Annotated Game #2

(Friday’s preview)

Embargo, Secret Chamber, Woodcutter, Apprentice, Mine,
Haven, Shanty Town, Baron, Explorer, Tactician,
Platinum, Colony

Annotated Game #2

(Click for enlarged version at

This is a 2-player Isotropic game played between me and Mean Mr Mustard.  The log is available here.  Thanks for all the great comments on the preview, as well as all of you who tried the set out on Isotropic.Analyzing the Set

This set seems rather boring at first glance.  Explorer is bad in Colony games; Woodcutter and Shanty Town are pretty useless.  About the only combo that leaps out is Secret Chamber/Tactician/Tactician, but I’m not very good at executing those combos, and in any event it’s not ideal for Colonies since you max out at around $9.  Maybe it would work in a Province rush strategy, and I’d probably go for it if I opened $5/$2, but in this case I’m going to look elsewhere.

Since I’m not building up some combo, I’ll look to focus specifically on a handful of terminals and build mostly for money.  Tactician is always a good card, in keeping with the general principle that one good turn and one bad turn is better than two mediocre turns.  It could work well with Haven so that you can hold your good cards in between turns while discarding crappy cards to the Tactician.  Baron is a great opener, if a little more luck-based than Moneylender.  And Platinum turns Mine from a mediocre card into a pretty good one.  It works well with Embargo: if your opponent doesn’t get the Mine, you can Embargo the top Treasures, stopping him from buying them while you Mine for them.

As for Apprentice … I didn’t think much of it in a set like this.  I now feel rather differently, as will soon become self-evident.

Based on these considerations, I open Silver/Baron.  You normally don’t need a Haven or Warehouse to take advantage of the Baron, and it’s a risk I’m usually happy to take.  I plan to play a standard Big Money-esque game, maybe with some support from Tactician and Mine.  I’ll spend my $2’s (and possibly even $3’s and $4’s) on Embargo or Haven, depending on whether I have uses for the Embargo.  My first two $5’s will go to Tactician and Mine, and maybe a couple of Apprentices after that.

Mean Mr Mustard opens Silver/Silver.  I’m a little puzzled by this choice, since Baron is usually a pretty reliable way to get to $6 on the reshuffle.

Game Analysis

It’s very difficult to capture in text the feeling of playing a Dominion game.  In annotating these games, I’ve decided to create a new form of notation to help parse through Isotropic logs more efficiently.  I’ve stripped out hand information and almost all the Actions played, leaving in only deck-changing cards.  This is because how each hand was played is pretty straightforward—choices in Dominion come primarily at the Buy stage, and so I’ve chosen to focus on those.  Hopefully this strikes the best compromise between readability and comprehensiveness; the full log is always available for perusal.

If you have any suggestions for the notation system, please note them in the comments; this is far from perfect, and I greatly appreciate any ideas as to how to efficiently display relevant game data (including game state).

Mean Mr Mustard theory
Turn 1 $4 -> Silver $3 -> Silver
Turn 2 $3 -> Silver (reshuffle) $4 -> Baron (reshuffle)
Turn 3 $3 -> Silver $4 -> Silver
Turn 4 $7 -> Apprentice (reshuffle) $7 -> Gold (reshuffle)

Well that was surprising. I guess he wants to focus on early trashing? Understandable, but given how ineffectively Apprentice trashes Coppers, shouldn’t you build up your deck with a Gold first?

Turn 5 $4 -> Silver $6 -> Gold
Turn 6 $7 -> Apprentice (reshuffle) $6 -> Gold (reshuffle)
Turn 7 Apprentice (Estate)
$7 -> Gold
$7 -> Mine

Man, this guy really likes Apprentices. At least he did eventually stop to grab a Gold. Since I have a nice collection of Golds now, I stop briefly to get a Mine and hope to turn them into Platinums.

Key cards 4 Silvers, 2 Apprentices, 1 Gold 3 Golds, 1 Mine, 1 Baron, 2 Silvers
Turn 8 Apprentice (Estate)
$5 -> Apprentice (reshuffle)
$10 -> Platinum
Turn 9 $6 -> Gold $3 -> Embargo (reshuffle)

Since I don’t like buying Silvers past the midgame, I get an Embargo instead. It’s basically the same buying power, but it doesn’t clog up my deck, and more importantly allows me to cut him off from Platinums (since I already have one, and can Mine for more). I still have no idea where he’s going, but it won’t be Platinums.

