Dominion: Intrigue is the first expansion for Dominion. It adds twenty-five kingdom cards (the random cards that vary from game to game) as well as rules for five- and six-player games (and even seven- and eight-player games). Intrigue is a standalone expansion, meaning that while it expands the base game of Dominion, everything you need to play the game is inside the box. This review assumes basic knowledge of Dominion. (If you don’t know about Dominion, first of all, get out of the Dark Ages [Ed. note December 2012: is it ironic that the latest big-box expansion to Dominion is, in fact, “Dark Ages?”]. Then check out @Futurewolfie’s review or @FarmerLenny’s review.)
How It Plays
Hopefully, you are already aware of how Dominion plays. If not you should check out our reviews of the base game, linked up above, and start there.
Intrigue doesn’t change up the basic formula – you still play actions, buy new cards, and shuffle. Intrigue does add a slew of new cards into the mix; cards that offer choices, cards that attack your opponents in new ways, and generally a whole load of options that add a fresh level of deckbuilding action to the original premise.
Dominion: Intrigue, to reappropriate the words of Han Solo, “doesn’t look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.” Intrigue’s theme isn’t as apparent as the other Dominion expansions, and it doesn’t include any flashy bits like coins or victory point tokens. But what it lacks in initial excitement it more than makes up for in gameplay.
First, a word about the expanded player rules: The five- and six-player rules seem more a concession than a recommendation. The rulebook also gives directions for seven- and eight-player games: play two games. I agree with the designer’s hesitation to include more than four players. Dominion is played best when Dominion is played fast. With six or even five players, this quickness is hard to achieve. While this set mixed with the base set allows for a larger game, I think Dominion works best with two to four players (and, really, equally well with two, three, or four).
I mentioned that Intrigue’s theme is more abstract than the other expansions. The theme seems to be choice, which is associated with the two-faced nature of intrigue the concept. This is borne out in cards that offer choices (almost every card), in cards that have dual types (for example, Victory-Treasure or Victory-Action), and also in underhanded, nasty cards that aren’t attacks.
Take Masquerade, for instance. That +2 cards is nice. But then every player passes a card from their hand to the left. No moats can save you. You just have to do it. Then there’s Tribute, which forces the player to your left to discard the top two cards of his deck, giving you spoils based on what he discards. No secret chambers; no lighthouses. You just have to do it. I love this aspect of Intrigue, that even the non-attack cards feel a little like attacks. It makes the game more interactive even if players are not directly attacking one another.
But it’s the attacks in this set that I really love. One of my favorite attacks—and potentially one of my favorite cards to play with (it’s just so dang fun)—is the Swindler. And no, I don’t like it just because it rhymes with my last name. I get +2 coins and I get to mess with your deck? Sign me up! And this, of course, is another example of the “choice” theme: you trash the top card of your deck; I decide what you gain in its place. (My favorite swap: copper for curse, obviously.) Then there’s the Torturer, who isn’t so bad on his own or in two-player games. But when many Torturers attack at once, things become depressing rather quickly. Torturer gives +3 cards. Then he gives the other players a choice: either discard two cards or gain a curse. Not too bad—kind of like a Militia, right? Maybe the first time. But there’s no minimum hand size with Torturer. You just keep discarding and discarding—or gaining curses. (A brief note: I read the designer’s Intrigue notes on BGG, and he offers the advice to new players that they will save themselves a world of hurt if they just gain the curse sometimes. Sage advice.) Then there’s Minion, which is awesome in combination with others’ Torturers or with your own: +1 action and then you either get +2 coins or force everyone (including yourself) to discard the remaining cards in their hands and draw four new ones. This is especially awesome if you know another player just drew the spoils of their Treasure Map (from Seaside).
Almost every card in the Intrigue expansion provides a choice of some kind, and what’s interesting about the choices is that the player has to make them before knowing for sure what’s most beneficial. For example, Pawn offers two different choices between +1 card, +1 action, +1 buy, or +1 coin. But you have to choose both before doing either. (You can’t choose +1 card, see that it’s an action, and choose +1 action.) Mining Village is Village with a +2 coin bonus if you trash it—but you have to trash it before moving on to the actions it provides. The added choices usually increase playing time, but not too noticeably (though if there is a player in your group who suffers from “analysis paralysis,” you may want to get a chess timer or something).
Dominion: Intrigue also shines in providing new paths to victory. The set is filled with new kingdom victory cards—and some of them do more than just take up space in your deck! There is the Great Hall, which is an estate with +1 card/+1 action (get it out of your hand!). There’s the Duke, worth 1 VP for every Duchy in your deck. (I’ve been defeated by the Duke on more than one occasion—he is subtle, fitting with the Intrigue theme.) There’s the Nobles, worth 2 VPs at the end and worth either +2 actions or +3 cards during play. There’s the Harem, 2 VPs and worth 2 coins when played as a treasure. With all of these victory options in play, players must be careful to not count just Provinces and Duchies.
Intrigue provides beefed up versions of older cards as well—for example, Ironworks (Workshop), Mining Village (Village)—which keeps the game feeling fresh, especially after playing lots of the base set.
So what’s my opinion of Dominion: Intrigue? Well, if you haven’t been able to tell so far, I think Intrigue is fantastic. In fact, it’s probably my favorite expansion so far (disclosure: I recently got Prosperity, which shows potential for dethroning Intrigue). Intrigue builds on the base set with some interesting new concepts, but it’s still easy enough for newcomers to understand. It’s a little more subdued than some of the other expansions, but this is a good thing, in my opinion, especially for a standalone set. Playing with just Seaside cards is an exercise in foolhardiness; playing with just Intrigue cards is more subtle, but very gratifying.
If you hadn’t yet purchased any Dominion games and were faced with a choice of whether you should buy the base set or Intrigue, I’d probably say the base set just because there are some core concepts in that set that need to be understood before moving on. The base set is also friendlier for teaching new players and people who are unfamiliar with more strategic games (restricting choice is a good teaching tool). But if you have a friend who has the base set, or if your friends are ready to dive in to meatier Dominion games, get Intrigue. Oh, and if you have enough money for both, get both, obviously.
Admitting this may make me look the fool, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Dominion expansions before I tried them. I mean sure, they sounded interesting, but how many variations of “+1 Card/Buy/Action/Money” can there really be?
Turns out, a lot. How much? Well, I’m assuming you just read @Farmerlenny’s take, so you should already have a good idea.
All the added choices and underhanded actions certainly add excitement, tension, and fun to the game. The quality of the expansion, though, is more evidence for the incredibly solid foundational gameplay. The fact that these choices, these interactions, these mixed-type cards, all continue to work in a balanced fashion is a testament to what makes Dominion such a fun game—it is by nature solidly balanced. Every hurtful thing you can do to another player can be done to you, and building up on these attack cards alone will result in you having a very active game and a very disappointingly poor finish.
The expansion does add complexity for sure, though, which might be a turn-off to some people. There are few cards that are limited to the simple “+1 card +1 action” of the base game, instead requiring a bit of reading to explain the purpose of the card. It does slow it down a bit, but it offers a lot of… well, Intrigue. Personally, after playing Intrigue (and the other expansions), it’s just not as fulfilling to play the base game anymore. While I still enjoy it (and the base game is the only version I own), it just feels… simple.
It’s also worth mentioning that the artwork on the cards—if that matters to you—is really hit or miss. Some cards are decently drawn or painted or whatever, but some are wierdly CG-looking in general or just poor art. It’s really inconsistent. However after playing a few times you don’t tend to notice the art, and it does help make each card recognizable instantly once you get used to it.