Guest Article: Annotated Game #4

This article is written by Captain_Frisk.  He is currently ranked #17 on the Isotropic leaderboard.

(Monday’s preview)

Native Village, Watchtower, Quarry, Explorer, Witch,
Warehouse, Envoy, Counting House, Trading Post, Bank

Annotated Game #4

(Click for enlarged version at dominiondeck.com)

This is a 2-player game between me [Captain_Frisk] and Yaron. The log is available here (spoiler alert!).

Yaron is an excellent player, who is generally ranked above me on the leaderboard. As of the writing of this, I am 6-11 against him.

This game is not especially flashy, although after reading some of the comments from the game preview, there are some things available that I hadn’t even considered (Warehouse / Counting House).  This recap isn’t going to teach you a nifty new combo that you’ve never seen before. It’s a reminder that not every game has crazy combos, and you have to be very careful with what you choose to buy. Instead, I chose this game because:

  1. Matches between top players are regularly mirror matches. A 5/2 vs. 4/3 split might cause some variety, but generally speaking, if there’s a sea hag on the board, we’re both going to open Silver / Hag. Many games come down to turn order and luck of the draw at the end game. For example: the prior match between us was this gem. We both opened Silver / Chapel, but Yaron was able to get a gold on turn 3, while I settled for a lab. The game ended in 12 turns with us having identical decks except: I had 1 extra silver, and 2 fewer provinces. It is less common that I see truly diverging strategies when playing people Level 35 or above.
  2. It’s a “standard game” – no fancy alternate VPs, or Colonies. Most games are like this, and playing them well is important!   theory seems to get carried away with crazy stuff… like being trapped into an Apprentice-fueled Colony engine.   Cool, but not something that gets seen every day.
  3. It illustrates a core principle of Dominion that I think we lose track of sometimes when trying to figure out how to get a perpetual Tactician chain going. The game is FAST. It’s over in 15 turns. This is something that so many beginning and mid-level players forget.
  4. After what felt like a solid win against an opponent who usually beats me, I wanted to see if I was ridiculously lucky (either through good draws on my end or bad draws on the Yaron’s side).  Shuffle luck plays a huge role in Dominion. If your Chapel falls to turn 5 after the first reshuffle, you’re in a bad spot. If you open with a card that draws 3 or more (Smithy, Warehouse, Navigator, Torturer, Council Room, etc.), the card is significantly better if you can play it on Turn 3 (because it causes a reshuffle and accelerate cycling).   If it falls to Turn 4 or 5 and you use it, it falls out of the reshuffle and you’ve basically lost a chance to play it — as if it was discarded by a Spy or Sea Hag.  On the flip side, if your estates are drawn on Turn 5, it’s a major boon because they will clutter your hand one time less.

Analyzing The Set

Here’s what I noticed as I looked at the set:

  1. Limited trashing. I love Trading Post, but you need to get it early, and sometimes an early 6 will cause me to pass it in favor of Gold.
  2. Cursing – The Witch is in play. I’m going to want this as soon as possible
  3. Big Money! – Envoy and Bank make for good synergy, even without extra buys.
  4. No buys – There won’t be any magic 2 province comebacks
  5. No end game acceleration (Remodel, Expand, Salvager, Apprentice, Swindler). The game is most likely going to end 4/4 or 5/3 on province split.
  6. Native Village is the only source of extra actions. Has some neat interactions with Watchtower.
  7. Like theory, I dislike buying reactions, but Watchtower is a defense against Witch, so it is more useful than normal.
  8. Without +Buy or big action cards, Quarry is going to be limited to early game use only.
  9. Warehouse is one of my favorite cards. It helps play your big cards more often, although after the most recent article, I’m now more wary than I used to be about buying it early.
  10. Counting House and Explorer I skip over. I rarely like Explorer, and I didn’t even think about Warehouse / Counting House tricks.

