Hinterlands: Ill-Gotten Gains

This is a revised version of an article by Thisisnotasmile, originally posted on the forum

Ill-Gotten Gains

Dominion: Hinterlands

Ill-Gotten Gains is a good illustration of how bad a card has to be in order to be an on-gain Curser.  $5 for a Silver that gains you a Copper is an absolutely miserable deal, and yet the Curse-on-gain is so powerful that IGG is still one of the strongest cards in the game.  It is first (and currently only) card which can put a Curse into your opponent’s deck before their first reshuffle. The longer the Curse is in a deck, the more disruption it will cause, and the more damage it will do.

Similarly, the curse is “unblockable” by conventional means. Everybody knows that cursing is the strongest type of attack in Dominion, but IGG is not an Attack card and the distribution of Curses is not triggered by playing the card. Because of this, Moat and Lighthouse can do nothing to block the Curse, and you can’t even reveal a Horse Traders or Secret Chamber to “make up” a little bit for taking a Curse. Trader and Watchtower, however, can still be used to mitigate the effects of the IGG as they react to (would) gaining the Curse, rather than an Attack being played.

The real reason IGG is such a power card, however, is what happens after the IGGs are gone: now there are not one but TWO empty piles: IGGs and Curses. The game will now end not when Provinces are depleted, but when ANY single pile is depleted.

At this point, your deck is ideally full of Coppers and IGG’s.  Your opponent is stacked full of Curses.  And as we know, in a Duchy rush, Coppers are important.  What better card for a Duchy rush than a card that simultaneously lets you end the game after exhausting Duchies while fueling your deck with the treasures it needs to buy the Duchies?  Of course, if you draw Copper/Copper/IGG/IGG/IGG and feel you need the points, grab the Province.  But if you’re ahead after the IGG race, you can usually end it pretty easily just by buying Duchies and gaining Copper at every opportunity.

If you like to do something ‘fun’ and not-necessarily optimal every now and then, there are a LOT of interesting things you can do with IGG other than rushing three piles with Duchy. Just check out the Game Reports subforum on Dominion Strategy and you will see plenty of examples of people using trash-for-benefit with IGG (who cares about losing a sub-Silver when you get $5 worth of benefit for it!), or even using IGG to facilitate a Coppersmith and/or Counting House strategy which are usually too weak to play at a competitive level.

IGG isn’t always the dominant strategy though. There are cards which can cause enough disruption to the IGG Duchy rush that make it a losing proposition. Essentially, any card which can cause the IGG and Curse piles to deplete at different rates will upset the rush. If the Curses run out first, you’ve got to spend $5 turns buying cards worth less than Silver and not even hurting your opponent in the process before you can start on the Duchies. If the IGGs run out first, well, you’re in trouble.

Other strong cursers are the first of these card that come to mind (they empty Curses quicker than IGGs).  So when Witch and Mountebank are out, you should invest in them first before switching over to IGG. Less common, but equally impactful on IGG are cards that affect the Curse/IGG balance: Ambassador, Watchtower, Trader, Embargo.  And as always, Masquerade and Jack of All Trades throw a wrench into any cursing strategy.  Jack in particular refocuses the IGG game onto Provinces rather than a Duchy rush.

Works with:

  • Duchy
  • Trash-for-benefit.
  • 5/2 split to give your opponent a curse before they shuffle the first time.
  • Coppersmith/Counting House and other Copper-based strategies.
  • Can provide support for other Cursers.

Conflicts with:

  • Other fast cursers conflict with an IGG/Duchy rush.
  • Ambassador/Trader.
  • Opponent’s heavy trashing MIGHT be able to overcome an IGG rush, but then you should trash away your Copper too and carry on as of the IGG rush didn’t happen.
  • Embargo.
  • City. They’ll be powered up for both players, but if you’re focusing your $5 buys on IGG your opponent will have more Cities.
  • Masquerade/Jack of All Trades
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39 Responses to Hinterlands: Ill-Gotten Gains

  1. paulbaxter says:

    Good article. My only comment is that I don’t see many circumstances under which IGGs could run out before curses. The only possibility I can imagine is an ambassador game where someone has the opportunity to dump two curses in a turn.

    • GwinnR says:

      “Trader and Watchtower, however, can still be used to mitigate the effects of the IGG as they react to (would) gaining the Curse, rather than an Attack being played.”

