Annotated Game #5

(Friday’s preview)

Cellar, Moat, Masquerade, Mining Village, Quarry,
Courtyard, Pawn, Bishop, Monument, King’s Court

Annotated Game #5

(Click for enlarged link at

This is a 2-player game played between me and DG. The log is available here (spoiler alert!). DG and I are relatively evenly matched; prior to this game, we were 8-8, and currently 14-14.Analyzing the Set

Put plainly, I thought this was a pretty boring set.  There’s no (obvious) interactions between most of the cards, and because it’s a Province game, King’s Court is a more risky buy than usual.  Since I love Bishop, I plan to gun for a Big Money-type deck, with ample Bishop support.  I can’t go for my preferred 5-card Bishop deck (Bishop/Gold/Gold/Silver/Province) because of Masquerade; in fact, if he buys Masquerade, I’ll probably hold off on additional Bishops so I have junk to pass.  If he doesn’t buy Masquerade, I’m happy to exploit Bishop and try to ride its VP advantage into a tiebreaker for the Province split.

Accordingly, I open Bishop/Silver.  I intend to pick up Bishops and Mining Villages with $4’s, and maybe a Masquerade if my opponent trashes super-heavily.  In response to my Bishop, DG tells me that he’s going to pursue an “unusual” strategy, and subsequently opens Pawn/Quarry.

Game Analysis

It’s very difficult to capture in text the feeling of playing a Dominion game.  In annotating this particular game, I have decided to condense even more than usual, for reasons that will soon become apparent. King’s Court is abbreviated as “KC”, I don’t show Mining Village plays unless it is trashed, and I don’t show the choices the player makes on Pawn.

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).

theory DG
1 $4 -> Bishop $3 -> Pawn
2 $3 -> Silver (reshuffle) $4 -> Quarry (reshuffle)
3 $4 -> Mining Village Pawn(card,$1)
$4 -> Monument
4 Bishop(Estate)(nothing)
$5 -> Bishop (reshuffle)
$5 (Quarry) -> KC (reshuffle)
5 Bishop(Estate)(Estate)
$4 -> Bishop
$4 -> Mining Village
6 Bishop(Estate)(Copper)
$4 -> Mining Village
$3 (Quarry) -> Monument, Pawn x3

A common problem with Bishop openings is that they have difficulty getting to $6. They can consistently stay at $4, and sometimes $5, but getting over the $6 hurdle takes some time. Here, I’m happy to keep loading up on Bishops and Mining Villages.

However, DG’s strategy is starting to take shape. By using my trashing, he’s able to build a deck that would ordinarily never work — a King’s Court deck relying entirely on Pawn and Monument, using Quarry/Pawn to supply the cheap Actions.  As I note at the end of the game, this should have changed my strategy away from Bishops, and towards a faster “rush” deck.

7 Mining Village (trash)
$8 -> KC
$5 -> Bishop

This is probably a mistake on my part. I’m not pursuing the same kind of heavy-Action deck as DG, so I’d be better off with a Gold instead. Donald X. noted that the design decision not to include a $7 card pre-Prosperity was grounded in the fact that you’d so rarely want a $7 card instead of a Province, Gold, or Duchy (depending on how early or late in the game it is).

DG apparently feels that he is not trashing his deck quickly enough, and gets a Bishop of his own.

8 Bishop(Copper)(Estate)
$2 -> Pawn
$7 -> KC
9 KC(Bishop(Copper,Copper,Copper)(Copper,nothing,nothing)
$3 -> Pawn
$6 (Quarry) -> KC, Masquerade, Pawn

Given that I committed to a King’s Court, buying the Pawn instead of the Silver is the right choice. A Kinged Pawn produces more money than a Silver with +Buy and +Action to boot.

But probably even better would have been a Masquerade (like DG); we had thin decks, and I should have been able to foresee DG’s upcoming mega-turns. Forcing him to pass me one of his Actions might just be the only way to stop him from a massive King’s Court turn.

