Dominion: Discipline in the Opening

One of the easiest ways I have of telling that someone isn’t fantastic at Dominion is that they open with a village. Sure, there are some edge cases where opening with a village isn’t all that bad, like opening Fishing Village or a very sad Bazaar, but these are the exception. Opening with Village or Farming Village or something is pretty much never correct; you can do better.

Every card you buy and the order in which you buy those cards should have a specific purpose in mind; if a card isn’t helping you directly towards where you want your deck to be, then you shouldn’t get that card. Having focus on where you’re going and getting there as quickly as possible is how games of Dominion are won (it’s also pretty good general life advice), but it’s not exactly where I’m going with this article.

Your opening buys are the most important buys of the game; messing them up can set you really far behind, and it’s very possible that you can be dead in the water after turn 2 against an opponent who makes a better decision here and has reasonable draws. How will you know what to buy? The purpose of this article is to provide a general outline of the thought process for the first two turns of Dominion.

From a long way up, a game of Dominion should have the following rough outline:

1. Get control over your deck
2. Make your deck do good stuff
3. Win the game with your deck

Your priorities should start at 1 and shift to 2 and then 3 as the game progresses, so for the first two turns of the game, you usually want to get cards for the purpose of getting control over your deck. If that is not possible or can be accomplished with only one of your buys, then the next best thing is a card that makes your deck do good stuff. This is not very specific, but I feel like the “why” is much more important than the “what” here — I’m not going to be there to give you advice for every single kingdom you play, but you can always ask yourself “are my opening buys helping me get control over my deck?” and if the answer is no, find something better.

So we know what our purpose is, but let’s go into a bit more detail. Your priorities (again, ordered like the above list) should go something like this, keeping in mind that if you’ve decided you can’t or don’t want to pursue some of these steps, you’ll just skip over them:

A. Thinning and junking
B. Gainers
C. Draw
D. Payload
E. How do I win?
F. Endgame play

A and C correspond to 1, B and D correspond to 2, and E and F correspond to 3 — in terms of the opening, you can prioritize your buys according to this list. That’s the really short version, I’ll go into a little bit more detail now.

Thinning and junking: so these are both kind of serving the same purpose, if you’re junking your opponent then it’s harder for them to get thin, so both of these have sort of equal priority. If you can do both of them, I’d say I pick up the junker before the thinner more often than the other way around, but it depends on a lot. Keep in mind that a lot of the best cards for thinning and junking cost $5 and you don’t usually get to open with those cards, so buying a Silver or some other card that helps you hit $5 counts as working towards this purpose.

Gainers: the earlier you can pick these up, the more of an effect they can have on your deck, and the faster they can “pay for themselves” in terms of giving you a tempo boost when building your deck. So it follows pretty easily that opening with a gainer is a pretty good play. Be careful, though, since most gainers are going to actively hurt your chances of hitting $5, so while it can sometimes be correct to open Ironworks/Silver and hope to high-roll and hit $5 anyways, you may be better off opening double Silver and picking up Ironworks later. Just keep in mind that thinning and junking should be your first priority and make sure you don’t lose sight of that goal.

The rest of the items on this list usually don’t drive your opening buys all that much, so I won’t talk about them here.

I have just one more main idea I want to get to in this article: we’ve stated the goals we want our opening buys to accomplish, but sometimes it can be tricky to evaluate how well cards can help us reach those goals. The rule of thumb I have is that if your opening buys aren’t going to do something for you on turn 3 or turn 4, you should try really hard to find something better. I have a few more specific things to look out for:

I really don’t like opening with Duration and Reserve cards because they so often miss that second shuffle. Sometimes their effect is so good (Amulet, Transmogrify, Ratcatcher, basically the trashers) that you want to open with them anyways, but so many of these cards are really bad unless you draw them on T3 so you’re better off not going for that 40% chance of greatness and dealing with these guys later.

Keep in mind that cards don’t have to be orange or tan to have these issues, a Warehouse (or Dungeon) opening is really only good if you draw the Warehouse on T3, since if you draw it on T4 and play the Warehouse, then the amazing card that Warehouse helped you buy doesn’t get shuffled in. Another one to look out for is Ranger, since it doesn’t do anything the first time you play it.

