If you haven’t heard of Dominion by now, clearly you haven’t been reading this blog enough, because we talk about it all the time. But just as a quick refresher, Dominion is a card game that exploded onto the scene back in 2008 and quickly became popular and highly regarded (including a Spiel des Jahres win), for good reason. It’s easy to learn, accessible, and fun for almost anyone—and yet it holds within it strategic depth and almost infinite variability. Oh, and it invented the deck-building genre of games, which is cool too.
Dominion was followed up with a number of expansions that only increased the quality and fun of the game, and now we’re here with yet another expansion—the sixth of eight, Dominion: Hinterlands—which brings us cards thematically featuring elements of distant travel, exploration, discovery, far-off lands, and valuable foreign goods.
Is this expansion worth adding to your collection? Find out below!
How It Works
If you’ve played Dominion before, it works… well, exactly like Dominion. If you haven’t played Dominion before, you really should start with the base game—read our review of that here.
Hinterlands is not a stand-alone expansion (that is, you’ll need either Dominion or Dominion: Intrigue to play) and adds a new series of cards, most of which feature a special action that occurs “when you buy” or “when you gain.” For example, “when you gain” the 6-cost Border Village, you also gain a card costing less than it.
It should be noted that there is a distinction between “buying” and “gaining” that wasn’t really important before Hinterlands. “Gaining” means adding a card to your deck. “Buying” usually involves gaining, as you add the card you bought to your deck, but there is a distinction. You gain cards a lot more often than you buy them in Hinterlands, with a number of cards allowing extra gaining (or forcing other players to gain, say, curses). Gaining requires the act to be completed, that is, that card entering your discard pile. This gets tricky with Trader, which allows you to gain a silver instead of whatever card you might otherwise have gained.
If, for example, you use Trader when you buy Ill-Gotten Gains to instead gain a silver, you haven’t completed the “gaining” of the Ill-Gotten Gains, and thus you don’t get the “when you gain” effect on that card—everyone else gaining a Curse. On the other hand, if you buy a Noble Brigand, which has a “when you buy” ability, its ability gets triggered when you buy it, so you can execute its ability before using Trader’s ability to gain a silver instead. Confused? It’s a little tricky, but it essentially breaks down to whether or not the card ends up in your discard pile. If it didn’t, you didn’t gain it and don’t get the “when you gain” effect. If you didn’t shell out the treasure for a card, you don’t get the “when you buy” effect even if you gain it by another means.
Hinterlands also includes two new card type combinations: Victory-Reaction (a victory card that is also a reaction card) and Treasure-Reaction (A treasure card that is also a reaction card). And, finally, it has a number of cards that are variations on old cards, such as the Highway, which is much like the Bridge from Intrigue (while in play, cards you buy cost 1 less), only it has +1 Card, +1 Action instead of the +1 Buy, +1 Treasure.
If you’ve played Dominion: Cornucopia, Hinterlands feels a little bit like a larger version of that. Sans Tournament. Although I think Hinterlands is a bit more fun.
What I mean is Hinterlands makes it very easy to beef up the size of your deck, but at the same time gives you cards to move through said deck more quickly. While it doesn’t reward variety like Cornucopia cards, it does often result in it. In many cases cards interact so that when you buy (or gain) certain cards, you can use their “when you gain” effects to rack up a number of different cards that have yet another “when you gain” effect.
Of course, this temptation can ruin your deck pretty easily. It can be tempting to add every possible card to your deck at every opportunity, and suddenly you find your deck bloated and stuck with too many actions that aren’t usable (or all that useful).
Still, if you play carefully, you can do well. Cards that require discarding often give you a powerful effect, and you can use treasure cards (and other useless cards) as fodder, making them a little more than just dead weight. Cartographer and Embassy are two such cards that let you blow through your deck, piecing through large numbers of cards to get the ones you need while discarding the filler.
Like other Dominion sets, not every cards is useful every time it’s available in the supply, but none of the cards are totally useless all the time—every card will work well in some mixes and not as much in others, but that’s okay. That’s part of the fun of the game, figuring out what cards will work the best given what you have in front of you—no card is the “killer app” that will always lead to victory.