      With trader the curse is still in the suply, but the ill gotten gain is bought.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good article, but it highlights how boring I find IGG – in most circumstances, it becomes a game of luck, both players rushing IGG/duchies. As noted above, there are some exceptions but lacking those IGG rush seems to be the dominant strategy, and IGG rush makes for boring games.

    • Arya Stark says:

      Igg rush makes for boring games, you got that right. It’s quickly going up my list of cards to veto

      • Ozle42 says:

        It also makes for very easy games!

        I have never really played Iso before, own the Base and Intrigue sets and started playing online a couple of days ago (so only level 9 or so after 12 games), but when I saw the IGG come up, I went for it and seemed to win fairly easily without any real grasp of tactics.
        Step 1:Buy IGG
        Step 2: Buy Dutchies (using the IGG extra copper if needed)

  3. Ferrouswheel says:

    One thing that I wouldn’t see as immediately obvious is the ability of the watchtower, for you to purchase and then immediately trash curses.

  4. Tahtweasel says:

    Masquerade should be mentioned specifically as a very strong counter to IGG.

  5. minced says:

    I’d think IGG would be an amazing card in gardens strategies, especially in the absence of cards like ironworks or workshop. Just buy gardens with $4, IGG with $5, silver with $3, and copper with $2 or less – no need to empty the estate pile as is usual in gardens games since IGG/gardens/curse forces a three-pile ending.

    • Anonymous says:

      Gardens + IGG is insane. Gain copper every time, and Gardens are worth 4 VP by the end of the game.

      I really don’t like IGG. There are subtleties (for instance, buying Duchies/Estates before IGG is depleted) that can give you an edge, but there’s not much you can do if you don’t get $5 on turn 3 or 4.

    • Bondles says:

      IGG/Gardens is truly diabolical, and I’m a bit surprised it wasn’t mentioned in the article. Here‘s a game where my opponent has a Chapel, a Ghost Ship (of course, that just helped me balance my hands), and four provinces, and still loses to my pure (so pure, in fact, that I opened Silver/Gardens!) IGG/Gardens run.

      I actually made a couple of mistakes when dealing with the Ghost Ships; if I’d handled them better, I would’ve been able to gain those 2 extra copper for 5-point Gardens

    • PK9 says:

      IGG/Gardens is amazing. I won a game pretty handily where my opponent had a Saboteur that took out 2 of my IGGs and one Gardens. There were no additional Buys in the game. The only card I trashed for a net loss in card count was one Embargo, which I used to jump to $5 early. Any time he hit me with a Saboteur, I’d take the highest value replacement available, even if it was a Copper. Toward the end of the game, he realized what I was doing and put a bunch of Embargoes on the Gardens, but the Curse stack was already almost empty, so it didn’t pose much of a threat.

  6. doak22 says:

    Shouldn’t the second sentence read “$5 for a Copper that gains you a copper”?

    • Axxle says:

      It is most correct to say “$5 for a Copper that gains you a copper in hand”, but “$5 for a Silver that gains you a copper [in the discard]” is basically what it is for most purposes.

  7. Axxle says:

    Watchtower doesn’t affect the balance of the IGG/Curse pile running out. (although it is a good counter)

  8. blueblimp says:

    Is Jack really a counter to IGG? I tried some simple simulations in Geronimoo’s simulator.

    The included Jack bot indeed destroys the included IGG bot 78/21. However, if you modify the included IGG bot to prefer a single Jack over a silver and to buy provinces with $8, then it edges out the included Jack bot 55/42–and this is without tweaking and optimization. Needless to say, Jack/IGG also wipes the floor with pure IGG.

    It makes sense to me that Jack and IGG would go well together. Jack’s silver spam helps to buy IGGs, Duchies, and Provinces, and meanwhile the trashing ability clears out some of the incoming curses. Since IGG is a treasure, there’s no problem with colliding with Jack.

    • blueblimp says:

      To be clear, what I’m claiming is that Jack/IGG > Jack >> IGG. So, yes, Jack is good when up against IGG, but when both are on the board, you will still want to buy IGGs.

      • theory says:

        Yes, perhaps what I should clarify is: Jack will stop the IGG/Duchy rush.

        • blueblimp says:

          Thanks. By the way, I also simmed how Masquerade fares. The included Masq bot beats the included IGG bot 70/28. Unlike Jack, even modifying the IGG bot to buy Provinces and a single Masquerade has it lose to the included Masq bot 72/52.

