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Subject: Musings on strategy rss

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Dave Green
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Thoughts on choosing a general strategy.

Q: What is the main goal in Dominion?
A: To have the most victory points at the end of the game.
Therefore: A winning strategy must revolve around gaining, maintaining, or enlarging a victory point lead.

Q: What are the ways to increase victory point lead?
A: There are four: Gaining victory points via actions, gaining victory cards via buys or actions, or forcing your enemies to gain curse cards via actions.
Q: What happens to your deck composition when you employ each of these three basic strategies?
A: When you gain victory points via actions, you gain points and your deck does not change. When you gain victory point cards, you gain points and an unplayable card. When you force your opponent to gain curses, your opponent loses victory point and gains an unplayable card.
Therefore: We can rate these four basic strategies in terms of effectiveness.

The most effective strategy is to cause your opponent to gain Curse cards, because it clogs up their deck with useless crap, preventing them from drawing something more useful. The only countermeasure is to trash the curses, which means first they must waste a buy on a card that can trash the Curses instead of buying something better, then they must waste an Action trashing the Curse instead of playing something better. After playing a Curse attack, you can then use your Buy phase to buy additional victory points, further increasing your lead.

The second most effective strategy is to gain victory points via playing Actions. This gives you extra VP's that do not take up space in your deck, plus you're still able to gain additional VP's during your Buy phase. Not as effective as forcing your opponent to gain curses because it doesn't clog up their deck with useless curses.

The third most effective strategy is to gain victory point Cards via playing actions. This gives you VP's that take up space in your deck, but still allows you to buy additional VP cards during your Buy phase.

The least effective strategy is to simply use your buy phase to buy victory point cards. You can only gain a single victory point card this way, and it's unplayable in your deck, and your opponent's deck is left unharmed.

Conclusions: All other things being equal, these are the four main strategies in Dominion, ranked by effectiveness:

Cause your opponent to gain Curse cards with Actions
Gain Victory Points with Actions
Gain Victory Point cards with Actions
Gain Victory Point cards with Buys
 
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Jack Rudd
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A good starting point. Of course, the presence of Victory/Action and Victory/Treasure cards changes things a bit.
 
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Jeff Wolfe
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I can think of at least 8 additional ways that you can increase your Victory Point total relative to your opponents:

1. Trashing Curses with Action cards
2. Trashing Victory cards from your opponents' decks (Saboteur, Swindler, Thief)*
3. Returning Curses to the Supply (Ambassador)
4. Passing Curses (Masquerade)
5. Adding 10 cards to your deck when you have Gardens
6. Adding 3 Action cards to your deck when you have Vineyard
7. Having Victory cards passed to you (Masquerade)**
8. An opponent chooses to take a Curse (Embargo, Torturer)***

* Thief might trash a Treasure/Victory card such as Harem
** This is out of your control, except in the rare case when you might have a right-hand opponent reveal a hand containing only Victory cards.
*** You can't force your opponents to make this choice, but you could influence when they might consider it the least objectionable choice.
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John Anderson
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How are you defining "effective"?
 
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How are you defining the number 'four'?
 
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J Knoerzer
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I disagree. I think it is more efficient to gain one 6 point victory card and clog up your deck a little then cause an oppenent to gain a curse car were they evry well might have an oppertunity to get rid of it. The greator value of the victory points more then makes up for the clogging of your deck and not clogging of your opponents deck.
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Dave Green
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jeffwolfe wrote:
I can think of at least 8 additional ways that you can increase your Victory Point total relative to your opponents:

1. Trashing Curses won't win you the game unless you're also employing a strategy to pick up green cards. It can be an extremely effective defensive tactic if the situation calls for it (i.e. someone else is forcing you to pick up Curse cards), but you still need a point-gaining strategy.

2. Using Saboteur, Swindler, or Thief to trash an opponent's victory point cards is a tactical move, not a strategic one. It depends heavily on both the composition of the board and the composition of your opponents' decks. There are specific situations where you would want to play either of the three, but they are not universal.

3. Using Ambassador that way also forces your opponents to pick up Curse cards, therefore it is a Curse-planting strategy.

