Game review: Intrigue and betrayal highlight Dominare and The Resistance

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28 2013 4:34 p.m. MDT

The Dominare game board represents the city-state of Tempest.

Cody Carlson

Deft political maneuvering and a dose of treachery highlight two popular games on the market today: Dominare, a board game from Alderac Entertainment Group, and The Resistance, a party game from Indie Boards and Cards.

In Dominare, two to six players take on the role of conspirators, eagerly trying to take control of the fictional Renaissance-era city-state of Tempest. The game board is divided into a number of districts, each representing an important political constituency of Tempest. Each turn, players play cards that represent various agents who are given a number of influence cubes they can place on the board, as well as add gold to their coffers. Players must be careful, however, as playing powerful cards increases the risk of exposure.

After a random event phase, in which a card directs players and can alter the game board, each player may take two actions, including using an agent power, buying more influence or trying to reduce the level of exposure. Bonuses are awarded for controlling certain city districts, and blocks within the districts can be worth victory points at the end of the game.

Conflict occurs when players attempt to gain power over the same districts or blocks, resulting in some intense back and forth as players use their own cubes to knock their opponents out of strategic areas.

After each player has played seven cards and taken all his or her actions, the game ends and players tally up their victory point totals from districts and blocks under their influence. The two players with the highest exposure suffer penalties at the end of the game.

Dominare is part of AEG's Tempest series of games that began with the wonderful board game Courtier (you can read my review here). In many respects, such as the fun artwork and the use of influence cubes, Dominare will be very familiar to fans of Courtier, and yet Dominare manages to be both bigger and more intense.

Make no mistake, however, the two are very different games, and Dominare definitely lives up to, if not surpasses, the fun of its predecessor.

This is a medium complexity area-control Eurogame that requires a lot of strategic thinking every turn. The mechanic functions in a manner that ensures there is little player downtime, and each player is invested with every other player's move.

The mechanic also offers some really interesting twists, such as how players can influence the point value of the different city districts through event cards, and how the agents' powers depend upon the order in which they are played (or ranked). Exposure, which can help in many ways during game play, becomes a curse in the end game, as each player struggles to reduce his rating to avoid the victory point penalty.

Playable in two to three hours, and recommended for ages 12 and up, Dominare is an incredibly fun and engaging experience with a great theme. Though there is a bit of a learning curve, players will be greatly rewarded for taking the time to learn it.

Five to 10 players take on the role of noble resistance fighters or treacherous spies in The Resistance. The game is set in a dark future where a tyrannical, dystopian government has squashed freedom. You and your friends have decided to strike a blow for liberty by undertaking a series of missions designed to topple the government. Several of your friends, however, are secretly working for the government and want to sabotage your efforts.

At the start of the game, each player is dealt a card that casts the player in either the role of resistance fighter or spy. The cards are distributed according to the number of players (two spies in a five-player game, three spies in a seven-player game, etc). Spies keep their identities secret and must convince the resistance players that they are one of the good guys if they hope to successfully sabotage missions.

The spies have an advantage in that they know who the other spies are. They cannot, however, communicate openly. At the beginning of each turn, a team leader selects a team to go on a mission. All of the players may vote yea or nay to the proposal, and majority rules. Team members are given success or failure cards, and resistance members must always play success. Spies, however, can play the fail card to sabotage the mission, or success to hide their identity.

The face-down cards are mixed together and revealed. One fail card and the mission is a failure. With a total of five missions, whoever wins three missions first wins the game.

This is an incredibly simple and yet endlessly frustrating game. And it is unbelievably fun. At its heart, The Resistance is a game of bluffing — can the spies convince their friends that they are on the same side? Personality is what the game ultimately comes down to. Do you believe the protestations of innocence from a friend when a mission goes south, or do you think he's playing you? Conversely, when playing a spy, do you play a fail card and risk exposure? Or do you play a success card to build your credibility, with an eye to better sabotaging later missions?

Paranoia is the watchword in The Resistance, and it offers the same great “who do I trust” mentality that marks heavier games like Battlestar Galactica. Playable in about 20 minutes to a half hour, and recommended for ages 13 and up, The Resistance will keep you guessing right up until the end.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. He has also appeared on many local stages, including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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