Domaine - Land, Wealth, Power, Prestige
A game by Klaus Teuber
Published by Mayfair Games, Inc. and Kosmos
Players: 2 to 4
Time: 60 minutes
Reviewed by Ed Rozmiarek with additional comments by Susan Rozmiarek

"The king tarries in a far-off land. In his absence the kingdom falls into chaos and disorder. Each duke seeks to build up his own power and influence. Borders will be drawn, the kingdom divided. Who will control the most valuable regions when the king returns?"

Domaine - Land, Wealth, Power, Prestige from Mayfair is the English language version of the game Löwenherz from Kosmos. This is a reworked version of Löwenherz originally published by Goldsieber and Rio Grande Games and winner of the 1997 Deutscher Spiele Preis best game of the year award. The game has been modified in this new version (including the background story quoted above) but many of the mechanics from the original version remain. If you are a fan of the original Löwenherz, you may want to skip to the Löwenherz vs Domaine section below. (Note: For the remainder of this article, Löwenherz will mean the prior version of the game while Domaine mean the new version.)

Picture courtesy of Mayfair Games
Components: Like several of Mayfair's most recent German imports, Domaine is a direct translation of the German version of the game using the same components as the German version. Since the game components are language neutral, the only translation that was needed was the rulebook and box cover (pictured to the right). By manufacturing the English version along side the German version, Mayfair has been able to bring their most recent imports to market faster than their earlier imports where they reworked the components. One but can hope that they keep up this trend.

What comes in the box
The board is composed of 9 square tiles each with a 4 by 4 grid on it. One of these (the one with the royal city) is placed in the center and the others are randomly arranged to form a 3 by 3 grid, thus giving a random board setup each game. This grid is held in place by a border formed by four corner pieces locked together with key tiles. This border contains the scoring track, a scoring summary chart and spaces for the action cards. The board is very colorful with its meadows, forests, mountains and sea.

Knight, castle and border stone
The players' pieces are highly detailed, molded plastic, like the original Löwenherz, however the designs have changed. Whereas the original game has small, square castle gates for the castles and shields mounted on swords for the knights, Domaine has new pieces that look more like the things they represent. The castles are complete castles built into a mountain and knights are real knights mounted on a rearing horse. They are well done and much more fitting to the theme of the game. The border markers are small rods with a border stone on it. Unfortunately, these stones look like headstones to me. I like the wall pieces from the original Löwenherz better.

Starting a 4 player game
Game play: The goal in Domaine is to score victory points. The main way to do this is by creating regions or "domaines" that contain only one player's castle and are completely surrounded by border walls or the edge of the board. Once created, a domaine may be extended into neutral land or another domaine to increase the value of the domaine and possibly taking victory points away from other players.

The players start the game by placing 3 (with 4 players) or 4 (with 2 or 3 players) castles on the board. These castles are protected by a knight which must be placed orthogonally adjacent to the castle. Each player also receives a small amount of money (ducats) and a hand of three action cards. The player who placed the last castle is the start player.

Mid game board closeup
Each turn, a player may either sell one of his action cards or play an action card. The action cards contain three pieces of information, a large red number, a smaller blue number and shield representing the possible action(s). To play a card and take the action pictured, the player must pay the number of ducats equal to the red number on the card. Otherwise, the player may sell a card by placing it face up on the "Chancery" (one edge of the board) and receive ducats equal to the blue number listed on the card. Once the player has sold or played a card, he draws a new card from either the face down draw stack or the Chancery. If the player sold a card to the Chancery, he may not draw the card he sold to refill his hand.

There are five types of actions listed on the action cards. These should look familiar to those who have played Löwenherz. They are:

  1. Place borders: Place one, two or three border walls in an effort to form a domaine. If one or more domaines are formed, they are immediately scored.
  2. Place knights: Place one or two knights orthogonally adjacent to an existing knight or castle.
  3. Expand a domaine: Expand one domaine by one or two squares in an effort to gain victory points and/or take victory points away from another player.
  4. Deserter: Remove a knight from another player's domaine and add a knight to your own neighboring domaine.
  5. Form an alliance: Form an alliance between one of your domaines and a neighboring domaine for the remainder of the game. Neither domaine may expand into the other but may still expand into other domaines or neutral area.
In general, the more powerful a card is, the more money it takes to play. For example, a one wall card may cost only one ducat to play whereas a three wall card will cost six ducats.

Mark takes his mining income
Once a section of the board is completely surrounded with border walls or the edge of the board and contains only one castle, a "domaine" is formed and scored. Points are awarded for forests (one point), towns (three points) and the royal city (five points) that are within the domaine when it is formed. Players may also score victory points by expanding domaines to include additional forests or towns. However, to expand into a neighboring domaine, the expanding player must have more knights in his domaine then in the other domaine.

Mines that are within the player's domaines produce income each turn. For each unique type of mine (there are four: gold, silver, bronze and diamond) that a player controls, he receives one ducat each turn. So if a player has two diamond mines and a gold mine, he gains two ducats each turn. Generating this extra income is important as it will allow a player to play more actions cards since he will need to sell fewer cards to generate income. Also, if a player controls three or more of the same type of mine, he gets a five point bonus to his score. The bonus may be lost if the player loses control of the mines.

The game ends in one of two ways. The first is if one player scores a set number of points (30 in the 4 player game, 40 in the 3 player and 50 in 2 player). This player is the winner. However, the game may also end if the draw deck of action cards is exhausted. In the case, play continues as normal until all players are out of action cards with the restriction that players may no longer draw cards from the Chancery. Once all cards have been played or sold, the player with the most money gets a five point bonus and the one with the second most money gets a three point bonus. The player with the most points wins.

