-builders, the available cards are always the same and, oddly, do not cost anything to be added to your deck.  But it’s what happens when you add a card that makes Eminent Domain so interesting.

Even though you have many options each turn, the rules are very straightforward.
Even though you have many options each turn, the rules are very straightforward.

On your turn, you may optionally play a card from your hand as an action (gaining the card’s listed Action benefit, such as drawing more cards or gathering ships).  Then you must choose one of the available cards from the offer to be added to your deck.  However, in an interesting twist on the traditional deck-building formula (cards I buy go into my discard pile to be drawn later), the card you choose, rather than the cards in your hand, actually decides what you are doing with your turn.

Want to find new worlds to explore?  Choosing the Survey card not only adds that card to your deck, but it also triggers the Survey action this turn and you can optionally play additional Survey cards from your hand to boost that action’s potency.  Once you’re done, all the cards you played go into your discard pile, to be drawn again later, as per the standard formula.

However, Eminent Domain isn’t done being awesome with that single little twist.  No, it’s just getting warmed up.  Observe.

The different sized ships don't mean anything - at least until you add the first expansion...
The different sized ships don’t mean anything – at least until you add the first expansion…

jessmJess:  For my turn, I declare Warfare!  As the leader, I send my ships against this unclaimed word, adding it to my empire!  FOR GLORY!  Also, for victory points.  Now, what say you all?

robsmRob:  Warfare!  I will gather ships to my fleet.

dianasmDiana:  Warfare as well!

andysmAndrew:  I dissent.

robsmRob:  No conquest in your future?

andysmAndrew:  Warfare is only one method of conquest, my friend.

dianasmDiana:  Oh great, here come the colonies.

See, what makes Eminent Domain unique is the Leader/Follower/Dissenter mechanic.  Let’s say, as above it’s Jess’s turn.  She chooses the Warfare role, drawing a Warfare card into her deck and immediately resolving its Leader action (because it’s her turn, so she’s the leader), letting her either conquer a planet by spending ships or gather ships to her fleet.

Once she’s done, everyone else gets to decide to either Follow her choice, playing Warfare cards from their hand (and using Warfare symbols on their planets and technology) to activate the Warfare Follower power (to gather ships.  Sorry, conquest is for Leaders).  If they don’t or can’t Follow, they may Dissent and draw a card instead.  Then, once everyone has either Followed or Dissented, play passes to the next Leader and the process continues.

The thing about Eminent Domain that is so compelling to me is that you have a decision to make on not only your own turn, but on each and every turn.  There are some actions you can only take as Leader, but getting to take Follower actions out-of-turn always feels like an awesome bonus and can set you up for chains of good plays.  The person ahead of you Colonizes?  Well, if you’ve got the cards, you can Follow, adding your own Colonize cards to your unsettled planets.  That way, when it’s your turn, you can Colonize not to add colonies but (as Leader) to settle your world, gaining its Influence Points and freeing up your Colonize cards to go back into your deck.

One planet claimed, one nearly colonized, and the last being menaced by the fleet.
One planet claimed, one nearly colonized, and the last being menaced by the fleet.

And as added complexity, you may see that another player is amassing ships for a Warfare action.  If you choose Warfare yourself, you stand the risk of giving them a chance to gather more ships out-of-turn; do you risk it?  Or do you decide to do something else with your turn, hoping they then have to waste their own Leader action gathering resources rather than conquering planets?

These clever combos, always reliant on other players’ choices, are the heart of what makes Eminent Domain so much more than the simple game it may seem to be.  And hey, if no one takes the Role you want, at least you can Dissent and draw some cards, which are always useful.

Each card has multiple uses, serving as Action, Leader, and Follower options, as well as Boosted effects.
Each card has multiple uses, serving as Action, Leader, and Follower options, as well as Boosted effects.

Eminent Domain is strange, in the sense that it is almost entirely a game of solitaire (your cards, planets, trade goods and technologies are entirely your own and have practically no impact on any other player), and yet it is a game entirely built on indirect player interaction.  You will care about each and every card that gets played because every single one of them is an opportunity to do something, either to take action or to gather cards in preparation.

Of course, all accusations of multiplayer solitaire will fall by the wayside once you add the Escalation expansion, but that’s another review.

We heartily recommend Eminent Domain, and encourage you to grab it here!

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