          This makes sense: unlike Jack, which merely trashes curses, Masquerade also passes them back, so it’s a stronger defense. So I conclude that when Masquerade is on the board, it’s probably worth skipping IGG entirely, unlike with Jack.

  9. zaphod7 says:

    Good article.

    In games where Spice Merchant is the only draw engine, the Copper you gain through IGG can allow you to buy multiple Spice Merchant s. I would imagine it’s also better with any other card that benefits from a fat deck, like Philosopher’s Stone, although I haven’t tried using it that way.

    My initial thought upon hearing about IGG the first time was that it was overpriced for the benefit it gives you; I guess I underestimated the power of cursing your opponent. Donald mentioned in the Secret History of Hinterlands that the card was initially cheaper, then he tried it as a Silver for $5, so perhaps even he didn’t see how powerful IGG would be.

    • WanderingWinder says:

      That doesn’t make any sense. I play spice merchant, trash a copper, go for cards and actions. What I’m left with is the 5 card hand I had without the copper or Spice Merchant. The only purpose SM is serving me there is to trash my coppers. So basically, what I read your statement as (and I know you don’t mean it this way) is: IGG gives you more copper, so you can afford to get more cards to get rid of your copper…. :/

      • KingJ says:

        Don’t really agree with you. The more copper you gain from IGG, the lower your overall money density is (coppers diluting the values of your IGGs). Spice merchant is worth a copper if you use it for +2 money (since you’re trashing a copper to use it) and often more than a copper if you use it to draw more iggs or silvers.

        • WheresMyElephant says:

          I don’t think WanderingWinder is saying that Spice Merchant absolutely doesn’t make sense in an IGG game. If you’re already buying IGG as an attack and you want to keep the Copper under control, Spice Merchant can make some sense. Although if we’re talking about an IGG/Duchy rush game where Copper is actually welcome, it’s dubious at best.

          The original claim was that Spice Merchant functions as a “draw engine” here (and in general, even!), and so you would specifically buy IGGs in order to give it a boost. Spice Merchant just isn’t a draw engine, and no amount of Copper in your deck can make it one, so this is a poor plan. Yes, as you say Spice Merchant represents a slight monetary boost for any individual hand, but that’s a different thing. (Even still, it’s generally less of a monetary boost than the Silver you could have bought instead. So when you factor in what you passed up to get the Spice Merchant, you’re taking an economic hit in order to acheive this Copper trashing. If you don’t like that, try Moneylender.)

          Village/Beggar/Spice Merchant would be a draw engine, actually letting you draw and play more cards from your deck than you otherwise would. Or you could use Village/Black Market/IGG/Spice Merchant to acheive the same effect. Not to say either of these combos is terribly practical, but THIS is what using Spice Merchant as a draw engine would have to look like.

  10. Anonymous says:

    This whole thread seem reliant on 2 player games. I’ve played about 25 3-4 player games and IGG gets trashed nearly every game. What am I missing?

    • Ninjabus says:

      Lets see, there are 12 duchies instead of 8, which means that a single person duchy rushing will have their deck deplete rapidly, especially if its by IGG gained coppers. Also, that 3rd person means that it could be a viable strategy for them to go straight silver-duchy while you guys buy out the IGGs and hurt each other, and last, if everyone goes IGG->duchy you’ll have 3-4 IGG and 6-7 curses, which doesn’t facilitate a duchy rush on anybodies part considering the first point.

      • Anonymous says:

        In my first 4-player game where IGG was out, I was the only one buying them and one player started buying Duchies when there were 2 IGG left. He thoroughly won by a considerable margin. The next 4-player game, with completely different opponents, I won with the same strategy probably because the kingdom consisted solely of $5s and $2s although I was helped by an astute player buying some IGG (he got 3) instead of going for the Duchies.

  11. I ran some simulations on Dominiate to try to see how well a simple IGG algorithm does against standard simple strategies, and the answer seems to be “not well at all”. If I buy only Ill-Gotten Gains and Silvers, and then Duchies when the IGGs run out, I lose to Big Money more than half the time. If I allow buying Gold, or Provinces, or both, in doesn’t help much. I tried switching to Duchies earlier, or buying Estates at the end, and nothing seems to beat Big Money over 50% of the time. (I’d love to hear the results from other people’s simulations.)

