The month of Alt-VP – Gardens

In this article series I will explore the so called Alt-VP or Alternate Victory Point cards. I will analyze simple decks that use Alt-VP as their win condition and how well they fare against baseline strategies. I will also try to find (near) optimal strategies for the mirror match.

Week one: Gardens

We’re going to start with the forefather of Alt-VP: Gardens. I fondly remember one of my first games of Dominion where I went for Gardens by buying a lot of Markets bloating my deck as much as possible. I ended up the winner with a 60 card deck and Gardens worth as much as Provinces. I felt great and to this day when I see Gardens appear in a kingdom I try to incorporate it into my deck. At the time I just saw Gardens as a good card to buy in stretched out games. It never even occurred to me that it could be used in a rush strategy.




Today I’m going to explore one of the classic combos: Ironworks/Gardens. This deck will get a bunch of Ironworks (gaining them with … Ironworks) and when it has enough of them it will start to gain Gardens and Estates (and more Ironworks if you’re holding multiple Ironworks). So it rushes 3 piles before the other player can buy enough Provinces. Typically you will end up with a deck of 40 cards meaning 43 points in 16 turns. You need a very strong engine to beat that kind of speed.

Let’s see how the deck does against a baseline strategy. I’ll take the Smithy Big Money deck which buys one Smithy, money and Provinces.

Gardens 1

The Gardens player will win 97% of games vs the poor Smithy player. The simulator shows that you want 6 Ironworks before making the switch to gaining Gardens. The spikes in the graph show where the Gardens player reaches the next threshold (every 10 cards).

This is a very strong combo and can only be beaten by the strongest engines. So what will happen most of the time is that each player will go for the same combo. The mirror match is all about winning the Gardens split. To achieve this you want to start greening after getting two Ironworks. It will also try to get Duchy because the game is over so fast that Gardens are never worth more than 3VP. We’ll call this deck Ironworks/Gardens (Paper) and the original rush is Ironworks/Gardens (Rock).

Gardens 4

Paper will win 87% of games vs a mindless Gardens rusher. Now this is not the end of the story. There is another way to tackle Alt VP boards and that is turning your game into a slog. You’re no longer rushing to empty 3 piles, but trying to get the most victory points in a drawn out game. The plan for this deck, which we’ll call Ironworks/Gardens (Scissors) is to get two Ironworks and using them as a source of economy, gaining several Silvers. This economy will allow the deck to get more Duchies. This will often result in losing the Gardens split, but winning the Duchy split by a lot.

Gardens 5

Ths slog wins 63% of games.

And now it gets interesting. We match up the slog (Scissors) with the original rush (Rock).

Gardens 6

Rock wins 57% of games!

So this illustrates that being flexible is important and on some boards you need to adjust to your opponent’s strategy.

Join me next week when I’ll talk about Duke.

(these bots have been incorporated in the latest version of the simulator)

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2015 Championships

This year, the DominionStrategy Championship is back with its third edition. Want to become the new DominionStrategy Champion? Just want to play some competitive Dominion? Then sign up on the forums to compete with some of the best Dominion players in the world!  Signups close September 24.

Everybody is welcome to participate in the tournament which will begin on September 28; we’ll play in weekly rounds of single elimination until we are able to crown the winner. The tournament will be using either the Goko website or the new Making Fun client as a platform, depending on availability (further information will be given when the situation is foreseeable).

There is nothing required to join besides having an account to play Dominion online.

Good luck!

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Leveling up

“I’ve been playing for a while now but I’m stuck on level X on the leaderboard. How do I get to level Y?”

This is a common question on the Dominion strategy forum and I’m sure all players have struggled with it some time in their playing career. There are a lot of tips flying around: play more games, analyze games you lost for mistakes, watch top players play on twitch, read strategy articles,…

Today, I’m going to use an interesting Kingdom to illustrate some of the common mistakes made by (in)experienced players and the impact of those mistakes on your win rate.

