When Should I Start Greening?

The article below was written by Titandrake and originally posted in the Articles section of the Dominion Strategy Forums. Quality articles posted to the forums will often find their way onto the blog with permission of the author, so feel free to post your contributions there if you’re interested!

A quick side note: Dominion Strategy blog articles will now regularly publish on Sundays instead of Thursdays. If you’re the type to religiously check the blog each week, adjust your schedules accordingly.


If you’re not familiar with Dominion slang, “greening” is when you start buying VP cards for points.

You should start greening based on how quickly you can improve your deck and your buying power. The faster you can improve it, the longer you should delay buying VP. The reasoning is simple: buying VP cards slows down your deck. Part of the problem is adding a junk card. The bigger problem is that $8 spent on a Province is $8 less that could have been spent on more money or Action cards. If the Kingdom supports faster growth, you’re better off investing into your deck now and buying points later.

If you’re playing a Gardens rush, then, well, for one Gardens rushes are not as strong as we thought they were 5 years ago and a lot of Big Money baselines compete with it. But sometimes they’re the correct choice, and in these cases you start greening right away. It’s not like your deck is going to do much better than hitting $4 for Gardens.

If you’re going for Duchy-Duke, then you want to start greening a bit later, late enough that you can somewhat reliably hit $5. But still much earlier than you would in a Province game.

If you’re playing a 1 buy a turn deck, you don’t have any reason to hit more than $8 for Province (or more than $11 for Colony), so you start greening when you think your deck can usually hit $8.

If you’re playing a reasonable engine, one that draws a lot of cards but not always your entire deck, you start greening around the point where you’re hitting $13 (Province + Duchy), $16 (2 Provinces), or $18 (Province + 2 Duchies, a useful option to have in endgames). Two Provinces a turn is a sweet spot where the game ends very soon if both players decide to start greening – 8 Provinces goes away in 4 turns, or 2 turns each.

However, if you’re playing a Kingdom with a strong engine, something like Wharf + Village + trashing, you may want to build even more. $24 for triple Province, $28 for 2 Province + 2 Duchy, maybe even $32 for 4 Provinces. On these boards, it’s common for high-level play to turn into a game of chicken that eventually ends in a low-scoring 3 pile. When both players believe detouring for points will cost them the game, they both buy actions instead, bringing the game closer to a 3 pile ending.

Finally, there are Bridge boards, Bridge Troll boards, and the like, where you play for the megaturn and buy all your points on the final turn. The scoring potential of these decks grows quadratically, and there’s really no reason to pick up points unless you have to (e.g. in order to avoid a 3 pile).


Here are some toy examples. In these examples, when I say a deck hits $N, I mean it always hits $N, even as Victory cards are entering their deck. Additionally, P1 is not necessarily the player who started the game, but is the player who goes first at the time the analysis starts.

Both decks can hit $8, and it takes 2 turns to build a deck into one that hits $16

Let’s say first player goes for Provinces, and 2nd player tries to build

P1: Province
P2: build
P1: Province
P2: build
P1: Province
P2: Province + Province
P1: Province
P2: Province + Province, both players have 4 Provinces, tie at game end.

So it isn’t any worse at hitting 4 Provinces. But in a real-life version of this scenario,

  1. P2’s deck is more reliable because they buy Provinces later, and
  2. if P1 misses $8 once, P2 can punish that bad luck more severely.

If P2 gets unlucky, then well, they lose. But if they didn’t build and got unlucky, they would have lost anyways, and P2 is less likely to get unlucky if they build their deck a bit more.

If we reverse the roles, and have P1 build, then P1 wins.

P1: build
P2: Province
P1: build
P2: Province
P1: Province + Province
P2: Province
P1: Province + Duchy (P1 has 3 Prov 1 Duchy, P2 has 3 Prov)
P2: “If I buy Province, P1 wins on Province. If I buy Duchy, P1 wins on 2 Provinces.” P2 loses.

Both decks can hit $16, takes 1 turn to build deck to one that hits $24

Say P1 goes for double Provinces and P2 goes for building.

P1: Province + Province
P2: build
P1: Province + Province
P2: “If I buy 2 Provinces, P1 wins on Province + Province”. Buys Province + 3 Duchies (costs $23)
P1: Province + Province (P1 has 6 Provinces, P2 has Province + 3 Duchies)
P2: loses

In this example, P2 loses because they don’t have time against a double Province player.

If we reverse the roles, P2 still loses.

P1: build
P2: Province + Province
P1: Province + Province + Province (P1: 3 Province, P2: 2 Province)
P2: “If I double Province, P1 wins on Province + Duchy. If I don’t buy any Provinces, P1 wins anyways on triple Province.” P2 loses. (In a real game I would buy Province + Duchy and hope P1 has a dud and hits less than $16.)

In fact, P1 wins even if both players go for double Provinces.

P1: Province + Province
P2: Province + Province
P1: Province + Duchy (P1: 3 Prov + 1 Duchy, P2: 2 Province)
P2: “If I double Province, P1 wins on a single Province. If I Province + Duchy, P1 wins on double Province”. P2 loses.

In this setting, P1 wins because they have first mover advantage. But what if we can build to $24 while picking up some points along the way?

Both decks can hit $16, takes 1 turn to build deck to one that hits $24, on the building turn you can afford buying 1 Province

P1 goes for double Prov, P2 builds

P1: Province + Province
P2: builds + Province
P1: “If I double Province, then P2 ties on triple Province. Can I win if I don’t allow the tie?”.

(P1 hypothetical)
P1: Province + Duchy (P1: 3 Provinces + 1 Duchy, P2: 1 Province)
P2: “If I buy 2 Provinces, P1 can end the game.” Province + 3 Duchies (P1: 3 Provinces + Duchy, P2: 2 Provinces + 3 Duchies)
P1 “Only 3 Provinces are left, so P2 can end the game no matter what I do. I should get as many points as possible.” Province + Province
P2: Province + 3 Duchies (P1: 5 Provinces + Duchy. P2: 3 Provinces + 6 Duchies. P2 wins)

P1: “Okay, I can’t, I take the tie”. Province + Province
P2: Province + Province + Province

If we give the option of picking up a Province while building towards $24, then P2 can turn a losing situation into one where they can get a tie instead, as long as P1 goes for the double Province strategy. But, if P1 builds, then P2 will once again lose no matter what they do.

P1 builds, P2 does double Province

P1: builds + Province
P2: Province + Province
P1: Province + Province + Duchy
P2: “P1 can end the game no matter what I do and I can at most get 4 Provinces, while they have 3 Provinces + 1 Duchy”. P2 loses.

P1 builds, P2 builds

P1: builds + Province
P2: builds + Province
P1: Province + Province + Duchy (P1: 3 Provinces, 1 Duchy. P2: 1 Province)
P2: “A 6-2 Province split is not beatable. If I buy a single Province, P1 can end the game on Provinces. Therefore I should deny all the Provinces I can.” Province + Province + Province
P1: Province + 3 Duchies (P1: 4 Provinces, 4 Duchies. P2: 4 Provinces)


These toy examples are far enough from reality that I would not follow them religiously. In particular, they’re missing a model of how your deck becomes less reliable as you add VP cards to it. What they do show is how the decision of when to build and when to green isn’t just “stop at $8” or “stop at $16”. It’s dependent on the context of how quickly your deck can become better, how many VP cards are left in the pile, and how well your deck can handle Victory cards.

Even though these examples aren’t perfect, they do show off the emergent complexity of Dominion endgames. It’s quite tricky to play them correctly, and there aren’t really any shortcuts besides thinking about the possibilities and seeing what happens in each one. But that’s a subject for another article.

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German Championship 2019

This post written by RTT chronicles his experiences at the 2019 German Championship.