Opening with two terminals can be a little suspect if your goal is to hit $5, even if both of them give you $2 to spend; in general, you should think about the cost of the cards you want to buy/gain on T3 and T4 and put some focus on hitting those price points, especially if those cards you’re aiming to buy are trashers or junkers. More generally, if you are unlikely to hit a price point you really want, then think really hard about your openers.

Make sure you aren’t putting something higher on your priority list than thinning/junking, and you aren’t putting anything else higher than gaining good cards.

Consider the chances of denying your opponent a $5 hand with a well-timed attack like Militia or Cutpurse if you’re first player — as a later player this gets much less good since you pretty much have to draw your attack on T3 for it to have the desired effect. If the trasher or Junker costs $5, then denying your opponent the fiver is on that level of importance.

There are many more nuances that I could list, but the more important skill is to know the right metrics to use to guide your decisions when you open. Think about what your T3 and T4 will be like, and make sure your priorities are in order and that you stay focused on them, and you will find your way to the best opening.

Dominion: Summer 2017 Tournament summary

I hosted a tournament this past weekend in Cincinnati, we had 17 people show up for it and things went pretty well. It’s the seventh IRL tournament I’ve hosted and the seventh unique winner we’ve had; there’s a large amount of Dominion talent in the area and a significant number of people traveled to attend, including my first contestant from out of the country!

The tournament consisted of three-player games, using all expansions. You can view more details about the tournament format here and find the spreadsheet I used to organize kingdoms here. The winner of the tournament this time was Jim Mounce, part of a very enthusiastic group from Indianapolis who have recently become regulars to the tournaments I host (and may host some tournaments of their own soon!) Other players who won portions of the prize pool were Ben King, Adam Hopkins, and Kevin Thompson — congrats to them and thanks to everyone who showed up and performed well. There were a lot of very talented people at this tournament.

Most of the purpose of this post was to talk about the designed kingdoms I came up with for the finals. The 9 players who made it past the first round of the tournament got to play four kingdoms I designed for this tournament; I never considered myself to be all that great at kingdom design but feedback from the designed kingdoms was overwhelmingly positive so I guess that’ll be a staple in my future tournaments. In any case, 9 people got to play these four boards and I’ll share my thoughts as well as what I saw from people while they were playing these kingdoms.

It took me a few months to design, playtest, and tweak these kingdoms, so I’m reasonably confident that what I’m saying isn’t total garbage, but hey I could be wrong…

Game 1: Crossroads, Squire, Apothecary, Gear, Duplicate, Mill, Duke, Festival, Talisman, Prince; Windfall, Palace

If you’re thinking that this looks very familiar to one of the kingdoms I used for my 2P tournament six months ago, you’re right. Not many people got to play it then and nobody who did built a deck close to the one I really like here. Also in 3P games it gets a little more interesting. There are two main directions you can go here: Duplicate/Duke, or the Crossroads engine.

Duplicate/Duke is pretty straight-forward: Get lots of Duplicates (4-6), get them all on the Tavern Mat, get a bunch of Duchies in one turn. Repeat with Dukes, have a lot of points. Support for this deck includes Gear and Mill, but surprisingly I don’t think Talisman, Crossroads or Squire really fit in here.

The Crossroads engine, though, is something a little more complex. The main idea is to get four Gears, playing two each turn and setting aside four green cards, and also Prince a Crossroads. You are able to start your turn by effectively “thinning” your starting Estates and having nine cards in hand with three Actions. You can use Festival/Crossroads for an insane amount of draw and you’ll find you’re piloting a deck whose draw gets stronger as you add more green. With just these four cards you can build a pretty powerful deck, but it doesn’t stop there: Windfall allows you to add payload lightning-fast and has great synergy with Palace, Mill helps you hit the price points you need with Gear’s help, along with providing you with some reliability with Crossroads; and Squire/Duplicate can find their places in the deck to accelerate growth and further increase the point-scoring potential of the deck when it’s time.

