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Subject: A Beginners Guide to Dominion rss

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Dominion is one of those classic games where you can learn it in minutes, is fairly addictive, but takes quite a bit to play it well.

So that said, I've been playing for a couple of years now, am currently level 31 on isotropic, have beaten people over level 40, and feel like I can put some info out there to help new users really get going.

This guide is going to assume you have played the game a few times and understand all the rules and card types. If I reference a specific card, feel free to look here if you do not remember it: http://dominion.diehrstraits.com/

So how do I start?
There are a number of ways to pick your sets of cards. If you are a beginner, I recommend picking the set randomly. If you hand-pick cards, you will play with less cards and less different combos of cards. If you veto cards, you may miss out on trying out different combos.

Step 1, analysis
80% of the thought process for Dominion should take place for you between the time the cards are selected and you draw your opening hand. You should have a clear plan for every step of the game before you start, so the only things you need to consider for the rest of the game is how you are executing your plan and how to react to whatever else is going on in the game.

So what should I consider
There's a few things I look for at the start of every game:

1 How are you going to deal with your starting deck? Your starting deck sucks. You have 2 options on how to deal with it: either a good way to trash cards or a good way to cycle cards.

-For trashing, please note that not all cards which trash cards are good at trashing. Things like Remodel/Expand allow you to trash cards, but force you to take others back in return, therefore you can't use them to thin out your deck and unless there's a very useful 2-cost card out there (say, Lighthouse if there's a lot of curses or Hamlet if there's not many good options for +Actions or +Buys), then you might be stuck turning Coppers into Estates or action cards you don't really want. At that point, you're better off just having the Copper in your deck.

I'm talking about cards like Chapel, Remake (which does require taking back a card, but it's only of value 1 more than trashed, so Estates turn into Silvers or useful 3-cost action cards and since there's no 1-cost cards, Copper just goes away), and cards like that.

-If you don't see a good way to trash cards, then you want to consider how to cycle your deck fast. Cards like Warehouse, Inn, and Cartographer all allow you to discard cards with very little penalty to your current hand (or a benefit in the case of Cartographer). It's not as good of an option as flat-out trashing (since if you don't end up with those cards often enough, you're going to be stuck with hands of bad cards), but it's still a good option. Please note that cards like Embassy do NOT count in this category, as it does not have +Action on the card. If there's Villages which are easy enough to come by, sure, it can be used, but it has to be combo'd and is a higher-cost, which means you won't be able to use it until at least mid-game.

-If neither of those options really exist, then start considering what you're going to have to do to make up for the fact that your deck is going to be more "bogged down" with bad cards all game. What that generally means is you will need a little bit more of everything: more treasure cards, more action cards.

2 After figuring out how to handle your starting deck, the next thing to look for is attack cards. Generally, expect that each good attack card will be taken, and from that point, you just have to decide if you're going to get in on the attacking wars, play defense (explained below), or a combo.

The good attack cards are ones which are really going to slow down your opponent well. Most anything that gives out Curses and anything that involves your opponent discarding some/all of his cards are ones to plan around. But don't fret, you don't necessarily just have to buy attack cards, there's always defense!

You have to think creatively for defense. It's not as simple as, "oh, that card is a reaction, that means it's good for defense." In fact, much of the time, those reaction cards might not be a counter at all. Do you see Witch out there? Well, Horse Traders isn't going to help. Do you see Militia? Well, Secret Chamber won't do anything for you there. The big thing to look for is if there's a simple way to either cancel out or turn the attack into a benefit for you. For instance, I've won games with heavy use of Goons (but no extra drawing cards) by ignoring Goons and buying up Horse Traders. My opponents were all playing Goons, so none of them had much treasure at the end of a turn to buy enough to make Goons work well, but due to Horse Traders, I would start my turn with 5-6 cards in my hand almost every turn, which was enough to buy more treasure/victory cards than they could muster. I've also ignored card-discarding attacks with Menagerie. If it lets me discard a Copper and an Estate, then have a hand of 3 unique cards, then the attack probably helped me!

So you don't need to go straight for the attacks, just know they're there and know how you're going to deal with them when people start buying them.