HeraldQuarryMarketGoonsNoblesAmuletSquireGreat HallTrade RouteFeodum


This board featured as Kingdom of the Week on reddit. The discussion that followed revolved around the matchup of the Feodum/Raid combo vs the Goons mega-engine? Most posters thought the Goons/Herald engine was stronger than the Feodum/Raid combo, but couldn’t quantify how much stronger it was. Then top player Mic Qsenoch chimed in:

“Only thing here is Goons engine, Feodum is a joke.”

A good player will be able to see the possible decks that can be built, how good a target deck is at aquiring points, the path to constructing the desired deck and how fast it can be set up. To Mic Qsenoch it’s clear a big Goons engine can be constructed which will easily score +100 points and do that in a reasonable number of turns. The support for this archetype is pretty good; there’s Quarry to pick up multiple actions easily, strong trashing (Amulet) to make the deck consistent, card draw to draw the entire deck (Nobles + Herald) and Villages (Squire, Herald, Nobles) to allow multiple Goons per turn plays while drawing the deck.

The other target deck is the Feodum/Raid combo. Raid and Amulet will allow Feodums to reach Colony status (10 VP). Since the deck is going to get flooded with Silver there’s no way to incorporate this into an engine approach. This means we’re probably going to buy only 1 Feodum each turn which means 8 turns of greening + X turns to flood the deck with Silvers. X is probably going to be around 10. 18 turns means you’re giving the engine player a LOT of time to set up. The -1 Card Token from Raid will slow it down, but probably not enough.

Let’s simulate

It’s time to fire up the old simulator. I first had to code the new Adventures cards/Events which was easy enough. My first attempt at the Goons bot beat the Feodum bot 65% to 35%. Then I tweaked a lot of knobs and eventually ended up with following (close to optimal) bots:

Goons engine bot (uncontested):
Open Quarry/Amulet (trash agressively)
Get 2 Goons asap
then focus on Nobles and Heralds (don't get a second Quarry)
when you start to draw your entire deck get more Goons
don't buy Silvers, instead get Great Halls with spare buys
don't overbuy Squires, just enough to support the terminal actions
buy Copper when you have 3 or more Goons in play

This will result in a few big Goons turns eventually three piling Heralds, Nobles and Great Halls for the win with an average of 150 points in 19 turns.

Feodum/Raid bot (uncontested):

Open Amulet/Amulet
Buy Raid and Silver exclusively
Once you have 24 Silvers start emptying the Feodums

This deck can achieve 67 points in 19 turns.


So the Goons engine crushes the Feodum collector 94% to 5%. The games won by the Feodum player only happen when the Goons player gets awful draws and the Feodum player can 3-pile Feodum, Herald and Nobles/Great Hall. To combat this I adjusted the Goons engine so it protects itself from getting 3-piled and instead goes for Provinces in its big turns. This approach leads to a 99% win rate for the engine.

The less experienced player might be tempted by the Feodum/Raid combo while the seasoned pro will always go for the engine because he realizes the huge potential of the Goons engine. So choosing the wrong strategy here is a fatal mistake.

Engine mirror

Now what happens when two good players face off on this board? They’ll both go for the engine of course. Then it becomes a question of who sets up the deck the fastest, knows which piles to fight over and plays the inevitable endgame point dance the best. Let’s try to see what happens if players building the engine stray from optimal play.

An inexperienced player might open Quarry/Squire instead of Quarry/Amulet, then copy his superior opponent for the rest of the game:


As expected this is a big mistake with win rates 80% – 19%. A card that trashes is almost always part of a good opening.

Here’s what happens when a player gets a second Quarry:


A second Quarry results in probably losing the Herald split and means having one more non-action card in the deck and this lessens the ability for big turns. The win rates are 57% – 42% so a second Quarry is a small but significant mistake.

The key card in this kingdom is Herald. It’s going to be important to try to win the split. Now let’s examine what happens when a player doesn’t fight over the Heralds and will buy Nobles over them:


Losing the Herald split isn’t that bad if you win the Nobles split. So it’s only a tiny mistake with win rates 51% – 49%.