Surprisingly, after several games, I found that Apothecary is actually not good enough to really fit in, in spite of the fact that you can’t trash Coppers and that it has a ton of support here — it turns out you can put together a deck that’s amazing quickly and reliably without it.

Really, it’s Gear who is the star of the show here, but Crossroads/Gear/Prince at the core of the deck have such strong synergy that this deck breaks a lot of the usual rules of the “Crossroads decks” that you’ll see every once in a while. A lot of those decks need a lot of green to function and just can’t tolerate treasures; also the Crossroads decks tend to have severe reliability issues. This deck flies in the face of both of those, because it’s just so powerful.

I saw a couple of people playing a deck that had a similar concept to this at the tournament — it was at most one per game and they all won handily. I don’t believe they committed quite as hard as you can really afford to commit here, with the four Gears and multiple Windfalls, but they had the Crossroads/Gear/Prince core of the deck found.

Game 2: Native Village, Ambassador, Village, Mining Village, Poacher, Artificer, Library, Pillage, Rabble, Soothsayer; Donate, Wall

Ambassador is on my list of banned cards for 3P tournaments; usually nobody “wins the Ambassador war” and the game turns into a drawn-out slog that isn’t much fun. Wall can be unpopular because it gives you negative VP (among other reasons) and can be especially offensive with Ambassador-junk flying around. Donate is loved by many, but a common criticism is that it makes thinning and building your deck trivial. But what if you put them all in the same kingdom? Turns out there’s a very interesting dynamic to play with.

If you just look at these three things plus Soothsayer, you have a pretty unique start to the game: Soothsayer works pretty well for getting Golds and taking part in the junkfest for a while; but the Curses will eventually run and Ambassador will be necessary to keep your opponents from building too good of a deck. You also don’t want too many Golds since there is no +Buy. The games at the tournament, from what I saw, were mostly about the dynamics between these cards — once the Curses run, Donate for the second or third time, pick up a terminal draw card, and just go straight for green and hope it’s enough. The tournament champion was clever enough to spot an opponent playing Rabbles, so he kept some Native Villages around in order to counter those Rabble attacks by tucking his VP cards safely away to stay “thin.” But there’s more…

These decks are still vulnerable to sustained junking, and the threat of losing too many points to Wall can allow a player who continues to build to really shut their opponents down. There is a deck to be built here that is one level beyond. Turns from that deck look like this:

Play a couple of Villages/Rabbles to draw most the deck. Play Artificer, discard 5 cards, gain Pillage to the top of the deck. Play another Artificer, discard a Province (bought last turn), then play Native Village to mat the Province. Play Pillage, maybe play Ambassador(s) to keep thin and keep junking, then play a Library to draw the Spoils; buy Province. Rabble/Library are somewhat interchangeable here, but sustained Rabble attacks can shut down your opponents so it’s important to have a few Rabbles at least.

This deck stays thin while greening, and manages to play three different types of attacks on opponents every turn — even with Donate around, I don’t think decks will be able to buy Provinces under this assault. Plus, it’s sustainable for the most part, since you’ll be able to stop your opponents from doing much to attack you once you get this online.

Furthermore, the deck gives you options. You can remove the Pillage and just have two Golds in the deck. You can use Mining Villages and trash them on the last turn for Wall points. You can work in more of one type of attack if you feel that’s appropriate, and if things get too hairy you can always Donate to make sure this somewhat delicate deck doesn’t fall apart too badly.

I didn’t see anyone attempt to build this deck at the tournament, but I think it’s quite good.

Game 3: Pawn, Pearl Diver, Gladiator/Fortune, Harbinger, Warehouse, Diplomat, Throne Room, Baker, Mandarin, Mine; Dominate

There’s no thinning here; there are tools to make an “engine” but the draw is very weak (Diplomat only) and those two things combine to make a deck that’s pretty unreliable. Without some severe overbuilding, the best I was able to do was a deck that kicked off every other turn.

But there’s Dominate, and that’s a lot of points. So you want to put a lot of cards in the deck, and they work well enough together that you probably want to go for this weird Warehouse/Diplomat/Throne Room thing with Bakers in order to hit $14 as much as you can. Fortune helps a lot here too.