    I don’t think Dominiate is playing IGG badly, or that intelligent real-world play would dramatically improve a “buy only IGGs and Duchies” strategy’s odds. I’m sure other kingdom cards will change things a lot, but I’m left with the impression that a IGG-Dutchy strategy won’t beat Big Money (or variants like Big Smithy), and I consider a strategy “bad” when it won’t beat Big Money more than half the time, regardless of how well it gums up more complex combos. I have limited real-game experience with the card, however, and if I’m missing something, please let me know.

    • Anonymous says:

      Two instant thoughts of things that are easy to overlook:
      Are you buying coppers when you have less than $3?
      Are you always using the “gain copper” ability of the IGGs?

      • Michael Waddell says:

        In my simulations (above), the Dominiate simulator only gains copper with IGG when it would be useful for an available buy. (So with IGG and one Copper, the simulator gains a copper to be able to buy silver. But with IGG and 2 Coppers, the simulator declines to gain another copper, since $4 buys nothing that $3 can’t buy.) The simulator doesn’t allow you to alter this behavior.

        I doubt this is much of a detriment, though, since a simulation that buys Copper for $0-$2 beats Big Money 44.2% of the time, and a simulation that declines to buy Copper beats Big Money 44.6% of the time, indicating that the extra Coppers are not actually helpful (probably because of all the Silver that the simulator purchases). If someone is able to run a simulation that always gains Copper with IGG, I’d be curious whether it improves the outcome, but I doubt it would.

        • DStu says:

          The standard play on Dominiate does not seem to gain Coppers for Ill-Gotten Gains:

          gainCopperPriority: (state, my) -> [no]

          If you just change this to

          gainCopperPriority: (state, my) -> [yes]

          it wins 95:5.

          • Michael Waddell says:

            Thanks for the tip, and holy cow. I’m not getting 95%, but I _am_ seeing > 85% , which is a _huge_ swing (and my algorithm may not be optimized). I had no idea this would make such a difference! I was wrong: IGG and Duchy holds its own.

        • DStu says:

          The simulator doesn’t allow you to alter this behavior.
          This statemen is almost always wrong for Dominiate, at least if it is about decisions of the AI. You can overwrite everything in the Webinterface.

          This might not be the best place to state it, but anyway: If I want to change the decision of the AI, I do: Go to
          and open

          Open cards.coffee and find the card on which you want to change a decision (here IGG). Look for

          state.current.ai.choose($name, ...)

          This means that $namePriority or $nameValue is called. Here it’s state.current.ai.choose(‘gainCopper’, state, [yes, no])
          Now go to basicAi.coffee and search for $namePriority or $nameValue (more often it’s priority). You can now overwrite the one that exists in the webinterface of Dominiate by just redefining the method the same way like gainPriority is redefined: Just write down the code. E.g. my IGG-bot

            name: 'IGG'
            author: 'DStu'
            requires: ["Ill-Gotten Gains"]
            gainPriority: (state, my) -> [
              "Ill-Gotten Gains"
              "Estate" if state.gainsToEndGame() <= 2
            gainCopperPriority: (state, my) -> [yes]
  12. Elestan says:

    “Conflicts with: […] Ambassador/Trader.”

    These may conflict in a 2-player game, but in a 4-player game, these three cards actually form
    a fairly effective combo: Ambassador the IGG, and use Trader to convert the Curses that come
    back at you. You gain three silvers; everyone else gains two curses and an IGG. Not the easiest
    combo to set up, but it’s been fun when I’ve managed to pull it off.

    • Loose Terrifying Space Monkey says:

      I’m pretty sure he means it conflicts with because your opponents could do exactly what you outlined, making your purchase of an IGG pointless.

  13. Steven Tomer says:

    Mine works really well with IGG. Just mine the IGG into another IGG, and you don’t clog your hand with them. It works even better with Throne Room or King’s Court.

  14. Trogdor the Burninator says:

    I don’t own Hinterlands yet (sniff, sniff), but I see a potentially very powerful/useful combo in: Border Village/IGG/Watchtower.
    You buy a Border Village and gain an IGG with the Border Village, use Watchtower to immediately trash the IGG and put the Border Village on top of your deck.
    This could be very effective in that you gain immediate usage of your Border Village and don’t have to worry about your IGG clogging up your deck while your opponents still gain the curse

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