On March 3rd I attended the finals of the national Championship of Germany and Austria (also known as “Jubiläumsmeisterschaft”) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our beloved game. This shall be a report of my experiences and games I played during that competition.

Arriving in Altenburg

The finals were held in the castle of Altenburg which is the residence (Altenburg, not the castle) of the German dominion publisher (ASS). After a 3 hour drive on the day before, I arrived at the hotel and and met with some community members in a local restaurant. This was a real great start to this trip as getting to know some of the people I often played with online in person was really awesome. We had a nice evening and played some filler board games too.

Round 1

So, the tournament starts and the first pleasant surprise is that it’s held in a 2 player format. Which is great since I enjoy a 2 player dominion game much more, and it also decreases the randomness of the game. Out of all the players who qualified through preliminary tournaments or games played at “Hotspots”,  50 people showed up to the tournament.

gcr1

The first pairing matchups were randomly drawn and each couple gets to pick (without seeing the cards) one of 8 different kingdoms to play with. The cards used were a mix of all expansions without Alchemy, Prosperity, Dark Ages, Hinterlands and Renaissance (not released in German yet). A heavy focus of the kingdoms appeared to be on Nocturne cards, maybe to promote ASS’s newest release.

The first board was this little gem with a nice engine to build. An interesting twist was that Tragic Hero is the only +Buy but it’s pretty hard to keep since you are starting most turns with 6 cards in hand due to Ghost Town. My opponent was a woman who didn’t know any of the Nocturne cards yet. She opened Farming Village/Ghost Town and proceeded to buy a lot of Sacrifices to trash them to each other. Eventually she got a Tragic Hero and started actually doing some things but the game was long over by then. A neat trick on this board was “killing” the Tragic Hero for a Gold and then Stonemasoning the Gold into 2 more Tragic Heros (or Labs once the Heroes ran out). Storytellers were not touched, and I think rightfully so. You can trash your Coppers anyway and want to trash the few Gold you get with Stonemason or actually buy things.

Round 2

From this round on the organizers started to do the pairings based on previous performance; that is winners played other winners and so on. So, as it turned out they used a variation of the Swiss style tournament format.

gcr2

This game was a Bridge megaturn board. My opponent didn’t know the power of stacking Bridges and mostly bought a lot of Silvers and Chariot Races. She also was too afraid of playing Cursed Gold and thus got her Sentry way too late. I finished it with a big Megaturn in which I played a Ghosted Lost City to draw and play all my heralds and bridges. Oh, and the board also had the Landmark Museum and the Event Seaway, which were pretty irrelevant other than boosting up the endgame score for tie-breaking points. (Yes, they decided to use some weird calculation of points relative to your opponent as a tiebreaker).

Round 3

 

gcr3

This was basically a game about rushing to Champion and winning the Nobles Split. Goat allowed for that to happen pretty quickly. My opponent also realised that, of course. He opened Smugglers though and I carefully bought my own Smugglers turn 3 (as second player) when I knew he had his Smugglers in his turn 4 hand. He neglected to gain another Smugglers and chose to not play his at all. His only big mistake was an early Fortune Teller that really helped me get to my Champion a few turns faster than him. I also got a nice tactical Doctor trash in once, cleaning up a lot of junk at the end of my shuffle. I won the Nobles split (with the help of my two Smugglers) and, by playing multiple Sacred Groves each turn, the game ended on the Province pile.

Round 4

gcr4.png

In this round I encountered one of the people I met with the day before, and arguably the strongest one: Till (Sicomatic) who also plays in the Dominion League A division. The board though was not really that exciting. While you could theoretically build some engine here there just is no +Buy or extra gains other than some boons;  money just closes out the game super fast with Baker and Lucky Coin support. Luckily I was first player here and did build a kind of one of everything deck aiming at Fairgrounds as a potential Province substitute. Till just got a bunch of Bakers and trashed a little with Raze. He piled up a huge amount of Coffers. We both started greening at the same time though, and without an extra Buy there’s really not much use for the tokens. I sometimes missed $8 and could only buy a Fairgrounds. I was at 14 uniques at the end of the game but Till bought the penultimate Province thinking he’s enough in the lead (online Dominion made us weak) and I am able to buy the last one for a 1 point win. It turned out he miscounted how many starting Estates had been trashed, thinking we had both trashed one where really he trashed two and I kept all of mine. Unfortunately that already kicked Till out of the tournament since he had tied a game in a previous round before.

Quarterfinals

After the Qualification rounds the top 8 finishers advanced to the quarterfinals. Having won all 4 games I probably finished first or second in the qualifying rounds since only one other player managed to win all 4 matches as well. Unfortunately that was of no use, since the QF pairings are for some reason purely random again.

gcr5

I played this one with Wolfgang, another member of our group (Watno). And boy is that a board. We have great trashing with Monastery and Butcher. We both opened with that since Borrow allowed everyone to start with a 5 cost card. By the way, all 4 Quarterfinals played that same board which I found was a really nice thing for a tournament to do. I heard that in a a lot of the other quarterfinals they opened Baron instead of Butcher which I don’t think is as good. If you buy Ports on your Monastery turn you get to trash even more cards so we both got thin really quick. We did build a Port Faithful Hound engine that was aiming to play a lot of Horns of Plenty as  payload. But before we could start scoring, piles have started to become really low and I was able to find a tricky pile-out on my turn by throning a Butcher to gain and later play 2 more Horns (I had to trash Horn into Horn for it to work). So I was able to win with just one Province against no victory points at all.

Semifinals

gcr6

This was such an awful board for a IRL tournament. Originally it even included Swindler as an 11th card but since that’s too many cards it got removed at random. I was so happy about that swingy card being gone. But imagine if Lighthouse would have gotten the axe instead. *shivers* The board still was full of nasty attacks to really punish you for not having a Lighthouse down every turn. And to top it all off there is Keep to make the tracking of VP really hard. Fortunately I got a really amazing head start. We both opened 5/2 and got Vampire/Lighthouse. On turn 3 I gained a Cursed Village with my Vampire which flipped the Hex War. But, my deck didnt have any cards costing between $3 to $4 yet so I got a free Chancelor effect instead. I also got to trash my Magic Lamp for three Wishes very early on. Actually building something on the board is really messy, but I bought a lot of Cursed/Blessed Villages, Bridge Trolls and Secret Caves. I didn’t draw that well in the end so I couldn’t really close it out. I delayed the end of the game multiple turns to make sure to win most of the Keep splits beforehand. I didn’t want this game to end in a unpleasant surprise because I really was far ahead. In the end I won every single Keep split (other than Magic Lamp) and won the game on the back of that with a big points lead.

Finals

So I made it to the finals! This is where it gets exciting right? Honestly I was already very happy to have made it this far. For this game one of the organizers sits with us at the table acting as a “judge”. That basically meant that he picked up cards every now and then to read the text on them closely; sometimes even directly from play. Like once I played an Imp and thought about what to play with the Imp after drawing, but wait … where is my Imp gone? Well it’s in the hands of the judge.