In my experience choosing the right opening buys is the most important aspect of the game for learning players. Mistakes made later in the game are less crucial. This is due to the snowball effect in building Dominion decks: a mistake made in the first turns of the game will have an impact on each following turn.

Buy ALL the cards

A mistake I often see even advanced players make is overbuying. They seem to do everything right: identify the engine and its components, choose the correct opening buys, fight for the important splits, but carelessly overbuy. The trap in this kingdom is overbuying Squires early on. With Quarry in play, a Squire is essentially free, so a lot of players just use up their buys and flood their deck with cards that don’t draw (ie stop cards). The sim proves overbuying Squires early on is a mistake with win rates 45% – 54%.



Now let’s examine tactical play. Strategy is all about having a plan, while tactics is about executing the plan. I consider the way you play your cards as tactics. Some examples of tactical decisions are returning 2 Coppers over 1 Estate with Ambassador, not playing a Smithy to avoid a bad reshuffle, choosing which card to Haven to the next turn, etc. This kingdom features Amulet which has a lot of modes to play (6 total) so a lot of room for tactical mistakes. To illustrate this, I kept the Goons engine bot that uses the Amulet very agressively and trashes every chance it gets. Then I made another bot that will prefer to use the +$1 mode if it means it can buy a better card (higher on the buy priority list). This last bot will still often trash Estates, but not Copper. Here’s the result:


The agressive trasher comes out as the clear winner with win rates 73% – 26%. Bad tactical play in this kingdom is a big mistake.

Deck strength

Another skill in the game is estimating deck strength. Let’s illustrate this with our Kingdom. Suppose we remove the trashing cards from the kingdom (Amulet and Trade Route). So we open Quarry/Squire. Is the engine still strong enough to beat the Feodum player?


Turns out no trashing hurts the engine a lot. It still wins, but the Feodum player will get lucky 1 in 5 times. Win rates 79% – 19%

Let’s remove the big drawing card Nobles. Now what happens to the engine? Can it still draw itself while playing enough Goons?


Not being able to draw itself consistently is a big issue, but it still beats the Raider. Win rates 71%-28%

What if there’s no Goons? Does the engine still have enough payload?


This required a little refactoring because we need a different payload. Turns out we now do want a second quarry and focus more on Markets instead of Heralds. The win rates are 78% – 21%.

Finally we remove both the Nobles and the trashing. That should do the trick, no?


Yup, this kills the engine big time. Win rates are 11% – 86%. So choosing the engine  strategy in this case is a fatal mistake. (note that this engine will still beat a normal deck like Smithy Big Money 99% of the time so it’s still very strong, just not Feodum/Raid level).

You might wonder how strong the Feodum/Raid combo is. Here’s how it fares vs Big Money Smithy:


Feodum/Raid (no Amulet) wins 94% of games, so it’s a very strong combo.

It’s hard to imagine stronger decks than the Goons engine, but let’s replace Trade Route and Feodum by Ironworks and Island. Does the Ironworks/Island/Great Hall rush have the speed to beat the Goons?


The uber-rush dominates the Goons engine with win rates 62% – 36%. Turns out 11 turns is just not enough time to set up an engine.

Having a good feel for deck strength is a very important but hard skill to master. Because of the big variance in Dominion a very strong deck can have bad draws while a weak deck can have great draws and win. So it’s hard to draw meaningful conclusions from the outcome of a single game. You either need to play the same kingdom repeatedly to be sure or trust an experienced player’s opinion with thousands of games under his belt.

Wrapping up

As should be clear by now, not all mistakes are equally bad. In this kingdom choosing the wrong strategy proved fatal, while not fighting over a split was only a minor mistake. In other kingdoms this might be the other way around. If you want to win more often, you should try to identify and quantify these mistakes. Or you could just post your game log on the strategy forum and ask for advice.

Until next time and may your plays always be optimal!

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Kingdom Design Challenge for Dominion League

The Dominion League is now in its seventh season and will be hosting a Kingdom Design Challenge for the Champion Match.

