Guest Article: Reading the Board

This article is written by Curses.  He is the Round 5 Champion of the BoardGameGeek Dominion League.

One of the keys to playing Dominion well is not only playing your card in your deck well (tactics), but also knowing what and when to buy (strategy).  A great strength of Dominion as a game is its immense replayability.  With 116 cards to fill 10 card slots, which I call the board for a lack of a better term, there are many interesting, difficult, and occasionally frustrating options for building your deck.  Once you decide upon a strategy for building a deck, then you need to use your tactical aptitude to play your deck.  Dominion seamlessly integrates strategy and tactics, but the focus of these articles will be upon the strategy of creating the best deck based upon the board.

A card’s value in Dominion is relative to the other cards available on the board.  A popular card like Minion may be the best option and board and lead to a race to see who accumulates more, but the same Minion loses some strength on boards with curse-giving cards and/or high economic output with Colonies.  However, a Colony board with a King’s Court may make the Minion strong enough to incorporate it into your strategy.  The same can be said of cards like City, Torturer, Festival, etc.  Even boring Silver may hold an edge over 4 cost cards on different boards.  How do we determine the strength of a card?  There is no definitive way to determine the ‘best’ strategy for every board before a game, but there are some fundamental concepts that can give you an advantage over your opponent.

Step One: Pause a Moment to Plan your Deck

This concept has drastically improved my decks and my wins.  I know the idea is basic, but we must master the fundamentals before we attempt complex maneuvers.  We have the urge to start buying as soon as the game starts, and we can overlook combos which would be apparent if we slowed down!  Before the game starts, ask yourself some questions.  How is my deck going to win me the game?  Which victory cards and/or VP gaining cards will seeking?  Will it be Big Money, action heavy, a draw engine, or a hybrid?  What cards do I want in my deck?  How many of each card do I want in my deck?  If you pause before you play, you can save yourself from running two incongruent strategies.  I try to follow the advice of chess master Emanuel Lasker, “When you see a good mover, look for a better one.”  I’ve amended the Carpenter’s Rule of “Measure Twice and Cut Once” to the Dominion Rule of “Think Twice and Buy Once.”

Sample Game 1: FAIL

I wanted to provide a game where I didn’t follow my own advice.  This was the third game of a league series, and I became emotionally involved in the game.  I glanced at the board and thought, “Ambassador, Quarry, Nobles, Treasure, Win!”  I did not take the time to view each card, nor did I pause to visualize my deck.  If I had been patient, I would have seen that a Scout would be incredibly powerful for fetching Estates to Ambassador and drawing Nobles.  I would have also realized that a single Witch could help slow my opponent with curses and help me with some card advantage.  I blundered on Turn 5 when I missed the Scout buy, and the game deteriorated from that juncture.

Sample Game 2: Good Plan and Great Draws

This was the third game in a BGGDL series against a Division 1 opponent.  I fought my reflexes and took some time to assess the board.  I wanted to buy a Bishop initially, but I purposefully viewed each card.  I realized that a Salvager provided a +Buy, and if I could use action cards like Lookout and Pearl Divers, I could buy several Peddlers in turn, leading to the potential of mass Grand Markets.  When my opponent bought a Bishop, I could trash Estates or Coppers to thin my deck.  I did have some amazing draws that allowed me to rapidly thin my deck and snowball my engine, but the process of pausing and planning my deck made that engine possible.

To be continued…

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One Response to Guest Article: Reading the Board

  1. Jahz says:

    Nice article ! And yes it’s quite hard to take the time to think before the first two buys, and it’s sad because for me it’s almost the funniest part of a game.
    And one option I’d like to see on online servers is the one where you choose between 5/2 4/3, which would allow even more thinking because more possibilities (and less luck btw).
    Anyway, playing league game helps (I’m playing BSW’s DomAll liga, not bggdl) for that matter, as you usually don’t want to miss an opportunity in such games🙂

    On your games:
    – For first game, well even before turn 5 it was getting bad… you had ambassador in 11/12 cards with only one estate, whereas your opponent had it directly with two…
    – Second game, I tried to think about the board without looking at your choice, and ended with the same reasonning😉 And salvager helps trashing this now useless lookout after some turns. I guess this game was almost unbearable for your opponent.

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