So you’d like to learn all about the best ways to play all of the various alternate VP strategies (i.e., any Victory card other than Province)? Well too bad. This isn’t that guide. (You might want to read the Duke article, however.) The purpose of this article is to give general guidelines for how to play with or against general alt-VP strategies after someone has decided to take the alt-VP plunge.
For the sake of clarity, I will introduce a little terminology that I like to use. Every alt-VP can be utilized in at least one of three ways depending on the board: Rush, Slog, and Support. I’ll define these and give guidelines for how to approach these games when you are playing these strategies, either uncontested or in a mirror, or how to counter an opponent who does.
Common Players: Silk Road, Gardens
In a normal Province game, whether engines or Big Money, you usually begin the game by ramping up your deck quality, and then switching to buying green. The rush strategy aims to end the game as soon as possible, while your opponent’s deck is still setting up. Ironworks/Gardens is a common example.
When rushing uncontested, it is often best to get a large number of the support cards before any of the green. (For example, if playing Ironworks/Gardens uncontested, you’ll want to stock up on Ironworks before going into Gardens.) The reason is simple, you are looking to drain 3 piles as quickly as you can, before the Province player can build up to buy Provinces. One of those piles is probably going to be your support card pile, and getting more of them early acts as an accelerant, letting you drain the green pile faster towards the end of your rush. Keep a close eye on your opposition, however. They may try to steal some of your green while you are buying support cards. And while you appreciate the help expediting the end of the game, you still can’t give up too many points or else you could find yourself falling behind.
If your rush begins to fail, and things are coming together too fast for your opponent, you find yourself in the position of no longer being able to end the game. Now you’re in bad shape. But the very cards which are good in rushes also tend to be decent enough in slogs that you can try to transition into a new game plan as a desperation ploy. As for how to play the slog, well, keep reading.
If you find both you and your opponent going for a rush strategy, you need to rethink your plan. In fact, ending the game ASAP is no longer a priority since you know your opponent isn’t building up to Province-level points. These games actually play somewhat closer to standard non alt VP games.
Your main goal becomes instead to win the VP split. And if you can sneak in a Duchy or two, all the better. As such, you want to start greening much much sooner than if you are uncontested. If you win the split, you find yourself in a nice position and your goal switches back into ending the game soon, since unlike with Provinces, draining your alt VP pile doesn’t end it then and there. Switch back into rush mode and drain those other piles. If you find yourself on the wrong end of the point split, you need to rebuild your shambled economy and hope to be able to grab some provinces or duchies before your opponent can end it. This means that at all costs, avoid piles that are likely to drain, including estates. While the couple extra points might be nice in a low scoring game, you are only hastening your own demise.
Sometimes, you deem the rush support inadequate and opt to go the traditional VP route, only to see your opponent come to a different conclusion. Whether you underestimated the rush potential or your opponent overestimated it, you should no longer play as you would in a province mirror.
For a standard Gardens/Silk Road rush, the rusher will probably have about 35 points at game end. For you, that means about 5.5 Provinces. That’s actually somewhat daunting for many games, because in most games you only need to get to 4 Provinces and change. However, you could also steal a few of the rushed green cards yourself. Say your opponent’s gardens will be worth 3 points end game and yours will only be worth 2. Well, every garden you buy, that’s a 5 point swing. Almost as good as a Province, and for half the price. The drawback, of course, is that each rushed green card you buy brings the game closer to piling out, which you don’t want until you can secure some more points. It’s a tricky balance and completely dependent on game state, but usually it’s a good bet to steal 2-3 of the rushed green cards later in the game, while focusing on pounding enough Provinces and Duchies to secure a VP lead.
In general, beginners tend to panic and join in rushes if they see their opponent starting, and are overeager to “steal” VP cards from the rushing player. But this is usually a recipe for disaster, because helping the rushing player end the game is almost a guaranteed way to lose the game. Of course, you could get a favorable split with your small economy lead, but you’re better off just trying to grab a couple of Provinces. Look at it this way: If it takes 4 turns for you to grab 2 Provinces, that gives the same amount of VP as spending all 4 turns grabbing Duchies. But grabbing the Duchies gives the other player another possible pile to drain if he wasn’t doing so already. Once you’ve gotten a slight lead, it’s easier for you to end the game with a couple of low piles than for him to come back and suddenly grab a Province himself.
Likely Candidates: Duke, Fairgrounds, Vineyards, Silk Road, Gardens, Goons
Like a rush, a slog seeks to gain the bulk of its points from sources other than Provinces. Unlike a rush, however, it does not seek to end the game quickly. Just the opposite, you want the game to go on as long as possible. Either the cards you are slogging with continually increase in value (like Gardens or Vineyards), or they put you in a strong position to obtain more than half of the available VP (like Dukes or Fairgrounds).
Uncontested, you play exactly opposite to how you play a rush. Slow the game down. This often means don’t buy Provinces, even with $8. For your opponent, getting all 8 Provinces solo is quite an ordeal. Unless there is a good mega turn engine out there, decks begin to crawl to a halt once they pass the 5 or 6 Province mark. It’s the last couple Provinces which are the toughest ones to get, so if you buy a Province or two, you’ve made the game significantly shorter.