10 Bishop(Copper, Estate)
Bishop(Pawn, nothing)
$4 -> Mining Village
$8 -> Province
11 KC(Pawn)
$6 -> Gold
$2 -> Courtyard

I am sufficiently concerned by DG’s Province buy that I get a Gold despite my King’s Court deck. This is problematic, but I have no choice since I can’t see any other way to get to $8 quickly enough.

12 Pawn
$6 -> Monument, Pawn
$10 (Quarry) -> KC x2, Pawn
13 Pawn
$11 -> Province
$21 (Quarry) -> Province x2, KC
Current Score 27 (21▼, 1 Province) 31 (19▼, 2 Provinces)

DG’s dangerous concentration of King’s Courts finally triggers his mega-turn. His Province trash is just icing on the cake, designed to ensure he won’t slow down before I start buying Provinces as well. The loss of 1VP is well worth being able to repeat these mega-turns. The rest of the game is just a formality — even though the score is relatively even, I have no comparable engine that can keep up with his.

Key Cards 1 Bishop, 1 KC, 1 Monument, 1 Pawn 7 Pawns, 6 KCs, 1 Bishop, 1 Monument
14 Pawn
$8 -> Province
Pawn x3
KC (Pawn)
Bishop(Masquerade,Courtyard,Quarry)(nothing x3)
$17 -> Province x2
15 KC(Monument)
$11 -> Duchy
Mining Village(trash)
$26 -> Province, Duchy x3, Estate
Final Score 45 (30▼, 2 Provinces, 1 Duchy) 76 (36▼, 5 Provinces, 3 Duchies, 1 Estate)

Concluding Thoughts

I would consider this a textbook example of how to play for the “mega-turn”.  DG comes up with a pretty novel and definitely brilliant strategy in response to my Bishop.  He plays slowly, prolongs the game as much as possible, and focuses his deck singlemindedly on his killer combo until he can deploy it to end the game.  Some decks don’t get that much better by delaying: for instance, most Vault decks are better off buying Victory cards as soon as possible, because further deck buildup provides only minimal additional buying power. But a King’s Court/Quarry/Pawn/Monument deck steadily gets better the longer the game goes on.

In addition, this game demonstrates Bishop’s critical vulnerability.  I value Bishop very highly, but sometimes its drawback can really come back to bite you.  It allows your opponent to build a concentrated deck without needing to spend Actions and turns on trashing.  If I hadn’t bought the Bishop, DG definitely would not have been able to get away with this deck; by the end of the game, he had no Treasure cards left thanks to my Bishopping.  And if I hadn’t bought the second (or third) Bishop, DG’s engine would have taken much longer to activate.

Ordinarily, I feel that the VP from Bishop are enough to offset the deck improvement afforded to your opponent.  But when playing against a deck that builds for the mega-turn, all of my Bishop’s VP tokens summed together don’t even match the 35VP that DG gains in the last 3 turns.

Finally, this game echoes a principle laid out in the famous Magic: The Gathering strategy article Who’s the Beatdown.  I can’t wait to build up my deck, because my deck doesn’t ramp up like DG’s.  Once I spot the combo he is going after, I need to be able to end the game faster, and not do things like buy additional Bishops and that King’s Court, because prolonging the game will only allow DG’s superior late-game combos to overwhelm me.

This is the answer to the commonly-asked question of when to start buying VPs.  Given symmetrical decks, you ordinarily want to be the first one to buy.  But when there is a significant mismatch in terms of deck improvement potential, you have to recognize which role your deck is playing.  If it doesn’t get much better, or if you have cards that depend on you having crappy cards (Warehouse, Vault), then buying VPs now is in your best interest (rather than letting your opponent build his deck past yours).  But if your deck combo gets exponentially better, then you’re better off waiting and ending the game in one fell swoop, since as soon as you start buying the green cards, your deck is likely to fall apart.