3 Look for cards to build around.

-You'll learn over time, there's certain cards which are just overpowered. You buy sometimes 1, sometimes a few of that one card, and as long as you play the rest of the game well, you will win. A couple of examples are Minion (especially if you can trash most of your starting deck, then as long as you get 2 Minions in 1 hand, you play one for treasure, one for cycling your hand, and keep repeating that process, which nets you good cards and leaves your opponent with a smaller starting hand every turn) and Vault (if you play Vault without having lost or gained any cards, you're guaranteed a Gold. If you have/draw a Gold with it or 2 Silvers, you are guaranteed a Province. And that's with 1 of them). Learning this part of the game is going to take some time, but as you learn the cards, you'll realize which ones are actually extremely powerful and know what to aim for.

If you see cards like that, then you just need to figure out the best path to get there. If the card costs 5 and there's no strong cards that cost 2-4 (or a Feast), you might just want to start the game buying 2 Silvers (or a Silver and a Quarry) to get your odds up on getting that 5-cost faster. If it's a low-cost card you want to load up on (say, like Fool's Gold), one of your first buys might make sense to be an Ironworks or Workshop (to gain a copy, then buy a copy in your buy phase), or Woodcutter (if it's cheap enough that you think you can easily afford 2 of that card given a +Buy).

-If you don't see one of those cards, start looking at combos. Again, this will take time, but there's certain combos of cards that just work well together. Village + Witch = an extra 1 card in your hand (since you played 2 cards and drew a total of 3 cards) and everyone else gets a curse. Ironworks + Great Hall = gaining a VP card which can just be cycled for free every turn and when you gain it, you get +1 Card, +1 Action. There's tons of combos, you'll learn them over time. As you learn them, look out for them.

One big thing, though, just because you see one great card or combo, don't stop looking. Try to see all the possibilities on the board. Is Alchemist out there? It can be a great card to draw your whole deck every turn, but watch out, if Minion is out there, it loses a lot of effectiveness. If Masquerade is out there, then knowing that 2-5 cards in your hand are going to be Alchemists means you'll have fewer cards you can possibly pass and might be stuck giving away a good card. There's virtually no card that exists in a vacuum and is wonderful no matter what, so always consider all the cards out there.

4 Look to see how many actions you really want. Some games, you'll want TONS of action cards (sometimes, your whole deck!). Some games you'll want less than 3. Here's what to look for:

-Are there action cards which give +2 or +3 actions? If they're Village-types (where you also get +1 Card), then great, you know your deck can handle more than a couple of actions, since things can keep chaining together. If the only option is something like Native Village or Hamlet, where drawing from it is very limited, consider the implications of trying to use a strategy based around using those for extra actions. Which leads me to the next one…

-Are there cards which give +2 or more cards? +1 card means the card just replaced itself, +2 cards is something that can be chained on. That means you can use that card to keep cycling cards and keep getting the other cards you actually want to play in your hand. But be careful, if there are not cards with +2 Actions, then more than 1-2 cards like this is just asking for trouble (where you play the card and end up drawing more actions which you can't use).

-Are there cards which are going to reward you for having more actions? I'll cover this more later, but there are victory cards which give points for more cards in your deck, different cards, and just action cards. If you are going for a strategy which involves getting more cards, if you see cards which give at least +1 Card/+1 Action, you can load up all you want on those, knowing that you can just keep playing them to keep your deck cycling (just don't buy a Smithy-type card if you don't have more actions left after playing it to keep going!)

I wish there was a simple answer to give newer players about this whole section. The answer I always give to new players is, "you don't need as many actions as you think you need." And that statement has never been wrong. If there is not a good way to "chain" cards together and play a whole bunch of actions each turn, you're generally going to want to not have more than 2-3 "terminal" (that is, ones which don't give +1 action) cards in your deck for the whole game. That's it. The rest should all be treasure. If you can chain things together, then the limit is going to be based more on the length of the game. Until it's time to start buying VP cards, you can just keep that chain growing.

5 Are there cards which give me +1 Buy and should you care?

There isn't a worse feeling than getting to near the end of the game, having $13 on a turn, and 1 buy, just to watch your opponents have the same type of hand, only have 2 buys, and end up beating you because they were able to get an extra Estate or Duchy on a turn where you could not. If you see you are going to be able to get a lot of treasure quickly, see if you can also get a card which gives +1 Buy along the way as well. It's important to plan this out because if you wait until you are drawing $12-15, because at that point, you don't want to waste a turn to buy a card which costs $2-5, you want to buy VP cards! I've won more games than I can count by less than 3 points, all due to buying an extra Estate or Duchy on my last turn.

