January 25, 2011
First of all, if you don't have any idea what Dominion is (but you enjoy board/card games), stop reading this and go watch our recent video introducing the game.
Now, those of you who are still reading are probably interested in some more advanced strategy, so I'll serve some up for you. I played a match recently that I found to be full of particularly interesting strategic plays, so I'll break it down for you here. First, open up the game history (preferably in another window so it is easier to follow along).
First things first: the supply piles, sorted by cost:
3 - Smugglers: Less useful in a game with powerfully escalating decks, because after the middlegame we'll rarely be buying things that cost 6 or less. Still, has potential to pick up some easy Nobles or Golds. Also, weaker without villages because its a terminal action.
3 - Watchtower: The defensive aspect is useless in this set with no curse-attacks, so it's only useful for drawing to 6 or putting a bought card back on your deck. Probably not worth the purchase
3 - Wishing Well: A weak $3 card that is only useful if our deck is quite homogeneous.
4 - Moneylender: An excellent early-game card, useful for clearing out our coppers and getting to golds+ faster. Especially nice in this set since we can salvage it after our coppers are gone.
4 - Salvager: This card will prove quite valuable, allowing us to convert our estates into more powerful cards and also make some strategic mid and late-game plays. Also provides a +buy, which is huge when your deck is capable of monster turns.
4 - Thief: Most useful if our opponent has a neatly-trimmed deck full of big money. Like Smugglers, it is made weaker by the lack of villages (though the King's Court - Thief play can be a great way to really shut down our opponent's buying power).
4 - Spy: Not a bad card to have, but not particularly powerful either. Doesn't combine particularly well with any of our other actions (except perhaps Thief). We could get ourself a few +actions by playing it on a KC, but ideally we'll have a better action for the KC.
5 - Vault: An underrated card. Able to increase buying power from the middlegame onwards, it can sometimes net us much more than +$2 when we either draw big money or can chain it with some Nobles. Also, when Salvagers are in play and we have $5 to spend, I might rather buy a Vault than a slightly more useful $4 card since its worth more to us when salvaged later.
6 - Nobles: An extremely powerful card, and one of the Dominion cards that can create an effective combo chain with multiple copies of itself. The most strategically interesting part about this card is that it costs the same as Gold, so we'll often have to make the decision on which is more important to our deck at the time.
7 - King's Court: Not much to say about this utter beast. If KCs are in the supply, we will almost certainly need them to win the game.
9 - Platinum: These too are often essential to win in a Colony game.
11 - Colony: The goal of the game. First one to get 4 of these usually will take it down.
Turns 1-2: I pick up a 3-4 split, and I think its a pretty easy silver-moneylender play. With big powerful expensive cards, we want to clean up our deck and get big $ as fast as we can. Our opponent unsurprisingly makes the same choice. The other reasonable option would be salvager-silver, or maybe even salvager-wishingwell, but it makes sense to choose moneylender first because our copper density is higher than our estate density and we won't need +buys anytime soon.
Turns 3-4: I pick up the vault when I have $5 to spend, it should be useful until I dispense with my estates and it will provide more consistent buying power (Fun fact: anytime there is a vault in your hand to begin a turn, you can buy a gold or nobles!). The next turn I pick up my Salvager straight up, so my trashing engine now has all its initial components. Our opponent buys a Spy, which I think is a poor choice over Salvager here. Perhaps he simply didn't want to have 2 terminal actions in his deck this early?
Turns 5-8: Pretty straightforward play here. We are fortunate to put together $7 so soon and pick up an early KC. Some folks might choose a Gold or Nobles here instead because they don't have too many powerful actions to combine with the KC, but that would be a mistake. Even the moneylender can be great with it, as we see in turn 8. We face the choice in turn 8 between KC-Moneylender or KC-Vault. If we choose the Moneylender we'll trash 2 coppers and pick up a Gold or Nobles, if we choose the Vault we can pick up another KC at least by vaulting our ML and the 4 drawn cards. I go with the ML here, since I replaced 2 coppers with a Gold I made my deck much more streamlined, and I'll have plenty of chances to pick up more KCs soon enough. Our opponent Spies us in his turn 5 and forces us to discard a copper; I think this is almost always a mistake. Copper is weaker than my average card, so he should let me keep it. He also spends $5 on a silver, declining to purchase a Salvager or Vault. A crucial error, imo.