At the end of each season, the top two players in the A division of the league play six games to decide the League Champion, who is the person with the highest combined score between the Champion Match and the regular season. This season, the Champion Match will be composed of kingdoms designed and submitted by forum members, so if you have any kingdoms you feel are especially devious, check it out! This thread has more details.

The Champion Match will be streamed live on Twitch — we’ll be able to see the perspective of at least one of the contestants and live commentary will also be provided, including strategic insight on the kingdoms chosen for the match. What better chance to see your favorite boards played by the best players in the world with top-level commentary?

Submissions will be open until Monday, April 27 and can be submitted via Forum PM (see the thread for details). Good luck!

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Adventures Bonus Preview #5: Giant

This is the last of several previews by playtesters of Dominion: Adventures, introducing the next Dominion expansion.  This post is by DG.  The community is discussing these new cards in the Adventures Preview subforum


Dominion: Adventures

Wow a big card! +5 coins and attack is very impressive even if you don’t get it every time. This guy is certainly going to bring triumph and disaster. It will feel like a disaster if you play your giant for +1 coin, flip your journey token, but it gets trashed from your deck before you can play it again. You’ll have to buy another one won’t you, or maybe you should have bought a second giant already?

How bad is the attack? It would be trouble except that the giant is so slow. Unless your opponents can play a lot of giants you might be able to ignore it. When you have more than one opponent you might get more attacks on your deck and then you might need to worry.

Traders, beggars, and silver in general look like good defenses against a giant. The defender will generally have some control of what the attack will do since it is the defender that puts most of the cards into the deck. If you buy a lot of fool’s gold then the giant will be giving you curses. Even so the giant attack will probably be quite random since, like a jester, it only looks at one card. We’ll see streaks of luck where the same sort of card is turned over again and again.

How good is the coin income? If you can use those +5 coins to buy key cards like platinum then it is excellent. Of course, having to get +1 coin first is very bad but perhaps you can use those early turns to gain some cards with +buy, ready for when the giant gives you the real money. Maybe if you can play your giants very often you can forget the bad start and look towards a healthy income of +6 coins from two plays.

I suspect there will be some interesting end game decisions on whether or not to play the giant and flip the journey token, especially if there’s another action that could be played instead. I also suspect that these decisions will feel bad every time as you’ll be weighing up income in the current hand against a gamble on what you need in a future hand. Triumph or disaster will be waiting.


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Adventures Previews #5: Lost Arts, Borrow, Inheritance

This post is by Donald X. Vaccarino, previewing the new Dominion expansion: Dominion Adventures.  The community is discussing these new cards in the Adventures Preview subforum.  Stay tuned later today for a bonus preview!

Here at last are tokens. They are used some by non-Events too, but today, three more Events. I like to have all of the cards in one preview have the same orientation.


Lost Arts produces a +1 Action token, which modifies a pile so that those cards give you personally +1 Action. Each player has their own token. Say you put the token on Smithy; for you, Smithy is +1 Action +3 Cards, but for everyone else, it’s still +3 Cards (unless they also put their token on Smithy). For example. So uh there’s probably something good you can do with that. That Smithy example doesn’t sound half-bad. The token on Smithy affects all of the Smithies you have, and any Smithies you get later; it’s just a different card for you. It’s like a giant pile of Villages that are always there when you need them for a particular action, for a one-time payment of $6 and a Buy. You are probably wondering, is there also a +1 Buy token, a +1 Card token, a +$1 token? Yes, of course there are those too.

Borrow shows off a minus. There are just -1 Card and -$1; -1 Action and -1 Buy would be no fun. Borrow gives you an extra +$1 this turn, but you’ll draw one less card the next time you draw cards, that’s what that -1 Card thing is about. You get one less card the next time you’d draw any cards, any which way; for Borrow though that’s probably when you draw your next hand. So, four cards that turn instead of five, and well make sure it’s worth it. You don’t want an endless spiral of debt, where you Borrow turn after turn. -$1 meanwhile (not pictured – well neither one is pictured, but you know what I mean) just reduces how many coins you make by $1 the next time you make any. The minus tokens are used on a few cards each, sometimes to give to yourself and sometimes to make other players take them.