Robert shows you who he thinks is winning
    Ed's Comments: On some of the internet gaming discussion groups, it has been commented that Klaus Teuber's goal with this new version of the game was to streamline the game play while keeping the game's central character. In that regard, the game succeeds. Without the negotiations for actions each turn, the game flows much more smoothly. Each player gets to do something on their turn by either selling or using a card. The changes allow the players to plan a little further ahead since they have their possible actions in the cards they are holding. There is some randomness in the card draw, but this is mitigated by the ability to draw known cards from the Chancery.

    Money in the game is very tight. Playing cards to take actions requires money and the most common way to get money is by selling action cards and skipping an opportunity to accomplish something on the board. In general, the more powerful a card, the more it costs to play but also, the more it is worth to sell. This provides many decision points during the game as you must decide if it is better to sell a powerful card to get needed money but knowing that one of your opponents will most likely pick up the card. On top of this, the actions generally get slightly more expensive later in the game. Placing a knight early may only cost three ducatsd early but will cost four ducats later when you may need the extra defense for a domaine. Owning mines is the best way to provide that extra needed income to offset the need to sell cards. Getting an early domaine that produces a couple ducats each turn can prove very beneficial.

    Many people consider Löwenherz to be a "nasty" or mean game since the negotiations for actions and the fight for land on the board pit the players in direct competition. Domaine is not quite as mean due to the removal of the competition for actions but there still plenty of opportunities to butt heads with the other players. The game still centers around carving out your space on the board, protecting it and enlarging it if possible.

    In the original Löwenherz the Renegade card teamed with an expansion action, provided a very power threat. Someone could easily upset the balance of power and then expand into an underprotected region. In Domaine, the Deserter card has the same function but it is a single action and is one of the more expensive cards to play. Also, given that it takes an additional turn to take advantage of the results of the deserter, it does not feel as much of a threat as the Renegade card in Löwenherz as the person hit with the Deserter may have the opportunity to recover before any expansion into his domaine occurs. On the other hand, the Alliance action seems more powerful in Domaine than in the Löwenherz. Having the ability to defend against a more powerful domaine for the remainder of the game is very nice. But again, at five ducats to play, the Alliance card is relatively expensive.

    Our games have clocked in at about an hour (after rules explanations), right in line with the box estimate. For our four player games, the game seems a little too short. The game seems to be just getting interesting when the cards run out. The players seem amazed when the "C" section of the action deck arrives marking the midway point and they have not accomplished what they had to do. However, this does place a premium on making the most of your moves, especially the early ones, and causes a good deal of turn angst.

    Susan's Comments: I always considered Löwenherz to be an underrated game that faded into obscurity without getting the widespread attention it deserved. Thus, I was very pleased to see a new version being released that has the potential to reach a wider audience. There are many changes to this version that are going to be met with a mixed reaction by fans of the original game. A few of these changes I consider definite improvements:

    • Mines: The victory point reward for controlling mines was a random card draw in Löwenherz, which had a little too much of a luck element for me I like the fact that you are rewarded for your mines indirectly, with money, on each turn you are able to hold them in Domaine.
    • Scoring: Having to count squares and consult a chart was awkward and tedious in Löwenherz. Scoring forests and towns is much easier to instantly calculate.
    • Card play for player actions- the new system streamlines and shortens the game to a reasonable hour. It also makes the game work with three players. Only working with four players was a common criticism of Löwenherz.

    The new card play in Domaine that determines player actions is the change that is liable to generate the most controversy. The negotiation and power struggles for actions provided a higher level of nastiness and challenge that some players are going to prefer. The diminished role of political cards is another reduction in this nastiness. My feelings are mixed on this issue. I must confess, the original Löwenherz was capable of raising my stress level to uncomfortable heights. Every part of the game was potentially a struggle. On the one hand, it was fun to dish out punishment to fellow players, but on the other hand, it was deflating to be on the receiving end of said punishment. In Domaine, at least a small part of the game you can manage without too much interference from other players. I can honestly say I had more fun playing Domaine, but I truly believe it is going be a matter of personal preference.

Löwenherz vs. Domaine: For those people familiar with the original Löwenherz, this table quickly summarizes the differences between the new and old versions of the game.
Difference Löwenherz Domaine
Back story The King is dying The King is out of the country
Game end condition When the "King Dies" card is revealed from the card stack. First player to set number of points or the action card deck is exhausted.
Determining player actions All players vie for one of the three possible actions that round. Player selects one of his three action cards.
Board size 150 spaces (10 x 15) 144 spaces (12 x 12)
Knights per player 12 15
Scoring Victory points based on the size of region when it is formed. Additional points for enlarging a region and for owning mines at the right time. Victory points for forests and towns enclosed within a region or "domaine". Additional points for enlarging a domaine to include additional forests and towns, owning a mining monopoly and for most and second most gold at the end of the game.
Mines Generate victory points four times during the game. Generate money each turn.
Alliances Last for one turn and may be cancelled by payment. Lasts for the rest of the game with no way to cancel.

Conclusion: I have certainly enjoyed my playings of Domaine so far. There is enough meat in the position battles on the board and the money management to provide most people plenty of tough decisions. You must pick your battles and make the most of the limited resources you have. On a 10 point scale I would say Domaine is a strong 8, possible going to a 9 if the game holds up well to more playings. The ability to play well with fewer than 4 players is a definite advantage Domaine has going for it over the original game. However, I really wish there were another 9 to 12 cards in the deck to lengthen the game a bit to provide the opportunities for additional strategies.

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Copyright © 2003, Ed Rozmiarek