And of course there were a lot of the other players standing around the table as spectators. My final boss was another member of our group: Lukas (tufftaeh).

gcr7

We both were in great mood for this final and had some amazing banter. At the start I messed with all the spectators and the judge and did pretend to read all the cards as if I didn’t know them. At catapult I said out loud: “Man that’s a lot of text. I am not going to read all of that now.” Ah, we had a good time. So about the actual game: the kingdom has no +buy so all we have for gaining is Artisan (and Leprechaun). Catapult is a nice attack and Guide a pretty nice counter. We both opened with a Tormentor to gain some early Imps. Lukas hit an early Artisan while I get Plaza and Catapult. Lukas delays his Catapult a little too long and was thus a bit behind in trashing. He also had some sad draws where all his estates landed in the same hand and he couldn’t buy anything but a Pearl Diver. Skipping a whole buy like this hurts a lot in a single buy kingdom. One time I played my Catapult commenting it with the meme: “I am going to play my Catapult to trash a Copper and gain a Lab.” (Judge starts to read Catapult again) Even Pearl Diver had its time to shine as a card to play after your Imp. Once it saved my catapult form being bottom decked early on in the game. We both gained our Plazas and two Idols from Artisan. At one point I got hit by Envious and pretended to read Envy: “This card allows me to ignore Silver and Gold.” So we both try to hit $6 for the Nobles now. The big difference here I think was that I used 2 Guides to move through my deck much more quickly and to fight off the Catapult attack. There probably was the potential to gain a Leprechaun with Artisan and play it right away for a Wish but neither of us noticed that in time. When I am buying the 5th Nobles and with that winning the split Lukas offers a handshake as a sign of resignation. At that point I also had 7 Coffers compared to his zero so it’s basically impossible for me to ever miss Province. I also have my deck way better in control than he did so the resign was reasonable for sure.

So I actually did it. And the Prize was … a participation certificate. (and a 250€ voucher for their online shop) But seriously as far as prize support goes it was kind of disappointing. Not even a trophy for my shelf or a big unique Certificate. Anyways, I hope the biggest prize is yet to come and hopefully its for the joy of all of you.

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Interview With Donald X.: Part IV

The long-awaited fourth installment from the epic interview that never ends. If you have questions you’d like to ask Donald X., feel free to ask away!

Part I, Part II, Part III.

Phil asks: Do you intentionally look for/design a “big splash” or two for your sets, or is it just a result of exploring the design space, or…?

Donald X.: I’m always trying to dramatically change the game, but not every card needs to do that. I don’t normally worry about having especially exciting cards, because I have them; I would worry about it if I didn’t.

GendoIkari asks: Did you decide that you shouldn’t be able to buy the same project twice for mechanics reasons, and then balance projects around that? Or did the no buying the same project twice rule come about due to needing to limit the power of some projects?

Donald X.: Originally they were states and each player got a copy. So there was no thought of letting you have two of one then; it would have been 6 more cards per state. When they turned into projects, I just kept them at one per player. But I immediately tried a card that let you place a second token on a project, and it was a dud.

In general I like to let people get multiple copies of an ability. It’s the same number of rules – people are used to games not letting them have two of the same ability, so you have to spell out that they can. It generates more extreme situations and I like that. It does sometimes limit what you can do – the card phrasings have to all make sense, and it’s bad if lots of abilities are now so strong with two copies that you have to cost them for that and then they suck at one copy. Here I didn’t really consider it beyond that card. I didn’t want to give you more cubes; sure you could have two cubes and be able to go up to two somewhere, but it would have felt like, wouldn’t it be more fun to have four cubes. I wanted simplicity; this way I dodged any explanations of “what if you have two of this” (Nefarious didn’t get “this twist copies the other twist” because the publisher didn’t like the rules questions and phrasing changes that created). But it was not much on my mind.

Greybirdofprey asks: About Patron – in most translations, ‘reveal’ hasn’t been consistently translated using the same word (probably because no one expected it to matter). Have you considered this when designing Patron?

Donald X.: I don’t know how consistent the translations are, but I knew it was a thing to worry about it, and we checked what we could, and as you can see I went for it.

If Renaissance gets published in e.g. Japanese and a particular card doesn’t match, people will play that one wrong… which is probably fine. If someone knows that the English version says “reveal,” they can speak up and verify this with a device they carry everywhere.

Ipofanes asks: Have you ever considered or tested a stackable Enchantress effect?

Donald X.: It’s intentionally not stackable. You can stop Enchantress from hurting you by playing with no fun Action cards. When Action cards are punished too heavily, casual players try that no-fun strategy and have no fun.

AJD asks: Is it a coincidence that no Potion-cost cards give +coin, or was that an intentional design decision?

Donald X.: I wasn’t avoiding +$. I was however trying to deal with “what if this is the only potion-coster,” which led to a bunch of cantrips, which led to making “likes actions” a sub-theme. So if there had been a +$ action odds are it would have had +1 action too.

Buckets asks: If you could play a game of giant Dominion where all the cards were like A4 sized would you? If you could invite 2-3 famous people to play giant dominion with you, would you invite those people or would you opt to play giant dominion with your usual crew? Assume you can only play giant dominion the one time.

Donald X.: I looked up what A4 is. Man it’s just slightly off from eight and a half by eleven. What’s up with that. If e.g. when I went to Essen they had said, here are these giant cards, I would have been a good sport and played a game with them. I have no special interest in them though. I can already invite famous people to play. The problem is getting them to come. Maybe the A4 size would do the trick, but man, it sounds like a long shot.

Greybirdofprey asks: I know there are quite some videogame-related charity events, but I have never seen boardgame-related charity events. Have you ever participated in boardgame-related charity events? Would you?

Donald X.: I was asked once, and I said sure, but they didn’t work out how to get the signed stuff from me and then I guess forgot about it.

Crj asks: A curious question a friend’s just asked, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen addressed: Is Dominion set on Earth?

Donald X.: Dominion is set on Earth, mostly in medieval times, though Empires has ancient Rome and Renaissance is the end of the period.

chipperMDW asks: Is magic real?

Tripwire follows up: This question got me thinking: what is a curse thematically? They seem to imply magic, but lots of non-magical stuff gives them out: Mountebanks, Jesters, Hideouts, etc.

Donald X.: Initially the idea was to have a hint of magic with no clear demonstration of it being real magic. I decided to make Alchemy anyway, it had pure fantasy things. Then when the main set was published, Witch was shown with magic despite me specifying otherwise, so so much for that. In the end the game is set in the medieval Europe of many stories, not just fairy tales but you know, Shakespeare plays and so on; it’s mostly the real world, but with some magical stuff. People believed in ghost ships and there’s a ghost ship, you know. Except Alchemy has some flat-out fantasy stuff, and then Nocturne has tons of it, it’s Celtic fairy tales.

With magic not being clearly real, Witch and Mountebank are the same kind of thing. With actual magic, well Curses I guess are both magical and non-magical things that are in your way.

Sir Bailey had the second copy of Dominion, and took the name Castle Builder to heart, changing Curse to Rubble and having those attacks be siege weapons. I considered Rubble but stuck with Curse.

Cave-o-sapien asks: I’ve noticed you spectating several high-level league matches. What is it like watching people play your creation competitively, in general? Is it amusing? Entertaining? Fulfilling? Do you find validation of design choices by watching some of these matches?

Donald X.: To me, I’m just me; when I post on the forums it feels a lot to me like it does when I post on forums where I’m no-one special. Now shift that over to watching games being played. For the most part I don’t think I’m specially affected. Sure there are things I can speak up on, oh in playtest that card was different. I’m aware that people might expect me to be a better player than I am, because I’m the guy. That’s a bummer, who needs that pressure.

That said, I do like seeing interesting games, cool lines of play; I don’t like seeing cards I blew it on make the game worse. It’s fun to see cards I blew it on by making them too weak end up doing something. For a typical game I am not thinking “look at all my mistakes,” but then the powerful cards gain some finesse from the high level of play in the matches I’m likely to click on, and taking out those 12 Dominion/Intrigue cards reduced the frequency of games with lots of duds. In that last championship there was a game with Pirate Ship, Counting House, and Noble Brigand, but there was a lot going on in the remaining cards.

Probably when an expansion is new I feel more like, this is my thing, please like it guys, I hope I didn’t blow it. But later that pressure is off.

