Intrigue: Swindler


Dominion: Intrigue

One of the most hated $3’s.  Swindler is a heavily luck-driven card: there’s a very big difference between discarding an opponent’s Estate and transforming Coppers into Curses.  In general, it is one of the most frustrating cards in Dominion, second only to Black Market (and maybe Treasure Map?).

Its attack is most powerful in the early game, since you have the best chance of hitting your opponent’s Coppers.  Accordingly, it can be a good idea to open with two Swindlers: in exchange for the chance that they’ll be drawn together, I get to launch double the attacks early on, when the attacks are most likely to succeed and when losing Coppers hurts the most.

It works very poorly with Curse-giving attacks: when the Curses run out, a Swindler that hits a Curse or Copper ends up doing more good than harm.  Really, Swindler doesn’t work well with most attacks: Ghost Ship just lets your opponent choose your Swindler target, and Bureaucrat -> Swindler can be a guaranteed way to hit a Victory card, which is ordinarily terrible (though it can sometimes be of value in the endgame — see below).

Swindler interacts with Peddler in a very odd way.  If Peddlers are still available, buying Provinces is very dangerous since they can be so easily trashed into a Peddler.  On the other hand, if Peddlers are emptied, then Swindler becomes a serious liability, since you can easily accidentally Swindle your opponents’ Peddlers into Provinces!

Likewise, playing Swindler is dangerous if you are trailing in the endgame.  If you want the last Province and you already have $8 in your hand, don’t play the Swindler lest you swindle your opponent’s Province … into the last Province.  On the other hand, if you’re leading, Swindling Victory cards can be a great way to run the pile down.

This incidentally suggests that one of the best counters to Swindler is playing for VPs quickly: both because Swindled Provinces help you, and because if Provinces are going to run dry quickly then you want to grab your early share.  This is a special case of the more general counter, which is to buy cards that either have no crappy terminals at their cost (i.e., avoid $5’s, and go for $4’s when the only $4’s are Caravan and Conspirator), or buy cards that have unique costs (e.g., Gold and Alchemy cards).

Works with:

  • Spy/Scrying Pool
  • Bad terminal Actions (I once stuffed an opponent with 9 Workshops)
  • Bridge (if you somehow play it before the Swindler, it can kill higher-cost cards into Curses)
  • Engines built on $5’s (e.g., City or Minion engines, since you can just Swindle into Duchies)
  • Duke

Conflicts with:

  • Curse-giving attacks
  • Engines built on $6’s
  • Boards without easy Swindling targets
  • Alchemy cards (or, in general, unique card costs)
  • Peddler (sort of)
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58 Responses to Intrigue: Swindler

  1. tlloyd says:

    I know most readers of this blog are all about the two-player game, but I thought I’d point out that in a game with 3+ players, Swindler can lead to very quick 3-pile endings. If multiple players are playing multiple swindlers and each one pulls 3+ cards from the supply, there won’t be time to buy a Province. Grab the most Duchies and you’re in good shape.

    • Lost Alpaca says:

      Grab the most Duchies and you’re in good shape.

      That is, unless you lose them to a Swindler!

      • tlloyd says:

        I’m pretty sure everyone on here is suggesting using the Swindler to give people Duchies – not to get rid of them. Maybe the reverse strategy is better in 3+ games, but until the rest of them catch on, I think we’re safe. 😉

  2. First says:

    Once I played KC + Bridges enough so that I could swindle anything into a curse, but with that set up I could empty the province pile anyway so it doesn’t work with Bridge actually.

    How to counter Swindler in a game with peddler but withou +buy? You cannot safely buy province before Peddler pile is empty, but there is no good way to make that happen. Maybe stacking up Golds and playing Swindler yourself ?

  3. kn1tt3r says:

    In games with good trashers the “cursing” effect of Swindler is not a big issue, since you want to get rid of your junk anyway – no matter if it’s a curse or a copper.
    It’s more dangerous against key action cards – swindlering Minions, Labs or Witches into early Duchies, or (even more cruel) turning the yet unused Chapel into an Estate can really really hurt.