I have the first-player advantage after the aforementioned Chapel beating.  I decide that I want a Witch, and I want it early. Attacks are better as P1, and I want to press that advantage, so I open with Warehouse / Quarry. The Quarry gives me a nearly guaranteed chance of getting $5, and the Warehouse will help me to find the Witch and play it often.

Yaron decided that Banks and Envoys were just too tempting, and opened Silver / Envoy.

Game Analysis

I’m going to use theory’s notation, but with a few more breaks and looking at the reshuffle.

Captain_Frisk Yaron
1 $3 -> Warehouse $4 -> Envoy
2 $4 -> Quarry (reshuffle) $3 -> Silver (reshuffle)
3 Warehouse
$5 (Quarry) -> Witch (reshuffle)
Envoy
$7 -> Bank (reshuffle)

We both hit pretty much a perfect opening hand. I got my Warehouse, which triggers the reshuffle, and I pulled the Quarry in there as well, so I got my Witch. This is EXACTLY what I wanted. Yaron also hits it perfectly, using his envoy to get him up to big treasure and reshuffling.

4 Witch
$5 -> Trading Post
Envoy
$5 -> Trading Post (reshuffle)
5 Warehouse (reshuffle)
Trading Post (Estate x2 -> Silver)
$3 (Quarry) -> Silver
$8 (Bank) -> Province

I hit him with the first of hopefully many Witches, and get a perfect Trading Post crushing of estates. I elect to buy a second Silver instead of the second Witch because I will need coins, and I probably don’t want 3 terminal Actions at this point. I want the Trading Post because I’m still expecting Yaron to buy a Witch, and the value of Trading Post drops significantly if you don’t buy them early. Remember kids, Dominion is short. You may only get to play a given card 5 or 6 times, and that’s if you buy it early.

Yaron’s Province is too early for my tastes (I like to have at least 2 Gold equivalent treasures), but its hard to pass up the big hand, especially when you’re expecing the quality of your deck to be dropping rapidly.

6 Witch
$5 -> Silver (reshuffle)
Trading Post (2x Estate)
$3 -> Silver
7 Trading Post (Quarry + Copper)
$6 -> Gold (reshuffle)
$4 -> Warehouse (reshuffle)

Nothing flashy here. I Witch again, and now that the Quarry has done its job, I crunch it down. Obviously, I’d rather have hit the 3rd Estate. I overpay for that silver because I still don’t have enough Coin for my taste, and there are no repeating 5’s, so there’s nothing to really do here.   Yaron crunches his Estates, and picks up a Warehouse to deal with the Curses. At this point I’m feeling good, because the more non-coins that Yaron buys, the less useful his Envoy purchase is.

8 Warehouse
Witch
$8 -> Province
Trading Post (Curse + Copper)
$4 -> Silver
9 $7 -> Bank (reshuffle) Warehouse
$9 (Bank) -> Province

I intentionally didn’t play the Trading Post in my hand, so I could buy the Bank.   In retrospect, I probably should have played the Trading Post; in a deck where your coins are generally Silvers, the Bank isn’t going to be that much better than Gold.

Score 7 (Province + Estate) 11 (2 Provinces, 1 Estate, 2 Curses)
Deck Copper x6, Silver x4, Gold, Bank, Estate, Province, Warehouse, Trading Post, Witch Copper x6, Silver x4, Bank, Curse x2, Estate, Province x2, Warehouse, Trading Post, Envoy

We’re entering the end game now. I’m behind, but with a tighter (16 vs. 19) deck. So far I haven’t felt like there has been any ridiculous luck on one side or the other, we both drew our power cards at the right times, and our Trading Posts have been in mostly useful situations.

10 $12 (Bank) -> Province $3 -> Warehouse (reshuffle)
11 Witch
$7 -> Duchy
Warehouse
$6 -> Gold

I can’t see what Yaron drew / discarded, but since he drew that $6 in his starting hand, he must have missed the Bank or the Envoy.