Key cards 4 Silvers, 3 Apprentices, 2 Golds 3 Golds, 1 Mine, 1 Platinum, 1 Embargo
Turn 10 Apprentice (Estate)
Apprentice (Copper)
$7 -> Gold (reshuffle)
Embargo (Platinums)
$10 -> Mine
Turn 11 Apprentice (Silver)
Apprentice (Copper)
$7 -> Gold
$8 -> Apprentice

I think I’m starting to grasp his strategy: Big Money with Apprentice support.   I decide to follow suit and take an Apprentice of my own, overpaying for it since I know I can use my Mine to get more Golds from my Silvers.

Key cards 3 Silvers, 3 Apprentices, 4 Golds 3 Golds, 2 Mine, 1 Platinum, 1 Apprentice
Turn 12 Apprentice (Silver)
$11 -> Colony (reshuffle)
Mine (-> Platinum)
$9 -> Apprentice (reshuffle)
Current score 10 (1 Colony) 3 (3 Estates)

That was unexpectedly fast. I take a page from his book and start getting Apprentices as well. The Platinum Embargo is working against me: he shows no interest in them, and it keeps me from developing an alternative engine without massive Mining.

Turn 13 Apprentice (Silver)
Apprentice (Silver)
$12 -> Colony (reshuffle)
Apprentice (Estate)
Mine (-> Silver)
$4 -> Embargo

This is getting really out of hand.  He’s taken two Colonies already and I haven’t even hit $11 yet.  I’m getting desperate, and drawing only $4 doesn’t help. I get the Embargo hoping to slow him down.

Key cards 3 Apprentices, 4 Golds, 5 Coppers 2 Golds, 2 Mines, 2 Platinums, 2 Apprentices
Turn 14 Apprentice (Gold)
$12 -> Colony
Mine (-> Gold)
$5 -> Tactician
Current score 30 (3 Colonies) 2 (2 Estates)

What else is there to do? I can only hope he stalls out and I can play some kind of Tactician mega-turn.

Turn 15 Apprentice (Apprentice)
Apprentice (Gold)
$11 -> Colony (reshuffle)
Apprentice (Estate)
$16 -> Colony (reshuffle)
Current score 40 (4 Colonies) 11 (1 Colony, 1 Estate)

Surely he’ll stall out now, and I can start getting some Colonies and Provinces and hope for a Province-fueled comeback?

Key cards 2 Apprentices, 2 Golds, 5 Coppers 2 Golds, 2 Mines, 2 Platinums, 2 Apprentices, 1 Tactician
Turn 16 Apprentice (Colony)
$11 -> Colony (reshuffle)
$10 -> Province
Current score 40 (4 Colonies) 17 (1 Colony, 1 Province, 1 Estate)

At last, the final pieces fall into place. He can draw his entire deck with a Colony trash, and his deck has exactly $11. He’s going to run out the Colony pile well before I ever have a chance to contest them. The rest of the game is just a formality.

Turn 17 Apprentice (Colony)
$11 -> Colony (reshuffle)
Embargo (Colony)
$11 -> Province
Turn 18 Apprentice (Colony)
$11 -> Colony (Curse)
Final score 39 (4 Colonies, 1 Curse) 23 (2 Provinces, 1 Colony, 1 Estate)
Mean Mr Mustard theory

Concluding Thoughts

As you might have noticed, I didn’t choose this game because of a subtle or intriguing card interaction.  Rather, I chose this game because it highlights the importance of fast strategies.  My deck wasn’t even that slow (I’m not sure if Tactician/Secret Chamber would have been superior), but it just can’t compete when game-end-accelerators like Apprentice are present.  What I really needed in this situation was a way to quickly grab some Colonies so that my opponent couldn’t just trash them all from the supply.

Remodel, Salvager, Forge, and Expand are the standard accelerators: if you can grab a quick lead, you can effectively trash Provinces (or Colonies) from the supply and block your opponent from mounting a comeback. This game demonstrates that ruthless Apprenticing can be used in that role as well, so long as you keep careful track of the cards in your deck.

In 2-player games, when should you go for the Province->Province Remodel/Salvager/Forge/Apprentice trick?  Obviously as the Province pile gets very low, you should do it if it can instantly win you the game.