On the flip-side, if you see you're going to have trouble even getting up to $8 in a turn in a timely fashion, then you're better off just powering through, buying more treasure cards, and get to those Provinces faster than your opponents.

6 Are there Colonies and do you want to go for them?

If there are Colonies, have a look at the rest of the cards out there. Are there cards which you can see leading to a very large amount of treasure each turn to buy with? And more importantly, will gathering those cards take too long? If you can see getting everything set up to buy Colonies quickly, go for it (and don't be scared if someone buys a Province on their 5th turn). If you think the only way to get up to Colonies is a very long and slow path, but you see a good path to get Provinces quickly, then your best bet is to try to run out the Provinces before anyone can buy too many Colonies.

Step 2, the game finally begins!
Notice how much just went into the pre-game there? At this point, you should have a gameplan, have an idea of what others might do and what you'll do in response, and be ready to unleash your plan. Since you already know what you're planning to do, you don't need to put a ton of thought into your strategy along the way. That should free up your brain for other things:

1 Track to the best of your abilities the cards others are buying. In a 4-player game, you're not going to remember EVERY card or the exact amount of cards everyone buys, but have at least an idea. If someone is getting a lot of Gold, you probably know they're going to start buying VP cards soon and you should start to prepare for the end of the game. When you see someone buying up attack cards, you know it's time to buy whatever cards you planned to counter that attack (or attack right back!). If you see someone buys an early Province or 2 and then is buying out a lot of cheap cards quickly, then just be ready for that player to be trying to end the game with 3 piles gone. More importantly, though….

2 Track how many turns have been played. An average game of Dominion lasts around 15 turns. Certain cards (such as Governor) are strong enough that the game can end in around 12 turns. Going for Colonies can make the game average closer to 17 turns. Some attacks (like Mountebank) can make games last far longer. But by having an idea of how many turns have been played, even if you have lost track of what other players have been buying, you can have some idea of how close the game is to ending. But even more importantly….

3 Know when it's time to shift from early game to mid game to late game. Here's a rough idea of how a game will go with the goal being to run through all the Provinces (with a couple of notes about Colonies):

-Early game, you're building up to buying the cards you plan to base your deck on, while either trashing your original 10 cards or getting cards to cycle past them easily. Without attacks to slow things down, the early game should last roughly 4-6 turns. During this time, you probably are going to want to stay away from buying strictly VP cards (ie: Estate/Duchy/Province, there are plenty of times Great Hall/Nobles/Tunnel are WONDERFUL to get early). Additionally, Silvers are good if you do not see a way to quickly get past them to Gold.

-Mid game, you're finishing out buying the important cards for your deck, finishing trashing cards from your opening deck, buying bigger treasure cards, and making sure to get your +1 Buy card(s) if needed. This is roughly turns 7-9. During this time, Silvers stop being as useful (especially if going for Colonies) and you want to start thinking about buying VP cards.

-Late game, you should be finished building your deck and should be buying almost exclusively VP cards. The only treasure you should really look to buy is Gold or Platinum at this point and possibly not even that. This is roughly turns 10-15. If you see everyone is starting to buy the big VP cards, take a look at how many Provinces are left (or Colonies if that's what is being run out in this game). When there is roughly 2 left per player (so 4, in a 2-player game), start to consider Duchies. When there's roughly 1 left per person (so 2, in a 2-player game), start to buy ANYTHING that will give you points. Estates, Great Halls, whatever is out there. At this point, you're just eking out the last couple of points you can.

That said, there are TONS of things which can cause the above layout to not go as planned. If it looks like 3 piles are going to run out before anyone gets to Provinces, then it's time to start buying Duchies as quickly as possibly. If there are enough attacks, Duchies might not be possible, and buying out Estates might be enough for you to win. If there are cards which give a lot of VP Chips (such as Goons and Bishop), then players might not even be trying to buy VP cards, since they have other ways to get points. I've seen players get over 100 points without a single VP card in their deck before. So stay on your toes when the cards are put out on the table and be ready to shift from one phase to another quickly.


