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Subject: My thoughts on beginner strategies rss

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Marion Jensen
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Beginners' Dominion Strategy Guide

Elsewhere on the geek I read a call for more strategy guides. I don't feel like I'm good enough at any game to write a comprehensive strategy guide, and I'm not even sure if I am good enough to write a Dominion beginners guide, but I'm taking a chance and going to throw some things out there. Feel free to rebuttle, if you wish, as I feel it would add to the discussion.

Background

I love Dominion. I can teach it in 2 minutes. A person can get the hang of it three hands into a game, but it takes many games before you realize there is a subtle depth to the game.

If you haven't played Dominion, I'd reccomend just kicking back and having fun for at least a dozen plays. Try some different strategies, try playing all of the cards, get a feel for what they do, and then try out a few combos. Once you've got a good feel for how the cards work in concert with each other, then it's time to dive a bit deeper.

Two Important Concepts

I think there are two concepts that many players miss, even after playing the game multiple times. These two concepts are ratio and efficiency. Let's look at Ratio first.

While there is a certain element of luck to the game, most of it can be mitigated by maintaining a tight deck. However, many people fall into the trap of thinking, "I need X to happen more, so I'm going to buy more cards that give me X." This is not often the best course of action. Consider the following two decks. Based solely on the hands each deck will produce, which is the better deck?

Deck A - 5 gold cards
Deck B - 50 gold cards

The answer, of course, is that based on the hands each deck will produce, the decks are identical. Each one will produce 15 treasure each hand.

Now you can argue that Deck B is better, because if you start buying things, you won't dilute it as much, but we're not there yet. We're showing that a small, finely tuned deck can be as powerful as a larger deck. Let's look at two more decks.

Deck A - 1 gold card, 9 coppers
Deck B - 3 gold cards 47 coppers

This time Deck A is clearly the better deck. Let's take both of these decks and draw 10 hands. Our goal is to buy more gold. For the sake of argument, let's say that the new gold we purchase is not shuffled back into the deeck, rather it is set aside.

The first time Deck A draws a hand, let's say they got 5 coppers. They can't buy gold so they discard. The second time they get a gold and 4 coppers for a total of 7. They buy one gold and set it aside.

After 8 more hands, 10 total, they will have bought a total of 5 gold this way.

Deck B will go through their entire hand only once. They will end up with only 3 gold by the end of the 10 hands. There is also a small chance that they will only be able to buy 2 or 1 gold, depending on if they drew 2 or 3 gold together. For the benefit of arguements, we'll say they ended up with three gold.

So it's easy to see deck A is the better deck, but it's also important to note that if we HAD shuffled the gold back into the hand, as per the rules, then suddenly Deck A becomes even better. Sure, there will be times when they end up with 2 or 3 gold in their hands, and some of the treasure goes to waste, but by the end of the 10 rounds, they will likely be buying gold every round.

Mathematically we could easily see that Deck A was better because we have a 1 in ten chance of drawing our gold, whereas in Deck B we had less that a 1 in ten chance of drawing gold (.6 in 10).

The key point is that when you are trying to decide if you want a card, you need to remember that there is a benefit and a cost. The benefit on the card can be tempting. "If I can only draw that card with my other card, then I can perform a wicked combo". But the card comes with a cost; you have just lowered the chance of all your other cards coming up. Is it worth the cost? If it is, buy the card, if not, then don't. This last idea needs a bit more explanation.

When I play the initial setup, I often start by buying a Village (+1 card) and Smithy (+3 cards). It's a beautiful thing to draw both of these cards together. I play the village and draw a card. Then play the Smithy and draw 3 more. I now have 7 cards in my hand. I usually have enough to buy a card worth 5 treasure, and I'm on my way upward and onward.

However, you have to remember that as you buy other cards, those cards will have a smaller chance of coming up together. Let's go back to ratio. If I buy a Village and Smithy during the first two hands, there is now a set ratio. I have a 1 in 12 chance of drawing each one. Let's say for some odd reason I want to buy another one of each card, but I want to keep the exact same ratio as I had after buying each of these two cards. That means I would need to buy 7 more coppers, and 3 more estates. I would now have the exact same ratio I had after two rounds, but it would have takem me 10 turns to get there.

