Dominion: Gardens



The standard “Gardens strategy” is to grab Gardens, bloat your deck, and simultaneously run out two other piles (one of which is typically Estates) to end the game as fast as possible, before your opponents can begin to buy Provinces or Colonies.

On most boards, this isn’t feasible.  It’s just too slow to empty all three piles, and your deck won’t be big enough to make your Gardens worth all that much.  But in the presence of certain cards, Gardens are nearly unbeatable.

The easiest and most straightforward way to execute this strategy to open with double Workshop.  If you’re unfortunate enough to start with a 5/2, you can still go for a (slightly delayed) Gardens strategy with cards like Festival/Market/Pawn.  Otherwise you are probably best off countering your opponents’ Gardens rather than competing for them.

Assuming you opened double Workshop, on your first reshuffle, you want to pick up at least two more Workshops; although this increases the chance that you’ll draw two Workshops in one hand (without an extra +Action to play them), it is much much worse to draw a hand with no Workshops whatsoever.

After that, you should focus on grabbing as many Gardens as you can with your Workshops while spending Coppers on piles that you plan on running out.  This typically means Gardens, Estates, and a $2 or $3 Action (possibly Workshops themselves).  Great Halls are great for a Gardens pile, since they’re a cheap source of VP that your opponents will help you run out.  Villages are also a popular choice, and Haven can keep your Workshops from conflicting with each other.  At the very least, you should always buy at least a Copper each turn.

Ironworks can be basically be substituted for Workshop in the above strategy without any significant changes.  Woodcutter can as well: although it doesn’t guarantee you the Gardens, it’s close enough, and it lets you grab a Duchy every once in a while.  Baron works pretty well, but in practice the cost jump from $3 to $4 is too great for the Gardens player to overcome, and you won’t be able to empty them out as easily as Workshops.

Trade Route or Talisman can also work, but are more dependent on the other cards available, and therefore not as scripted as Workshop/Gardens.  Trade Route depends on the fact that as you empty Gardens/Estates, your Trade Route guarantees you at least +$2, and possibly +$3 or +$4 if Great Halls are present, or your opponents panic and start buying Duchies to counter your Gardens.  However, because Trade Route forces you to trash a card along with the +Buy, it is a more hybrid Gardens strategy that depends on Duchy assistance.   Talisman Gardens strategies have no problem emptying piles, but you need to be emptying Actions (preferably non-terminal) that can get you to Gardens.

(See the comments for an excellent discussion of “hybrid” Gardens strategies.)

If none of these cards are present, Gardens are usually ignored.  They can be helpful in the late game when you have $4 to spend and need a Victory card; in most late-game decks, they will be a cheaper Duchy.  Alternatively, if you are getting brutalized by Ambassadors and Mountebanks, and a couple piles are already gone (perhaps due to a City player), you can try to rush the Gardens to end the game prematurely.

If you’re fighting another Gardens player in a multiplayer game, you should realize that although both of you are going for the same goal (emptying three piles as quickly as possible), you should let him empty the “third” pile while you go for the Gardens and Estates.  In other words, if the two of you are emptying Gardens, Estates, and Villages, it may be in your best interest to spend your $3’s on Estates rather than Villages so that you have an advantage over your co-Gardener.

If you’re going Gardens alone, you usually must do whatever it takes to end the game as quickly as you can.  There are many cards that you could buy that would work great with a Gardens strategy (some are listed below), but if your opponent isn’t going for Gardens, you need to end the game before his engine kicks into high gear.  Certain strategies can ramp up very quickly (e.g., Tactician), and if your opponent can snag a couple Provinces the game is all but over for you.

Countering a Gardens player is tricky.  Don’t bother building elaborate Grand Market chains; instead, look to grab VP as quickly as possible.  Remodel your Golds into Provinces as soon as you can, grab some of the Estates so the Gardener can’t get them, and try to establish a VP advantage.  Your goal is to get enough points such that the Gardener is forced to slow down and fatten his deck rather than end the game; at this point, you can choose to either rebuild and get the last Provinces, or empty the last piles before the Gardens appreciate in value.  Don’t hesitate to take Gardens yourself: the average Garden is worth 3–4VP for your opponent, and maybe 2–3VP for you. Buying the Garden is therefore a 5–7VP swing, which just so happens to be around the neighborhood of a Province buy (assuming your opponent buys no Provinces and you won’t be running them out).  So you should definitely grab some Gardens, though not too many since you have a smaller deck than the Gardener.  Bishop in particular is a fantastic counter to Gardeners, since you can buy the Gardens and then chew them up for 3VP.  If you do plan on splitting the Gardens, then be sure to take a couple of Duchies before the game ends in order to make up the difference in deck size.