Inheritance is maybe the strangest thing in Adventures. Your Estates turn into another card. Again that’s Estates you already have, and any new ones you buy. You put the token on say a Village; now your Estates are cards that cost $2 and are worth 1 VP and are Action-Victory cards and can be played for +1 Card +2 Actions. It is a great feeling when you’re staring at your hand and it sucks and then you remember, oh yeah, these Estates are Villages, this hand is awesome. You actually set aside a card with the token, rather than just putting it on a pile, because Dominion has crazy stuff like the Knights from Dark Ages. Lost Arts can give all of the Knights +1 Action for you, but when your Inheritance is Sir Martins, your Estates are all Sir Martin, they aren’t any other Knights. And if that’s not clear, there’s a lengthy FAQ.

That’s it for previews, except for the other preview for today, if you haven’t seen that one yet. Go see it (if it’s not up yet this may take a while). Okay so. That’s it for previews. You’ve seen 20 cards out of 58; there are still 17 more kingdom cards, 14 more Events, 7 more things that Page and Peasant turn into, and 2 mysterious tokens. No doubt someone will post the rest of the set once people have it. We are expecting the set out April 18th and well someone will keep us posted if that changes.


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Adventures Previews #4: Expedition, Trade, Mission

This post is by Donald X. Vaccarino, previewing the new Dominion expansion: Dominion Adventures.  The community is discussing these new cards in the Adventures Preview subforum.  Stay tuned later today for a bonus preview — and by “later today” I mean right now!

Adventures has 30 Kingdom cards. It also has 20 Events. It’s high time we looked at some of those. Man, they’re sideways. See you on the other side.


An Event is something you can buy in your Buy phase that isn’t a card. You pay your $, you use up a Buy, and something happens. They don’t take up Kingdom card slots; you shuffle them into your randomizer deck, but when you deal out cards, keep going until you have 10 Kingdom cards. I recommend stopping at two Events, but it’s up to you.

Expedition is an example of a very simple Event. You get two more cards in your next hand. Maybe you’d rather have Silver; it’s hard to say, man I don’t even know you. Sometimes though I bet you’ll want the cards. So, to be clear here: with Expedition in the game, you can, in your Buy phase, pay $3 and use up a Buy, to make that thing happen, the extra 2 cards for your next hand. If you had $6 and 2 Buys, you could go on two Expeditions, and have 4 extra cards in your next hand. Or buy a Silver and one Expedition. And so on. Expedition itself just sits on the table with the kingdom cards, reminding you that you can do this this game.

Trade, still somewhat simple, has you turning one or two cards into Silvers. It costs $5, but well, trashing two cards and getting two Silvers, maybe that’s worth it. It only trashes from your hand, so you won’t be doing much Trading turn one.

Finally we have Mission, a trickier one. You get an extra turn, but, this seems like some kind of joke, you can’t buy cards on that turn. What good is it then? Well. There are things you can do. You can gain cards without buying them, such as with Remodels and Workshops. You can play Duration cards, setting them up for your next turn. You can get Reserve cards onto your mat. You can play Attacks, it can be that kind of Mission. You can trash cards; you can just be getting through your deck to get back to your good cards; you can turn that Hero into a Champion. And hey you can buy other Events, that’s not buying a card. That may seem weird – what do we call that rectangular object then – but you didn’t buy a card, you bought an Event, a thing that happened once and didn’t come with a card, and so that doesn’t trigger Swamp Hag and it’s not cheaper due to Bridge and so on. Event cards give you something to buy; that thing is not a card. There will be a rulebook and it will say stuff just like this.

