Prosperity: Contraband

This is a revised version of a guest article by WanderingWinder, originally posted on the forum.


Dominion: Prosperity

Contraband needs options.

For example, if you play a standard Big Money-esque game, where all you want is Gold and Provinces, Contraband is very bad.  Early on, your opponent will just block you off of Gold, and later, they block you off of Province, which just makes it very difficult to win. And indeed, in any case where you’re really needing one card, it’s not going to be good for you.

Contraband is also rarely good in multiples, because if one thing doesn’t totally block you, two much more likely will – each Contraband you play means a new thing your opponent can block.  So oddly enough, this Treasure tends to be best in an “engine”, where you play a lot of different Actions, because those tend to have the most different cards that can help you, can make use of the buy, and proscribing one card just isn’t as big a deal.

Because of the enormous complexity of choices, the card doesn’t simulate so well. So unlike most of my articles, there’s no simulation data backing this stuff up. But lots of thought and experience.

Before we go any farther, I think it’s important to note a couple of tactical items about playing Contraband. The first is that you don’t have to play it! Many times, in the endgame, you need to be buying a particular card – say a Province. Well, if you can afford the thing anyway, just don’t play the contraband!

Second, if you do play the Contraband, play it first, before your other treasures. The less information you give to your opponents, the better, as they can’t know what to proscribe nearly so well. The exception is if you want to trick your opponents — play three Coppers, say “oops”, and then play your Contraband.  Your opponent will block Gold, thinking you only have $6, and then you play another two Coppers to buy a Province.

A corollary to this is that Contraband is not so good with the handful of cards that reveal your hand to your opponent. Menagerie might be the biggest exception here, especially when it goes off, but even it can have some weakness. But cards like Hunting Party, Crossroads, and an engine that draws your whole deck are really bad for Contraband, because it gives your opponent a solid insight into what you’re trying to buy with the Contraband.

Playing against Contraband

To play Contraband, you first need to know how to play against it.  The most basic way to shut down a Contraband player is to block Gold then Province.  This is Contraband’s most fundamental weakness: if you spent $5 on Contraband, that probably means the power $5’s (Laboratory, Hunting Party, Witch, Wharf, etc.) aren’t out, so you really need to get to $6’s to be able to buy Provinces.  Being stuck with a whole bunch of $3’s and $4’s is not the route to Provinces, generally speaking.

In other words, as DG notes, as long as Gold is prohibited, the player remains dependent upon the Contraband for coins and might find it difficult to buy essential cards whilst the Contraband is essential currency. As soon as a player has Gold the Contraband is no longer essential currency.

Sometimes, though, another card is more powerful than Gold early on.  This is most common if they are playing an engine deck that needs a lot of Actions: in those situations, you’d rather cut them off from the KEY card they need in their action deck: maybe they’re lacking in Smithies or other +Cards, +Buy, or perhaps Villages.

Contraband is even more painful in the endgame, however, especially if the Contraband player is behind.  Blocking Provinces is the most obvious, which works regardless of whether you are ahead or behind.  But more importantly, there can really come times where Provinces don’t cut it, and they’re going to need a lot of Duchies. Block them from Duchy. I cannot stress enough how important this can be. If they’re going to need lots of Silk Roads to come back, block them from that. In a great twist of events, if they’ve played six Goons with their Contraband, you probably want to block copper.

Here’s an example by chwhite where, going into the final turn, his opponent is down 36-43 and plays Contraband with two Colonies remaining.  chwhite blocks Province, because if his opponent double-Provinced, the opponent would be up in a PPC situation.  Instead, the opponent is forced to take the penultimate Colony and a Duchy, leaving chwhite free to buy the last one instead.

Here’s a game against -Stef- where he uses a Contraband together with his Apothecary engine as… basically his entire economy (mine is not so much stronger).  The key here is that Apothecary is very very fast, but doesn’t have tons of staying power.  So, early on, I block Gold, which is standard.  However, I continue doing this for quite a while – indeed, there were multiple occasions where he drew his ENTIRE deck, played Contraband, and I knew he was holding $10p, and I block… Gold.

Now, why do I block Gold instead of Province when he has $10p to spend?  Well, I could block Provinces later on. More importantly, all the money in his deck was $10p, and $3 of that was tied up in Contraband, meaning he couldn’t possibly buy a Province without one.  If I had blocked Province instead, -Stef- would be able to buy Golds and no longer rely on Contrabands; by blocking Gold, the nature of his engine means he ends up stalling out.