Gardens decks are very resistant to attacks.  Ambassador is a great card for Gardeners, since they generally welcome the influx of Copper and Estates.  Possession is basically useless, and Militia/Goons do virtually nothing, since so much of your deck is Victory cards anyway.  Witch and Sea Hag are somewhat offset by the fact that the Curses count for your Gardens, particularly if they push your deck to the next 10-card level.  (See, for instance, this Talisman/Great Hall/Trade Route game where I Embargo my last Gardens buy so I can get to 40 cards in my deck.)  Probably the most brutal attacks against Gardeners are Ghost Ship and Bureaucrat, by slowing down an already-slow deck.

Works with:

  • Workshop/Ironworks/Woodcutter
  • Trade Route/Talisman (sample game)
  • Baron (somewhat)
  • Great Halls
  • Opponent’s Curse-giving attacks (somewhat)
  • Opponents’ Ambassadors
  • There are many cards that work well with Gardens, but you usually can’t afford to buy them and/or they would distract from your goal of ending the game as quickly as possible.  Some include: Hoard, Festival, Bureaucrat, Counting House, Outpost, Warehouse, Scout, Remodel, Baron.

Conflicts with:

  • Trashing cards
  • Strategies that ramp up very quickly (e.g., Tactician, Treasure Map)
  • Opponents’ Bureaucrats and Ghost Ships
  • Bishop counters Gardens pretty heavily
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45 Responses to Dominion: Gardens

  1. Grujah says:

    Other great cards that you didn’t mention:
    Pawn – +1 buy thats easily chainable, +1 coin if you need it. You can get loads of copper per turn with these. And they cost only 2$.
    Secret Chamber – its 2$ so its easily massed. You can actually use it to buy something meaningfully when you draw it with 4 garbage cards (most likely Gardens).

    These cost 4 so they might slow you gaining gardens, but you can easily buy them first few turns before getting first gardens:
    Bridge – Its +Buy and everything is cheaper by 1. It makes Estates cost 1! And if you somehow chain 2.. its too awesome.
    Baron (somewhat) – you’ll have plenty of estates.
    Workers Village.

    Also, I don’t get Trading route. You need to trash a card with it.

    • theory says:

      I’ve tried going with these cards before but it’s difficult to execute. Pawn makes it difficult to get to Gardens, and really, without +Actions, you can’t have both +$ and +Buy except on the last Pawn. Secret Chamber is a bit like Trade Route in that it gets you money but not Buys, but it can never get you to a Duchy unless you bought a Silver.

      Likewise, the $4 cards are great but you can’t reliably empty them. Typically you have to rely on Workshops and Woodcutters because there’s no other way to end the game quickly enough against a Province-buyer. You’re right that those are nice cards for Gardening, though; perhaps they are a worthwhile supplement if your opponents are all also going Gardens and there is no need to rush the piles.

  2. Reyk says:

    “(See, for instance, this Talisman/Great Hall/Trade Route game where I embargo my last Gardens buy so I can get to 40 cards in my deck.)”

    Nice. Do you see the number of cards in your deck at isotropic? You see it at BSW, but not offline.

    • theory says:

      You can only see your draw deck size. I was midway through my deck, so I counted the cards I had discarded since the last reshuffle and added my hand and the draw deck.

      • Zorblak says:

        As the guy who lost that game, I can say that I was wondering what he was thinking of doing when he paused for minute to count his cards, and I was suitably impressed when he pulled out the win with that tactic.

      • AJD says:

        Wait-a-minnit…. if you hadn’t embargoed the Gardens, you still would have had 40 cards in your deck. The Embargo self-trashes; if you hadn’t played it, you wouldn’t gain the curse, but you’d still have the Embargo itself.

  3. Tim says:

    I am surprised you did not comment on how many gardens you have to buy to counter a garden strategy. As you said, countering it is tricky, especially when it is indeed a viable strategy. I am not sure, but for most cases I know, when the garden strategy is indeed viable, it is nearly impossible to beat if you let the garden player grab all the gardens. A counter, in this sense, is not a strategy not buying gardens, but a strategy which thwarts the opponent getting points from gardens while effectively gaining points via some other means.

  4. joel88s says:

    Thanks for a good discussion of this card!

    It would seem there’s an inherent paradox in the Gardens strategy: on the one hand you’re trying to build up a fat deck to up the value of the Gardens, which obviously increases over time , while on the other hand you’re trying to end the game as soon as possible.