I’m probably overstating this due to wanting to feel like I’m not stuck-up or something; some cognitive bias, we can work out which one later. Probably I’ve to some degree watched games just because I’m the guy. Maybe in a sideways sense of, like, this isn’t as much of a waste of time as it would be if it were some other game, because hey I’m the guy. Or the expected background idea of wanting to feel good about making a game that people are playing.

But then, I’ve watched a bunch of Super Mario Odyssey videos, and I’m clearly no-one there, just a guy who wants to see cool stuff in a game he likes.

Spectating Dominion is greatly enhanced by being able to chat with the other spectators. It’s way more fun than watching the videos. I do watch some of the videos, but tend to skip a lot, trying to just see, how did they open, how did things develop, how did it end, without seeing every decision being considered. But when you’re spectating, you can talk about the decisions, spot things they didn’t, listen to Stef spot things they didn’t, or you know, talk about something else even.

Silby asks: What’s the most fun you can have with a deck of traditional playing cards?

Donald X.: I’ll pretend that instead you asked, what’s the best game to play with a deck of playing cards.

Well I’m no expert. I imagine you can do an entertaining mini-version of Dominion; people don’t tend to research this stuff because you can just make a special deck can’t you. Some of the games I’ve played the most with one deck of playing cards are: Crazy Crazy 8’s (it’s Crazy 8’s but the winner of a hand makes up a new rule to add to the game; Pina Pirata is this only the rules are provided and the deck is different); Speed; FreeCell. I respect Deuces but have not played it much. The trick-taking games I’ve played any noticeable amount of did not use a regular deck. Well I made some just to play around and they did.

There’s a game idea I tested with playing cards, and it worked but I never made the game with its own deck. Maybe someday. Oh there are two of those, though the second needed chits too. I have another game that would totally work with playing cards, but has a special deck, and well maybe someday I will show it to publishers again. They like it but realize it won’t sell. I have an old old game that used playing cards but added another deck too; that’s how it goes. My Poker game had a special deck; I’ve barely played playing-card-deck Poker.

If you have questions you’d like to ask Donald X., feel free to ask away!

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Replace

This article was written by Titandrake, with some edits by the Dominion Strategy blog team. If you would like to contribute to the Dominion Strategy Blog, check out the Articles section of the forums, or send a PM to Chris is me.

One rule of thumb in Dominion is that $5 costs are much stronger than $4 costs. Replace is Remodel, except with some tricks. It Curses when you gain a Victory card, and topdecks the card if you don’t. Is this really worth the jump from $4 to $5?

Yes. The answer is yes.

Part of this is that Remodel is just a good card, so even a small upgrade on Remodel makes it worthy of costing $5. However, both the topdecking and Cursing from Replace are more important than they may first appear.

One common play pattern with Remodel is to remodel Silver or other $3 costs into a $5 cost. As mentioned earlier, these $5 costs are much stronger than the $3 cost you trash to gain them. Doing this trash is often the correct play, but you do lose some tempo, because you can’t play the $3 cost you trashed and you won’t get to play the $5 cost you gained until your next shuffle. The topdecking from Replace removes much of the tempo loss, since you’ll be able to play the new card on your next turn, or possibly this turn if you have the spare draw.

The Cursing, however, is where Replace shines. The other common play pattern with Remodel is to buy Golds or a Gold gainer, then use Remodel to turn those Golds or other $6 costs into Provinces. Optionally, those Provinces can then be remodelled into other Provinces to end the game faster. Replace does the same job, but hands out Curses while doing it. These Curses are a big part of Replace’s power. Generally, trash-for-benefit cards let the winning player end the game faster, because they can trash Provinces into other Provinces. In Replace’s case, this works in your favor. Cursing slows down your opponent, and Replace does so at a time where it’s critical that your opponent contest VP and line up their own Replace with trash targets. A Province to Province trash doesn’t just end the game sooner, it also gives your opponent -1 VP. By the time they deal with the Curses, the game may be close to ending.

This cursing is strong enough that Replace trashing Copper into Estate isn’t the worst thing. I mean, it isn’t great. I’d rather gain actual cards. But it’s an okay last-resort option if you don’t have other viable remodel targets. At least you and your opponent both get junked. Replace is also decent at getting rid of Curses – Curse into Estate giving out a Curse is a 3 VP swing in late game.

For these reasons, although Replace isn’t the most powerful $5, it’s often worth buying one or two copies. The pile control and Curse potential it offers is too useful to ignore.

Posted in Articles, General Strategy, Individual Card Analysis, Intrigue | Leave a comment

Donald X.’s Guide to 12 Dominion Expansions

This article was written by Donald X. Vaccarino, the creator of Dominion. It was originally posted on the forum. For more insights from Donald, check out The Bible of Donald X.

Lots of people ask: what Dominion expansion should I get next? They have different criteria in mind and well this guide will try to answer that question for a variety of criteria.

It can be helpful to look at the cards, see what’s in the expansions. The wiki has images of all of them.

Terse Descriptions

Mainly there’s the main set and 12 expansions. You technically don’t need the main set – you could know the game and get Base Cards plus any expansions. So I have to consider it too.

Small – 150 cards: Alchemy, Cornucopia, Guilds
Regular – 300 cards: Intrigue, Seaside, Prosperity, Hinterlands, Empires, Renaissance
Large – 400 cards: Adventures
Extra large – 500 cards: Dominion (due to base cards), Dark Ages, Nocturne

Dominion: The main set – includes base cards needed to play. The focus is on simplicity.
Intrigue: Cards that give you a choice, and victory cards that do something.
Seaside: Duration cards – they do something this turn and next turn.
Alchemy: Potions – a new resource that most of the cards in the set require to buy them.
Prosperity: Adds Platinum and Colony as a step above Gold and Province; Treasures that do things, VP tokens (worth 1 VP at end of game).
Cornucopia: Variety theme.
Hinterlands: “When you gain/buy this” theme.
Dark Ages: Trash theme; Shelters to replace starting Estates; Ruins which are similar to Curses; Spoils which is a one-use Gold.
Guilds: Coffers tokens ($ you can save), overpay (pay extra for a card to get an effect when buying it).
Adventures: Duration cards return; Reserve cards you can save until you want to use them; Events, effects you can buy that aren’t cards.
Empires: VP tokens return; more Events; Landmarks, things you don’t buy that modify scores; Debt that lets you pay for a card later; Split piles with two or more cards in them.
Nocturne: Night – a new phase after the Buy phase with cards usable then; Boons/Hexes – small random good/bad things that cards generate; non-supply Spirits; cards with Heirlooms that replace starting Coppers.
Renaissance: Coffers tokens return; Villager tokens (+1 Action you can save); Projects, abilities you can buy that aren’t cards; Artifacts, abilities only one player can have at a time.

But wait, there are other products you might find. I’ll ignore these elsewhere in this guide, but let’s see what they are.

Dominion and Intrigue were changed, with 6 cards dropped and 7 cards added. Thus we have:

Dominion, first edition: This is the only way to get the 6 cards dropped from Dominion. They were dropped with good reason! You don’t need this. And it’s not in print (in English), though there are lots of copies out there.
Intrigue, first edition: Similarly this is how you get the 6 cards dropped from Intrigue. You don’t need them. Also this version of Intrigue was standalone – it has the base cards needed to play, meaning it’s 500 cards.
Dominion Update Pack: Just the 7 cards added to Dominion. If you don’t have them they are a great source of 7 pretty simple but still interesting cards. This is out of print (the expectation being that the people who wanted it got it, and new copies of Dominion just have the new cards).
Intrigue Update Pack: And the 7 cards added to Intrigue. They are pretty sweet imo. Out of print.

The other expansions through Adventures got new versions with improved layout, but no new cards.