12 Warehouse (reshuffle)
$9 (Bank) -> Province
$5 -> Duchy
13 Witch
$9 -> Province (reshuffle)
Envoy (reshuffle)
$4 -> Estate
14 $5 -> Duchy $5 -> Duchy
15 Warehouse
Witch
$8 (bank) -> Province
$8 -> Province

On turn 13, Yaron has a collision between his Envoy and his Trading Post (and has no Curses to trash either).  When he plays the Envoy, I sap the Bank, and he’s basically dead. It’s a bad draw, but at that point I already had 4 Provinces, we’re tied on Duchies. I think this is the point where he realizes the game is over, and doesn’t even bother drawing the game out by trying to make up the difference after I get the 5th Province. The logs unfortunately don’t tell me what either player drew with their Warehouses (or Witches), so I can’t see how often I drew a dead Trading Post, but here are some final stats.

Score 37 (5 Provinces, 2 Duchies, 1 Estate) 21 (3 Provinces, 2 Duchies, 2 Estates, 5 Curses)
Deck Copper x6, Silver x4, Gold, Bank, Estate, Duchy x2, Province x5, Warehouse, Trading Post, Witch Copper x6, Silver x4, Gold, Bank, Curse x5, Estate x2, Province x3, Warehouse x2, Trading Post, Envoy
Cards Played Warehouse x5, Witch x6, Trading Post x2, Bank x3 Envoy x3, Warehouse x2, Trading Post x2, Bank x2
Reshuffles 8 6

I think the biggest takeways for players from this game should be:

  • The game is fast
  • Don’t overbuy actions
  • Beware of the Witch. Everyone should know this, and yet even a player as good as Yaron thought that he might be able to beat it by ignoring it and going for an Envoy/Big Money engine supplemented with Trading Post for the Curses. Cursing attacks are brutal, and frequently the best defense against them is to make sure your opponent is equally hindered. Yaron and I chatted briefly after the game, and his takeaway was similar.
  • Don’t be afraid to overpay for what is right for your deck. Yaron’s initial buys of Bank and Province were probably not the right things for his deck, especially after I had the Witch and the Warehouse full of deck-torching Witch-accelerant.   I passed up 2 chances at $5 cards on Turns 5 and 6 to make sure that I had enough coin in my deck to support the Province rush that was about to happen.

[Editor’s note: one of these days we’ll feature a game with yaron that he wins.  Honest.]

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17 Responses to Guest Article: Annotated Game #4

  1. tlloyd says:

    Since I don’t have the knowledge or tools to do actual simulations of dominion strategies, I attempt the poor man’s simulation: I play solitaire against these annotated game logs! (I think that may be the most humiliating sentence I’ve ever typed). So whenever Captain Frisk plays Witch, I add a Curse to my discard pile. I know this doesn’t provide a true test of competing strategies, but I find it interesting.

    Anyway, I tried out the Warehouse/Counting House/Bank combo, and I’m sad to say it didn’t outperform Captain Frisk or Yaron. This was only a single game, and I may not have even played the strategy optimally, but here’s the result for what it’s worth:

    I opened Warehouse (WH)/ Silver, then got $4, $5, and $3 on my next three turns. I opted for 1 more WH, a Counting House (CH), and a copper (probably should have been WH).

    Turn six was much better: I had just reshuffled and drew my CH into my first hand (CH seems to be cursed this way – has anyone else noticed?), but I happened to get both my WH’s as well, and after playing them both I had six coppers sitting in the discard pile and two in my hand. I think this is a great example of how the WH can really improve the performance of the CH. Anyway I grabbed a Bank.

    The next two turns gave me $2 and $5 (thanks to CH), so I grabbed another copper and another CH. Perhaps [nothing] and [duchy] would have been better buys.

    Turn 9 I drew two coppers, one silver, and estate and a bank. Province time. This was at least one instance when the difference between Bank and Gold was significant.

    After picking up one more WH with a $3 turn, my deck finally started clicking. Turns 11, 12, 13 and 14 gave me three Provinces – one from a CH and two from Banks (again Gold would have given me $7) – and a Duchy.