Then we get to the really interesting part of the game, where I start blocking him on Duchies. He’s behind and needs Duchies to come back.  In particular, on Turn 22, I blocked Duchy—he might have had enough for a Province, but if he did, and I blocked Province, he would have won anyway by buying Duchies and Estates.  So this is another principle to keep in mind: if you need good luck to win, play for that luck.

Similarly, when playing from behind, in a situation where they can end the game on three piles, you absolutely need to be able to use that Contraband prohibition on that third pile that they are trying to run out.  I’m pretty sure I’ve blocked Curses before (though it’s very hard to look for that kind of log). In these situations, you’re very often lost either way, but you need to at least give yourself a chance.

More generally, beyond the simple “Block Gold Block Province”, you should just keep careful track of your opponent’s potential buying power.  If they remake 2 cards, play Contraband, well, they only have 1 card left in hand, and if it’s early enough in the game, there’s a good chance you KNOW they don’t have a Gold – so don’t prohibit a 6-cost, as you already know they can’t buy it.  Similarly, if they reveal their hand, for Menagerie, for a Bureaucrat, for whatever, pay attention. If they put back a card, pay attention to what that is. Pay attention to where they are in their reshuffle, and what they’ve already played/discarded. Most important, pay attention to what’s in their deck. You want to know what they have, so you know what they’re capable of, and you want to know what they want to get, so you can stop them from getting it.

Playing with Contraband

Now that you know how to shut down Contraband, how do you play it?

The biggest thing is that you need here is, as I said, options.  In particular, you need options at the $6-$7 level.  Nobles, Harem, Hoard, Goons, etc. will all defeat the standard anti-Contraband strategy of blocking Gold every time.  Of course, later on, the main thing to block is province, so alternate VP can help a lot too. The important thing here is that you need to maintain some flexibility. If you buy Contraband and then lock yourself into a Gardens strategy, well, your opponent is just going to block Gardens and the fact that you could buy Province or Gold isn’t very helpful.

There’s one particular alternate VP synergy I’d like to highlight: Fairgrounds.  Not only is it a nice $6 target, and a good source of alternate VP (potentially exceeding a Province, so even if you are blocked from it you can still buy a Province), but with Fairgrounds you also want to buy pretty much every card on the board. So no matter what they block, there’s going to be something for you to pick up, and the +Buy really, really helps.  Here is a game where I use contraband with a bit of an engine, mostly a big potpourri of stuff, to pump up fairgrounds and help me win a long game against ddubois. Of course, it also features Nobles, so it’s really a model game for contraband being a nice card.

Likewise, Vineyard works well too.  The +Buy helps you grab the Vineyards, you can frequently buy Vineyards on non-Contraband turns, and on Contraband turns you can pick up your choice of Actions.

Another way of getting “options” is with those buy-one-get-another-free cards: Border Village and Haggler.  Black Market functions similarly by giving your opponent three more choices to block, and has the added benefit of getting your Contraband played super early.

So in general, Contraband needs options.  Either this means you have multiple $6 cards to choose from, or it’s not such a big deal that you can’t get one particular card.  In an engine, in particular, you often find yourself needing two cheap cards rather than one expensive card.  (But the $5 cost is usually a big deterrent, because if you have $5 to spend, why not spend it on an engine part?)

The other nice kind of card to help Contraband is a trash for benefit card. Stopping you from getting Gold is pretty harsh in the early game, but the real drawback to Contraband is the endgame blocks. I mean, usually, you’re able to pick up a couple components to help you if they block that Gold – two Silvers at least.  But losing out on that Province is particularly painful.  With a trash-for-benefit, you can get some good use out of Contraband early on and then trash it in the endgame.  Its high cost becomes a boon: Salvager, Apprentice, Expand, etc. all perform nicely with Contraband for fuel.

Overall, it’s not a very good card, but a lot better than the plague some people tend to think it is, in the right circumstances. And the kind of game it can create is a lot of fun, and can make for quite a lot of skill, and a kind of skill you don’t get out of many other Dominion cards.

