Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Stacking the Deck: A Dominion Strategy Guide (Part 2)

So if you read the previous post, you may now have started to understand deck-building as a whole. You're starting to get that it's not just about adding any and all cards to your deck willy-nilly, but picking and choosing the ones that actually get your deck closer to accomplishing its goal. You know that getting rid of useless cards can be a more effective turn than keeping them.

But still, it's hard to put these concepts into practice, without... well, a little practice. Each deck-building game is a little different, but this is a Dominion strategy guide. So let's dive in to Dominion.

There is one thing we need to get in the clear first, if you're going to have any hope. This is the prime rule, and a common mistake that newbies make often. Let's hope you've already learned this, either from your own experience or from reading part I:

Did you hear me? Never. I know it's tempting. Look at it; it's free. What else are you going to do with that extra buy with no treasure left?

I'll tell you what you're going to do. You're going to not buy copper, that's what. While it may seem like a good idea to add more treasure to your deck, copper just drags your hand-treasure average down, making it harder to reach the target hand of eight treasure.

As you gain experience, you will probably figure out that there are times when it is okay to buy copper. (Cards that do the most when you have the fattest deck possible, for example.) But for now, you're learning to become a master, so you're not going to buy any copper. Ever. Got it?

Okay, moving on from there. Let's talk Dominion strategy. Here are a few general tips that relate to Dominion specifically:

1. Treasure, treasure, treasure.
You know what's great? Treasure. Not counting copper. You can't always count on bonus actions, but you can always count on playing every treasure in your hand. If you keep getting frustrated when you play that Smithy and you draw three action cards, the problem isn't your bad luck. It's that you're not buying enough treasure.

Even while some tempting action cards have treasure bonuses on them, you still run the risk of drawing them when you can't play them (or having to choose between them and other useful actions). Buy lots of treasure. Almost without exception, the first time you have six treasure in hand, buy a gold.

It's also important to remember that no matter how many wonderful action bonuses there are and how many +4 cards and +1 buys you can play, if you don't have the treasure to back it up, this doesn't matter. I've seen people go through ten action cards, end up with fifteen cards in their hand, and only have a spending power of five. Because they didn't buy treasure and therefore couldn't draw it from their deck. It has nothing to do with luck.

2. Attacking is not all that it's cracked up to be.
Seriously folks. I know, I know, those attack cards are very tempting. And you know what? They can be devastating when used correctly. They will hinder your opponents at the key moment or weaken their deck to slow them down overall or stuff their hands full of garbage. The trouble for you comes when you focus too much on the attacks.

Not as good as you might immediately think.  Not useless, but use with caution.

See, the problem here is that the goal of the game is not to attack and destroy your opponents. It's to buy provinces. While attack cards generally hurt your opponents, many of them don't really help you at all. Most of them are dead actions, and none of them do enough damage to justify buying a whole bunch of them. The Witch may add a curse or two to your opponent's deck, but it adds a Witch to your deck. Which is not as good as it seems. You can buy an attack card if it actually does something to help your deck, but otherwise approach with caution. You also have to watch out for attack cards that may inadvertently help your opponent (for example, buy a Thief too early and you're just helping them ditch their copper.) Which brings me to my next point...

3. The best way to defend against attacks is to build a good deck.
Okay, so you're avoiding attack cards, but your opponent picks up that Militia or the Witch. You panic, and in response buy up all the moats. Guess what? You just did it wrong.

exaggerated for clarity, but the set on the right is vastly superior to any number of moats.

I know that moats are temptingthey only cost 2 and they protect against attacks! Plus, you get +2 cards! Unfortunately for you, there's a reason why the card only costs 2—because it's not all that it's cracked up to be. It doesn't improve your deck all that much, and it depends entirely on luck whether you have it to protect you when someone else plays an attack. So what do you do against those deadly, ferocious attack cards?

If you're doing a good job building a good deck, the answer is probably "nothing different." You're a lot more likely to have a few expendable cards in your hand than you are to draw your Moat when the Militia is played. If "trashing" cards are available, you should already have them in your deck to get rid of the other sucky cards (namely copper). The fact is, if you have a well-built deck, an opponent's attack cards won't hurt you as much as they think.

4. Pay attention to cards that trash.
You remember Key Point #1 from the previous post? It's always good to remove cards from your deck. While there's the obvious Chapel, which is a superb card by the way, there are a boatload of other ways to trash cards, and perhaps in ways you never thought of. Some are good early on (Chapel, Mine), and others can be extremely powerful late in the game (if you've ever used Remodel to turn a gold into a province, you know. And if you haven't... now you know). Many cards allow you to trash a card and replace it with something better.

"trashy" in Dominion isn't a bad thing.  But don't get distracted... the Feast only trashes itself.

Some cards may seem less useful immediatelyfor example, the Upgrade, which trashes a card and lets you get one at exactly 1 cost greater. Well, you don't always want to "upgrade" the cards you have, but did you realize that you can "upgrade" a copper into... you guessed it... nothing? We've already established that not having copper is better than having copper (unless you don't have any other treasure... see point 1...). Most cards that allow trashing for a replacement force you to take nothing if there is no card matching that cost. In the case of copper and curses, that is good, good, good.  Just be careful, because many cards REQUIRE you to trash something if you play it, and you may not always want to.

5. Are your victory cards really useless during the game? Not always.
Many cards, especially in later expansions, offer or require the chance to discard cards from your hand. "But wait!" you ask. "Why would I want to force myself to discard cards from my own hand?"

Well, the thing about these cards is, they usually offer an excellent bonus, or a significantly cheaper version of something else, in exchange for the forced discarding. You know what makes great fodder for discarding? Victory cards!

It can often be risky to buy victory point cards too early, because they don't do anything for you, or slow down your deck. But inevitably these will be added to your deck, and cards that require discarding are a great way to put those victory cards to use. Now it's okay to have them because they are giving you points and you can now use them as discards. It may not be as clean as not having victory cards, but it certainly does help you accomplish the end goal. Pay attention to discards.

This is what the Cellar is for.  This and copper.  There are other better cards  that force discarding in later expansions.

6. Pay attention to what the other player(s) is/are doing.
While Dominion may seem like it is to each player his own, a "multiplayer solitaire" of sorts, it really is kind of important to pay attention to what the other players are doing. Certain action cards grow quite powerful if you have a lot of them in your deck, so you may need to buy up some of those just to keep the other player from getting all of them. Certain attack cards are really only useful if the other player has certain cards in their deck, so if they don't have those cards, there's no use buying that attack (yet). And paying attention to what victory cards they buy can help you make your own VP purchase decisions. For example... if they trash all their estates and you don't, you can tie on provinces and you win. On the other hand, if you trash your estates and they don't, you'll have to make up for that difference at some point. And whether the other player has two duchies or three can make the difference between a win and a loss.

the tiebreaker

All right, feelin' good?  Ready to take on some more opponents? Great.  Excellent.  Go out there and try putting this stuff into practice.  Next time, I'll go into specific elements of cards, and what they do for you.

1 comment:

  1. I think I often have an innate feeling that trashing/discarding is a bad thing in games, but I definitely agree with trashing being a big help in Dominion. Understanding the concept of thinning your Dominion deck really helped me step up my game.


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