I’m not convinced Domina is an actual game. The AI basically plays it for me. I’m sitting in the shade watching. I click the occasional decision, and it might not even be a decision of much consequence. But that’s fine. I shouldn’t have to mess with meaningful decisions. I’m just some rich ancient Roman gladiator manager living a life of luxury and maybe corruption. Corruption seems to take effort, but I guess it can also happen when I get a multiple choice question. Do I a) accept the bribe or b) reject the bribe? I don’t really need 50 ducats or whatever they are, so I just clicked one of the options to get the screen out of the way. “Who can be bothered?” is the theme of the game. I’m guessing “domina” is Latin for “Who can be bothered?”
Domina is a sports management sim. I don’t have a lot of experience with those, but I know roughly how they work. So it goes with Domina, where I just loiter on a shaded balcony while my gladiators/slaves train in the hot sun or torrential rain. Poor bastards. At least they’re not getting dismembered in combat. Yet. I might tell someone to focus on agility. “You there, train your agility.” I might tell someone else to focus on weaponry. “You there, train your weapon skill.” Once I’ve idly clicked my way high enough the tech tree, I sometimes decide if I want one of the new guys to be the class that uses the polearm, or the class that uses the sword and shield, or the class that uses the net. Oh, I hired an architect and he’s asking what to build next. I tell him. Not that it matters. He’ll build everything eventually anyway.
What’s that? Oh, I’m being politely reminded that the food has run out and everyone is starving. Oops. Time for a couple of quick clicks on the marketplace screen, so inexpensive that I wonder why I’ve been asked to bother with it. Can’t a slave just buy new food whenever the pantry gets a little sparse? Okay, back to fanning myself while gladiators train and their stats ding up while I do nothing whatsoever. A corrupt soldier and politician stand politely by, waiting for me to give them some of my wine. Coupla mooches. If they get mad and leave, there’s probably some sort of penalty, but whatevs. A new one comes along to take his place soon enough. One of these days, they’ll get me into one of the fights I have to unlock to reach the main boss guy. If my gladiators beat the main boss guy, I become champion gladiator watcher of all of ancient Rome or something. Heck, maybe even emperor. But really, who can be bothered going to all that trouble?
I only have a year, so, sure, there’s that. A time limit. A sense of potential urgency. The days tick by. I’m down to, what, seven or eight months? How many months is 278 days? Someone divide 278 by 30 for me. I can’t be bothered. There are plenty of numbers in Domina, but Domina doesn’t really figure I care. Say I want to arrange my gladiators by agility. Say I want to find the most agile guy to go up against this heavily armored challenger. “As if,” Domina chuckles. I have to manually page through everyone. Him? Him? Him? Him. Him? Him? What was that other guy’s agility? Domina gently pushes my hands back from the keyboard. “Don’t,” it says. “Just don’t. That’s not how this works.”
Sometimes I click a bunch to upgrade someone’s equipment. It’s a little more expensive than stocking up on food, but not by much. But what else am I going to do with this money? The real hassle isn’t the cost, but the clicking. Three gold pieces to upgrade this guy’s greaves from oak to iron? Fine, I couldn’t care less. I’ve got about a thousand gold. Oh, wait, I have to click on the gladiator, then click his leg, then right click to upgrade? Oh my god, what a hassle. Do you want me to fight your next battle for you, too? What a layabout. Can’t even upgrade his own equipment.
Every few days a challenger comes along and bows up in my face, by which I mean a screen pops up. The screen is going to have to be dismissed one way or another. I refuse a lot of challenges. Until I max out my dude’s AI skill, there’s no point throwing him into the ring. Unless the AI is giving him 100%, he’s not ready to fight. The dudes get their AI skill to 100 by meditating. No lie. They stand there impassively day after day, meditating their stat slowly up and up to 100. At which point I go through the inconvenience of buying them equipment — so high maintenance! — and then I let them train something else up. “You there, train your agility.”
When enough guys have their AI to 100, I’ll quickly scan the stats when a challenger shows up. It’s pretty much just four numbers. What level is he in attack, and so forth. If it’s roughly about where my guys are — Domina isn’t really interested in letting me check the numbers — then I go to the trouble of flexing my index finger enough to click accept. Now I’m in the shaded balcony overlooking a deathmatch arena. Now there’s a threat of gameplay, because one of the options at the bottom of the tech tree is “mind control”. This means I can take up a controller and play Domina like a brawler. A fast-paced confusing brawler where sometimes the battles are already decided by stats anyway. As if. But, hey, if you want to dodge and kite one of your low level guys to an unlikely victory, have at it. As for me, I figure there’s a reason the word management is in sports management.
So I haven’t even bothered to plug in my controller. There’s a countdown. Then approach,feint,parry,clank,clash,clink,negative15,negative45,negative45, wait,who’s getting hit, which one is my dude?,negative18,negative21,gah,my guy has less health,roll,roll,pacearound,strike,strike,nothing,clank,nothing,roll,dodge,negative10,strike,negative12,spewing persistent pixelated gore on the sand,strike,strike,numbers,numbers,numbers,crowd sound effects
Oh, look. My guy won.
Now he’s gone up levels. I get a free slave who will have to meditate his AI skill up to 100. Domina is like a clicker where I don’t even have to do the clicking most of the time. Okay, fine, I’ll buy the guy who won the battle some more equipment. Click, click, click, click. Sheesh, the spike in APMs is insane.
Domina is so indolent that some might describe as a bad game. I don’t necessarily disagree. You might as well watch Spartacus on Starz. The graphics are probably better. The thrills of occasional action are probably more elaborate. But when it comes to RPing a lazy Roman noble who can barely be arsed to lift his arm high enough to give the wrist enough play for a dismissive flick, there’s nothing better than lolling around in the shade with Domina.