Works with:

  • Flexibility!
  • Trash-for-benefit: Apprentice, Upgrade, Salvager, Expand
  • Options at the $6-$7 level: Hoard, Harem, Nobles, Goons
  • Alternate VP: Fairgrounds, Vineyards
  • Engines where you aren’t drawing your whole deck and you aren’t stuck to needing one particular component

Doesn’t Work with:

  • Strong $5’s
  • Hand-revealers: Hunting Party, Menagerie, Crossroads
  • Getting stuck needing one thing (a la a lot of Big Money strategies), especially games where you need Golds
  • Other Contrabands (if you are having problems with your first Contraband, the answer is not more Contrabands!)
  • Venture (which can force you to play it at an inopportune moment)
This entry was posted in Prosperity and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Prosperity: Contraband

  1. LastFootnote says:

    A great article about a great card. Keep ’em coming!

  2. Lenoxus says:

    If the “prohibatory clause” of Contraband were replaced with “You can’t buy Gold this turn”, then I’m pretty sure the card would be strictly superior to Gold, no? After all, why would anyone need Gold if this hypothetical version of Contraband were available?

    Thus, the tricky thing is the opponent’s flexibility; Golds do not come with any threat of future Province-blocking, but Contrabands do. Hmmm.

    • chesskidnate says:

      another thing to note is that this hypothetical card would be different because it would be spammable but with the actual contraband, two of them gets two cards prohibited

  3. robinz says:

    Excuse me all – first time poster here (but long time reader – I love these articles on individual cards, and wish there were more), and I’m not very good at the game (although I love it), but I have to ask this:

    In the apothecary example, if your opponent was that desparate for Gold, surely they could have just not played the contraband, and still had enough to afford it? So, while I do like the argument given here, what’s the point of blocking it, as if they wanted it they could have had it without giving you an opportunity to block. I guess you just thought they were making a mistake and did really need gold, but in that case they played badly.

    • yariv says:

      well, they can’t get Gold+Apothecary (or Gold+Caravan/Golem) this way, but it seems that you do have a point. In general, if your opponent plays somehow just Apothecary/Contraband he might be served by another Copper.

      When I think further, it seems the argument doesn’t hold even assuming he plays for the province every time. You block gold on 10p, he buys Province+Apothecary. Once you block Province he buys Gold and from that point on doesn’t play the Contraband. How is this better than you blocking province in the first place, then he gets the gold and doesn’t play the contraband again? Seems identical once you block the province, slightly better for him on the way (more VPs, less treasure). The difference might be in the existence of valuable cards for 4p, but are they better than the Apothecary for a player with high copper density?

      • GwinnR says:

        One point, why you should block gold (when you think it is good), is that you force your opponent to make a “mistake”. Maybe he wanted to buy a gold but clicked on the Contraband as well.

        But as you, I am neither sure if it is good to block the gold. Your argumentation seems logical. But i think there are some poits you have to consider:
        If you block gold, he can’t buy it, so he buys provinces (what you don’t really want). But there will be a time, when he doesn’t WANT to buy gold anymore, because it is to late. And then you can block the provinces (difficult to find out when it is so far). Maybe even in this case it would be better for your opponent to buy the gold, but why not giving him the cance to make mistakes?!
        And when you block the golds your opponent doesn’t get the chance of getting 16$ to later buy two provinces in one turn (if there are +buys).

        I really think that it doesn’t make a great difference when to block a province or a gold in this example, but it are the little things that make you a great player.

        • WanderingWinder says:

          The thing is, if he can just keep doing this and buying provinces, I am just gaining a turn on him whenever I block provinces. The gold gives him even more flexibility later on, at least potentially. But I have this turn whenever I want it – he can’t get a province without the contraband – so there’s really no reason to take it early. And if he keeps this up indefinitely, I’m probably lost anyway. So I have to count on him stalling out, and so I try to make that happen, and I count on it happening, and hey, it does.

    • WanderingWinder says:

      So first, no contraband leads to one buy. So if province+apothecary>gold, but gold+some other card costing up to 4p is better than province+apothecary, then we are both making the right play. I am not sure that he is in fact making the right play, and I think he needs to consider grabbing copper #8 at some point, letting him potentially province without the contraband, though I am not sure that it is the ‘right’ play. But even if he is making a mistake, well, then, part of playing well is exploiting that maximally.

  4. GwinnR says:

    “Likewise, Vineyard works well too. The +Buy helps you grab the Vineyards, you can frequently buy Vineyards on non-Contraband turns, and on Contraband turns you can pick up your choice of Actions.”