There’s more:

Base Cards: Just the basic cards needed to play – Copper Silver Gold Estate Duchy Province Curse – plus a few similar things that have appeared in expansions – Platinum Colony Potion. Once they were prettier than the main set / expansion versions; now everything is even prettier. You could want this in order to aviod buying Dominion itself, though it’s a fine product, or if you want to go to 5-6 players.
Promos: Over the years some promos have come out. They’re are a mixed bag, typically too weak or too strong. Some of them are fun though. You can buy them at BoardGameGeek and support the site at the same time.
Mixed Box: It’s Cornucopia plus Guilds in one box; we no longer sell them separately (in English). I couldn’t quite bring myself to combine them in this guide though.
Big Box: The current one is Dominion plus Intrigue plus extra base cards so you can play with 5-6 players. The old out of print one was Dominion plus Prosperity plus Alchemy, for some reason.

Non-English language versions include different Big Boxes and different Mixed Boxes and random assortment products; I don’t have all the information on those. Hobby Japan also makes rethemes – mixes of cards from multiple expansions, with different flavor. You can look those things up on BoardGameGeek if you want. 999 Games makes an intro product in Dutch that’s smaller than the normal main game.

Longer Descriptions

If you just want a few sentences more on each set, I’m there for you.

Dominion: Some of the simplest cards in the game, covering all the most common kinds of abilities. Most of you have this already. If you don’t, I recommend getting it; while it’s possible to get base cards elsewhere, these cards are great to add to your games.

Intrigue: This expands on the main game in the simplest way possible, without much to send you to the rulebook. There is a theme of cards that give you a choice – something like “choose one…” or “name a card.” There are also Victory cards with abilities, including Action – Victory cards and a Treasure – Victory card, plus a few cards that like those cards.

Seaside: Introduces Duration cards – orange cards that set up something to happen in the future. Many of them simply do something this turn, and that thing or another thing on your next turn. The rest of the set has some related cards, like stuff that interacts with the top of your deck. Duration cards were much admired on their debut. They finally came back in Adventures, and the later sets each have a few Duration cards. But they started out here.

Alchemy: Adds a new basic pile, Potions, which produce a new resource. To buy cards with the potion symbol in the cost, you need to play a Potion. The set also has an action-chaining theme, which it got to make sure that most of the cards were worth buying a Potion for even if no other cards in the game required a Potion. Some people adore Alchemy, but it tends to be people’s least favorite set.

Prosperity: The overall theme is “spendy.” There are Platinum and Colony, new base cards above Gold and Province; there are Treasures that do things when you play them or while they’re in play; and there are at last cards that cost $7. There are also three cards that use VP tokens – a way to have VP without it being a card in your deck.

Cornucopia: There are no new rulebook mechanics in this small expansion. The theme of the set is variety, with cards that care about the variety of cards you have in your deck, or in your hand, or in play, and some cards that can get you more variety.

Hinterlands: This is a simpler set. The main theme is cards that do something (extra) either when you buy them or when you gain them. There are 3 Reactions, 3 special Treasures, and 3 Victory cards, but that’s only 7 cards total. A number of cards push “filtering” – getting through your deck without using all the cards.

Dark Ages: This is a sprawling set full of crazy combos. There is a trash theme, cards that do something when you trash them, lots of ways to trash things, and a few things that care what’s in the trash or can take cards out of it. The Ruins pile is like Curses but more interesting, with 3 cards handing them out. The Spoils pile is an unbuyable one-use Gold that 3 cards give out. Starting Estates can be replaced with Shelters, which have little abilities to spice up those games.

Guilds: A small set with two themes: Coffers tokens, which you can cash in in your Buy phase for +$1, and overpay, which is cards that let you pay extra for them in order to generate an effect when you buy the card.

Adventures: Duration cards return, including Duration attacks and Duration cards that just hang around in play all game. The Tavern mat gives you a place to put Reserve cards, which go to your mat when played and can be “called” off later to do what they do. For the first time a new kind of card is shuffled in with the randomizers (or kept separate if you prefer): Events. A game can have 0-2 Events; they give you an effect you can buy in your Buy phase, but aren’t a card in anyone’s deck. There are two Travellers, cards that upgrade themselves four times each.

Empires: VP tokens return, with lots of uses for them, including cards that they pile up on. In addition to more Events, there are Landmarks, more randomizer-deck cards that can be added to a game. They provide a way to score VP, sometimes with tokens or sometimes just calculated at the end of the game. You use 0-2 Events/Landmarks total. Some cards cost Debt, which means you don’t have to pay for the card now, but can’t buy other things until you finish paying off the Debt. There are 5 Split piles that have two different cards in them – five copies of each – plus the Castles pile with 8 different Victory cards.

Nocturne: This expansion adds a new phase, Night, which occurs after the Buy phase and before Clean-up. The only thing it means is, there are Night cards that you only play then. This lets them care about what happened during the turn, and many of them do; others go right into your hand when gained, so you can buy one and then immediately play it at Night. There are two small decks of random good/bad effects, the Boons and Hexes, and cards that cause you to turn over one of those cards and see what happens. Seven cards have Heirlooms, which are special Treasures that replace a starting Copper in games using that card. Several cards use new non-Supply cards, the Spirits. Overall it’s the most flavorful set.

Renaissance: This set is much simpler than the last few, but still has four mechanics. Coffers tokens return, paired with Villagers, which are tokens you can cash in in your Action phase for +1 Action. Projects are randomizer-deck things like Events, but instead of getting a one-time effect, you get a permanent ability. You use 0-2 Events/Landmarks/Project per game. Artifacts are non-deck cards that only one player can have at a time; the cards that produce them will let you take them from other players.

Let’s Start Off Simple

The main set is especially simple; start there! Intrigue is next simplest, adding just “Victory cards can do things” as a concept, and never really sending you to the rulebook. Hinterlands is pretty simple, and then, simple but with more new stuff, we have Seaside, Prosperity, and Renaissance.

I Just Want the Best Expansions, Okay?

You get better with experience; I think the later sets – Adventures, Empires, Nocturne, Renaissance – are all more polished than the earlier sets, with fewer duds, and lots of exciting content. I also especially like the revamped Intrigue, and Dark Ages. Note however that Adventures, Empires, and Nocturne are the three most complex expansions.

I Want the Sets That Add the Most to the Game

Adventures, Empires, and Renaissance add not just kingdom cards but also Events / Landmarks / Projects, which add lots of variety to the game. After those, some expansions mess with the starting decks or basic cards: Prosperity adds Platinum / Colony; Dark Ages has Shelters and is also 500 cards; Nocturne has Heirlooms.

I Want Lots of Player Interaction

Empires has the most interaction overall: it has attacks, split piles, and Gathering piles (they accumulate tokens one player will get), plus many of the Landmarks are interactive.

I Hate Attacks

Renaissance only has two, getting much of its interaction from the Artifacts that players can compete for. Prosperity and Empires only have three, although Prosperity’s three get played a lot. All three sets make up for that reduced interaction by having more non-attack interaction.

Wait, I Love Attacks

Intrigue and Seaside have some especially vicious attacks, attacks that make the game be about that card. Dark Ages has fewer attacks by %, but they include the ones that give out Ruins cards, plus the Knights pile; if you like attacks, you will want to see the Knights. Nocturne has attacks that give out Hexes, which are random effects.

I Want the Best Player to Win

Any new expansion you get will favor the best player for a while. Empires helps the better player via VP tokens, so many ways to catch up to a lead in Provinces. Dark Ages and Renaissance help the player better at spotting card interactions. Renaissance and Guilds help the player better at knowing when to use up Coffers and Villagers.

