REVIEW: Domina


Steam: Released
Type: Single-Player
Genre: Violent, Action, Simulation, Strategy
Developer: DolphinBarn
Publisher: DolphinBarn
Release date: 3 Apr, 2017
Editors Note: See end of review for updated rating

Type: Single-player

Violent rebellions have started erupting in the furthest territories of the Roman Empire. Political corruption threatens your territory and the Emperor, fearing his citizens will follow and try to re-establish the republic, decrees a year of epic gladiatorial games hoping to revive commerce and again establish the rule of law before Rome disintegrates. The winner of the Great Championship will see unimaginable coin and glory as a reward.

This is where you come in as an heiress of a Ludas in the heart of the Roman countryside. Your father, who drove the previous Ludas to the ground with poor decisions and lack of virtue, has given you ownership. With a new home and title of Ludista and Domina, you plan to participate while citizens are still interested in bloodshed. As local games are scheduled, you see an opportunity to participate during this interest of bloodshed. Hopefully, that old woman is wrong and they will let you win.

As you and your gladiators progress and become more experienced, more will come in. The Doctore will show up to help you train your gladiators with upgrades, ranging from the gladiators being able to control breathing to the ability able to throw weapons. Next, the Magistrate and Legate will barge in to provide their own services and join you on the balcony you stand on. The old Magistrate is offering slaves and the Legate is offering gladiators for sale. They both have their own satisfaction meter that can be affected in many ways. From selling the other’s secrets, blackmailing them with their own secrets, to accepting their hosted games. You can convince them to sponsor one of your gladiators, but make sure they are in a good more or they will be upset. As you move on, two tables will also show up, one functioning as the map for the regional championship games to get the 4 needed to qualify for the Great Championship and the other serves as Jupiter’s Blessings to boost certain aspects with cards you can attach to gladiators. You will also be able to get random interactions that will often make you choose between the Magistrate or Legate (or no one) or bring in more info on how people are.

This brings up to the gameplay. First is the training section, which mostly determines how your run will go. You will start with three named slaves, two equipped gladiators, and one regular slave. Clicking on them will bring up helpful stats and a tool to balance their training. If your gladiator is still a slave you will have classes to choose from, however two are locked behind upgrades a Doctore will provide. Each class provides their own unique weapons and style. Their name, while least important, gives you a way to distinguish them, so you can know which one is being affected by a decision. The weight starts off with how the gladiator weighs with the total adding up to the weight of their armor that can affect how fast they can be or swing their sword.

Next is the temperament, or morale, of the gladiator that can be affected by multiple aspects such as their health or rewards. Low health results in a negative temperament that can only be solved with healing them and rewards includes giving them wine, coin, or a private room to increase their temperament. You will need to keep a check on how much food and water you have to keep everyone fed or temperaments will decrease, so keep some money saved to buy some in the market. Having a low temperament can result in them asking to be freed or attempting to escape. Lastly, the training balance determines what the gladiator will train in to affect how they fight. Meditate affects how efficiently the AI plays, agility improving movement, and so on. As you increase in level, it will take longer to train so you will not be able to max out anything but meditate. Here you can also upgrade or degrade their armor to affect how much damage they can absorb and what weapon, if any, they will get. Tired of the gladiator? No problem! Put them to death to watch them die, sell them for some coin, or grant them freedom.

You can’t train the gladiators all by yourself, no you need help. The Doctore is the main one, but there are other employees you can hire in the city market. With 9 to choose from, you can only have 3 active. Only the Architect has permanent upgrades since they are built into the building itself but this will often last almost the whole game depending on what you want as he can boost multiple things. Others usually go on the step of boosts to what they specialize in. For example, Medicus will be able to heal while the gladiators are training, without it being interrupted, and can be boosted to heal almost immediately. Need secrets or want to steal anything? Use agents. Each employee will bring their unique skills in to help, you only have to choose who you need the most.

Right by your 365 is how many days left until the next local battle. As you go closer to the end of the year, these will spread out more as you need to check out the regionals. However you can organize pit fights (be careful! you might turn invisible) and exhibition matches that will gain favor with either the Magistrate or Legate (depending who you are doing it with). I’m not exactly sure if there is a higher chance of harder battles if the hosts strongly hates you, but I have not had my own gladiator chained until I purposely made them mad at me. You will be greeted with a screen to show you information about the battle. On the left you can: pick your gladiator, select AI for your player if you have the Mind Control upgrade, your standing with the host, the victory reward, participation cost, and if surrendering is allowed. While on the right you can see: the game type and short description, the obstacles, and your gladiator opponents. You can be against one gladiator, two gladiators, and two lions, or fifteen gladiators. For all you can hover over and check out their stats to see if you can defeat them with how many you can allow. Accept or reject terms and we either go to the arena or back to training with you losing favor with the host.

