Saddle up your giant beasts and enter the Caldera Dome, if you dare. Dome Crushers is a tiny game about massive battles from Floodgate Games.
At a glance: Dome Crushers is a dueling game by Tim and Chris Jesurun for 2 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 10 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $6 (plus shipping) for a copy of the game, $9 for the Gigantic Deluxe Edition, or $15 for both. I think the game is okay for younger players as well (possibly 10 and up), though the strategy can be tricky for less experienced players. Note that it’s only a 2-week campaign, so take a look soon!
Note: This review is based on a pre-production prototype. The artwork is final, but I can’t comment on the final card quality, and I didn’t have finished packaging for the game, though the regular edition will come in a tuckbox.
The components are fairly simple: 26 cards, consisting of 12 cards plus a reference card per player.
Each card has two orientations: vertically, it shows a beast at the top with a strength from 1 to 7. Turned horizontally, it shows another illustration of the beast, along with an ability title and effect.
The illustrations by Jacob Atienza are really fun, showing monstrous versions of various creatures, from rhinoceros beetles to crabs to gorillas, in a giant arena. The Gigantic Deluxe Edition will include 80mm×120mm cards, in case you love oversized cards.
How to Play
The goal is to score the most points by winning battles by the time the game ends.
Each player takes a deck of 12 cards, shuffles it, and draws 4 cards. Pick a start player.
Taking turns, each player plays a card either in Attack Mode (vertical) or Ability Mode (horizontal). Attack cards will add to your total strength. Ability cards are active immediately—some may let you draw cards or perform other actions, while others have ongoing effects. The round ends when each player has played 4 cards.
The highest Strength total wins the round, and all Attack cards will be placed your own scoring pile—face-up if you win, face-down if you lose. (In a tie, all cards are face-down.) Ability cards are shuffled back into your deck, and a new round begins; the player with the highest score in their scoring pile goes first.
The game ends when either player can’t draw 4 cards for the next round. Add up all your face-up cards in your scoring pile, and the highest score wins. (Ties broken by the final round start player.)
Dome Crushers is small but mighty—it’s a tiny little game (well, unless you get the oversized version) that has some bite to it.
The rules themselves are pretty simple: play a card either horizontally or vertically, and end the round when each player has played four cards. But the choice of Attack vs. Ability can be pretty interesting, particularly when you start learning how the abilities can interact with each other.
For instance, there are cards that will let you change the orientation of one of your cards or one of your opponent’s cards—these can be incredibly useful at the right time, either to take the win in a battle or to trigger an ability. Termination Roar will cause the round to end immediately (unless your opponent is also able to play it as a response), which is great if you’re currently ahead in the battle. Rally the Crowd is a good one for when you’re behind, because then the lowest total strength wins the battle.
It’s definitely a game that rewards familiarity with the cards and the abilities. You may not know exactly what your opponent has in their hand, but you can make plans based on how they might be able to respond. Also, remembering what cards have been removed and placed into scoring piles is useful: once you know some abilities have been eliminated from play, you don’t have to worry about them any more. The flip-side of that, though, is that newer players will be at a definite disadvantage when they’re first learning the game if they’re playing against a more experienced player. There is some luck in what cards you draw, but clever gameplay can mitigate a bad draw.
Using your high-value cards as Attacks may win you a battle early on, but then you don’t have access to those cards or their abilities for the rest of the game. And if you used all of your highest values and your opponent plays Rally the Crowd, then not only did you use up those cards, you don’t even score for them.
Since the game ends after either player can’t draw back up to four cards, the players have some control over how long the game will last. If you play more cards as Attack, you’ll run out of cards more quickly; if you play cards as Abilities, you’ll have more cards left to shuffle back into the deck, prolonging the game. If your opponent is ahead on scoring, then careful use of your Sneak Attack to turn an opponent’s Attack back into an Ability can be crucial to buy some time.
I’ve enjoyed playing Dome Crushers so far, though I don’t often have as many occasions to play 2-player-only games. It’ll be a nice one to carry along in my pocket for a quick game, and I like how much gameplay is packed into this small package. It’s a pretty short game, so it’s not as deep as some bigger games, but I think you may be surprised by its depth.
Floodgate Games has funded and delivered six games already (including the recent Sagrada), so they have a pretty good track record and know what they’re doing. Most of their games have been significantly larger than Dome Crushers, which is the first in a planned series of 2-player games, so if you like the game I think you can back it with confidence that it will be produced and delivered. Don’t wait too long, though—this is a short, 2-week campaign.
Disclosure: I received an advance prototype of this game for review.