More generally, if there’s an even number of Provinces are left, and if you can safely assume that you and your opponent’s decks will produce Provinces at roughly equivalent rates, then you should do it if you’ll finish your turn ahead in Provinces (if there isn’t a better option, like Remodeling a Gold into a Province and then buying another one).  If you’re the one taking the Province lead every other turn, then getting rid of the last Province in the supply prevents him from taking the last one to equalize.

If there’s an odd number of Provinces, one of three things is going on:

  1. You have a big Province lead (if you can buy a Province this turn), or you are one ahead in the Province race (if you can’t buy a Province this turn), and in either case you should absolutely accelerate the end of the game;
  2. You are the one playing catchup, i.e., your opponent is the one taking the Province lead every other turn.  Here you shouldn’t get rid of the last Province, because that’s your Province that you’re trashing;
  3. Your opponent is also engaging in Province trashing tomfoolery.  Either he’s playing correctly (in which case you shouldn’t join in), or he’s playing incorrectly (in which case feel free to lend him a hand).

Games like these are an excellent example of why such considerations play an important role in shaping your strategy.  Maybe Tactician/Secret Chamber/Tactician would have worked much better if I went for a hardcore Province rush; I might have been able to get to enough Provinces to cause him to reconsider the Colony trashing.  Instead, I didn’t consider the effect that Apprentice has on the pace of the game: my deck might have worked if there were 30 Colonies in the supply, but it does not work when I only have 17 turns and half the usual number of Colonies.

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35 Responses to Annotated Game #2

  1. adf says:

    Wow, that was entirely unexpected. An incredibly gutsy and thoughtful strategy. I guess the Baron buy doesn’t work because he can’t take the chance of a Baron without Estates, but I probably would have done it.

  2. Tim says:

    This is really a very interesting game! Lots of credits to you for writing this up.

    I have to say, I’ve never imagined that a colony rush (+trash) will work, without getting any platinums. It’s also hard to imagine one should forgo the first gold in favor of an apprentice. Frankly, I am amazed by the planning of your opponent. With the 3 silvers he can afford not to take the first gold without delaying his buying power too much and get rid of them later. It’s also beyond my ability to see how I can coordinate my buys and trashes to end into a position with precisely 4 colonies and $11.

    On the other hand, I would definitely get the apprentice as my first $5 buy though. I think it is hard to win a game without trashers and drawers. Here apprentice accounts for both, and it matters the most in the early stage.

  3. Reyk says:

    thx again for writing this up.

    “About the only combo that leaps out is Secret Chamber/Tactician/Tactician, but I’m not very good at executing those combos, and in any event it’s not ideal for Colonies since you max out at around $9. Maybe it would work in a Province rush strategy, and I’d probably go for it if I opened $5/$2, but in this case I’m going to look elsewhere.”

    “Maybe Tactician/Secret Chamber/Tactician would have worked much better if I went for a hardcore Province rush;”

    It’s an interesting idea, but maybe you have to plan for this from the very beginning and it might be hard to install as a reaction to the apprentice-colony rush?! Plus it’s much harder to install than vault/tactician/tactician.
    Can you elaborate a bit more on the “around $9”? Suppose you have 10 cards in the tactician turn and want to play another tactician. So you have 1 action and 7 cards left for the secret chamber which is only $7. Havening silver into the tactician turn doesn’t help since you want to play another tactician. It will take more cards in the next tactician turn for secret chamber but you will lose bying power in your current tactician turn.
    Shanty town/Woodcutter/Baron/Estate is $6 with 3 cards left for secret chamber which would be exactly $9. But it doesn’t seem very reliable. The only other way for more secret chamber cards is apprentice, but do you have enough cards to trash?

    “but it does not work when I only have 17 turns and half the usual number of Colonies. ”

    If I read the game correctly, after turn 15 your opponent has 1 Apprentice, 2 Golds, 5 Coppers and 4 Colonies. He then draws exactly the only Apprentice left and a Colony three times in a row. While 18 turns seems to bee impressively fast the end is a bit lucky I guess. But bying another apprentice in a not so perfect turn should have done the job as well.

    • DRG says:

      Indeed, when your opponent is competent and draws what he wants/needs to draw every single turn, you’re in trouble no matter what you do.