I Want Crazy Surprising Things to Happen

Nocturne has the most randomness, with completely random Boons and Hexes. Dark Ages and Renaissance push card interactions, and can produce lots of crazy surprising ones.

I Want Big But Less Surprising Things to Happen

Prosperity has a “big” theme, with Platinum and Colony as the next step from Gold and Province, and cards costing $7. Empires picks up from there, with a treasure that doubles your $, an Event that makes 15 VP total, and cards that cost 8 debt.

I Like Theme

Nocturne and Adventures stand out as having more thematic cards than other expansions – at the expense of, they’re more complex too. Dominion’s theme gets singled out some for ridicule, but well, whether that’s your stance or not, those expansions are heavier on theme.

Which Sets Have Those Cool Metal Tokens?

Empires has VP tokens and Debt tokens; Prosperity has VP tokens and coin tokens; Seaside has coin tokens and Embargo tokens (they are only used with Embargo). Guilds and Renaissance have coin tokens. In terms of actually using the tokens, Empires and Renaissance get the most out of their metal.

No Fiddly Bits for Me

Dominion, Intrigue, and Hinterlands have no extra bits and no extra piles.

What’s Next if I Liked…

Dominion: Intrigue does the least to stray from the basics.
Intrigue: Empires has lots of VP tokens, which are more non-deck VP. Guilds and Renaissance push choices.
Seaside: Duration cards return with a vengeance in Adventures.
Alchemy: If you liked the action-chaining, try Dark Ages.
Prosperity: Empires is kind of a sequel to Prosperity.
Cornucopia: There isn’t much that cares about variety outside of Cornucopia, but some sets help you get variety – Dark Ages, Nocturne.
Hinterlands: All later sets have a little when-gain, but Renaissance has more than usual.
Dark Ages: Renaissance has some more trash-combo stuff. Nocturne has more non-Supply piles and starting-deck cards.
Guilds: Renaissance revisits Coffers. Hinterlands debuted when-gain, related to the overpay cards.
Adventures: Seaside debuted Duration cards. Events are also in Empires, and the related Projects appear in Renaissance. If you liked the flavor, Nocturne is especially flavorful.
Empires: This is kind of a sequel to Prosperity. Adventures debuted Events, and Renaissance has the related Projects.
Nocturne: Dark Ages has more non-Supply piles and starting-deck cards. Adventures also has fantasy elements.
Renaissance: Guilds introduced Coffers. Dark Ages has more trash-combo stuff, Hinterlands more when-gain. Adventures and Empires have Events, which are related to Projects.

But What Would Someone Else Recommend?

Seaside and Prosperity! When they came out they were the best sets. People have a lot of nostalgia for them. Duration cards from Seaside were popular; some people never want to play without Platinum and Colony from Prosperity. Among the later sets, Empires was especially well received.

If you look at BoardGameGeek ratings, expansion ratings are always warped; an expansion (correctly) tends to only get rated by people who have it, which tends to be people who were pretty pleased up to then. So expansions rate higher than games, and later expansions rate higher because the people who bought ten expansions are bigger fans than the people who bought two. So you can’t just look at the ratings and get a clear story. Still, trying to take that into account, Prosperity and Empires stand out as outliers, higher than expected.

Hey, What About Cornucopia and Alchemy?

None of the above categories recommend these expansions. In the case of Alchemy, well, it’s most people’s least favorite expansion; I’d get it last. Cornucopia I think is great; it just doesn’t fall into any of those categories. The variety theme is a unique thing that people like but don’t specifically ask for.

And That’s That

There you have it. When people say, what expansion should I get next, here is a thing you can link them to.

Posted in Articles, General Strategy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Exorcist and its Spooky Spirits

This article was written by Puzzle Box in collaboration with the Dominion Strategy blog team. Puzzle Box has been writing a lot lately; thanks for all of your contributions so far! – Chris

Exorcist is powerful and a unique variation on trash-for-benefit. It single-handedly offers trashing, draw, and a (quite unwieldy) source of actions, so its presence alone essentially guarantees the possibility of playing a controlled deck.

Because Exorcist is a Night card, it’s functionally nonterminal and synergizes well with terminal draw. Even normally-weak variations of terminal draw like Moat are effective to open alongside Exorcist. Exorcist is typically at its strongest when turning your Estates into Wisps, then trashing early cards (such as Silver) that have outlived their usefulness into Imps and Wisps. It can trash 0-cost cards such as Copper, Curse, and Ruins, but because it does not get any benefit for trashing these, it welcomes support from other trashers that can do so more efficiently. If you do intend to have Exorcist do all your trashing, consider picking up a second copy. That copy can become an Imp or Wisp when you’re done with it.

The Spirits

Will-o-Wisp

Will-o-Wisp is an innocuous but helpful source of draw, and with Exorcist, you can expect to gain at least a few from your starting Estates. Wisp is good when your cards are cheap, so it’s nice early on, but also means the more Wisps and Imps you get, the better your Wisps become. If an Exorcist is pumping out Spirits on repeat, consider taking Wisp over Imp once your Spirit count becomes high enough — Imp gets worse in multiples while Wisp gets better.

Imp

The first few copies of Imp you gain are excellent ways to draw cards, as the unique-card condition will be easy to satisfy. As you gain more, they act less like Lab and more like Moat, so they are far more impressive as a supporting card than as your primary source of draw. Carefully consider your sequencing of cantrips and draw to maximize your odds that the Imps can play them.In general you will want to play the cards you have many copies of and the biggest pieces of draw first to help line things up. Also note that actions that leave play (such as Distant Lands) can be played by Imp repeatedly in the same turn.

Ghost

I’ll put it bluntly — Ghost is weak and usually best avoided. The opportunity cost is typically very high, since having cards you don’t want that cost 5+ is rare. Additionally, the reward is dubious because Ghost is difficult to control and only operates every other turn. The one niche Ghost really fills is that it allows you to play multiple terminal actions in the same turn, so if there are no villages and powerful terminal payload makes you desperate to do so (here’s looking at you, Goons), you may turn to Ghost. Gold-gainers are a nice way to get Ghost material in the situations where you do want it, and note that Exorcist itself can help set up your Ghosts — playing an Exorcist to make an Imp or Wisp before playing your Ghost guarantees that you have something nice in your discard for Ghost to find. If you do not set up your Ghost, be aware that it has a mandatory effect, so finding trashers such as Remake can be a serious risk.

In Summary

  • Exorcist is an excellent card, offering trashing, draw, and a weak source of actions
  • It’s at its best Estates and cheap, early cards like Silver
  • Pairing Exorcist with terminals is effective, especially with terminal draw
  • Wisp is a low-cost way to get a bit of draw, especially strong early and in multiples
  • Imp is very effective draw in low numbers, but more are weaker
  • Ghost is generally weak, but can be a source of extra actions if you need them badly
Posted in Articles, General Strategy, Individual Card Analysis, Nocturne, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Develop As A Gainer

This article was written by Puzzle Box in collaboration with the Dominion Strategy blog team.

Much has been written about Develop’s role as a mediocre trasher, while its more unwieldy, but more potent role as a gainer remains underdeveloped. Due to the strict and strange constraints on Develop’s gaining plus the fact that it topdecks what it gains, misuse of Develop can easily cause a player to lose control of their deck, making it one of the more difficult cards in Dominion to use effectively. However, when used well, Develop can gain cards very efficiently while bolstering your consistency, and tactical uses can save you from otherwise nasty situations. Additionally, sometimes it will be the only source of gains at all, and using it well in those scenarios will make or break you.