    So I’m curious about what the critical masses tend to be, both in # of Gardens and size of deck – or in terms of points. It would seem intuitively that 40 cards might be the target – as in your ‘Embargo Coup’ game, where the two gardeners split the 8 Gardens and deck size was the difference. Against a regular province player, for example, how many of the Gardens do you need to get typically? In 2-player, all 8 w/40 cards would still beat 5 provinces, but I don’t know if anyone ever lets you get all eight!…

    • theory says:

      Typically you end up with 40 cards. If both of you are Gardening, then probably 30 cards is more common. If you build your Gardens up to 50 or even 60 cards (possible in multiplayer) you’re pretty much unstoppable if you have enough of them.

  5. Zorblak says:

    Another good combo that you didn’t mention: City. Since you’re actively working on running out piles, cities become much more valuable pretty quickly. So even though they’re a bit pricey, they pay off, especially with the extra buys towards the end of the game.

    See, for example, this game where I was able to get a good Gardens/Cellar deal going, and the Cities I threw into the mix (along with the timely Torturer by my opponent) let me push my Gardens from 3 to 4 points in the last two turns of the game.

    • joel88s says:

      Those Cities definitely provided a nice finish!

      The only problem is this seemed a little slow for a Gardens plan, at least according to theory’s concept… Your opponent played a pretty slow game, and I wonder if it had occured to him to start remodeling his Provinces once he got ahead if he might have won it before you got to the ‘City coup’…

      Thoughts, Theory?

      • theory says:

        It does seem slow usually. But without Woodcutter/Workshop, you can often run a delayed (and probably hybrid) Gardens strategy, and this was probably a great board for something like that.

  6. joel88s says:

    Another random thought…. This might be hopelessly anal, but has anyone ever thought to ‘annotate’ the log of a Dominion game, the way a chess game is annotated, with comments about the plays along the way? Should be easy enough with a text editor….

    Sometimes when you write something like “I made several mistakes in this game, but…”, I’d love to know what you think are mistakes and why!

  7. Verik says:

    First up: great strategy description there Theory!

    @Joel88s: check out BGG’s sessions forum. I found this one to be hilarious:

  8. tom says:

    Hmm… I think “classic” and “hybrid” Gardens are two very different strategies. I’m also not convinced we mean the same thing when we say “hybrid” Gardens, since you don’t define what that is…

    Classic Gardens is all about ending the game quickly, as you state. They often leverage some cheap $4 buying power, such as Ironworks or Workshops.

    In Classic Gardens, the presence of “fast” curses, such as Witch or Familiar (assuming that one is bought early on in 2p or that a “curse war” develops in 3-4p), means that Curses will very likely be one of the three piles emptied. This simplifies matters for the Gardens player, as they can then concentrate on just emptying Gardens and Estates, making Baron/Gardens more potent, for example. If the curse giving cards are “slow” (Torturers, Mountebanks, etc.), then this won’t be true.

    Hybrid Gardens, in my opinion, is where a player starts out “normally” (except for no trashing), building a deck that can consistently pump out $4-$6 (hitting $8 on a good draw) and *then* goes for Gardens. An example would be a Bureaucrat/Woodcutter deck, which generates lots of silver initially, while fattening up your deck.

    By not tipping your hand too early, you can often catch players at an awkward moment, where their decks have been thinned some, they’ve gotten a gold, things are starting to click, and they *really* don’t want to dilute their decks with Gardens. Your goal is to get at least a 5-3 Garden split (2p) or 5-x-x(-x) (3-4p), if your opponents follow you into Gardens, or better (if they ignore you one time through their decks as they don’t want to dilute their decks right away).

    Here you’re aiming to empty Gardens, Duchies, and Estates, and — maybe — score a Province or two. Your deck is slower, but fatter, and should hit 30 cards easily. If your opponents follow you strongly into Gardens, then the game will take longer (since Provinces won’t empty) and your deck may hit 40 or even 50 cards.

    This is a medium-fast strategy and won’t work on a “fast” tableau, where there is lots of good thinning, such as Chapel, or — in sharp contrast to Classic Gardens — fast buying, such as Ironworks or Great Halls, since the game may then end too soon, before you’ve bought up enough Duchies and gotten your deck to 30-40 cards. It is a bit tricky to pull off, but very satisfying when you do so, as the other players have often checked and dismissed going Gardens on the tableaus where this works…

  9. nomnomnomstock says:

    Have you considered embargoing the gardens right off the bat, at the very beginning of the game? It would keep other people from snatching up your gardens, and once you reached a critical mass of gardens all the curses would start to help. Of course it might keep you from reaching that mass if they were to add up.

