The month of Alt-VP – Gardens

In this article series I will explore the so called Alt-VP or Alternate Victory Point cards. I will analyze simple decks that use Alt-VP as their win condition and how well they fare against baseline strategies. I will also try to find (near) optimal strategies for the mirror match.

Week one: Gardens

We’re going to start with the forefather of Alt-VP: Gardens. I fondly remember one of my first games of Dominion where I went for Gardens by buying a lot of Markets bloating my deck as much as possible. I ended up the winner with a 60 card deck and Gardens worth as much as Provinces. I felt great and to this day when I see Gardens appear in a kingdom I try to incorporate it into my deck. At the time I just saw Gardens as a good card to buy in stretched out games. It never even occurred to me that it could be used in a rush strategy.




Today I’m going to explore one of the classic combos: Ironworks/Gardens. This deck will get a bunch of Ironworks (gaining them with … Ironworks) and when it has enough of them it will start to gain Gardens and Estates (and more Ironworks if you’re holding multiple Ironworks). So it rushes 3 piles before the other player can buy enough Provinces. Typically you will end up with a deck of 40 cards meaning 43 points in 16 turns. You need a very strong engine to beat that kind of speed.

Let’s see how the deck does against a baseline strategy. I’ll take the Smithy Big Money deck which buys one Smithy, money and Provinces.

Gardens 1

The Gardens player will win 97% of games vs the poor Smithy player. The simulator shows that you want 6 Ironworks before making the switch to gaining Gardens. The spikes in the graph show where the Gardens player reaches the next threshold (every 10 cards).

This is a very strong combo and can only be beaten by the strongest engines. So what will happen most of the time is that each player will go for the same combo. The mirror match is all about winning the Gardens split. To achieve this you want to start greening after getting two Ironworks. It will also try to get Duchy because the game is over so fast that Gardens are never worth more than 3VP. We’ll call this deck Ironworks/Gardens (Paper) and the original rush is Ironworks/Gardens (Rock).

Gardens 4

Paper will win 87% of games vs a mindless Gardens rusher. Now this is not the end of the story. There is another way to tackle Alt VP boards and that is turning your game into a slog. You’re no longer rushing to empty 3 piles, but trying to get the most victory points in a drawn out game. The plan for this deck, which we’ll call Ironworks/Gardens (Scissors) is to get two Ironworks and using them as a source of economy, gaining several Silvers. This economy will allow the deck to get more Duchies. This will often result in losing the Gardens split, but winning the Duchy split by a lot.

Gardens 5

Ths slog wins 63% of games.

And now it gets interesting. We match up the slog (Scissors) with the original rush (Rock).

Gardens 6

Rock wins 57% of games!

So this illustrates that being flexible is important and on some boards you need to adjust to your opponent’s strategy.

Join me next week when I’ll talk about Duke.

(these bots have been incorporated in the latest version of the simulator)

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