And most importantly, remember this is just a game. Not only is it just a game, it's just a game that has a decent amount of luck to it. Did you start the game with the wrong amount of treasure in your hand? Are you trying to buy a Golem, but keep drawing 3 Copper, 1 Estate, and 1 Potion? Luck is going to play a part in every game of Dominion. Just know it'll even out eventually, recognize when things are going well (or poorly) due to luck, and more importantly, when it's not luck's fault, analyze what happened, and try to learn for the future.

Oh yea, and have fun


PS: I expect this to be edited a decent amount as others point things out I missed, so comment away!
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David Goldfarb
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Nice article! One nitpick: Horse Traders isn't totally useless against Witch -- if you have one in hand, you get to draw an extra card, which is always good; and if you have Curses in hand with a Horse Traders, you have a card you don't mind discarding. (I often think of Horse Traders as "turn itself and two other cards into Copper".) It's much better as a counter to Goons or Minion than to Witch, yes, certainly.
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David Goldfarb wrote:
Nice article! One nitpick: Horse Traders isn't totally useless against Witch -- if you have one in hand, you get to draw an extra card, which is always good; and if you have Curses in hand with a Horse Traders, you have a card you don't mind discarding. (I often think of Horse Traders as "turn itself and two other cards into Copper".) It's much better as a counter to Goons or Minion than to Witch, yes, certainly.


Thanks for the feedback. You're right, it's certainly not useless in the sense that you can still play the card as an action, but it's not going to stop you from getting the Curse, it's not going to help you trash the curse, and especially with something like Witch, you're probably going to want to play one yourself on your turn, not play the Horse Traders card as an action.

A better counter would be Trader, Moat, or Masquerade. Something to not get the Curse or quickly get rid of it.

I'll change the wording a bit to make more sense.
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Just a question: are the cards in your article from all expansions? (I just own the base game, so I have no clue)
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Jeff Thompson
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15 turns seems fast to me. Perhaps I'm only playing Base/Intrigue and that slows it down a bit? I normally see games in the 18 to 20 turns range. (These are with 2 players mostly too, which might make a difference.)

Or maybe I'm just not quite "there" yet.
 
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radicalizard wrote:
Just a question: are the cards in your article from all expansions? (I just own the base game, so I have no clue)


Yes, I referenced cards from all expansions there. If you're unfamiliar with some of the cards, please see the link towards the top, you can see any and all cards.

(also, as an aside, this is a game where I feel like the expansions have really added a lot to the game, so if you're enjoying it, you might want to cruise around the Dominion expansion forums and consider, well, expanding....but that's a topic for another thread)

Tompy wrote:
15 turns seems fast to me. Perhaps I'm only playing Base/Intrigue and that slows it down a bit? I normally see games in the 18 to 20 turns range. (These are with 2 players mostly too, which might make a difference.)

Or maybe I'm just not quite "there" yet.


Probably a bit of column A, a bit of column B. There are some very powerful cards and combos in later sets which speed the game up greatly. It might also be that you're waiting longer to start buying Provinces than you need.

The next time you have a set without attack cards, see what happens if you start trying to buy Provinces around turn 8-10 (assuming you have $8 in your hand) and see how it plays out. That'll give you an idea if you were just taking too much time or if the sets you have play a bit slower.
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sybrwookie wrote:
-For trashing, please note that not all cards which trash cards are good at trashing. Things like Remake/Expand allow you to trash cards, but force you to take others back in return, therefore you can't use them to thin out your deck and unless there's a very useful 2-cost card out there (say, Lighthouse if there's a lot of curses or Hamlet if there's not many good options for +Actions or +Buys), then you might be stuck turning Coppers into Estates or action cards you don't really want.

That's Remodel, not Remake.

sybrwookie wrote:
Do you see Militia? Well, Secret Chamber won't do anything for you there.

Also not strictly true, though Secret Chamber is very bad indeed against Militia.

Quote:
="sybrwookie]Late game, you should be finished building your deck and should be buying almost exclusively VP cards. (...) When there's roughly 1 (Province) left per person (so 2, in a 2-player game), start to buy ANYTHING that will give you points. Estates, Great Halls, whatever is out there.

Estates is situational. You buy Estates only if that 1vp is likely to determine who wins. Sometimes the winner is the one who manages to snag that last remaining Province, and the Estates are more or less irrelevant.
 