    • Lenoxuss says:

      The number of Gardens you need for Curses to become “helpful” is 11. That many are only available in games of 4 players or more, and having them means gaining all but one of the Gardens in the supply, a tall order even with Embargo helping you.

      With 11 Gardens in your deck, every 10 Curses will net you a total of +1VP (not per Curse, but altogether). With 12 Gardens, every 5 Curses will give you +1VP. However, your Curses must round your deck out to an exact multiple of 10 or else the “leftover” Curses will only hurt you just like they normally do. And of course, they are obviously inferior to Estates in terms of value per card. All in all, “gardening your curses” is not the way to go.

  10. Zaphod says:

    I have little or no experience at that Gardens strategy, but I find it interesting that Ironworks doesn’t work well in this situation. Sure, it costs 4 coin, but an Ironworks can make another Ironworks; I would think that typically you could have three or more Ironworks by your second pass through the deck. More significantly, it’s easier to play more than one Ironworks in the same turn – use them to get other Ironworks until you have one left, then get a Gardens. Any buy phase where you have less than 4 coin would be spent on Estates. It would work even better with Great Halls available, as you could use the spare Ironworks on Great Halls, cycle through your deck and get an extra VP out of it. But, as I said, I am inexperienced in this sort of thing. I’m sure you know what you’re talking about.

  11. rubble says:

    I played my first successful Gardens strategy yesterday. RL 2P game, with the following cards: Pawn, Loan, Watchtower, Woodcutter, Bureaucrat, Spy, Conspirator, Feast, Caravan, and Gardens.

    The lack of expensive, powerful cards suggested that a Gardens strategy was very workable, as a typical engine was not really possible. Pawn was emptied first, and proved very useful for additional coins and buys. Watchtower put new money on top of my deck. And the Bureaucrat helped to fatten the deck with additional Silver.

    We played similar openings, and I figured that we were both going for Gardens. So I waited patiently until my deck was nice and fat before purchasing Gardens. I grabbed 4 Gardens in 2 turns, and still no Gardens buys from my opponent. I ended up with all 8 Gardens and 58 cards altogether, winning comfortably if not overwhelmingly.

    I suspect that my opponent was a bit worn from long play. We started at 7AM and ended at 4PM, and this was the last game. Still, it was very satisfying for me.

    I want to thank this blog’s commenters, and theory especially, for helping show the way to playing this strategy successfully.

  12. Shyfão says:

    Playing for Gardens can be a very enjoyable strategy. Earlier today my opponent opened 5/2 on Torturer / Hamlet – so I went with Hamlet / Hamlet on my 4/3 and started buying Coppers like a madman, then Gardens whenever I could. I got to 58 cards with Curses, Gardens and Hamlets emptied and him at 3 Provinces. It proved to be a truly crazy Gardens enabler, especially with Torturer’s “drawback” of giving me an extra card in hand when I needed it.

    • Anonymous says:

      The article could probably do with updating to mention Hamlet, Gardens/Hamlet seems *really* strong to me, it’s like Ironworks, but still works when you run out the pile.

  13. fhnuzoag says:

    I just had a rather pleasing game with Gardens. The opponent got lucky with early familiars, and at one point I had 6 curses to his one. Fortunately I got a Kings Court bought before the reshuffle, and this plus Wharf and Cellar allowed me to make a solid play, since mass buying cellars with my $2 draws allowed me to cycle through my deck very quickly. Getting a possession helped a lot, of course!

  14. Yuma says:

    How has the addition of Silk Road changed Garden strategies, assuming of course that both are on the same board? In my mind these means that both Silk Road and Estates almost have to be your other two supplies that are depleted. And I imagine it would give you a little more wiggle room victory points wise if your opponent was able to get to Provinces faster than usual. If the game was coming to an end and the Garden pile hadn’t been depleted when would you switch to Silk Roads? Lots of questions, sorry. I am going to try this in a couple of games and see what happens.

