Continuing my look at the original Dominion deckbuilding game.
This past Christmas I got a very generous present from my long-time friend Christopher Allen: a beautiful wooden box for storing my Dominion cards, complete with labeled dividers showing which cards went where. It’s a thing of beauty — and also a solution for a few different problems that I’d had with Dominion over the years.
The Problem with Dominion Boxes
Previously, I had a mighty stack of square Dominion boxes atop one of my book cases, running from the original Dominion (2008) to Dark Ages (2012) — with a few of the smaller boxes located somewhat nearby. Unfortunately, I always found the individual boxing of Dominion supplements to be troublesome. It might seem a silly thing to complain about, but boxes can have real repercussions for how you collect and play games (as I’ve written about in the past), and I think that’s particularly true for Dominion.
Because my Dominion game was spread out among seven different boxes, I never got to play it all at once. In fact, I rarely played from two boxes at once. At home, pulling out multiple boxes at once took up too much space, caused too much confusion, and created too much annoyance; if I took my games out of the house to play, the problem got even worse: I definitely didn’t want to carry multiple boxes (especially if I was riding my bike to gaming, like I usually do!). As a result, I didn’t get to see the cool synergies that might develop from using cards in different supplements together; instead, I got to see how cards from the same supplement worked with each other. Again and again.
One of the big advantages of deckbuilding is variability. I played Dominion 97 times through the end of 2014, making it my most played board game of the 21st century, eclipsing Ticket to Ride (71 plays of the original game), Lost Cities (69 plays), and others. However, even that constant novelty wears thin when you’re just playing one box at a time.
This also (ironically) left me less interested in new supplements as they came out. I don’t track my plays of the individual Dominion boxes, but I know I played the original dozens of times, then Intrigue (2009) probably got just 10 or 15 plays. The number dropped more with each new release. I’m pretty sure I only played Dark Ages (2012) a time or two, and that was the last supplement I bought. This made me less inclined to purchase new editions of Dominion because I could look over my pile of games and say “I haven’t played Cornucopia much” or “I’ve barely touched Dark Ages” — and so I eventually got to the point where I didn’t buy Guilds (2013) at all. Conversely, I might have been more enthusiastic if I knew that new cards could come up at any time.
If only there was a way to ensure that …
The answer to all of this was (obviously) a box. I’d actually lusted after something of the sort for years, reading BGG threads about rails and dividers, but it all seemed like way too much work, and so my Dominion interest waned … until I was presented with a handsome box with wooden organizers by Broken Token, as well as some plastic dividers from a Kickstarter, used to label every single card (though the dividers are now sadly sold out!).
Post-box (and post hours of organizing said box) I felt like I had a whole new game, and I was eager to play it. I thus rushed out to buy Guilds, and I also ordered the two promo cards I was missing from BGG, bringing my Dominion set to completion circa 2014 (and apparently circa Donald X’s original vision). As I write this, I’ve already played three new games, which turned out to be my first games of Dominion in over two years — and they were each a totally different experience, as I’d hoped would be the case.
As I said in this title, “What a difference a box makes!” Great components — even great storage solutions — can make the difference between a game being played and not.
The Problem with Deckbuilding Boxes
It’s unfortunate that Rio Grande has never offered a good solution for Dominion on their own. My solution came from two different sources — box and organizer from Broken Token and labeled dividers from Beth Bernhardt. I’m grateful to my friend Christopher not just for such a generous present, but also for figuring out how to put together a complete solution — which is a very important first step that had previously befuddled me.
I guess we can excuse Dominion for not having a good solution out the gate. I mean, it was the first deckbuilder, so I can totally understand why Jay and Donald didn’t think about how multiple boxes would be stored and used together. I mean, that first printing of the original set didn’t even have labels for which cards were stored where in the box. If you wanted one, you had to print out an amateurish file from BGG, and tape it in by hand!
But I was sadly disappointed that as the years went by, Rio Grande didn’t use their later expansions to provide Dominion storage solutions. It would have been easy to use Intrigue or Seaside (2009) or any later Dominion box, big or small, as a foundation for the storage of all the Dominion cards, but instead Rio Grade kept using the same plastic storage tray molds year after year — molds that wasted lots of space, creating vacuous boxes that filled many feet of shelf space.
Mind you, most of the rest of the deckbuilding industry hasn’t done much better. I find Ascension (2010) to be one of the worst offenders, and it’s a darned shame. The game came out two years after Dominion and it was explicitly set up so that every two releases formed a “block”, meant to be used together. That means that the publisher didn’t have to come up with some master storage solution. They just had to create big boxes that could be used to store the contents of a big box and a small box … and they failed in that by creating yet another vacuous organizer that’s nearly worthless — though the newest box, Realms Unraveled (2014), looks better. Over the years I did the best I could to organize my Ascension by using the small-box organizers in the big boxes, then bagging up the rest. It was ugly, but marginally better than just an empty box.
However, following my success with Dominion, I decided to give Broken Token another try, as they had an Ascension organizer too. The following image shows the successful organization of all of block 3 — and it looks like there’s enough room for another block in there, for two big sets and two small sets total in each box
. That’s a big plus, because it’ll make transportation of Ascension a lot easier.
I think Thunderstone (2009) has done the best job of developing its deckbuilding boxes, starting with one of its earliest supplements. Its solution was stunningly simple: boxes with lots of empty space and foam to pad that space out, so that you could place cards from many supplements together, then fill in the empty space with that foam so that the cards don’t go all over.
A few other games have also considered the issue of supplements — such as Zeppelin Attack (2014) which was designed with just enough empty space to fit the Doomsday Weapons (2014) supplement. Unfortunately, it has no way to keep its three piles of cards separate, unless you cut up and repurpose the card divider that comes with the game, as I did with some help from one of my Thursday night gamers. Finally, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (2013) is in a class of its own … but more on that in four weeks.
The question of supplement storage is an ongoing one for These Games of Ours, precisely because games do get supplemented. The problem should be addressed generally, but it especially has to be addressed for expandable deckbuilders. I’d like to see more games like Thunderstone that provide official solutions — or else I’d like to see more publishers providing easily accessible (and economic!) licensed solutions.
Presuming that the day of widely expandable deckbuilders isn’t over …