What To Gain With Develop

The best case for Develop is that there are two cards you are happy to add to your deck with a cost difference of 2, and something with a cost in-between theirs. Ideally, topdecking at least one, if not both, of those cards will improve your consistency. An example would be a board with Village, Wild Hunt, and any 4-cost card–you can buy or gain the 4-cost each turn, and end each turn by topdecking Village and Wild Hunt, massively bolstering your consistency while improving your deck. If there is only one card you want to topdeck, saving a cantrip until after your Develop to draw the other allows this.

If two cards you want to gain are separated by a cost of 3 rather than 2, you can still use Develop effectively if you hold onto a piece of Develop material that will resonate back and forth between the two intermediate costs as you alternate which pair you gain. For example, if you want to gain King’s Court and Advisor, you can alternate between Developing Duchy and Gold to do so. If you play with two Develops, you can even topdeck the cards you want to gain but not the others, by putting the card you want on the bottom each time and playing a cantrip to draw the other. In the given example, by doing this while Developing Gold into Duchy then back to Gold, you could even still play the Gold in your buy phase.

Cards with on-trash and on-gain benefits can also be very good to Develop. For instance, with Fortress, Develop can easily gain and topdeck a 3 and a 5 at no cost, or with Ill-Gotten Gains, you can gain one to deliver your opponent a curse, then Develop it into a more useful 4 and 6.

When To Gain With Develop

When Develop is the only gainer you either must make use of it or be limited to a single gain. I believe that on a majority of these boards, being able to use Develop well against an opponent who cannot will all but guarantee your victory.

When Develop is your trasher and you are done using it to trash, you can efficiently continue to employ it. Consider switching to gaining before you are done trashing your coppers. Develop is a horrible copper trasher, removing them one at a time terminally and for no benefit. If you can use it as a gainer in ways that improve your consistency, that allows your deck to carry more stop cards without failing, accomplishing many of the same things as copper trashing but with greater efficiency.

When the Develops are really good then using Develop just makes sense. Situations like the “best case” described above just make Develop into a high-quality gainer.

Pileouts are often enabled earlier than you’d expect by Develop-gaining, since it’s capable of disassembling your deck to lower 2 expensive cards at a time. Gaining Develop on a potentially-pentultimate turn can be a great way to establish pile control, and lines that involve using Develop to gain Develop can lead to some truly wacky victories.

Open Boldly

If there are other useful cheap cards that can be effectively developed for gains, then opening Develop alongside them is often viable, even if these cards are terminal. For instance, Develop plus Moneylender will often be a powerful opener, since if they do not collide you’ll trash 2 cards for benefit, and if they do collide you can Develop the Moneylender to topdeck a Silver (or some other useful 3-cost) and a 5-cost of your choice. Be aware of the awesome strength of these openers.

Summary

  • Develop is a situationally powerful gainer
  • It is at its best when there are 2 cards you want to gain with a cost difference of 2
  • Topdecking the gained cards for next turn can boost your consistency
  • Gaining with Develop is often superior to trashing coppers
  • Develop is good at enabling pileouts
  • Opening Develop with a terminal that you are happy to Develop is safe and often potent
Posted in Articles, General Strategy, Hinterlands, Individual Card Analysis, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Star Chart

This article was written by Polk5440, with some edits by the Dominion Strategy blog team. If you would like to contribute to the Dominion Strategy Blog, check out the Articles section of the forums, or send a PM to Chris is me.

Projects are one of the new mechanics introduced in Renaissance. They are abilities everyone can have simply by buying them once. Star Chart’s is “When you shuffle, you may pick one of the cards to go on top.” That seems simple enough; and it is! It is also deceptively strong. Star Chart is easily one of the best of the twenty Projects in the expansion.

Being able to pick a card to go on top of your deck every shuffle just makes your deck work better. How much better? Well, it’s tough to quantify. But, you know that dodgy acquaintance of yours? The one who “shuffles” but magically always has great luck getting his key card in hand? Well, now you, too, can shadily shuffle, but legally.

Star Chart’s topdecking effect always gets used once a shuffle. Without condition. For just $3. This is a huge value proposition over many other cards in Dominion that provide conditional topdecking services. Harbinger misses if you don’t have any cards in your discard pile. Pearl Diver misses if you don’t have any cards in your deck. Watchtower doesn’t topdeck unless you have it in hand. Royal Seal doesn’t topdeck unless you have it in play. Nomad Camp only topdecks itself once. The list goes on. Star Chart just works every shuffle, no matter what.

The topdecking effect is freely transferable and not tied down to a particular card like many events and tokens. This is a big advantage over something like Stash. Stash also can be topdecked once a shuffle, but Stash is usually bad, especially in a single copy. It’s just a Silver! Star Chart lets you topdeck a different card every shuffle depending on your needs. And if you really need to topdeck a Silver, you can, without paying $5 for that Silver in the first place.

After playing with Star Chart for a while, I began asking myself, “When wouldn’t I want Star Chart?” The answer I’ve come to is “probably never.” There may be some cases where there isn’t time to waste a buy on Star Chart — perhaps some Donate games — but I haven’t come across one myself, yet. The more pertinent question is usually not whether to buy Star Chart, but when.

Sometimes certain opening buys like Chapel, Page, or Peasant missing the shuffle is game losing. Star Chart is there to help you out and prevent it. For example, opening Chapel and a cantrip like Poacher over Chapel and Silver helps mitigate the probability Chapel misses the shuffle while still giving some economy, but Star Chart eliminates the probability of a miss. Chapel-Star Chart lets you guarantee you will trash four cards in the first shuffle, and then you can use the second hand in the shuffle to start building your economy.

It’s not always correct to open Star Chart, though. Star Chart itself doesn’t give you anything, so if there isn’t something already in your deck that you really want topdecked, it’s best to work up to it. For example, suppose there is a killer $5 you really want, but you open $3-$4. Yes, Silver-Star Chart lets you topdeck the Silver, but that doesn’t actually increase your chances of getting a $5 hand in the next two hands. Silver-Silver actually gives better odds. There might be something better than Silver-Silver to get your deck going in any particular kingdom, but the point is that you don’t need Star Chart immediately unless you have something in your deck that you just can’t afford to have miss the shuffle. Then later you can pick up Star Chart on a spare $3 or spare buy, but not too late because you still will want Star Chart eventually.

Because of its simplicity, Star Chart is one of those cards in Dominion that, when it was first previewed, appeared pretty innocuous to me. However, it turns out to be incredibly strong.

Posted in Articles, General Strategy, Individual Card Analysis, Renaissance, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Treasure Gainers

This article was originally written by tracer, with some edits by the Dominion Strategy blog team. If you would like to contribute to the Dominion Strategy Blog, check out the Articles section of the forums, or send a PM to Chris is me.

“Silver is a bad card” is a common piece of advice given online these days, and yet many who take it to heart will turn around and tell you that Explorer is a fine card. While these ideas appear inconsistent at first, a closer look at how Treasure gainers like Explorer fit into a deck will clarify that contradiction.

What to Look For In a Treasure Gainer

While there is often no choice in Treasure gainers on a given board, evaluating the advantages of the ones present can help in determining whether the added pace from gaining treasures rather than buying Treasures is worth the cost of the extra Action card.

Most Treasure gainers do something else as well, such as trashing (Amulet), attacking (Bandit), providing other gains (Leprechaun), or general flexibility (Squire, Courtier). Determining how valuable the extra effect is – and at what time – should factor into the decision of if and when to buy the gainer. There are a few non-terminal Treasure gainers which are easier to fit into decks, and this qualification is more likely to determine whether or not the card is worth gaining.

While in many contexts you will take what you can get, whether the gainer provides Silver or Gold (or even kingdom Treasures) can make a difference. Obviously Gold is better in most cases – not only because it provides more coins, but also because the higher cost is beneficial for trash-for-benefit cards, particularly Remodel variants.