  4. timchen1017 says:

    A few points I noted in the course of playing on isotropic (switching from BSW):

    1. swindle a copper into a curse is just not that strong. If coppers are your only target, swindler does not worth double opening. Incidentally, on BSW before prosperity (or until now I am not sure, as I don’t play there any more), I found double swindler is a very strong strategy. The key difference is the number of useless $3’s and $4’s I think. As long as one of (Workshop, Woodcutter, Chancellor, Bureaucrat, Potion) is on board, swindler becomes much stronger.

    2. A single swindler is still better than silver, but it becomes much more luck dependent. The key difference between the two players can easily be what are hit by the swindlers. It really hurts if one of your early $5’s are hit, or even one of your first round buys are skipped.

    It has since lost a lot of its appeal to me, as the new powerful cards are at higher cost and are immune to swindling. Now is the time for the fun of masquerading… 😛

  5. Saucery says:

    Swindler naturally works very well in Spy/Scrying Pool chains. It can also permanently remove cards bought using Black Market, and empty VP piles using Rabble then Swindler.

    • Jorbles says:

      I agree Spy/Scrying Pool should be added to the Works With list. Especially Spy (as Scrying Pool usually only comes into play when there’s other Alchemy cards that usually can’t be swindled into anything but themselves)

      • theory says:

        Fixed! A bit of the post got lost in WordPress, as you might have noticed by the sentence fragment after Bridge …

      • Yariv says:

        Even with cards of unique cost, swindler might be useful, mainly in multi-player games. The reason is that some cards tend to run out (alchemist, for example) then if you swindle it the other player gain nothing.

  6. guided says:

    “In general, it is one of the most luck-frustrating cards in Dominion, second only to Black Market”

    No way, Swindler is second to none, and it’s not even remotely close :p

    Swindler can be “gg” the first time you play it (Swindler -> Workshop, for example). $5 card -> Duchy in the first 6-8 turns is almost invariably “gg”. Black Market might possibly get a good exclusive card into your deck by turn 5, too late for things like Chapel or Ambassador to be overwhelmingly strong. Getting something like Witch or Mountebank early enough where it’s an overwhelming advantage is much rarer than the swingy things Swindler does in most every game where it’s bought.

    My big problem with Swindler is that, in a 2p game where both players are using it, the winner is whoever gets the best luck on Swindler draws. Most of the time in these games, nothing else that happens during the game matters. Best Swindler draw luck = victory. You really don’t have that problem with Black Market, which can occasionally win or lose games on particularly great or terrible luck, but in general does a much better job of averaging out.

    If only one player is using Swindler, it’s a quite strong card, and that player’s fortune depends heavily on their Swindler draw luck. Not my favorite situation, but not terrible either… more in the realm of Treasure Map (which I have no huge problem with).

    • guided says:

      For the record, Swindler is the one and only card I exclude from the randomizer deck in live games. My playgroup wants a mostly skill-based game, and Swindler is simply luck-based card. The luck element may well suit other groups’ playstyles, and that’s fine for them.

      In general I’m amazed at how well-balanced and -designed Dominions cards are. My list of complaints is very short. Swindler I think is the only bad card in the bunch. I think the only other changes I’d make to the game are to put “You may discard…” on Sea Hag instead of the forced discard, and some kind of nerf to Minion’s attack (a choice for the victim to instead discard down from the current hand to 3 cards is my best idea so far, but totally un-playtested yet).

    • timchen1017 says:

      It’s unclear to me what you mean by averaging out in the paragraph of black markets. Certainly the luck of getting a good card from the black market cannot be averaged out in a single game and indeed often determines the outcome. In this regard it is worse than swindler, as it is at least possible for your swindler to hit your opponents’ good card as well. Averaging across the games are pretty similar for all cards I suppose.

