Analyzing the Dominion Board
The first step in any Dominion game is to set up the “board,” or tableau. The Kingdom cards chosen or otherwise selected to be available, the Victory cards, and the Treasure cards are all arranged. Then, the most critical part of the game commences: analyzing the Dominion board.
Nothing helps the analytical prowess of a beginning player like choosing a strategy that seems great, trying to implement it, and getting absolutely thrashed by an obviously more skillful opponent. The school of hard knocks, so to speak, is a grand teacher.
Since the 157 Kingdom cards can be combined in essentially endless possibilities, this article will focus on just the general principles and a few specifics from the Dominion base game. But, the principles can and should be applied regardless of which Kingdom cards comprise any Dominion board.
From Dominion Board to End Goal
The purpose of analyzing the board is to create a mental map of your strategy from first purchase all the way to final buy. To do this effectively, a general plan must be hatched from the beginning. While this post isn’t devoted to implementing strategies (that comes next), it is important to understand in your mind how you expect to gain more Victory Points than your opponent.
Based on the cards available to you, you might map out a Big Money strategy. Or, you might work towards cranking up a +Actions/+Cards engine. Analyzing the cards on the board will let you know if your favorite tactic will work or needs to be scrapped in favor of a different approach.
The game is won or lost on the Victory Points (VPs), but your strategy for acquiring them determines if you or your opponent will end up with more. In games without Gardens or other VP-producing Kingdom cards, the main strategy is to construct hands that have 8 or more Coins in order to buy Provinces and other Victory cards. Whoever balances their deck’s functionality with its purchasing power and does both the quickest usually wins.
Board Analysis for the Base Game
For the base game, there are three power cards that dictate game play whenever they are on the Dominion board. They are: Chapel, Witch, and Gardens-plus-Workshop.
Chapel is the most powerful card in the game relative to its cost, and it is likely the single best card as well. It serves to eliminate deck-boggers like Coppers, Estates, and Curses to streamline and speed up deck rotation. This makes your power cards rotate around much quicker and gives a significant edge in a game where your opponent hasn’t Chapel-trashed the low-value cards in his deck. In the absence of Chapel, be sure to check for Moneylender. While not as fast or functional (it can only trash Coppers), it still thins away the rubbish and lets more valuable cards be purchased more quickly.
Witch should be purchased as soon as possible and played as often as possible. Its Curse-donating function is a powerful attack. And, if used early enough, it will either be impossible or tremendously difficult to adequately defend against it by trashing the Curses with Chapel or by reacting to it defensively with Moat.
Gardens-plus-Workshop is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any time Gardens AND Workshop are both on the Dominion board, the game turns into either a one-sided rout (if your opposition ignores or doesn’t recognize their synergy) or a race to see who can obtain the most Gardens and cards through purchases and Workshops. Without an empowering Workshop available, Gardens is not nearly as much of a threat. Without Workshop, Gardens is mainly purchased as a last ditch effort by someone who is trailing in VPs or a purchase made by someone who needs to pad their lead but only has 4 Coins and one buy to utilize. Gardens are relegated to futility in games where Chapel is present as they are at cross purposes, and Chapel is stronger.
Secondary Dominion Board Analysis
After the basic card analysis mentioned above (which will likely be sufficient to beat complete newbies all by itself), secondary Dominion board analysis should be learned. The Action cards each grant certain effects when played. If there are no Action cards that generate additional actions, attempting to build a +Actions/+Cards engine is a foolish endeavor. And, if no extra buys can be obtained, the value of cards like Remodel exponentially increase in late-game value (as Gold can be remodeled into a Province without expending the one precious buy!). Additionally, using Thief against players that have Chapeled away all their dross can be particularly devastating.
So, start with the basics. Don’t stay there. Briefly think about each card, weigh its strengths and weaknesses, and formulate your plan. Rarely will any strategy incorporate all the cards on any given Dominion board. So, don’t feel bad about completely ignoring cards in your strategy. People do it to poor Chancellor all the time…
Once you get the hang of analyzing an arranged Dominion board, you’ll realize that there are countless possible routes to victory (or defeat). It takes practice to get better. Remember to have fun, keep playing, and keep reading to learn how to implement more of the basic Dominion strategy. Then, move on to more advanced game play once you are satisfied with your grasp of the fundamentals.
You can also play online (portal in the menu bar above). The online Dominion board is arranged alphabetically by card cost for the Kingdom cards in the left-hand column and by card class and card cost in the right-hand column. All of the pictorial representations online are different from the physical game cards, but they function identically. Pictured to the right of this post is an example of the online Dominion board.