Review: Domina

Domina is a strategic Rogue-lite game that has you maintain your resources, while at the same time trying to help your slaves climb the ranks of the Gladiator tournaments. It can be quite a complex and hard game, but I think enthusiasts of the genre will have a lot of fun with it.
You start off with 3 slaves of varying talent, choose which one you want to pit in the next battle, and watch them fight their opponent.

By default all fights are AI controlled, but if you purchase an upgrade that is available very early, you can take control of them and fight as a gladiator yourself. This is cool, but the AI seems to be more efficient in using all of their moves available.

If your slaves die in battle, they’re gone forever. If they succeed, they bring home a lot of money, resources, and train their stats up a bit. They sustain their damages after battles and need to be patched up. You can either do this by spending one coin and having them heal a small amount, or hiring a medic to speed up the process.

One of the choices you can make in the game is who to hire. There are loads of people to choose from, but you can only have a certain amount, and they take up resources everyday. One possible employee can upgrade your Ludum (The place you are training your slaves). Another keeps your people healed, while another can help you save a bit of food. It’s all choice, which is great!

So after you complete a battle, you have a set amount of time to do everything else you want until the next one begins. This includes purchasing resources, training slaves, healing slaves etc. Personally, I feel like the game could have done without this, because once you click on something to open up a menu, the timer pauses. So all you’re really doing is rushing to find what you want to click next, and then once you’ve clicked it you’ve got all the time in the world to make your selection and think about what you want to click next. I understand that they probably did it to only allow you to train a certain amount per day, but it can still be a bit frustrating at times.

You do however, have the choice to reject fights that are offered to you. In doing so, you will anger the host of the fight. There are 2 people that organize fights for you, and they chill at your Ludus all day. If you get on their good side, they will offer fights that are more beneficial towards you. If you shove them off, they will give you really unfair fights that your guys are bound to lose at.
To win these 2 over, you can bribe them with wine, or giving them secrets about the other host, etc. It’s a pretty interesting aspect of the game.

The big picture is that you want to win the grand tournament. In order to do that, you need to travel the country winning some really hard fights. REALLY hard. So in order to succeed, you must train your guys for quite a while, while keeping an eye on your resources.

Fighting is quite fun to watch actually. You feel like you’re a part of the crowd. It can get really intense sometimes because your best gladiator is on the line. If you throw a slave in without any weapons or shields, sometimes the crowds will toss things for them into the arena, but the slave needs to avoid the other gladiator to get it. I’ve seen a completely unarmed slave beat a shielded gladiator once. It was a really awesome feeling. I actually just threw that slave in there because I didn’t want him anymore, but he came out victorious.

There is a story. Although it’s nothing amazing, and easily skippable, I’m sure some people will get a kick out of reading the text boxes that lay the tale down. There are ocasional pop-ups throughout the game, kind of in the style of FTL, where you will be given a situation and you can choose how to deal with it. Depending on your choice, you might earn a new Gladiator, earn the trust of one of the 2 hosts or nothing at all. It adds an extra layer of Rogue-lite-ness.

Lastly, the soundtrack is so great that It’s a really unique experience, and the game is programmed to have the music kick in as soon as a battle starts, and it just feels so awesome.

One pretty major flaw, is that at the moment of writing this there doesn’t seem to be a save feature. If you feel like you’re done for the day, your run is over for good. You can’t come back to it. And your runs can be relatively long, so it would be a welcome addition.

Overall, it’s a really fun, and very well polished game. I think people who enjoy the randomness of Rogue-likes/lites will get a kick out of this. It’s brutal, but rewarding!

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