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19 Responses to Annotated Game #5

  1. I Eat Tables says:

    Minor typo I think on DG’s turn 4 – he has $5, not $4.

    Neither of you pursued strategies I had expected. Big draw with Pawn was a novel but brillaint idea, I think.

  2. Bulb says:

    I have failed miserably in figuring out good strategies for the first 4 annotated games, but I nailed this one! After having 3-4 Pawns, I may have opted for a Cellar or two, to ensure my KC’s all had actions to play with them, but otherwise, I love DG’s strategy.

    I made a comment a while back (I think on the “Best $2 Cards” page?) that a KC’ed Pawn is nothing to scoff at. This game perfectly illustrates why! I imagine those two cards alone are often a Bishop’s worst nightmare.

  3. Epoch says:

    It feels like, with 20/20 hindsight, theory had the opportunity to respond effectively to DG.

    So, theory buys Bishop/Silver and DG buys Quarry/Pawn.

    At that point, basically, theory can see DG’s strategy, right? That pretty much lays it out. The only expensive action in this set is King’s Court, and King’s Court is inherently an engine card (especially, again, in this set). Pawn is the only +buy card. You can tell that this is going to be a KC/Pawn/other stuff engine. He’s not just using the Quarry to buy one powerful card, because the only thing you’d need to buy using Quarry is inherently a combo card.

    At that point, swapping your trash strategy from Bishop to Masquerade would probably have killed his deck. Instead of him getting free thinning from you, he gets a steady stream of crappy cards. Sure, your deck is a little slower/less good, but you aren’t trying to build an engine, and he is. That means your deck is inherently more tolerant to a little bit of disruption.

    • theory says:

      Yep. Well, other than the Masquerade analysis (we’d be both passing each other crappy cards), you’re right — continuing with Bishop was suicide against his deck.

      Just goes to show you how important adaptation is 🙂

    • rrenaud says:

      I think a KC/Pawn strategy just dominates everything here. I haven’t played this set at all, and I’d guess Quarry/Masquerade is better than Quarry/Pawn. The early trashing + faster turn around is better than the early buy from the Pawn. But the goal is still the eventual mass KC/pawn/other support deck.

      I don’t think at a Masquerade really kills that kind of deck so badly. It’s not actually a small/potent deck. It’s a quite capable of losing one of the supporting cards without suffering a lot of damage. Sure, he might have to give up a Pawn or Courtyard for a Copper sometimes, but the KC is just going to fuel a lot power. Give up a Pawn and get a copper, buy two KCs and two Pawns, opponent buys a Gold.

      • Epoch says:

        I think that it’s admittedly more the “not getting free trashes from opposing Bishops” than the “getting bad cards from opponent’s Masquerade” that kills it, but I think that DG’s KC/Pawn deck IS one that’s sensitive to disruption.

        He doesn’t buy a Courtyard until turn 11! He only uses it once! Until then, he’s depending on +1 Card actions (with KC, obviously), for an engine. A very small number of useless cards would stall his engine, mean he’d have to devote more resources to (terminal) +Cards actions.

        At least, that’s how it works in my head. I don’t have any real experience with high level play, so my intuition may well be off.

  4. Zaphod says:

    This might be the first annotated game where my predictions came true somewhat. Yay me.

    I agree with you completely about the Bishop. I love that card, but sometimes it’s not wise to buy it because it gives your opponent a free trash. I have made this mistake more times than I care to count.

    I think there’s another important point to be made here. Much has been written about the advantage of playing first in Dominion, and rightfully so. Donald himself has stated that the player who goes first is more likely to win. However, there is a benefit to starting last; you get a glimpse at your opponent’s strategy before you commit to your own. A smart player with good observational skills can gain a lot from this. In a three-player game, I would rather start from the third position than the second.

  5. timchen1017 says:

    I was hoping to see the “Masquerade checkmate” appearing on BGG a few days ago. I played around this idea a bit in the past few days and I am quite confident that it will beat both strategies here.