    But Captain Frisk buys his fifth Province on turn 15, so that would have been the game. It’s probably a good thing too, because the curses (I had six by now) finally caught up to me and my next two turns produce $3 each. My final score is 18: 3P, 1D, 3E, and 6C.

    So this leaves me with one conclusion and one question:
    Conclusion: Bank beats Gold on this board – IF you’re going WH/CH.
    Question: Did the strategy fail me, or did I fail the strategy? What do you think?

    • rrenaud says:

      I played around with Counting House a bit in a couple of joke games to see how well it would counter a Mountebank.

      http://councilroom.com/search_result?p1_name=zoppa

      One thing you might consider is adding a Watchtower to your strategy. It works well with Warehouse in general, but it also lets you time your Counting House buys. If you are mostly through your deck with a Watchtower, you can put a Counting House on top and immediately play it next turn for a Province.

      Having said that, I don’t think it will beat a conventionally good strategy (either early Witch, or Envoy/Bank) in this set consistently.

  2. Jahz says:

    Really liked this game, good choice.
    I would have played exactly like Captain_Frisk, except maybe I would not have resisted to the temptation of buying a second witch over trading post. Not sure what’s best.
    Good note about bank vs gold, something I have to keep in mind.
    Envoy is not as good as in other sets here because without +actions it’s always obvious what card has to be discarded.
    Finnaly, I’m very surprised by Yaron’s province at turn 5. I would never do this. But I’ve lost lots of games starting to buy provinces too late😀

  3. Jahz says:

    I forgot two other things:
    – you did a very good pre-game analysis
    – attacks are good, but even there the game was quite close. Happened to me recently, I had 2 hags (and cellars to cycle) vs 1 , I had good hands and managed to curse my opponents 8/2, and I was amazed the game was still very close. Well it was a 40 turn game with plat/colony, so quite different still (http://www.councilroom.com/game?game_id=game-20110303-101041-437d012e.html)

  4. theory says:

    My thoughts:

    * I think yaron had an interesting idea here, to counter Curses with Trading Post/Envoy/Bank. But the problem with Envoy/Big Money is that you’re totally committing yourself to avoiding other Actions, even non-terminal ones. You have to basically be drawing nothing but cash and VP with your Envoys, otherwise the draw-5-discard-1 becomes even more painful.

    * I actually like yaron’s Province buy, but could see how it could go either way;

    * As Frisk, I would have bought more terminal Actions than usual (e.g., gone for Witch #2 early on), since Warehouse half-alleviates that problem, and Trading Post is feeding you money anyway.

    * I was surprised by how close the game was despite yaron not picking up a Witch. It boiled down to that Envoy draw.

    • Captain_Frisk says:

      The turn 13 envoy draw?

      Even if he had the bank in his hand, and the envoy draw had enabled a province (instead of an estate), I still have a 4 point advantage on curses, and I already have 4 provinces. He’d need to pull a 2 duchy advantage to make up for that.

  5. Dominion_geek says:

    Isn’t there a conflict between Bank and Trading Post? If you’re using the Trading Post to trash coppers, then you’re thinning the coin ratio of your deck and weakening your Bank. Obviously it still has some use in this set (trashing Estates and Curses), and Yaron played it as well as possible by never trashing two coins at once; even so, it doesn’t seem like there’s a good synergy there.

  6. DG says:

    Trading post/envoy is a strong purchasing combination but it would work better starting with the trading post first on a 5/2 split and is always likely to be derailed by the witch. The play in this kingdom probably has to be reactive, depending upon your opponent’s play, since the best defence against a double witch opponent will probably fall short against a fast purchasing opponent.

    One deck to consider is a native villages, warehouses, trading post, watchtowers deck. The trading post reduces the deck size and provides the silver for your provinces. Each time you use the village and watchtower together you essentially get cards onto the village mat for free and expand your hand size to 6. It doesn’t even matter how many warehouses you use to link them together. This is one of the more complex decks from this kingdom but it is robust against witches.