Attacks are also very good at slowing the game down, particularly Cursers and hand size reducers. These attacks tend to hurt the Province player much more than the alt-VP player.
As with rushes, when in a mirror strategy, the main goal is to win the important VP split. Often this means dipping into the green a little early and then working on increasing their value after you secure the split.
How do you counter a slog? With a rush. Specifically, you rush Provinces. But don’t just start buying them out right away. You need a solid game plan. Don’t expect any help from your opponent in draining them. You need to get 8 all by your lonesome. In normal province matches, you end up diverting for Duchies once the Province pile starts to dwindle. You do NOT want Duchies here (excepting Duke games). Every green card you get that isn’t a Province pushes the end of the game further from you, making it easier for your opponent to secure the VP lead. Keep your eye on the target and get draining. The real key for you would be end game accelerators like Remodel and Salvager. If you find yourself in a rush for provinces don’t be afraid to pick up a number of these types of cards in the mid-game. Even if you can’t actually buy a Province, it’s often worth it to Remodel a Province into another Province if it means ending the game before your opponent’s Vineyards start exploding in value.
As with rushes, you also want to consider denying green to your opponent. But in this case, every extra green you get lengthens the game instead of shortening it because it becomes harder for you to buy Provinces. So again, you need to figure out the proper balance between denial and game length. Remember to think of each VP you buy as a sum of the points it gives you and the points it denies your opponents. If I only have 2 Duchies, I might still buy a Duke in the late game, because it’s an 8 point swing.
Works with: All of them
Most alt-VP cards are not strong enough to give you the option to forgo Provinces. No one ever beat a Province player with just Great Halls. But even if you choose to pursue a more standard Province based strategy, the presence of alt VPs can significantly alter the landscape of the game by providing support. We can even consider curse giving cards as a form of this. It is important to consider the total number of points available in any kingdom. With no alt VP’s or Curses, including starting Estates, there are 86 total points. That means once you secure 44 points, you’ve won. But add in even the lowly Great Hall, and you increase the number of points you need to guarantee victory. This does one very important thing, it takes pressure away from winning the Province split. With enough support, you could lose the province split 6-2 or even 7-1 and still pull off victory.
Generally, this benefits engines greatly. Each support VP you add, the more time you have to set up against a big money opponent. As Big Money slows to a crawl once the green starts coming, you can keep on building up, looking to snatch enough points to close out the win. Particularly nice are dual type victory cards as they do more than just junk up your deck.
It also makes a very big difference in games without +Buy. If we start buying Provinces and I happen to have won the Great Hall split 5-3, you’re going to somehow need an extra Duchy if you plan to split the Provinces 4-4. In the late game, you often just aren’t going to have the time to do that. Buying that last Great Hall for a 4-4 split instead of a 5-3 split can save a lot of headaches later in the game.
No alt-VP has a greater average effect than Colony and its life partner Platinum. You can have 8 point Dukes and I’ll stick with my 10 point colonies. And good luck competing with Fairgrounds without Black Market, or Vineyards without a killer kingdom. Colonies beat all but the best supported slogs because there are just so many more points on the board to get. And they beat all but the fastest rushes because I only need 2-3 Colonies to beat you instead of 4-5 Provinces.
It’s probably best to think of Colonies as support VP. Or at least, they behave that way. Since you add 80 points to the game, you give engines a lot more time to set up and big money tends to fall by the wayside. In addition, Colony players “fall back” on Provinces rather than Duchies; most of the alternate VP strategies incorporate Duchies a lot more than Provinces, and so while a Province player is hesitant to fall back on Duchies and help drain that pile, Colony players are totally fine with buying Provinces since an alt-VP opponent wasn’t going for Provinces anyway.
My analysis is mostly based for 2 player Dominion. However, alt-VP can change things significantly when more than 2 players are going at it.
Consider 3 player Dominion. Imagine you want to try a rush strategy but the other two players don’t follow you. Now you need to drain 12 of whatever card you are rushing, and likely 12 Estates as well. That’s 8 extra cards you need, which gives the non-rushers plenty more time to get their engines together. Now consider the opposite case. 2 rushers vs 1 non-rusher. With 2 rushers, there are only 6 VP cards to get per player. That means the rush is even faster, giving the Province player even less time to set up.
A similar thing happens with slogs. If one player wants to go Provinces, well there are now 12 of them. If 8 is hard to get, 12 might take forever. On the flip side, if two players want Provinces, there are only 6 per player which is significantly easier than 8.
These effects are even more pronounced with 4 or more players where the number of victory cards doesn’t increase with the number of players.
What this means is that the strategies that other people pursue become critically important. If you see the three people in front of you in a 4p game open with Ironworks on a Gardens board, you really aren’t going to have much time on Provinces. You don’t necessarily have to join in their rush, but you need to get in your share of VP before the game ends.