If you accept, you will come into the arena with your opponents, all conditions will be done before it starts with the crowd cheering and yelling some lines. This is where the Meditate skill will come in handy if you decide to let the AI fight or you have more than one gladiator. A low level will most likely stay behind if in a group or read the other AI while a maxed level will easily be able to handle themselves and be confident. Your opponent more or less has the same thing you have or can have including Jupiter’s Blessings. Limbs can be decapitated, gladiators can be killed, and surrendered gladiators can be killed or live another day. If you win, you get various buffs and rewards. If you lose, you get nothing or a consolation reward. If you surrender, you do get to play a sort of minigame to determine if your gladiator is killed, but right now it is too hard. You can’t click fast enough unless you have a way to click with two devices. Hopefully this is fixed soon.

While I have avoided talking about the soundtrack, I do have to mention it here. It works well in showing that this is the world of gladiator fights. This is most prominent during the fights and certainly brings in the mood. During training, it is calm but still brings in that you will have to fight sooner or later. Heads up though, it can be a little too loud when first opening up to the title screen.

Domina is one of those games that has short to long runs depending on what you do and if you purposely throw the run away. With the replayability possibility high, everything is randomized including the names of everyone with random interactions and stats for the slaves you will require. Since names will constantly change, the main three on the balcony are called they’re titles. This certainly brings an interesting experience to see how your people are doing and Rome itself if you are willing to replay and see. I do not want to give away the ending, but it was unexpected.

Most of the story is behind the tutorial, which brings in parts that would help early on locked by actions. Choosing not to go into the tutorial route will give you everything immediately. While the game is possible to beat in tutorial mode, choosing not to will greatly increase your chances. I do recommend going over the tutorial at least once so you learn everything piece by piece.

With the main drawing point is Domina being set in the Roman Empire when gladiators were popular, I decided to do some quick research. While all of these may not be true on how or why they specifically put these in the game, it was interesting seeing what real world counterparts they are possibly based on:

  • Jupiter became the protector of Rome during war, being a god of light, protector during defeat, and fiver of victory. Romans seek to gain the blessings from him and often sacrificed to win these blessings.
  • Medicus is Latin for physician were imports during the Roman Empire
  • The closest thing Emptor brings up is Caveat Emptor which translates to “let the buyer beware”
  • Vintner is another word for winemaker, which was seen as needed which can explain why wine is a reward, and Sacerdos is a priest
  • A Magistrate is one of the highest ranking officers while a Legate is a general in the Roman army, both show this in their clothing.
  • The places your slaves come from were apart of the real life Roman Empire.
  • Thraex, Murmillo, and Retiarius classes stayed true to their weapon of choice.


+ Brings in history
+ The crowd in the arena
+ The bloodshed of course!
+ Random events, which can be hilarious
+ Tutorial not meant to beat, but to give you piece by piece advice and story
+ If you are a streamer, there is Twitch integration

– No saving system. I do get why it is not implemented and runs do run short enough unless you live long enough to last for an hour or two. However, in a game like this it is important to have a saving feature of some kind as most people will not be able to stay on the computer for a long time. It could of easily worked in a way that Enter the Gungeon does it now with an option of Save and Quit . When you go back into it, it is automatically deleted. Perhaps it could have an autosave feature where it saves after each battle. I know that this will turn people off till the developer decides to implement it, sadly.
– Invisible gladiators during pit fights. Remember to switch to AI if you have Mind Control once this is fixed!

Domina is one of those games you need to learn how to play before you can appreciate it for what it is. It is a simple trainer down to its core as you try to keep your gladiators shaped up compared to your opponents as well as happy but with a Roman twist. I was actually so attached to a specific gladiator that I couldn’t bare to see them go. Which makes it harder to let them go if they request freedom. If you love strategy games, especially ones like these, I recommend picking this up. You would be surprised at what the ending brings.

However, due to not having a saving feature, I will have to put this as a save for later as this can be a major turn-off for many.

EDITORS NOTE:  As of July 7th 2017, the game was revisited after several fixes were made. As of now, the minigame has been fixed. When leaving the game, progress is now saved. Lastly, the invisible gladiators have been fixed.  We feel this reflects a rating of SAVE now.

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