Dominion Online

The world of board gaming has grown richer—and more intellectually demanding—over the last decade. In the eyes of serious gamers, once-popular pastimes like Monopoly and Risk are now basically indistinguishable from Candyland. Too much luck, not enough skill.

The most addictive next-generation game is Dominion, a medieval-themed "deck building" card game that recently debuted its long-awaited, new-and-improved online mode. Each player begins with a hand of weak cards that are worth a certain amount of coin and must use them to purchase more valuable cards. Some of these produce additional coin, others increase the number of cards a player can hold at one time, and still others flood opponents' decks with worthless junk.

The story of Dominion Online is as entertaining as the game itself. For years, the games' internet presence took place on a couple of unofficial sites. One was a strategy and discussion forum for the game's sizable fan community, and another site, dominion.isotropic.org, provided a place for actual (unlicensed) play. Isotropic's programmer agreed to shut down that site after an official online implementation went live in 2013.

Unfortunately, the fan community despised the 2013 release, which was ugly, nonintuitive, and geared toward more casual players. The company in charge of Dominion Online seemed deaf to criticism and failed repeatedly to make necessary updates.

Finally, two of the world's highest-ranked players—known on the online forums as "Stef" and "SCSN"—formed a company, Shuffle iT, and pitched their own implementation to Dominion's inventor, Donald X. Vaccarino.

"Shuffle iT showed us what they'd managed to do in two months, and we were impressed," says Vaccarino. Stef and SCSN got official approval from the game's owner to take matters into their own hands, and they released their considerably improved version of Dominion Online on January 1.