  7. John_O says:

    I really liked this article. It went a little bit into a topic that’s of great interest to me at this point, which is analyzing the pro’s and con’s of cards at the beginning of a game. I noticed that when i lose, it’s 80% of the time because i hadn’t thought of a strategy before making my first buy. I feel that my fate often decided in the first 4 rounds, and then the game just illustrates how good or bad my first choices have been. Still a good learning experience. I’d be most interested in an article that covers evaluating the available Kingdom cards at the beginning of the game and general strategies to keep in mind. For instance, i try to maintain a certain ratio of terminal, +action and +2action cards to keep my deck fluid. Evaluating attacks is a pretty simple matter, as they break down into 2 basic categories (reducing the opponents hand or littering it with curses / coins). Then there are the categories of trashing cards (simple, like the chapel, or with the added advantage of +$ in cards like the salvager), hand increasing / deck cycling, and / or generating disappearing +$. Did i miss any?
    Well just something i’ve been thinking about, and while it’s a pretty big task, i hope someone – maybe me when i know my way around the game a little better – is up for it. Anyhow, thanks for this illuminating article. And yes, it’s crucial that Dominion is a fast paced game.

  8. nemryn says:

    15 turns?! I can rarely get my games below 20! How do you do it?

  9. category says:

    I gotta say, this remark:

    “Matches between top players are regularly mirror matches…Many games come down to turn order and luck of the draw at the end game.”

    really depresses me. If that’s true, it means that, for the current card set, for most random 10 cards, the top players have reached the skill ceiling: there is one way to play most sets, and the top players find it. The result then comes down to luck.

    So, my question to all you top players out there is this: how true is Capt Frisk’s statement? What percentage of games between top players are mirror matches, and are thus determined essentially by luck? How far are the top players from playing perfectly?

    • guided says:

      Even top players diverge routinely after the opening, though mirror openings are quite common if there are major power cards on the board (Sea Hag and Ambassador in particular). Non-mirror openings are quite common as well; I’d hazard a wild guess that top players make the exact same opening less than 40% of the time. Deciding how to alter your deck construction strategy based on the draws you get is a critical skill that differentiates between good players, even when they take the same opening and plan on the same strategy. And of course, if you see the potential for an interesting combo deep in the game that your opponent misses, you may start with a totally non-obvious opening that doesn’t occur to them.

      A good player can essentially beat a bad player before turn 3 by taking a hugely superior opening. A great player can beat a good player in a mostly-mirror match on superior endgame strategy alone. Between two top players, on the other hand, midgame buy and execution strategy becomes perhaps the most important factor.

    • DG says:

      It is clearly going to be difficult to beat a good player, playing a good strategy, who has good draws, who has first turn advantage. Even if you do create a small advantage, such as an extra buy, you sometimes find the draws give you no opportunity to use it. I feel that you do have to write some games off and congratulate your opponent for getting it right. There’s always another game if you want one.

      As for perfect play, there may not be such a thing. Sometimes you create opportunities for things to happen and the draw will make them happen or not.

  10. guided says:

    First, bravo Captain on an excellent article!

    Point of strategy, though, I would buy a 2nd Witch over the Trading post every time here🙂 If yaron gets a Witch, well, I have two Witches! If he doesn’t, he’ll quickly be buried so deep in curses (despite the Trading Post) it won’t matter what I do.

    • Captain_Frisk says:

      I can’t really argue this point. Because I elected to go with quarry / warehouse, I have no treasure in my deck. The trading post (in theory) is going to help address this, while also protecting me from the curses to come (and thin my deck). However, a double witch is sweet. I might try running this against head to head a few times to see.

  11. ShadowStarshine says:

    New reader of this site. I just wanted to say how impressed I am of the analytical break downs of the luck/theory crafting game that is Dominion. I played BSW for a while and I rarely ever ran into someone who understood the game at such a level, and now I find out there is another site where people understand it on a level beyond myself.

    Kudos to that.

  12. Epoch says:

    I was super-excited to see that Captain_Frisk used (and won with) the strategy I was advocating in the preview thread: Warehouse/Quarry, followed by throwing the Quarry to a Trading Post.

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