    Speed-wise the masquerade combo should be similar to the KC-pawn-monument-bishop combo to the point of megaturn. If one cannot end the game before the opponent shrink his deck to KCs, one masquerade and some nonterminals and monuments, the game is basically over.

    On the other hand, I have to say bishop+BM is usually of limited applicability in my experience, away from games that offer no significant ways to boost pure BM. I think a first order question would be whether bishop+BM can beat double smithy.

    • WanderingWinder says:

      It doesn’t seem work here, mostly because of the lack of forced discard (and the presence of monument/bishop). Because there’s no discard (i.e. Goons or Militia), the opponent of the KC+Masquerade combo-er can get a monument and KC before the combo goes off, and then just always hang on to them, getting +3 VP tokens every turn. Now, I suppose the combo-er can have a monument or bishop as part of the combo as well, but then they’re more or less playing the same deck, and both of them are racking up + VP every turn with, probably, some weird race to three piling. Or this might actually be one of those rare scenarios where correct play leads to an endless game because of VP chips.

      • chesskidnate says:

        well if his opponent doesn’t end the game than the checkmate idea still works in that it’s trashing 3 cards per turn from his opponents deck, and if the masquerader gets a deck something like KC-KC-Masquerade-Monument-Monument then you have 2 cards each turn to try to buy a province and three cards of yours are getting trashed each turn. I’m not sure if it would work and KC-Pawn could be enough to try for a province after the combo clicks. remember that eventually this combo kills off the opponents entire deck so if the games endless it would probably be the masquerade player raking in 6 vps until it can finish the game comfortably. it would be interesting to see if the masquerade deck would win, against theory’s deck it would clearly win once it takes off (doubt theorys going to be able to buy anything too great with his 2 best cards in hand, and the masquerade deck is getting 6 vp’s per turn anyway) also masquerade against this deck wouldn’t be so terrible, pass a monument, then pass back whatever was given and buy back the monument until the monuments are gone. Against the combo deck it probably has a good chance considering that deck also might have more trouble accepting the provinces, maybe try this set out against a reasonable opponent and see how you do?

    • rrenaud says:

      How does the masquerade checkmate work without a forced discard to 3 cards?

      • Dekker says:

        What’s this ‘masquerade checkmate’?
        Militia/Goons/Torturer followed by masquerade?

        • theory says:

          King’s Court + King’s Court + Goons/Militia + Masquerade

          If at this point you have no cards in hand, you can force your opponent to pass you cards while not passing them any at the same time. Essentially, every turn, you force a discard to 3, then trash those 3 cards.

    • timchen1017 says:

      It works by getting rid of 3 cards from the opponent every turn, and get the hand down to 2 cards. The opponent can choose which 2 cards he would like to keep; but unless he can gain 3 cards per turn his deck will be shrinking. Unless he has a way to use his 2-card hand to end the game before his deck is depleted, he will still lose in the end.

      • timchen1017 says:

        Alright, in this set you may be able to win by keeping King’s Court and Pawn in hand. Draw 3, +2 buys and + 1 action. There is a fair chance for the chain to go along; still, if you didn’t draw 3 junk cards in the beginning hand there will be casualties. I am not sure what would happen in the end…

        • chesskidnate says:

          well my guess is that if you can throw two monuments in the deck should work since it’s also generating massive vp and once you have the check mate in theory you have infinite vp at your disposal( in this case checkmate only comes when the opponents deck(including hand and discard) is down to three or less cards and its your turn)

  6. DG says:

    I’ve two confessions to make about this deck. Firstly I didn’t really know how it was going to finish when I started it off. It all came together as it went along, keeping a few basic goals in mind. Secondly I had to apologise to Theory for taking so long on each turn as I needed to make far too many pawn selections. If you’re foolishly tempted to try this deck face-to-face I’d suggest using some real coins to track the actions and buys.

    Thank you to Theory for posting the game up.

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