      Personally I think the biggest swing of luck is at the start, even before any card play. a 5-2 start can almost be sure to win with certain boards comparing to a 4-3.

      • guided says:

        “Certainly the luck of getting a good card from the black market […] often determines the outcome.”

        I disagree. I find it to be exceedingly rare that one card pulled from the Black Market deck determines the outcome. First, you don’t get that card until later. At the earliest (usually), turn 5. Unless you pull Witch or Mountebank at turn 3/4, a single Black Market draw will not singlehandedly win you most games. Turn 5 is simply too late for an exclusive trasher (for example) to represent a prohibitive advantage. Swindler, on the other hand, causes deck quality swings of the magnitude of a turn-3 Black-Market Witch on a regular basis.

        It averages out because Black Market is slow (buy BM, shuffle, play BM, shuffle, play exclusive card), and it generally forces you to forgo the purchase of some other equal-cost card from the board. The exclusivity itself is the only value gained. Now unlike Black Market where you forgo coins you could have used on a standard buy to get an exclusive buy, Swindler does not force you to forgo anything when you destroy a massive amount of deck value (e.g. $5 action card) and replace it with space-filling trash (Duchy). I would argue it’s a stronger attack than Saboteur (when played singly), nevermind the +$2. At least with Saboteur I can just trash my Silver instead of replacing it with a !@#&^* Workshop.

        • guided says:

          To be clear, I don’t think Swindler is overpowered or miscosted. For every $5 action card it hits, it hits an Estate or three, and Copper -> Curse is a middling attack. It’s among the stronger $3 cards, but it’s by no means the strongest. I just dislike the extremely high variance it introduces, to the point where that variance absolutely swamps out all skill differences between any two remotely competent players.

        • timchen1017 says:

          4 situations that I found it’s possible to create an unrecoverable situation by owning the exclusive card: (1) when it is the only cursing attack; (2) when it is a trasher and there are cursing cards around but no trashers; (3) it is a +2 action cards when the board contains none of others; (4) it is a King’s Court with other suitable cards on board. I agree with you that it is not rare that the cards comes in too late to make a decisive difference. What you described is more like averaging out across games as the number of games it is significant becomes rare, but not averaging across turns in a single game as once you got that exclusive card you establish a real advantage.

          • Yariv says:

            In some cases, gaining a vp-chips card can be game changing as well. In slow games with no colonies, mainly.

          • guided says:

            In my own experience, (1) is the only truly troublesome situation among those you list, and then, only if you get it very early. And even if all these situations really were checkmates, they’re an order of magnitude rarer than Swindler’s swingy draws.

          • tlloyd says:

            I doubt that a single +Actions card can make that big a difference.

          • Yariv says:

            Just encountered another case (rare one, I must admit). The set included island, great hall, duke, gardens (and black market of course). No trash, no +buys (the rest was vault, ghost ship, feast, village, moat). The powerful card in the black market deck was… Trade Route! It wasn’t over even when I found it, of course (it never is) but it was a huge advantage. (Technically, this is a new trash, but it’s a weak one. The BM also contained chapel, witch, mountebank, torturer, ironworks and city, all strong in this setting, but the trade route was the main thing, and the reason I added second BM quickly).

        • tlloyd says:

          So I just got demolished by the luckiest Black Market buys I’ve ever seen:

          I was up 6 provinces to none, had dished out half the curses to my opponent (I had the only curse-giver, courtesy of the BM), and had been repeatedly pulling a ThroneRoom/Mint/Gold combo. Seemed like I would win without a fight.

          Then my opponent’s awkward (but ultimately effective) ThroneRoom/Wharf massive draw engine kicks in, and he starts buying cards from the BM and pulling/playing them the same turn. He grabs and plays KC, Bishop, Goons, and Outpost in ONE TURN! Two turns later he wins 105 to 46, with 73 VP tokens.