Turn 9: An interesting decision on my part with 2 KCs, a Salvager, and 2 coppers. One play would be to KC-KC-Salvager and trash my coppers, but I wouldn't be able to buy anything and that would squander 2 coppers away from my MLs. So, I take a more interesting route and salvage one of my KC's to buy a Platinum. Again, there are plenty of KCs left and getting a Platinum in effect in a streamlined deck is very strong.
Turn 11: Here I end up spending $12 on another Platinum instead of a Colony. Nobody has breached the big VP cards by this point, and I consider my deck to be stronger than my opponents, so I decided that increasing my deck's power even more was better than starting the VP race now. My opponent has been stocking up on KCs and Nobles instead of big money. His deck should have strong cycling power, but it doesn't yet have quite the buying power he'll need to buy Colonies on most turns.
Turn 13: Here we see the power of a KC-Nobles chain in our opponent's turn. He even manages to triple-Moneylender, but without any +buys he's left spending $15 on a single Platinum.
Turn 14: I open up the Colony race with a KC-Vault.
Turn 15: Here the benefits of the +buy become apparent: Because I'm already a Colony ahead and have several Platinums, I can spend my $12 on 2 Nobles and strengthen up my cycling power. In my opponent's turn, he sets up a nice chain and picks up his first Colony. The race is afoot!
Turn 16: Nobles-Vault is a strong play because the extra +action allows us a chance to see 2 more cards that might be extra useful (for instance, a KC!). If we don't pick up another strong action card on the first pull, we can just play another vault for +$2. We both pick up another Colony on this turn, unsurprisingly.
Turn 17: At this point, our Moneylender is mostly useless, we have a few superfluous Vaults, and the VP race is hot and heavy, so I go ahead and KC-Salvage the rest of my hand into a Colony. The other option would be to KC-Vault, but that may or may not get us to $11 (and we'll only have one buy if we lucksack >$11). Our opponent makes what I think are a few poor choices here too. He should lead with the Spy to give himself a shot at a KC-KC, which is obviously more powerful than two independent KCs. Also, for the same reason, I'd probably Nobles-Nobles before using the KC since he's guaranteed to be able to at least KC his 3rd Nobles. If he picks up another KC in that stretch he can KC-KC-Nobles and run through his entire deck. He ends up doing so anyhow, but it wasn't a sure thing.
Turn 18: The critical turn. We each have 3 Colonies, and he has more Nobles than I do (The fact that Nobles also are worth 2VP in addition to their other powers makes them even stronger). If I just buy a single Colony here, chances are he'll take the last one next turn and win the game (as we see, he actually had a fairly weak hand, but he certainly could have gotten there with a KC-KC-Spy assuming he picked up a Nobles in his 3 +card's). Clearly, I lead with the Nobles +2 actions, giving me a chance to make something happen with the Vaults. In my first draw I pick up another Nobles, so I opt to continue the cycle and Nobles-Vault again. This leaves me with a Salvager, 2 Platinums, a Gold, and a Colony. One option for a big VP play would be to salvage a platinum and buy 2 Provinces, thus preventing him from winning on his next turn. However, we have a play that locks up a win right now, and of course we should always take it. We salvage our Colony for +$11 and buy the last 2 Colonies, ending the game before he has another shot to pick up VPs.
As you can see, it was a narrow victory (44-41), but many Dominion games are won by a small margin. It is important to maintain awareness of the VP count and also to keep your mind open to creative plays, for they will often lead to a satisfying victory.