Big Money

SilverBig Money is about as simple as a “strategy” can be in Dominion.  Buy Province with $8, buy Gold with $6-$7, and buy Silver with $5 or lower.  (You can fine-tune it by buying Duchies at $5 once there are 5 Provinces left.)

Why is it important?  The idea is that for most beginners, you get caught up buying all sorts of pretty fancy Actions, and then one day you realize you are getting stomped by someone who literally just buys money. A lot of people quit at this point, convinced that Dominion is a “solved” game, with no further depth.

But then, one day, you realize that Big Money isn’t unbeatable, it’s just a benchmark. A good mixture of Actions and Treasure easily crushes Big Money, and a good way to tell whether your strategy is a viable one or not is to see whether it can clear the Big Money hurdle. For reference, Big Money averages 4 Provinces by around 17 turns (assuming no attacks). Because you can always go Big Money in every set, every strategy you devise has to be able to do better than Big Money, or else it’s not really a strategy at all.

The obvious way of realizing that Big Money isn’t unbeatable is seeing that Big Money plus one Action is going to beat Big Money: Smithy-Big-Money, for instance, gets to 4 Provinces by 14 turns and will stomp Big Money every time.  Witch-Big-Money isn’t faster, but will crush Big Money under a tidal wave of Curses.  And so on.

Of course, Smithy-Big-Money isn’t all that much more interesting than playing Big Money.  But as you keep going, you realize that more sophisticated interactions also beat Big Money.  Maybe you Chapel down your deck, then accelerate into an endgame mega-turn fueled by Bridges and Throne Rooms.  Maybe you draw your whole deck with Village/Council Room and end it with a punishing Militia.  Maybe you forsake Provinces altogether in favor of Workshop/Gardens.  And as each expansion introduces new Action cards, Big Money becomes worse and worse.

Here’s another way of thinking about it.  Consider a highly simplified version of Dominion, where each turn you roll your “money die” five times. If the sum of your rolls reaches a certain threshold, you get to buy a Province.

Now, the obvious and “Big Money” approach is to add more and bigger numbers to the die by buying Silvers and Golds. But there are other approaches:

  • You can eliminate all the low numbers from the die so your average die roll is higher. [Chapel]
  • You can find ways to roll the die more times. [Village/Smithy]
  • You can add bonuses to your die roll. [Festival]
  • You can mess up other people’s die rolls. [Witch]
  • You can reroll low numbers. [Cellar]
  • You can lower the threshold to buy a Province. [Bridge]
  • You can go for less valuable cards on lower rolls and end the game before a Province player has time to build up points. [Workshop/Gardens]

What Big Money really is is a lower bound for advanced play.  Good decks have no difficulty beating Big Money; most beginners cannot.  In very, very few sets is Big Money (or 1 Action plus Big Money) the dominant strategy.  Studying a board to figure out how to design a deck capable of beating Big Money: well, that’s what Dominion is all about.

5 Responses to Big Money

  1. Anonymous says:

    I already have Dominion and Prosperity and I’m thinking of buying another expansion. I want the one that limits the power of big money the most, which one do you recommend?

    • WheresMyElephant says:

      I wouldn’t recommend worrying too much about this. As the article says, Big Money is very rarely the best strategy on the board; as you get better you should find that you don’t have to worry about boring Big Money games. Also you already have Prosperity, which gives you some of the strongest cards out there (not to mention Colony games where BM is even weaker).

      With that said, I definitely think the answer to your question is Cornucopia. Its “variety” theme directly rewards you for having a variety of different cards in your deck. (Actually I’d say it’s a tie between Cornucopia and Alchemy, but even though I’ve come to enjoy the latter, I don’t think anybody would recommend it to someone in your situation.)

      Hinterlands probably isn’t your best bet, especially if you or your friends read online strategy guides. If you hate Big Money you’ll loathe DoubleJack; and for that matter I’m pretty sure Big Money with Fool’s Golds is stronger than normal BM (and more boring, although Fool’s Gold can be a very interesting card in stronger strategies). Hinterlands does however have a lot of novel strategies; it also has Border Village which lets you set up engines in no time flat.

      Seaside has Fishing Village and Wharf, two of the strongest engine components in the game, for what that’s worth.

      Intrigue is somewhat prosaic as befits the “alternate base set,” but Minion is an interesting source of Action-based money. well with Big Money.

  2. Anonymous says:

    best post ive ever read for beating big money thank you

  3. Pingback: Introduction to Domonion | chaverma.com

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