          I have to give him credit for making TR/Wharf work, but he went from getting dominated to absolutely destroying me by the sheer luck of what was in the BM deck. Doesn’t happen everytime, but there’s no way Swindler could EVER be that swingy.

          • guided says:

            OK, that’s an interesting story, but it doesn’t really speak to which card introduces more variance into the game. First, this kind of freak accident will almost never occur with Black Market. And second, even if it were a common occurrence, Swindler can introduce a comparable dose of variance by hitting your turn-1 Ambassador (for example) and turning it into a Workshop at turn 3. It would just be less visibly dramatic since it wouldn’t involve a late-game comeback.

            BTW, Throne Room and King’s Court cleanup are broken on Isotropic. It is too generous about cleaning up TR & KC off of duration chains. This leads to TR/Wharf being honestly one of the elite draw engines in the game. I’ve won several games where there were no +actions cards by building that exact engine.

            • tlloyd says:

              I appreciate the BTW, and am now feeling a mixture of relief and anger. 🙂

              But I disagree with your first paragraph. My example was a dramatic one, but the very nature of Black Market is to imbalance the game. Maybe early Swinders more frequently do so (I’m not convinced), but they certainly don’t achieve the degree of variance in a particular game that BM is capable of.

              Notice, BTW, that BM could possible grant a player a lone Swindler. How’s that for variance? In fact, name ANY game-changer in all of the expansions, and BM makes it possible for a single copy of that card to show up. Swindler definitely values luck over skill, but in that respect it’s not even close to the BM.

              • guided says:

                You’re clearly determined not to understand what variance is. “Once in a great while something really crazy happens” is not in and of itself a measure of high variance. Swindler’s high variance manifests by turning game after game after game into a battle of luck on an almost totally reliable basis. Black Market simply doesn’t do this.

                I don’t know, maybe you’re playing games where both players invest heavily in the Black Market and make it a point to buy lots of exclusive cards. In that case, sure, it’s a battle of luck. Any clash of mirror strategies turns on luck. But this kind of strategy will be routinely bested by somebody who uses most of their coin to do something coherent and reliable using the cards freely available on the board.

                • tlloyd says:

                  We must not understand each other well; we keep getting in these little debates. I’ll ignore the insult and just say we may mean different things by variance.

                  Let’s instead go with your phrase “battle of luck”. I agree that any time two players follow mirror strategies, the winner (putting aside minor judgment calls along the way) will be decided by luck. Mirror Swindler strategies may be especially bad in this regard, since the identical strategies can lead to vastly different outcomes (If I understand correctly, this is what you mean by variance).

                  But notice that Black Market is just as bad or worse in this respect, since in most cases you can’t even really have mirror BM strategies. The whole point of buying a BM (other than for playing treasure cards during your action phase) is to gain access to unique cards. I believe (though I accept that you do not) that on average BM produces as widely varying outcomes for different players as the Swindler does. In addition, BM has the potential to completely swing the game – as my little anecdote suggests. I don’t think Swindler could ever make that big a difference.

                  So both Swindler and BM introduce luck on a regular basis, but BM can make a much bigger difference on occasion. Thus, I think BM has higher variance. You may disagree, but I don’t think you have any basis to suggest that my view is incoherent.

                  • guided says:

                    “we may mean different things by variance” -> That’s clear to me now. The thing is, it has a precise meaning, and that meaning is the one I am using.

                    Swindler makes “that big a difference” on a much more regular basis. There is no meaningful distinction (in terms of variance) between a huge swing in win probability on turn 3 vs. a huge swing on turn 15.

            • tlloyd says:

              I’m gonna go ahead and reply out here where there is space.

              First, there’s no reason we can’t be civil Guided. I have not insulted you once — please show me the same courtesy.

              As for Variance, it is a measure of dispersion about the mean. We clearly disagree about which card has higher variance, and I can live with that. My argument is not based on the turn at which the card makes luck determinative. You haven’t responded to my actual arguments, so perhaps we should just let this go.

