Being the bad guy is pretty good fun. Really the only way to improve the experience is to have some equally awful friends around you. And that’s where Dark Domains comes in.
It’s a game about the local town council being controlled by an evil necromancer. But kind of low key, because no one seems to have noticed. You are playing one of the council members, charged with the desire to become the most evil, so that you can curry favour with the necromancer and live deathlessly. But how? Well, by placing custom faction meeples on certain spots across the town to gain their benefits. Yes, it’s a worker-placement game, but with something that this reviewer loves in their meeple allocation sessions – conflict.
You gather resources, cash, and evil to build locations on your own personal domain board. These can be locales like ‘Wizard’s School’ or ‘House of Healing’ or, less excitingly, ‘Lake’. These are all built normally and give you resources and bonuses throughout. At any point however, you can place a meeple on a location, and turn it... Evil! Instead of the above you have the ‘Dark Tower’, the ‘Torture Chamber’ and the ‘Black Lake’ (there’s quite a lot of “Black whatever- was-on-the-other-side-of-this-card”).
But there is, of course, no rest for the wicked. A set of adventurers set out to, ideally, go lay siege to some evil buildings. They won’t attack good buildings, so there’s an element of carefully choosing when to flip locations. There’s a fairly pleasing if/ then statement that can be used to calculate where they attack. Results are sorted out with some dice rolls on the adventurers’ part.
And then comes the conflict. There are spells you can joyfully cast on each other’s buildings and henchmen, there’s spells for swapping around meeples on the board or taxing your fellow councillors. You can also remove your opponent’s meeples from the board with an assassination attempts. That last part is very pleasing, especially as the board has to be solved in a certain order, making it entirely possible for you to snipe an opponent’s meeple before they draw more spells or collect resources.
There are so many options for being evil that your strategies can vary wildly. One in our group won a game by using the seer, a way to peek at, and change the order of, the next few cards in the event deck. This meant they could move major game events back until they were ready. Others won through big buildings, or a bouncer tactic of every location having a monster on it to boost its stats. Others applied a scorched earth policy with spells cast on their opponents’ domains.
What this leads to is a disruptive, fast Eurogame which lets you actually play against your opposition in exactly the way you might want to. Losing in Dark Domains only makes you think about your next playthrough and winning doesn’t feel solved. If you’re looking for a big Eurogame that gives you evil thrills, this is it.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN EGGETT
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
When it comes to being evil, Dark Domains is a robust blend of scheming, backstabbing and ruthless annihilation. In turns thrilling and desperate, Dark Domains provides the perfect playground of wickedness
Try this if you liked... Villainous
For a tightly focused and asymmetrical kind of evil, there’s no better place to kick off from than Villainous
Designer: Jeff and Carla Horger, William Baldwin, Joseph Roush
Time: 90 minutes
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
◗ 1 Game board
◗ 5 Domain boards
◗ 1 Phase marker
◗ 1 First player token
◗ 27 Minions
◗ 62 Fortune cards
◗ 48 Adventurer Cards
◗ 40 Henchmen Cards
◗ 94 Building cards
◗ 156 Spell cards
◗ 10 Masters of the domain
◗ 68 Monster tokens
◗ 30 Condition tokens
◗ 92 Element tokens
◗ 55 Coin tokens
◗ 65 Evil tokens
◗ 116 Resource token
◗ 8 Polyhedral dice
This review originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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