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Very nice. It's an excellent view into the thought process of a good Dominion player for a beginner. Have you considered posting this for feedback in the Dominion Strategy forum as well?
 
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I do not agree that Secret chamber is totally useless against militia although other reaction cards are certainly better.

Assuming a situation where you have a 5-card hand with SC and somebody plays militia, you now have a seven card hand (assuming you use it), chances are that you now have at least 2 cards onhand that you do not mind discarding. Keep those in hand and put 2 cards back to the deck.
Net effect should be that the hand after this one (assuming that you do not draw cards) will be better, as you have gotten rid of some useless cards.

I see SC in this situation as a way to organise your hand in order to set yourself up for the following round.
Note that you can choose to put SC back on the deck also.
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NtNScissors wrote:
That's Remodel, not Remake.


Thanks, fixed that typo.

NtNScissors wrote:
Also not strictly true, though Secret Chamber is very bad indeed against Militia.


To this (and Taalmod's response), I guess I'm going to have to keep tweaking the wording on that section to get that right.

I'm trying to encourage newer players to think outside of the box on how to handle attack cards since the 2 responses most give are either a) "I have to buy them all up and use them constantly, winning be damned!" or b) "I must buy up every blue card so there's no way they can affect me!" and neither of those are necessarily true. Yes, Secret Chamber can still have a use as a reaction to Militia, but its' use is turning Militia into either a tweaked version of Ghost Ship or Margrave (depending on how you look at it and if you're aiming to get a great 3-card hand now or put great cards back on your deck for next turn). In neither case, does it actually result in you not getting attacked. Other than obvious things like Moat and Lighthouse, the best thing I've seen against Militia is +Draw cards (esp high-powered ones like Governor, which conveniently combos very well with Militia!). Or more directly, a card like Menagerie, which unless you have a hand of Menagerie and 4 of the same card, 100% counters Militia.

I'll look at that section later and see if I can reword it better.

Quote:
="NtNScissors"]Estates is situational. You buy Estates only if that 1vp is likely to determine who wins. Sometimes the winner is the one who manages to snag that last remaining Province, and the Estates are more or less irrelevant.


True and not true. If you know you're down a Province, yes, you probably need that last one. But if you're down 1 Province and your opponent is to the point of buying Estates, then if you don't keep up there as well, that last Estate is going to just mean you lost by less. Yes, you can get a Duchy 1/3 as often, but then if he also gets a Duchy, you're further behind again.

Of course, I'm looking at this situation as a 1-on-1 right now, so as a 3 or 4-p game, sure, there's more chances for a tie going into the end-game and more chances for another player to make a difference in the end result.

I'll think about how to word things and add to that section later something a bit more concrete on how to handle different amounts of players.

Thanks for the feedback!

theory wrote:
Very nice. It's an excellent view into the thought process of a good Dominion player for a beginner. Have you considered posting this for feedback in the Dominion Strategy forum as well?


Thanks! No, I haven't looked there before, I'll check that site out and maybe post there, too.
 
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sybrwookie wrote:
2 Track how many turns have been played. An average game of Dominion lasts around 15 turns. Certain cards (such as Governor) are strong enough that the game can end in around 12 turns. Going for Colonies can make the game average closer to 17 turns. Some attacks (like Mountebank) can make games last far longer. But by having an idea of how many turns have been played, even if you have lost track of what other players have been buying, you can have some idea of how close the game is to ending. But even more importantly….


These numbers are a bit low. If every player is experienced, and has a good plan, and there are no attacks, then this is a good baseline to shoot for. And sometimes it's even faster than that: I've played Ironworks/Gardens rush matches where both players just drained Ironworks, Gardens, and Estates ASAP and it was over in nine turns!

But usually it will be slower. The main reason is attacks: if, say, Sea Hag (or really any curse-giver, but Sea Hag is especially bad) is out, it's going to be a slog and probably will take over 20 turns. Another reason is Duchies; it's pretty often that folks will build a deck that can handle 4-5 Provinces but then stall out, so if you're behind (or even if you're tied) you may end up buying Duchies to catch up, and then your opponent has to buy them too, and pretty soon everyone's deck is filled with green and it's hard to hit $8 and there's still that last province left.
 
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I mention almost exactly that a couple of paragraphs later, after going into more specifics on game-length.
 
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