    • chinano says:

      about switching to silk roads
      Should you have 30-39 cards in deck at the end of game – SR are better than Gardens only when you have at least fifteen Victory cards in your decks (40-49 cards -> 19 Victory cards necessary and so on). So it´s just math i believe…
      about emptying SRs together with Estates and Gardens, I´m not sure – SR cost is $4 and that is pretty high goal to achieve while going for gardens with workshops (etc) and being glad to have another $2 or $3 to buy some estate/village/cellar

      • NewandForgiven says:

        I’m not convinced by your Maths…

        Assuming the  game is about to end itself, so you are trying to desperately point grub to stay ahead just evaluate each card as follows (the following are average values). A Silk Road is worth /4 + /10 and another Gardens is worth /10 + /4. If you are unsure exactly how many cards you have in your deck, try to roughly calculate it from what you know you have (Gardens+Silk Roads+minimum 7 coppers etc…).

        If both piles are empty, Estates can be very strong. If you managed to get all 8 Gardens and Silk Roads in a 2p game then a single estate is worth 3.8 VP.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Sorry for commenting on such an old post, but would Crossroads be a good supplement card for Gardening when used in conjunction with Workshop? It would seem that once one actually starts to gain Gardens with his Workshops, playing Crossroads would help to filter them out and replace them with Workshops, Woodcutters or other Garden-friendly cards. The +3 actions would also be a huge bonus to help the Gardener accelerate the emptying of the supply piles. I started a game with this strategy, and though I was unable to finish it because of connection issues, it seemed to be going well.

  16. jdub says:

    Been playing around with Gardens strategies to see how flexible it is.

    Interesting synergy with Ill-Gotten Gains, which runs out two piles simultaneously (while pumping curses into opponent’s hand), as well as counting for $2 in hand when played while increasing deck size with additional coppers.

    Problem is that it’s $5, which might be cost prohibitive. Might be good to grab a few silvers early to reach the $5 more often. Or try to stock up/deplete good +cards (Council Room is nice, because of the +buy).

    • Anonymous says:

      If you read the IGG article, you realise that IGG rushes normaly go for Duchies as their third pile.

      The stratagey is to always take the copper from the IGG, so your average hand is worth $5, which is exactly enough for IGGs and Duchies. IGG->Gardens is just gravy.

  17. Anonymous says:

    By what turn should a classic gardens strategy in a game without attacks be able to run out three piles? I’ve played a couple games on my phone and tend to get there around turn 20 (these games are me against one computer). My total score is typically in the low 40s, so likely loses to 7 provinces, which I would thing is often achievable. Am I doing something sub-optimal?

    On a related note: if you were going to attempt to answer this question by looking at games on councilroom, how would you do so?

    • WanderingWinder says:

      Depends on what particular classical strategy you’re talking about. I’m going to go with the most classical – workshop/gardens. If totally uncontested, it’s around 18 turns, and you should be getting 4 point gardens, and yes, scores in the low 40s. Now, more typically, you have to protect against getting contested a bit, so… this slows you down to about that 20 turn range. And yes, this is often beatable, but you need something reasonably strong to do that. And that reasonably strong thing needs to NOT help the gardens more than it helps the other player.
      So, but typically gardens RUSHES aren’t really the best thing, except sometimes with workshops, and very very often with ironworks, which just smokes this stuff right out of the water.

  18. James says:

    I’ve also been happy with using extra buys on Cellars. Helps to filter out some of the crap.

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  20. NewandForgiven says:

    Me necro-ing here but…

    I recently played a Gardens game which had Border Village and Cache. On a whim and a T3 5 value hand I bought a Cache. The extra coppers are just nice and the free ‘Gold’ seemed good. As the progressed I managed to grab a few Border Villages (gaining gardens or caches as the mood took me). 

    Now, Border Village seems to both help Gardens strategies (tends to make for empty piles and if you get a 6 [granted, a rareity] it’s a free card) and hurt (engines are easier to set up). On average I’d guess BV doesn’t change much.

    Cache on the other hand seemed brilliant. It adds 3 cards and a lot of buying power to a Gardens deck (and if you get 1, it will help you get more) and doesn’t seem to help an opponents engine deck. In the game I played, I managed to snipe a province one lucky turn due to 2 caches. Is this Cache liking Gardens or just being really strong/ stronger than I give it credit for?

    Finally, (another 5 cost, but…) Haggler seems like a gift to cards as well. Buy a Gardens, gain a silver/pile I’m trying to run out.

    Any thoughts?

  21. Josh says:

    I was curious does the garden card multiply its use for every Garden card you have?

    For example say I have 5 gardens and I have 50 cards in my hand. So I would get 5 points for every garden card I have so essentially I have 25 points.

    Is this how the Garden card works or not?

  22. jason says:

    Hi all, so far my lab engine has been crushing classic gardens. i am getting all 8 provinces before the gardens hand gets 40 cards. That doesnt seem right….?

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