It’s surprising how Donald X. continues to release new cards with unique abilities and a unique feel to them, all still based on this basic “action, buy” system. Conditional effects, forced discards, clever attacks, and “when you buy/gain” abilities keep this expansion fresh and really add new layers of strategy into the mix. Side note: the distinctions between “buying” and “gaining” can be slightly tricky, but are explained well in the rules. I mention it here because it highlights the solid foundation of excellent, consistent terminology. Because “gain” is the word used whenever the act of “gaining” happens, it’s easy to figure out if you’re “gaining” just by reading the card. If it doesn’t say “gain,” then you aren’t gaining. (Except in the case of buying, which there is no explicit card: when you buy, you gain it also.) The complexities introduced in Hinterlands, however, mean you should not introduce this expansion to a Dominion beginner.
I will mention one other thing: of all the cards that have come out so far, I have the feeling that Fool’s Gold is the most unbalanced one out there. Fool’s Gold is the Treasure-Reaction card whose abilities seem fairly powerful to me, but it only costs 2. I won’t go into detail about why I think it’s unbalanced, and ultimately you’ll just have to decide for yourself, but it’s worth mentioning as a flaw.
Hinterlands isn’t my favorite non-standalone Dominion expansion—at the time of writing, I think I’m leaning towards Seaside—but it is a whole lot of fun. It adds unique flavor and abilities. The art is more consistently good this time around, the cards are the same quality, and there’s a whole lot of variety. If you love Dominion, you won’t be disappointed. (If you hate Dominion, this won’t win you over.)
There are some Dominion sets that are self-contained and awesome in their own right, and there are other sets that get the “assist” award. Hinterlands is one of the assist sets. But it’s no worse off because of that.
Hinterlands has some powerful cards—seemingly ridiculously powerful cards—but these are balanced by answering the question, “Do these cards help you win the game?” If nothing else, Hinterlands is an exercise in restraint. As Mugatu tells Zoolander in his eponymous film, “Ignore all the beautiful people!” And we, too, must pass by Gary Shandling on the way to our provinces.There are cards galore that let you get free stuff, but while it’s awesome to get cards for free, the question is whether these cards lead to winning. Hinterlands lets you get the equipment to build your engine faster, but it can be easy to get so wrapped up in the engine-building that you forget the engine is there to power your car. In other words, Hinterlands cards make a great means, but not a very good end.
But what a means they make! Hinterlands’s theme stated on the box is cards that do things when you buy or gain them, and that’s true. But equally true is its theme of haggling, bartering, trading. My favorite card in the set, for example, is Trader. Trader is a reaction card—an awesome one—that lets you react to gaining a card by making that card a silver instead. Sorry, Witch. I’ll take some silver, thank you. Why, yes, Torturer. I’ll take the curse. Not! Hey, Swindler! You replaced my silver with a Wishing Well. Not today! Okay, you get the idea. But the action ability on Trader is great, too: it lets you gain as many silvers as the cost of a card you trash (you can turn a Trader into four silvers. Not too shabby). There is the Haggler that lets you get cards for free (but not victory cards), the Spice Merchant that lets you convert other cards into a one-time Laboratory or Woodcutter, the Fool’s Gold that lets you convert another player’s Province into a gold for yourself. And there’s the Tunnel: the Victory-Reaction that is the best defense against Militias yet. If you discard it and it’s not the clean-up phase, you gain a gold.
The cards in Hinterlands are in many cases similar cards from other sets with just an added “when you gain/buy” ability. Nomad Camp is a Woodcutter that goes directly on top of your deck. While I can count on one hand the number of cases where I’d buy a Woodcutter over a silver, Nomad Camp is a game changer as a first buy. Border Village is a Village that costs 6 but allows you to gain a card costing less than it. It’s not a good 6, but it is a very tempting card for a 5 + 1 (especially with Remodel or Farmland or Bishop on the table). Farmlands is a 2 VP green card with a Remodel built in.
What does all this add up to? Well, Hinterlands can get a little crazy when played on its own, but mixed in with other sets, it opens up new strategies. Gardens can be a hard strategy to pull off in some games; Hinterlands is the soil in which that strategy can grow. The Cornucopia set opened up buying variety as a path to victory; Hinterlands carries that theme to completion.
Hinterlands, in my estimation, is an excellent continuation for Dominion. It adds variety and new strategy without making the game more complicated (though the now-important buy/gain distinction is hard to explain to newer players) and generally makes the game fresh again. I wouldn’t say this expansion is the most important (Intrigue takes that award), nor is it the most fun (that one goes to Prosperity), but I’d rank it above Seaside and the smaller sets both in terms of fun and usability.
In short, if you’re looking for a way to get more mileage out of Dominion, look no further than Hinterlands.