One of the hottest games that's been "abuzz" on the Internet recently has been Eminent Domain (that link takes you to Tasty Minstrel's store, or this one is for Amazon.
In Eminent Domain, each player represents a galactic overlord that is attempting to build his fledgling empire. He can do this by conquering or colonizing other planets (once he has surveyed them). He can also build up his trade network and research new technologies. How this works out in game-terms is that each turn a player is allowed to take one action (by playing a card and doing whatever it's "action" text is), then he must choose a role. When he chooses a role, he takes a card for the corresponding role (Warfare, Survey, Colonize, Research, Produce/Trade) from the middle of the table (if the pile has not run out), and then he is able to "boost" that role with any cards he has in his hand that have the same icon (such as previous cards that he gained by doing the role). After he finishes with his selected role, all of the other players have the option of following his lead - also performing that role, but without the bonus. If they choose not to follow him, they can "dissent", which allows them to draw a card. Finally, he can discard as many cards from his hand as he would like, and he draws back up to his current hand limit (which starts at five cards). Play continues until the victory point chips or a certain number of piles of cards (depending on the number of players) are exhausted. At this point, whoever has the most points between victory point chips, planets, and technologies is the winner. (There really should be more games like Golf and Hearts where you don't want points. I get tired of typing this last line.)
The first thing that I love about Eminent Domain (which I have never seen in any other game), is that you get better at your role as you keep doing it! Yes, this is implemented in a deck building mechanic, but I think that Eminent Domain feels much closer to Race For The Galaxy than it does to Dominion. The deck building is really just a means to an end. What is actually happening is that the game is rewarding you for continually choosing the same role. Are you a warmonger? If you repeatedly select this as your role, then you will gain more Warfare cards - which, in turn, allows you to have more at your disposal in future turns. This means that when another players chooses to play Warfare, you will quite likely be able to gain more Fighters than they do, even though they selected the role! This is a really awesome mechanic, and yet it makes complete sense.
Another inventive mechanic in Eminent Domain is the option to dissent. I love this! In every other game that I have played that has "roles", one of the best strategies is to select a role that helps you and nobody else. Whereas this is still a sound strategy in Eminent Domain, everybody else in the game will still get some benefit on your turn, it just might not be as much. Also, because of the option of dissenting, it adds another layer of choices to the players that are not the leader. If a player in front of me chooses the Warfare role (and I was planning to as well), should I follow suit, allowing me to select a different role on my turn? Or would it be better to draw an extra card and hope that it is a Warfare - thus making it more effective when I select the role? I like these additional decisions.
The next thing that I like about Eminent Domain is that the planets that join your empire help you in various ways. This is honestly why the Survey is important - it allows you to look at more planets to select the one that most fits into your plans. Planets can help you by giving you victory points, allowing you to research more technologies, allowing you to produce resources (to trade), increasing your hand limit, and by displaying icons for the various roles (thus acting like you had played a card with that icon, even if you don't have one in your hand). I really like this added level of depth to the game.
The final that I like about Eminent Domain (that I will tell you about) is that the Research action can be incredibly valuable, but it does not seem overpowered. I have played a lot of games in which there are new technologies available. Normally, if a player does not focus on getting the best technologies he has no hope of winning the game. Eminent Domain is not like this. In Eminent Domain, Research is very valuable - it can give you bonuses like allowing your Research cards to act like any role card, and also give you victory points. However, since it is slower to get started (each research has a number of explored worlds that you must own before you can acquire it), it is simply one option when trying to win - not the only option available.
Ok, two more final pros - but I'll be brief, I promise. I like that when selecting a role, what is in your opponents' hands are secret - this means that you have no idea what the other players will be able to do after you select your role (as opposed to Puerto Rico where all information is public). I also like that the more success you have on other people's turns, the more limited your options are on your own turn - thus it's not always beneficial to use all of your Colonize's on an opponent's turn - having one left may be important.
One thing that you should know about Eminent Domain (before moving on to cons) is that it plays quite differently based on the number of players playing. It supports 2-4 players, and I have tried it with each of these configurations. I have enjoyed all of the games, but they really work out quite differently. In 2-player, you have much more influence over your own destiny - you get to select half of the roles in the game! In 4-player, you are often dissenting, as you will often not have the card(s) to make it worthwhile to follow the leader's role. Research is quite easy in 2-player, whereas in 4-player, it is hard to get the Research working, since you have to still acquire the planets before you can research (and by the time you acquire enough planets to gain good technologies, one of the piles (Colonize or Warfare) is probably close to exhausted). Again, I like the game with any number of players, but the feel is quite different between them - almost like playing a different game that uses the same pieces.
My biggest con about Eminent Domain is that my copy wasn't quite to the level of production quality that I would have liked. A few of the starting planets were scuffed when I opened the box (not a big deal, though somewhat annoying), but more importantly, my cards shuffled, but not especially well - which is a major nuisance in a deck building game! It makes me sad to have to tell you this, since I know that production quality is at least as important to Tasty Minstrel as it is to the people that buy their products, but it is true. Since I know the importance they place on quality, I imagine that this will be fixed in a future print run, so it shouldn't be a problem going forward. In all honesty, I just went ahead and sleeved all of the cards that could be placed in my deck (roles and technologies), and this helped with the shuffling problem (and probably extended the lifetime of my game). If I can spend about $5 to fix the biggest con in a game that I love, that's not a bad trade.
The final thing that I will mention (and I will list as a con, though I'm not sure it shouldn't be a "point of note") is that some of the roles (such as Produce and Trade) do not receive a leader bonus in 2-3 player games. Specifically, they get their leader bonus when the deck runs out. However, in a 2-3 player game, this is the end of game condition. I thought that this was odd - it didn't really hurt the gameplay, and all I can imagine is that in playtesting they determined that these roles were overpowered if you got a leader bonus too early on them. It was weird - again, not a major thing, just something that I found strange.
Overall, I give Eminent Domain a 9.0/10. I really enjoyed this game. I thought it was innovative and took mechanics that I already enjoyed and made a fresh and unique gameplay experience from them. I would highly recommend that everyone try Eminent Domain if you have the opportunity - whereas even if it does not become your favorite game, I think you will at least enjoy the time you spend playing it.
If you like Eminent Domain, then you might also enjoy Puerto Rico, 51st State, and Star Trek: The Next Generation Deck Building Game.
I would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing me with a review copy of Eminent Domain to play.