    When you want that Vineyards, you can also buy them in a Contraband turn, if you have a potion. The +buy is a good extra for this strategy.
    I think when you’re playing on Vineyards, you should buy a Vineyard as often as you can, especially when the others buy the Vineyards too. If there is another card, that you really need for your engine or so, that makes a difference, but normally i try to buy all Vineyards.
    You can say that the “greening” of your deck isn’t good, but when you start buying Vineyards in your normal turns, why not in the Contraband turns? In my opinion you should buy the actions first and once you start greening you should buy the Vineyards every time you can.
    If you think that the opponent blocks the Vineyard, you’re right (but you should make it clear in the article).

    Maybe the Vineyard is an example, where you want more Contrabands (and potions), because you can always buy either a action card or the Vineyard? This will only work if you can do without provinces.
    I’m not sure if this would work. Does someone has experiences with this?

    • chwhite says:

      The problem with buying Vineyards on your Contraband turn is that an alert opponent can always block Vineyards as well.

  5. fulloffacts says:

    I thought you were required to play all your treasures you will be using this turn during your Buy phase. You cannot first play contraband, and then add more treasures after you opponent has selected the card which you cannot buy this turn.
    “during the buy phase, all treasures are played before a player busy any cards, even if he has +buys. A player may not play treasures after buying a card. This is important for Philosopher’s Stone.” — Alchemy Rule Book Pg 5

    • Illy says:

      You play your treasures one at a time, resolving everything to do with each before playing the next. This is important for Contraband, as well as Phil Stone with Loan or Venture (play the Phil Stones first).

    • Lenoxus says:

      What Illy said. You’re not buying anything at all, just receiving a prohibition from your opponent. It’s true that it would be illegal to play Contraband (getting, say, Provinces blocked), then buy a Silver, then play a Gold and buy another Silver. (I’m having difficulty imagining why you would want to do something like that, but it’s illegal regardless.)

      I do remember the day I realized that one could hypothetically play Contraband before one’s other Treasures, but doing so felt like cheating somehow. That’s likely because pre-Prosperity there were only two special Treasures, and playing all your money “at once” was always the logical thing to do, so much so that it felt like “the rules”. Plus, Contraband is the only special Treasure with “opponent influence” and it just sort of feels wrong to force your opponent to make the decision in the dark. But nope, it’s perfectly legal, and thus recommended.

      In fact, when there are any special Treasures in the game, it only makes sense for their effects to happen immediately upon being played, instead of waiting until you are done playing all Treasures. Otherwise, it’s ambiguous what order their effects should occur, as well as how to factor in Treasures that themselves play Treasures, like Venture.

      • Naomi says:

        Okay guys,
        Here is what happened in our game just now that caused a major argument. Maybe you can help us solve. Player one play one Contraband and player two restricts Colony. Then player one plays a second contraband, and player two restricts province. Player one then uses the first contraband (with colony restriction) along with coins to buy a province, and second contraband (with province restriction) with leftover coins another action card. Is this a legal move??

        • Robin says:

          No. You don’t use specific treasures to buy specific cards – you first play some treasures, to generate coins (possibly along with other effects), then buy one or more cards using whatever coins you have (including ones you got from action cards, as well as treasures). When you play Contraband and then another player forbids a card, you literally cannot buy it that turn, no matter what other treasures you play and how many buys you have.

          This is why, as the article says, playing multiple Contrabands is usually very bad for you – if it worked as you are suggesting it might, then having two contrabands would more or less be like having 2 cheaper, better golds, with no downside!

  6. paddyodoors says:

    “PPC” in the 5th paragraph of the “Playing against…” section should probably be “PPR”, right?

    If not, I’ve never heard of a PPC situation.

  7. Pez says:

    The best time to use Contraband isn’t even mentioned here. You’re right that you need options and the best game with options is a Colony game. You get your opponent guessing on what to ban much more. Sure early on you’re still banning golds, but soon your opponent will have to pick between, gold, platinum, province, and colony. Plus frequently you’ll have $7 cards in there too that are definitely worth a buy. Contraband is also nice in games where there isn’t another +buy on the board and your opponent isn’t running Contraband. You can often have your opponent ban gold or province and then buy two cheaper engine cards like a village and smithy.

  8. bonedocmtgs says:

    Is there any way we could get an article on Fool’s Gold?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s