4. Masquerade to pass off curses is a defensive tactic, not a strategy. See above.

5. Getting the most out of Gardens requires you to be able to gain the most possible Gardens. Therefore you must first employ some strategy to gain Gardens before you can worry about making Gardens more valuable.

6. Getting the most out of Vineyard requires you to be able to gain the most possible Vineyards. Therefore you must first employ some strategy to gain Vineyards before you can worry about making Vineyards more valuable.

7. You cannot control when someone passes you a Victory Point card via Masquerade, therefore it is useless as a strategy.

8. Embargo and Torturer allow your opponent to choose whether or not he gains a curse card, but your goal in playing them is to cause that to occur, therefore they are a form of Curse-planting strategy.

puck71 wrote:
How are you defining "effective"?

Greatest possible ratio of your gain versus your opponents' loss. In the context of this topic, I'm rating these four strategies strictly on how they affect deck composition.

byronczimmer wrote:
How are you defining the number 'four'?

Badly.

hobbes_inc wrote:
I disagree. I think it is more efficient to gain one 6 point victory card and clog up your deck a little then cause an oppenent to gain a curse car were they evry well might have an oppertunity to get rid of it. The greator value of the victory points more then makes up for the clogging of your deck and not clogging of your opponents deck.


I never said that you couldn't do both in the same turn. In fact, the best strategy would have you doing exactly that as consistently as possible. In a situation where you're forced to choose between gaining 6 VP's or planting one Curse, that's a tactical decision that will depend on the situation of the moment.
 
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John Anderson
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KernTheGerm wrote:
puck71 wrote:
How are you defining "effective"?

Greatest possible ratio of your gain versus your opponents' loss. In the context of this topic, I'm rating these four strategies strictly on how they affect deck composition.
I was wondering because it didn't seem to be ranked in terms of your chances of winning the game. For example, I think buying a province is pretty effective in helping win the game, but buying VP cards was the least effective on your list.

I think I get what you're going for, but I think it's impossible to come up with a generic list like this. Too much depends on the cards that are available. Sometimes curses may be best, other times deck-thinning and provinces, etc.
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Dave Green
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puck71 wrote:
I was wondering because it didn't seem to be ranked in terms of your chances of winning the game. For example, I think buying a province is pretty effective in helping win the game, but buying VP cards was the least effective on your list.

I think I get what you're going for, but I think it's impossible to come up with a generic list like this. Too much depends on the cards that are available. Sometimes curses may be best, other times deck-thinning and provinces, etc.


Between playing an action and buying a Province or just buying a Province, which would you rather do in your turn?
 
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John Anderson
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KernTheGerm wrote:
puck71 wrote:
I was wondering because it didn't seem to be ranked in terms of your chances of winning the game. For example, I think buying a province is pretty effective in helping win the game, but buying VP cards was the least effective on your list.

I think I get what you're going for, but I think it's impossible to come up with a generic list like this. Too much depends on the cards that are available. Sometimes curses may be best, other times deck-thinning and provinces, etc.


Between playing an action and buying a Province or just buying a Province, which would you rather do in your turn?
Obviously since both of those involve buying a Province, I would prefer to also play an action. Since both of those involve buying a Province, I would almost always prefer to also play an action. But it depends on the Action. However, that's not always the situation.

A better question would be if I prefer playing an action and buying a Duchy or just buying a Province? Because what if that action card were a Gold instead? That's where it gets complicated.

(The answer, of course, depends on what the action is, but generally I'd rather buy a Province than play action and buy Duchy)
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Paul W
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As John is getting at, the major flaw in your argument is that you're looking at these approaches without any consideration for the cards that are available to you in practice. If there was an action that gave you +6 VP coins or a super workshop that simply allowed you to gain a province then sure, that's great, but those options doesn't exist in the game. Things like handing out curses or gaining cards are balanced around the fact that the point values involved are lesser, so to completely ignore that point in assessing the relative merits of different routes to victory seems rather useless.
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Matthew Cordeiro
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I haven't mastered this game yet, but it seems that there isn't one strategy or priority of strategies that works every time. You mention curses a lot, but there aren't a lot of action cards that put curses in play. In fact, in many of the games I've played, curses don't come into play at all.