Now this may seem silly, and it is, but the point I'm trying to make is that during that game your ratio is constantly shifting. A strategy or combo that may come up several times early in the game, may not come up later. I've seen too many people try to buy more of the same cards in hopes of keeping that combo alive, when they really should just move past it. Sometimes it's not worth trying to keep that combo going, because the cost of keeping the ratio up is too high. Use the combo when it comes up, but then move to other strategies that make more sense for mid to late game.

One last but important thing about ratio. If you have X and Y in your hand, there are two ways to get more X into your hand. You can either buy more X, or get rid of Y. Don't ignore the 'get rid of Y' option. At first glance it may seem that there are only a couple of cards (like the chapel) that allow you to do this. But there are more cards that you might think. It's rare not to see a game without some way to get rid of Y. Sometimes it's not a trash card (such as the Cellar that allows you to discard and draw more cards), but usually there is someway to improve your ratio by getting rid of cards, bypassing cards, or upgrading them. If the card isn't helping you, get rid of it.

For example, the chances of drawing 5 copper on the first round is small. If you have a chapel and can get rid of your three estates, it suddenly becomes much easier to draw copper because the estates aren't clogging your deck. You basically made you deck 'richer' and you didn't have to buy any more treasure.

Remember that your hand represents a finite space. Make sure each space is used as efficiently. If you have a copper, then 1/5th of your hand is used up to produce one treasure. If you have a gold, then 1/5th of your hand is used up but it produces 3 treasure. Don't be afraid to abandon cards that are no longer efficient, even if those cards may have served you well early in the game.

There is much more to this game. You need to learn how to quickly build an efficient deck, you need to learn when to 'flip the switch' and start buying victory points, you need to learn what combos work well, and how to avoid attacks. But mastering ratio and efficency will build a solid foundation upon which you build the rest of your game.
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Andrew Hardin
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I would simplify basic beginner strategies into several concepts:

1. Buy more Treasure
2. Trash your Copper and Estates when you can
3. Don't buy Copper unless you are buying Gardens
4. Stop buying so many Festivals
5. Don't buy any Villages
6. Don't buy more than 1 Action Card that lacks +1 or more Action

This is just beginner strategy with the Base 25, but I would certainly start with this.

- Lex
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Michael Link
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There are many threads discussing the importance of trashing cards. It's probably safe to say that trashing is an "intermediate" strategy as it is not usually apparent to beginners. The really powerful "beginner" strategy that comes up all the time is Big Money: improve your coin density (what you call "Ratio") by buying lots of coin and no actions. There is a section on Big Money in the Dominion FAQ.

To do things with consistency, you need to maximize the quantity (cards in hand)/(cards in deck). The numerator is improved with +Cards and deck cycling, the denominator is improved by trashing and by simply passing on your buy when all you can afford is crap. How to use the cards provided to do this optimally is essentially the game.

The major exception to this is of course Gardens and to a lesser extent the Duchy/Duke combo. In these types of games, however, you are less dependent on coinage to achieve your goals than when you need to win the province race.
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Ted Vessenes
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I would summarize beginner strategy as follows:

* Don't buy so many terminal actions that you can't play all of them
* Don't buy some many action generators that you can't use all the bonus actions
* This probably means you are going to buy a lot of cash

Deck thinning is crucial but isn't a strategic focus for game 1.
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Jess
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theright555J wrote:
There are many threads discussing the importance of trashing cards. It's probably safe to say that trashing is an "intermediate" strategy as it is not usually apparent to beginners. The really powerful "beginner" strategy that comes up all the time is Big Money: improve your coin density (what you call "Ratio") by buying lots of coin and no actions. There is a section on Big Money in the Dominion FAQ.


Where should I be looking for this Dominion FAQ?
Quite a few threads mention it, but when I search for it (here or on google) I can't find it. Can someone please put up a link?
 
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Jon
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jesslc wrote:
Where should I be looking for this Dominion FAQ?
Quite a few threads mention it, but when I search for it (here or on google) I can't find it. Can someone please put up a link?


It is here on BGG, linked off of the Dominion page:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/Dominion_FAQ
 
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Jeff Wolfe
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JonPrud wrote:
jesslc wrote:
Where should I be looking for this Dominion FAQ?
Quite a few threads mention it, but when I search for it (here or on google) I can't find it. Can someone please put up a link?


It is here on BGG, linked off of the Dominion page:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/Dominion_FAQ


If you don't like the boardgamegeek.com domain, try this link: Dominion FAQ.
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