Dominions 3’s Manual Seduces, Conquers All

I sure did say a lot of mean things about Dominions 3 when I wrote about it last time.  I finished on a positive note, to be sure, but if you didn’t read that last bit it might have looked like very mild hate mail rather than an admission of my affections.  I won’t take those comments back (I still think they’re true, confirmed through further play), but I do have a few other thoughts to add.  First of all, giving me a copy of this game for Christmas is both wonderful and somewhat mean.  Secondly, I’m (not so) secretly in love with the game’s manual.  Third… well, my third thought is that the game is far more captivating than I had realized that it would be from my time as a spectator.

I spent several months watching my housemates play Dominions 3 before I ever stepped into a game of my own.  I knew all about its sneaky charm, the way that charm lurked behind the terrifying facade of its awkward user interface.  What I hadn’t realized was that the game would simultaneously satisfy my desire for a spiritual successor to Master of Magic, and offer me interesting tactical and strategic choices.  I have now sent my units into battle without orders (by accident, I swear), I’ve watched my careful troop placements both succeed wildly and fall apart completely, and I’ve cursed as my enemies beat a hasty retreat in an effort to salvage their stronger forces for a later attack.  Dealing with supply, managing command structures, shuttling units from their recruitment centers to the battlefield… all of these are things that you can expect to deal with.  And I love the way that the game handles most of them, and just want to play with them more.

Don’t get me wrong, I do wish that I could automate some of the processes that I’ve thought up as solutions to my various problems.  Its is frustrating to be unable to reliably automate your large scale troop movements and the necessary countermovements that will keep your logistics chain in good order.  I can only imagine that it will get worse as I play on larger maps, managing larger nations.  But, for me, that frustration doesn’t outweigh the fun of making everything work.  Not yet, at least.

And in large part that frustration is mitigated by my love affair with this game’s manual.  I thought that good game manuals were a thing of the past, but clearly I was wrong.  It is very straightforward, tells you the important details underlying most of the mechanics of the game, and is written with a subtle humor that I find very appealing.  I’ll admit, I do still wish that Dominions 3 could have Crusader Kings 2-style tooltips, but at this point I wish nearly everything could have those tooltips.  Instead the manual has enough of a tutorial to get you into the game, and a bevy of further information packed into the rest of the document.  And, delight of delights, you can open it automatically from inside the game.

I wasn’t prepared for how quickly this game would grab my attention and pull me in.  I had thought that I would be able to resist its godly charms, but instead the white bull of Dominions 3 has carried me away on its horns.  In fact, I blame it for keeping me up late last week and getting me sick.  I haven’t yet sacrificed too many hours of my life to this beast, but the time is coming when my “friends” shall gather together and challenge each other to a big game, and I will join in.  I fully expect to be trampled underfoot, like the sucker I am.

So like I said last time: if you’re looking for a spiritual successor to Master of Magic, if you want a game that will allow you to marshal your vast forces both physical and arcane, a game that will let you crush all those who stand between you and your final goal of godhood, check out Dominions.  It’s worth a look or three.

Note: All the trailers that I’ve seen for the game fail to accurately depict the game itself.  I strongly suggest reading ZorbaTHut’s Actual Play instead.

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