In Decks That Like Treasures

The more obvious use case for treasure gainers is those decks in which Silver is clearly not a bad card: you want to gain Treasures, and a Treasure gainer works just fine. Beyond this tautology, there are a few ways the presence of a Treasure gainer can change the thinking in a deck whose goal is to buy a Province each turn (e.g. a money deck).

For example, when you use a Treasure gainer, there are fewer pacing issues with aggressively  trashing your cards. In decks that are attempting to buy a single Province, it is often inefficient to trash, since many trashers do not help directly with Province buying; this is especially true for Copper trashing as it hurts your early game economy. When playing with a Treasure gainer in these single-Province decks, the buys that otherwise would be going to Treasures rather than trashing can go to trashing. You avoid the momentum loss of skipping Treasure buys, and the loss of economy from Copper is more efficiently made up.

Terminal draw money plays awkwardly with Treasure gainers. Various terminal draw big money strategies are well known as speed baselines. However, most Treasure gainers are Action cards, which can be drawn dead. Draw cards such as Gear or Courtyard can allow a Treasure gainer to be played the next turn, and so are more effective with Treasure gainers. If your Treasure gainer is itself a Treasure, this problem is simply nonexistent. Being able to incorporate multiple increasers of pace tends to be what makes an effective money deck, so the synergy between terminal draw cards and Treasure gainers that are themselves Treasures is strong.

In Decks That Don’t Like Treasures

In decks which attempt to draw a large number of cards, Treasures tend to hamper consistency: Treasures do not draw, and so are harmful to this goal. However, many of these decks still require coins in order to buy things, and Treasures could be the main source of coins, whether due to a lack of alternatives or because there is enough draw to compensate. If available, Treasure gainers usually provide the best method of expanding these decks’ capacity to buy payload and components, as opposed to having to buy those Treasures.

The most prominent reason for this preference is efficiency. A single buy of a Treasure gainer provides those needed Treasures that would otherwise need to be purchased with a number of buys (and coins). Additionally, Treasures are expensive for the amount of value they give; being able to gain them during your action phase rather than having to buy them allows those coins (and buys) to be spent on cards which provide more for their cost, such as the draw cards needed to deal with Treasures.

While increasing economy sounds like something that one may want to do early, it is often not immediately useful, and those treasures get in the way of the goal of drawing the deck. Timing the addition of the Treasure gainer to the deck is key. The ideal timing is when additional stop cards will not impede your drawing, while still getting as much value as possible out of the presence of those Treasures over time. Ideally, the addition would be such that the gained treasure can be used the turn it is gained – as the deck reaches a state of drawing itself. Treasure gainers that also trash help get the deck into a controlled state, so they are often gained early for the secondary effect, transitioning into Treasure gaining later on. Either way, unlike in non-drawing decks, the presence of a treasure gainer does not change how to think about the deck’s goals.

In Summary

Treasure gainers are an important tool to reduce the opportunity cost of adding economy to a deck, as long as you know the right ways in which to use them. With practice and context, timing the addition of a Treasure gainer to the deck will result in adding much needed economy exactly when you need it, without getting in the way of your other aims.

 

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Band of Misfits and Overlord

Adapted by the Dominion Strategy blog team from an article by Titandrake. The original article with community comments can be found here.

Band of Misfits and Overlord are the ultimate “it depends on the kingdom” cards. Also, they are cards with some of the most annoying rule headaches.

Context Matters

Some Action cards, like Wharf, are usually strong, and other Action cards, like Pearl Diver, are usually weak, but some cards are strong or weak depending on context.

For example, Noble Brigand is strong if you know your opponents have a Gold in their first 2 cards, and it’s weak if no Silvers or Golds are on top of their decks. Noble Brigand is an extreme example because it goes between “+$1” and “+$1, opponent trashes a Gold, you gain a Gold”, which is a huuuuge shift.

However, the power of most Actions depends a bit on context. Consider a classical Village + Smithy deck. Village is contextually strong when your hand has a lot of Smithies and you only have 1 action. Smithy is contextually strong when you have plenty of actions. Or consider a +Buy card – strong when you have a lot of money, weak when you don’t. Or Chapel; strong early when you have a lot of junk in your deck but completely useless late game.

What if you could have a card that was exactly what you needed in hand this moment then morph into something else the next? With BoM and Overlord, you can.

Powerful Chameleons

Band of Misfits and Overlord are most powerful in games where you expect to run into several contexts where the best Action is different. This is because of an obvious observation: if you always play your Band of Misfits as the same Action, you could have just bought that cheaper Action. The only way you can get extra value over buying a card directly is if you play your Band of Misfits as different Actions depending on the situation.

For example, in a game from Dominion Championship 2017, I played Overlord as Rabble (when I needed draw), Village (when I needed the Actions), Explorer (when I had a Province in my hand), Chariot Race (when a previous Chariot Race revealed a low cost card on top), and Catapult (when I had good ammo for my Catapult). If I had wanted all of those effects, I could have bought an actual Explorer, or an actual Catapult, but it would have been much less consistent. I didn’t want an Explorer or Catapult in my deck, because I don’t always want to play an Explorer, or play a Catapult, and having the terminal when I don’t want to play it is wasted space. But a card that could be an Explorer or a Catapult when I needed it, and a Village / Rabble when I didn’t? Sign me up!

Differences Between Band of Misfits and Overlord

Band of Misfits can be any card that costs less than it, so it usually can be any card that costs up to $4. However, in the presence of cost-reducers, this is no longer true. In particular, if enough Highways are in play so that BoM costs $0, then it can’t copy ANY card at all, because no card costs less than $0. Overlord does not have this restriction; in fact it becomes stronger in the presence of cost reducers because it can always copy cards costing up to $5.

In my experience, Band of Misfits is okay, but often has a lot of competition at the $5 cost spot. A lot of key Dominion cards are priced at $5, and often you want to buy those instead.

Overlord, on the other hand, can be incredibly strong because it can be any $5 cost card and you can open with it. Do you wish you could buy that Mountebank or Junk Dealer but didn’t open 2-5? Well, now you can for the low, low price of 8 debt. A common opening is to buy Overlord turn 1, then pay off debt turn 2. This lets you enter the first reshuffle with only one debt while letting you open with a $5 cost no matter what opening split you got. Seriously, if you haven’t tried it yet: just buy Overlord whenever you’d buy a $5 cost Action, or whenever you want to buy a $5 cost but don’t have $5. The benefits of getting to play any $5 cost you need is often worth the debt.

The Fine Print

There are some trade-offs to having this awesome power to be exactly the card you need at exactly the right moment.

If the pile you want to copy is empty, you can’t play BoM / Overlord as that action, which can debilitate your deck in some situations. For example, it’s tempting to use BoM / Overlord as a second pile of an important card that both players are competing over, like Village, but if that pile of Villages runs out, you lose the ability to play BoM / Overlord as that card. This is often the most important drawback to consider when deciding whether to go for BoM / Overlord and can make or break a deck.

Copying a Reserve card doesn’t work, because once BoM / Overlord goes to the Tavern mat, it is no longer a copy of that Reserve card, so you can’t call it anymore.

Additionally, there are two positive fine print details you should keep in mind.

First, when Adventures tokens (+1 Card, +1 Action, +$1, +1 Buy) are on the board, BoM and Overlord get the bonus of both the tokens on their pile and the tokens on the Action they copy. If you have a lot of Overlords, consider placing your most important token directly on BoM / Overlords, instead of the Action you normally copy.

Finally, for Conspirator, BoM / Overlord count as two separate Action plays, since you first play the BoM, then play the action it copies.

Despite all the rules details, the main idea of BoM / Overlord is simple: they can be the card you need when you need them, but whether you want them at all depends on the kingdom cards they can copy.

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