Also, you didn't mention deck thinning - using an action to trash low-value treasures and victory points - which would be counterintuitive to the strategies you've mentioned.
 
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Dave Green
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I will address other topics in due time. Right now, let's start with just the basic truisms.

Q: Between playing an action and buying a Province or just buying a Province, which would you rather do in your turn?
A: Obviously since both of those involve buying a Province, I would prefer to also play an action.

Therefore the strategy of playing actions and buying VP's is superior to simply buying VP's. Right now our strategy hierarchy looks like this:

1. Playing an Action and buying a green card.
2. Buying a green card.

Assume that all players in the game are at equal skill levels and everyone is buying an equal amount of Victory points every turn. The actions that each person plays are going to be what determines winner from loser. The goal of the game is to have the most points at the end. So now the question becomes:

What are the ways to get a direct point lead by playing an Action?

 
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John Anderson
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KernTheGerm wrote:
Assume that all players in the game are at equal skill levels and everyone is buying an equal amount of Victory points every turn.
This assumption is so unrealistic I'm not sure what we can hope to gain from studying it. Even if we come up with a strategy based on that assumption, the strategy will be useless because it's based on an assumption that will never happen.
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KernTheGerm wrote:

Q: Between playing an action and buying a Province or just buying a Province, which would you rather do in your turn?
A: Obviously since both of those involve buying a Province, I would prefer to also play an action.


The answer is not obvious. The answer is, it depends on what the action is. There are plenty of situations where playing an action is actually harmful to your score.

The truisms about Dominion are that everything is dependent on what kingdom cards are in play, what cards are currently in your deck, your hand, your discard pile, and in the decks of your opponents, and how early or late in the game it is.
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asmiles wrote:
KernTheGerm wrote:

Q: Between playing an action and buying a Province or just buying a Province, which would you rather do in your turn?
A: Obviously since both of those involve buying a Province, I would prefer to also play an action.


The answer is not obvious. The answer is, it depends on what the action is. There are plenty of situations where playing an action is actually harmful to your score.
Like what? I gave that answer, and probably should have qualified it, but I couldn't think of any times where an Action card would hurt me, assuming I was still able to buy a Province (which was a stated assumption).

Maybe something like Swindler where it could turn Chapels into Estates (all other 2 cost cards are gone)? If you already had 8 coin, and you may be forced to hand out Estates or Duchies, then I'd agree it's better to not play Swindler.
 
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puck71 wrote:
asmiles wrote:
KernTheGerm wrote:

Q: Between playing an action and buying a Province or just buying a Province, which would you rather do in your turn?
A: Obviously since both of those involve buying a Province, I would prefer to also play an action.


The answer is not obvious. The answer is, it depends on what the action is. There are plenty of situations where playing an action is actually harmful to your score.
Like what? I gave that answer, and probably should have qualified it, but I couldn't think of any times where an Action card would hurt me, assuming I was still able to buy a Province (which was a stated assumption).

Maybe something like Swindler where it could turn Chapels into Estates (all other 2 cost cards are gone)? If you already had 8 coin then I'd agree it's better to not play Swindler.


Any card that solely draws more cards (ie. Moat, Smithy) where you draw action cards you would rather have next turn, or draws money you'd rather have next turn.

Swindler when the curse pile is run out. You don't need extra money (unless you also get an extra buy) and your opponents can trash their curses.

Possession where you clear a worthless hand so your opponents can play a better one.

Minion where you might clear multiple worthless hands for your opponent.

Sabeteur where your opponent can trash a card and take the last estate in a situation where you are losing and there are already 2 piles empty.

Any card that makes your opponent discard cards when Library is in play.

I'm sure I could think of more if spent more time on it.

In general action cards are useful (that's why you buy them in the first play). And in most situation playing them is preferable to not. But starting a Dominion strategy guide with the Truism that playing an action card and buying a VP card is better than a buying a VP card is flawed on a number of levels.
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asmiles wrote:
In general action cards are useful (that's why you buy them in the first play). And in most situation playing them is preferable to not. But starting a Dominion strategy guide with the Truism that playing an action card and buying a VP card is better than a buying a VP card is flawed on a number of levels.
I agree, and I've amended my previous answer. I generally try to qualify every answer when it comes to Dominion, but I missed that one.
 