              I wonder, though, whether your perspective on this is based partly on how frequently the cards get bought and played. People tend to buy Swindler a lot–BM not so much.

              • rrenaud says:

                +1 for mutual respect and civil discussion.

                In my mind, the amount of variance a card has on the game is bounded by how frequently it enters the game. If it didn’t enter play, it didn’t really influence the game (okay, with some exception, the mere presense of a Possesion might discourage me from buying an Salvager for example. I don’t think Black Market or Swinder really have that much an influence even when never purchased).

                • guided says:

                  “In my mind, the amount of variance a card has on the game is bounded by how frequently it enters the game.”

                  Whether one agrees with this or not, my argument is this: purchase for purchase and play for play, Swindler introduces much more variance in game outcomes than Black Market. I’m not making some weaker argument based on frequency of play or purchase.

              • guided says:

                “You haven’t responded to my actual arguments” -> See, dismissing by fiat the arguments I have in fact made is insulting, is the thing. Clearly I shouldn’t have bothered.

            • Reyk says:

              “BTW, Throne Room and King’s Court cleanup are broken on Isotropic. It is too generous about cleaning up TR & KC off of duration chains. This leads to TR/Wharf being honestly one of the elite draw engines in the game. ”

              Can you explain this a bit more? I didn’t understand it yet.
              Have you used the contact at
              to report a possible bug?

              • guided says:

                I reported the bug a while ago but no response has been forthcoming.

                When you play TR chains with Duration cards, any TRs that are required to explain what’s left in the play area stay there until the next turn. So if I play TR/TR/Wharf/Wharf, both TRs should stay there. I can’t clean either of them up. The first TR is needed to explain why the 2nd TR was allowed to modify two Duration cards instead of only one.

                If I played TR/TR/Treasury/Wharf, on the other hand, I would clean up the Treasury as normal, and then also clean up the first TR, since it is not needed to explain anything. The 2nd TR remaining in the play area is all that is needed to explain the single copy of Wharf being played twice.

                isotropic doesn’t do this right. It just cleans up any and all TRs and KCs that don’t have a Duration card immediately attached to them. So if I play TR/TR/Wharf/Wharf, it incorrectly puts the first TR back in my deck to possibly be used next turn, which is a huge boost to the smooth functioning of a TR + Wharf draw engine.

                isotropic also has one other minor bug: if you play TR/Tactician, it leaves the TR in the play area instead of cleaning it up. Since that TR isn’t actually doing anything (the 2nd play of Tactician has no effect), it should be cleaned up. So for example, if you have no other +actions cards, don’t play TR/TR/Mountebank/Tactician on isotropic and expect to get both TRs back for use next turn, even though the actual rules say you should get them both back.

                • tlloyd says:

                  From the game I posted above, my opponent frequently pulled TR/TR/TR/TR/TR/Wharf…etc. I’m thinking this bug made a difference.

                • PK9 says:

                  I don’t know about your first point with the initial TR which modifies the 2nd TR, but I have to disagree about TR/Tactician. When you TR a Tactician, you play it twice. It stays out for the next turn and at the start of the next turn, you also resolve it twice. It just happens that the second resolution accomplishes nothing. Therefore you should not be Throne Rooming a Tactician, but that doesn’t make it a bug when the TR stays out if you do make this mistake.

  7. tlloyd says:

    Sorry to be annoying, but a bit of housekeeping (please feel free to delete this comment, whether or not you adopt the edits I’m suggesting):

    By “one of the most luck-frustrating cards” you probably meant something like “one of the most frustratingly luck-based cards” right? Swindler doesn’t actually frustrate luck; quite the opposite.

    And I’m pretty sure you meant to say “in exchange for the chance that they WILL be drawn together, I get to launch double the attacks early on…” The risk that they will be drawn together is the bad thing you accept in exchange for the chance that they don’t get drawn together, in which case you get to launch double the attacks (good thing).