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Adventures Bonus Preview #4: Messenger

This is the fourth of several previews by playtesters of Dominion: Adventures, introducing the next Dominion expansion.  This post is by jsh357, prolific streamer.  The community is discussing these new cards in the Adventures Preview subforum


Dominion: Adventures

There are three types of Dominion players. Some of us just play to unwind. Some play to compete. But then there are those of us who just want to watch the piles burn. Here’s Messenger, for everyone who loves giving gifts and making merry.

Sometimes you’ll get one for the Buy and coins. Sometimes it’ll help you cycle your deck all the way down. But most of the time, you’ll be using it to hand things out. Maybe your friend opened 5/2 and couldn’t get two Ambassadors. Your Messenger purchase helps him with that. Maybe your opponent got himself a Potion and you feel like he should have another. Just be careful; you’re getting one too. Maybe there’s a sneaky way for you to win by making a bunch of Estates vanish at once. Messenger has you covered. Or maybe you’re a jerk holding a Watchtower and you decide to hand out Curses in the most convoluted way possible. Man, what’s your problem? Well, go for it, I guess.

The truth is, there are a lot of neat applications of the Messenger. I could go on and on about it, but I’ve had plenty of time to think about it, so I want you guys to have the fun. I’ll leave you with one idea for your cousin’s birthday party: try playing a 5 player game with this bad boy. (If you actually go and try that, please don’t shoot the messenger.)

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Adventures Previews #3: Amulet, Swamp Hag, Hireling

This post is by Donald X. Vaccarino, previewing the new Dominion expansion: Dominion Adventures.  The community is discussing these new cards in the Adventures Preview subforum.  Stay tuned later today for a bonus preview — wait, nope, that already happened.

Those of you who have been wanting more Duration cards, here they are at last. There was lots left to do with them, and I could get in some nice simple cards this way, and well people wanted them. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are simply cards that do something on future turns. They stay in play until they are done doing everything they have to do; that’s the only tricky part.

Amulet is a basic Duration card. It gives you a choice on both turns, that’s its special thing. Amulet is super-flexible; it gets rid of garbage, provides money for the same turn, and gets Silvers for later.

Swamp Hag showcases a type of Attack made possible by Duration cards. It makes the other players have worse turns. In this case, anything they buy will be cursed. Two Swamp Hags? Two Curses. It can be grim in multiplayer. They can just choose not to buy anything in order to dodge the Curses and well you will be happy with that too. Try to avoid playing Swamp Hag and Outpost in the same turn; that Swamp Hag doesn’t end up Cursing anyone.

Hireling is a Duration card that lasts forever. You put it out, and then that’s that, you have an extra card on every turn for the rest of the game. That seems good. They’re cumulative of course; with three of them out, you’ll get three extra cards each turn. You get the card at the start of your turn, rather than when drawing your hand, which means it doesn’t suck vs. Militias. $6 may seem cheap for this ability and well there’s playtesting, you know, the costs aren’t just random.


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Adventures Bonus Preview #3: Haunted Woods

This is the third of several previews by playtesters of Dominion: Adventures, introducing the next Dominion expansion.  This post is by Mic Qsenoch, prolific streamer.  The community is discussing these new cards in the Adventures Preview subforum

Haunted Woods

Dominion: Adventures

Orange is such a beautiful color, isn’t it? We now have Duration technology to make your opponent miserable during their turn. Plus the card has a sweet name.

Haunted Woods reminds me of Rabble in many ways. There’s the nonterminal draw, but the attack parts feel similar as well. The attack can be weak for much of the game, and there’s often ways to avoid it. I’ll let all of you talk about the different ways. But if you green without preparing your deck for a constant Haunted Woods barrage you might be in for a bad time. It’s also possible for the attack portion to be friendly interaction, letting you put good cards back on top of your deck. A lot of nice player interaction to be had in this card.

As a duration you won’t be able to play Haunted Woods as often as other card drawers, but getting +3 cards at the start of your turn is, like, the best time to get them! Sometimes people underestimate this fact.

Moat must be revealed (or Lighthouse be in play) when Haunted Woods is played to block the attack effect.

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