    • Matthew Ryan says:

      Mustard bought Apprentices on turns 4, 6, and 8. He sacrificed one Apprentice on turn 15. He had 2 Apprentices in a 13-card deck going into his endgame.

      Chances of no Apprentice in a 5-card draw from such a deck:
      11/13 x 10/12 x 9/11 x 8/10 x 7/9 = 36%.

      Chances of getting at least one Apprentice (100% – 36% = 64%) 3 turns in a row:
      .64^3 = 26%.

      So yes, it was a bit of a lucky streak at the end for him, but one failed turn in the endgame would so not have made a difference.

      • DRG says:

        He also fails if he doesn’t draw a colony with the apprentice, but yes, once he has his deck going it is going to be fast whether he gets lucky or not. The second apprentice over having just one as had been stated previously (incorrectly) also makes a large difference.

  4. Reyk says:

    I checked the logs and maybe missread your Key card comment after turn 15:
    “Key cards 1 Apprentice, 2 Golds, 5 Coppers”

    He has 2 Apprentices left at this point.

  5. John_O says:

    Interesting! I love playing on isotropic just to see interesting strategies other players have developed. Playing with my friends is nicer, but we tend to use similar strategies. Playing on the net is more instructive that way.

  6. Newbie says:

    Very, very instructive. That must’ve been a tough one for you to lose, but on the other hand, it must’ve taught you (and consequently, us!) a lot!

  7. John_O says:

    Used a similar strategy to win a game really fast a couple hours ago. Works well.

  8. Eistee says:

    I`m really, really impressed by this play. It was really well-played and amazingly fast. I would probably have chosen your strategy, though. Nice, that was quite a nice game to see. More of this!

  9. RepGenie says:

    You were clearly set up, Theory. Mean Mr. Mustard had a strategy in mind and arranged a non-standard tableau, with Platinum & Colony in play with no other Prosperity cards.

    These annotations have made me notice that I pay too little attention to my opponents, especially when playing in person. I’m too worried about getting my cards shuffled and keeping the game moving to notice what their strategy is.

    • Yeah, I was going to ask if Theory felt this was the case. Certainly seems that way. And if so, I wonder how much this goes on? Regardless, it makes for an brilliantly entertaining and instructive game! Lots of people looked at this board and failed to consider a Silver/Silver opening going heavy Apprentices.

      Anyone have problems with the “ethics” of setting up an opponent in this way, if indeed that was the case?

    • theory says:

      Yeah, he clearly did. It’s ok though: learned a valuable lesson 🙂

    • Kirian says:

      I doubt it was truly a setup in the sense of choosing Apprentice, but it’s clear from that Mustard definitely prefers to play with Colonies. I suspect he runs with +Colony as a requirement when proposing, and just happened to combo it well with Apprentice here.

  10. guided says:

    He’s going to set you up but not even take the obviously superior Baron/Silver opening for executing the exact same strategy???? 😉

    Once he sees you taking a slower route his Colony-trashing rush is the obvious move. If you had a faster deck, I do think getting a Mine in there along with the Apprentices would be a solid play. And really, opening Silver/Silver instead of Baron/Silver is just dumb.

    • Matthew Ryan says:

      Mustard’s strategy is “board blind”. All it requires is Colony and Apprentice. So my money would be on this explanation: he specified those two cards to see if the great theory could beat his strategy with an otherwise-unfamiliar board. He didn’t open Baron/Silver because it didn’t occur to him (or perhaps because he was purposefully limiting himself to just Apprentice).

      Also — if he was really doing a whole-board setup, he wouldn’t have included Embargo, which would be one of the few ways to slow this down.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t see how baron+silver is clearly superior. It may be superior in average, and superior more often than not, but certainly worse when you had a bad draw.

      I think along this line: baron worths $2 more than the silver if it happens that in the hand there is an estate. Note that since he is going to get apprentices in the early stage anyway so any money more than $5 is not relevant to his strategy. So the only better situation is such that he draw the baron with 2 estates or more, such that without the baron he cannot reach $5. This is significantly less likely than drawing the baron with zero estates. Therefore if we accept his buy of apprentices instead of golds in the first two $6 buys, I think silver+silver is indeed better.

  11. Lost Alpaca says:

    When I tried the set, I went for Mine/Tactician and lost to a guy who went for the early Apprentice too.