  8. Zaphod says:

    According to, Swindler only has a winning record if you buy it early. It conflicts somewhat with Possession (as does any attack card that involves a decision on the part of the attacker).

    Before Intrigue, there were cards that I rarely bought; they were useful cards, I just didn’t like them for some reason. Then came the Swindler and I was forced to use those cards, and in some cases I learned to like them. So I would have to say that this card made me a better player.

  9. Bob dole says:

    While I’ve only been shut down once by swindler(a lot of luck was involved there) turning copper into curses can be frustrating, and it’ll slow you down as you need to hit those 5 and 6 hands in order ot really get your engine going. If there are replacements that suck for action cards, then it hurts. It really only loses its shine in the endgame where you don’t want to end hte game prematurely(or touch vp cards with it at all)

    Also, isn’t swindler horrible with duke since assuming at least one other five it can greatly diminish the gain you can get from going that route?

    • Jorbles says:

      You can even turn people’s Duchy’s into Dukes which makes all the Duke’s worth less. If you’re lucky or have the help of a Spy, Scrying Pool or Rabble you can clutter someone’s deck up with Dukes that are only worth 1 or 2VPs each (or in rare cases totally worthless).

      • Jorbles says:

        Admittedly this strategy is totally dependent on the $5s available. If Counting Houses are in play or Witches with no Curses left it would probably be better to just turn their Duchies into instead of getting fancy.

    • Stephen says:

      Swindler “works with” Duke in the sense that if Duke is on the board, Swindler becomes stronger. Duke would “conflict with” Swindler, since it would be hard to get a good Duchy-Duke scoring going with Swindler screwing things up.

  10. I had an opponent open Mega Swingler choosing 4 (maybe even 5) as their opening buys. They had failed to factor in the Bishop on the board and I won in the end despite having many of my 5 costs turned into Duchies (I just trashed thme with my Bishops).

  11. DG says:

    One of the most random factors with the swindler is that even when you buy a lighthouse, moat, or secret chamber to defend, your opponent will often turn them into estates. If you buy a salvager to get rid of the rubbish it just gets turned into a coppersmith and all your copper turned into curses. If you buy a swindler to combat the swindler you might find that yours is turned into a workshop and you’re back to square one. In other words, almost any good play can be defeated by bad luck on the swindles.

    There’s also an extra disparity between hitting a good and a poor card with a swindle. Hitting a good card is obviously very damaging, but hitting a poor card can actually improve your opponent’s next draw instead! Swindles also cycle your opponent’s deck slightly faster so if you are unlucky enough to hit an estate every time you are actually helping your opponent to faster victory.

  12. SJ says:

    There’s another serious problem with the swindler card. In a 3+ player game, late in the game the swindler is WAY TOO POWERFUL for a 3er.

    Here’s the scenario:

    1 province left in a tight game. Player A plays a swindler. Player B pulls a province, trashing and pulling the last province.
    Player C (and/or Player D) also have a chance of pulling a province. As per the swindler rules, this player gets nothing in return, thus having to completely trash a Province, effectively eliminating them from a chance in winning the game.

    Totally broken if you ask me!

    • theory says:

      I’m guessing this must have recently happened to you? 😉

    • Captain_Frisk says:

      Despite how much I want to rage about losing despite “proper” play, I think that as a Dominion enthusiast, you just have to accept that this is part of the game.

      Having your chapel swindled into an estate on turn 3 is just as crippling to your chances of winning, they just happened earlier in the game.

      If you don’t enjoy this amount of chaos, then you can do 1 of 2 things:

      1. Create an increasingly long list of cards that you reject (like theory rejects all alchemy)
      2. Go play a game with less randomness. I’m told that Chess and Go don’t have problems like this.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Question if an opponents swindler trashes my card that has a when trashed benefit like rats who draws the card

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