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Dave Green
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puck71 wrote:
[The assumption all players will buy the same number of VP's per turn] is so unrealistic I'm not sure what we can hope to gain from studying it. Even if we come up with a strategy based on that assumption, the strategy will be useless because it's based on an assumption that will never happen.

Assume the case that you buying the most VP's per turn. You would like to maintain or increase your lead. Therefore, your best move is to gain more VP's.

Assume the case that you are buying the same number of VP's per turn as someone else. You would like to increase your lead over this person and maintain your lead over everyone else. Therefore, your best move is to gain more VP's.

Assume the case that you are buying the least VP's per turn. You would like to make up for this difference as fast as possible. Therefore, your best move is to gain more VP's.

So, no matter what situation is during the Buying phase, your best move during the Action phase will be to try to gain more VP's, if possible.

So the question is still: What are the ways to get a direct point lead by playing an Action?

asmiles wrote:
The answer is not obvious. The answer is, it depends on what the action is. There are plenty of situations where playing an action is actually harmful to your score.

Then you want to identify which actions would be harmful to your score so you can avoid them; and identify which actions would be helpful to your score so you can play them.

So the question is still: What are the ways to get a direct point lead by playing an Action?

asmiles wrote:
In general action cards are useful (that's why you buy them in the first play). And in most situation playing them is preferable to not. But starting a Dominion strategy guide with the Truism that playing an action card and buying a VP card is better than a buying a VP card is flawed on a number of levels.

Explain to me why you think it is flawed. Both situations have a VP gain, so they're equal on that front. But in one situation you play an Action with an extra beneficial effect, and in one situation you have no possibility of an extra beneficial effect. Explain to me how the second situation is better.
 
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KernTheGerm wrote:
puck71 wrote:
[The assumption all players will buy the same number of VP's per turn] is so unrealistic I'm not sure what we can hope to gain from studying it. Even if we come up with a strategy based on that assumption, the strategy will be useless because it's based on an assumption that will never happen.

Assume the case that you buying the most VP's per turn. You would like to maintain or increase your lead. Therefore, your best move is to gain more VP's.

Assume the case that you are buying the same number of VP's per turn as someone else. You would like to increase your lead over this person and maintain your lead over everyone else. Therefore, your best move is to gain more VP's.

Assume the case that you are buying the least VP's per turn. You would like to make up for this difference as fast as possible. Therefore, your best move is to gain more VP's.

So, no matter what situation is during the Buying phase, your best move during the Action phase will be to try to gain more VP's, if possible.


So, if make all of the assumptions that you're asking us to make, it would seem that you are making an argument that if your starting hand split was 5/2 then you should buy Duchy and Estate and if your starting hand split was 4/3 then you should buy 2 Estates, since these are the only ways to increase your VPs realative to your opponents.

KernTheGerm wrote:

So the question is still: What are the ways to get a direct point lead by playing an Action?


Feast, Remodel, Workshop, Ironworks, Upgrade, Smugglers, Possession, Transmute are pre-prosperity cards that allow you to gain a card on your turn. You don't have to, but the card you gain could be a VP card.

KernTheGerm wrote:

asmiles wrote:
The answer is not obvious. The answer is, it depends on what the action is. There are plenty of situations where playing an action is actually harmful to your score.

Then you want to identify which actions would be harmful to your score so you can avoid them; and identify which actions would be helpful to your score so you can play them.


Correct. There are situations where the action is beneficial, situations where it is meaningless, and situation where it is harmful. Therefore it is not a truism that playing an action and gaining a VP card is strictly better than gaining a VP card.

KernTheGerm wrote:

asmiles wrote:
In general action cards are useful (that's why you buy them in the first play). And in most situation playing them is preferable to not. But starting a Dominion strategy guide with the Truism that playing an action card and buying a VP card is better than a buying a VP card is flawed on a number of levels.

Explain to me why you think it is flawed. Both situations have a VP gain, so they're equal on that front. But in one situation you play an Action with an extra beneficial effect, and in one situation you have no possibility of an extra beneficial effect. Explain to me how the second situation is better.