  12. (½)² = ¼ says:

    funny thing, i wrote about apprenticing colonies, but this was a joke i remodeled province into province and colony into colony many times

    i wonder how would it work against any attack cards like militia, mountebank or ghostship, and what would he do if you double emargo colonies and buy 5 provinces (30vp, like 3 colonies)

  13. Michael says:

    Yeah in my first game after reading this, I came across the following set:

    Treasure Map

    I opened Treasure Map/Haven on a 4/3 got it off on turn 4 or 5, bought my first Apprentice and basically did exactly what this guy did to you (no Colonies or Plats).

    This was the result. I am AbaaDDon1.

    The game is over! (All Provinces are gone.)
    AbaaDDon1 has 32 points (5 Provinces and 2 Estates) and took 18 turns.
    mryoda has 9 points (3 Islands and 3 Estates) and took 17 turns.

    • Michael says:

      And to those of you wondering about attacks, he didn’t buy a Witch (and I didn’t either) so I couldn’t tell you for sure but I really can’t see where he could have cursed me fast enough to screw up my massive draw/buy power.

  14. Silver says:

    Great analysis!

    Thanks a lot for sharing. And for your effort of writing your thoughts down.

    While reading the process of the game, i thought “what is Mean mr mustard doing?!”. Never thought, that his early “apprentice” could turn out to be such a great strategy.

    A very valuable lesson! Greetings from Germany 🙂

  15. fellowmartian says:

    I’ve not done this so precisely, and hats off to that, but this is exactly what I was saying on BGG awhile ago when nominating Apprentice as one of my almost-must-buys. There are so many ways to use it to sacrifice Provinces, Colonies and also Golds, Platinums and other Apprentices, that you can really kick ass if you can just get off to a good start. It combines well with so much else because, with the +action, you can always use cards you draw, and anything other than Coppers and Curses can be fuel for the fire (and those you can still use it to ditch at a pinch), which often means that even without sacrificing Provs/Colonies you can often draw most or all of your deck if you have 2 or 3 Apprentices, by chaining them.

  16. Edge says:

    A bit offtopic note: after some analysis of baron/silver, baron/haven and some other popular openings, I propose a hypothesis that out ot all currently available openings, the baron/haven has the greatest probability to reach unconditional 6 coins (i.e. quarry and contraband is not considered) before the second shuffle. If I didn’t make a mistake in my homework, this probability is 631/792 – about 79.7%.
    Does anybody have an idea about an opening that would be better in this sense?

    • Edge says:

      Hmm for some unclear reasons I was lazy to calculate probability of hitting 6 with coppersmith/wishing well opening and now it came to my mind that it will also have a quite high percentage :-/

    • tlloyd says:

      I haven’t done the math, but I would bet that Envoy/Silver has really high probability of getting $6+ on the second turn. I don’t know if this counts, since you may end up shuffling during your second turn.

    • tlloyd says:

      And I assume we’re talking 3/4 openings. Otherwise Vault gets you to $6 guaranteed.

  17. Mean Mr Mustard says:

    For the record, I like to play colony games. I always require them when I propose a game. Apprentice is one of my favorite cards and I usually plan my game around them when they are randomly chosen.

    My game definately has plenty of leaks and I would welcome any and all players to take me to school.

  18. Anonymous says:

    This is long in the past now, but I think the ideal opening here is actually silver and woodcutter. The Baron brings in too much money early, and not enough late. Playing this through quite a few times solo, I usually ended up with a platinum in the mid-game (earlier than turn 10), and that led to $17-$20 gold hands late. The woodcutter, which never slowed things down much as the only terminal, allowed that to bring an extra gold, province or platinum, which increased fodder for late game apprentices. Sure, apprenticing the colony is great, but apprenticing any high value card always seems to get the job done too. This actually allows earlier colony trashing (if it is handy), as you know you will be able to catch up later. I suppose the woodcutter didn’t need to be in the opening, but waiting till later always seemed to result in even greater overpayment.

    Even more important, woodcutter allowed an easy buy of a haven at some point, which does nothing to hurt, but proves invaluable in the end game – you haven one of your apprentices after your monster trash and that guarantees you’ll succeed in the next turn.

    These modifications end the game at 18-19 very consistently, whereas precisely imitating Mustard’s strategy gave me a much wider range (as did starting with a baron)

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