I've already described situations where playing an action would be bad for you. I'm not arguing that you shouldn't play the action. I'm arguing that ALWAYS playing the action card is not a TRUISM.

Playing the action will usually help, and rarely hurt, but never 100% of the time. Everything is situational.
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KernTheGerm wrote:
Explain to me why you think it is flawed. Both situations have a VP gain, so they're equal on that front. But in one situation you play an Action with an extra beneficial effect, and in one situation you have no possibility of an extra beneficial effect. Explain to me how the second situation is better.


You're talking is such abstract terms as to be making statements with absolutely no practical strategic value. The choice you are presenting is not a realistic one in terms of actual gameplay.
 
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Many times the road to the end state is not the most direct.

Here's an example:

The goal of the game is to make money.

You have the following options:
1) Take $1
2) Buy a product (-$5)
3) Sell a product (+$10)

By your logic in this fictious game, a player should always take $1 because they never want to lose money compared to their opponents, yet the opponent who spends two actions to buy/sell will net +$5 across two actions, for an average gain of +$2.5/action.

By looking only at a moment in time (the current hand draw), you are failing to understand this ebb and flow.

A prime example of this in Dominion is the classic Chapel Strategy, which has you trashing your estates and low valued treasures in order to cycle to higher density coinage and ultimately purchasing higher density victory point cards.

In the strategy laid out above, disposing of the deck-clogging estates isn't even a possibility, yet it has been a proven path to victory.

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asmiles wrote:
So, if make all of the assumptions that you're asking us to make, it would seem that you are making an argument that if your starting hand split was 5/2 then you should buy Duchy and Estate and if your starting hand split was 4/3 then you should buy 2 Estates, since these are the only ways to increase your VPs realative to your opponents.

I'm not done explaining the strategy yet, obviously. Let me finish, and then you'll have a better platform for asking intelligent questions.


asmiles wrote:
Feast, Remodel, Workshop, Ironworks, Upgrade, Smugglers, Possession, Transmute are pre-prosperity cards that allow you to gain a card on your turn. You don't have to, but the card you gain could be a VP card.

Alright, so you've identified 8 methods of Gaining a Victory Card into your Deck. Other possibilities for increasing your immediate point advantage are cards that gain Victory Points without adding cards to your deck (Bishop, Monument); and cards that plant a Curse card into your opponent's decks (Witch, Sea Hag, Tortuer).

So these are our three possibilities for gaining a VP advantage using an action:
Play an Action that plants a Curse in their deck (Witch, Sea Hag, Torturer, etc.)
Play an Action that lets you Gain Victory Points (Bishop, Monument, etc.)
Play an Action that lets you Gain a Victory Point Card (Feast, Remodel, Workshop, etc.)

Q: What effect do each of these three mechanisms have on the composition of your deck?

asmiles wrote:
I've already described situations where playing an action would be bad for you. I'm not arguing that you shouldn't play the action. I'm arguing that ALWAYS playing the action card is not a TRUISM.

Yes, you have correctly identified specific actions and specific situations when not to use them. But that's tactics, not strategy.

STRATEGY is making sure that you have as many options as possible, and that those options are as good as possible. TACTICS is when you choose the best option out of the ones that are available. That is, strategy determines tactics, not the other way around. There are situations where you'll want to make a tactical move over a strategic one, but to have good tactical moves available you have to have a good strategy first.

 
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KernTheGerm wrote:
I'm not done explaining the strategy yet, obviously. Let me finish, and then you'll have a better platform for asking intelligent questions.
OK, go ahead and finish.
 
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KernTheGerm wrote:
Thoughts on choosing a general strategy.

...

Conclusions: All other things being equal, these are the four main strategies in Dominion, ranked by effectiveness:

Cause your opponent to gain Curse cards with Actions
Gain Victory Points with Actions
Gain Victory Point cards with Actions
Gain Victory Point cards with Buys


KernTheGerm wrote:
I'm not done explaining the strategy yet, obviously. Let me finish, and then you'll have a better platform for asking intelligent questions.


Huh? You finished when you drew conclusions, right?

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