Surprisingly, Mine is great here — it has everything going for it. You can open with it and another good card because of Baker, and its effect is actually quite good because there’s no thinning and you want to like, have a lot of money. I saw many people build decks capable of Dominating a few times over the course of the game, and usually the person who Dominated most… dominated the scoreboard. Oh, I’m hilarious aren’t I?

But there’s a hidden gem here that nobody found during the tournament. If you can manage to find the following five cards in your hand: Fortune/Gold/Gold/Gold/Copper, you can buy Dominate/Mandarin and topdeck those five cards, meaning you can Dominate every turn. While the draw resources on this board are weak, there are a ton of tools to help you get these five cards in hand quickly: Mine is a rock star here, Warehouse/Diplomat is the core of the deck, and even Gladiator helps you out by probably giving you a Gold when you pick up that Fortune. Throne Room is pretty good here too. I was able to get this “golden deck” set up as quickly as turn 8 in my playtesting, and it almost always happened by T10. Being able to Dominate every turn with an option to double Province to just end the game did way better than any “engine” I was able to build here, and is a pretty unique payload. Before, the only real Mandarin combo out there was Mandarin/Horn of Plenty, which required a ton of support, but Fortune does the job all by itself, and Dominate made the payload of that Mandarin trick actually worth going for here.

Game 4: Fool’s Gold, Fishing Village, Forager, Jack of All Trades, Coin of the Realm, Charm, Counterfeit, Journeyman, Hoard, Watchtower; Battlefield, Keep

There’s a lot of stuff going on here, and this game tends to be over super-fast so there’s just not enough time to go for all of it. You have Fishing Village/Forager/Jack/Watchtower, which you can do for a while before you start shoving treasures in the deck as fast as you can with Hoard. You can also go for other sources of draw like Journeyman, other support cards like Charm or Coin of the Realm, and other payloads like Counterfeit/Hoard or Fool’s Gold. You can mix and match a lot of these things to build lots of different decks here, and there’s no telling which combination is right until you actually get in a game and see what your opponents are doing.

And that’s because Keep is weird, and it gets a lot tougher because of the fact that this is an IRL 3P game and there are eight different treasure piles that you may want to KEEP track of (oh yes). Oh yeah, and Battlefield is also a pretty big deal here because a lot of times, the temptation is to keep building and building with Keep around (because it can be the best points play for you) but not so much here.

This is a really tough board to play and it can be very different depending on what your opponents do.

Dominion: 2017 Video Tutorial

Recently I made another update to my Dominion video tutorial series. This time I made it so hopefully I won’t have to completely redo everything, but maybe I can make small adjustments or add new topics as I feel they are helpful/necessary.

I go into a number of topics here that really haven’t been talked about before. It may not be perfect, but I think it’s a good resource for anyone who’s trying to get better at Dominion, regardless of their current skill level. I’d encourage you to check it out!

Here’s a link to the playlist

My games sheet

I play a lot of tabletop games, and many times I’m playing in a game store or someone’s home. I have a duffel bag on wheels that I stuff full of board games (there’s more than 25 games in there) and I’ll throw it in my trunk whenever I’m going somewhere to play games.

Then the question is asked: what are we gonna play? It’s usually followed by awkward silence while people try to figure out how many people we have, how long of a game we want, and what they brought with them. Sometimes, someone has something they want to play, but for all of the other times, we don’t know what to do.

So I made this. I carry it around in my wallet all of the time. I feel like everyone should have one of these, so I’m sharing mine:

Games sheet

Rant: Existing in shared spaces

When I was 6 years old I remember being able to run at full speed through crowded rooms with no problems. Later in my life, when I was a teenager, I realized that this was because other people were paying attention and were getting out of the way of the small child with little awareness of what was going on around him. When I had this realization, I knew that I had elevated to a higher plane of existence: I was a “mature adult”*. With great power, though, comes great responsibility. Now that I had reached this great pinnacle of human achievement, I knew I had to be aware of my surroundings when I was in any place that I shared with other people. No longer could I run without looking where I was going. No longer could I stand in a place where I was blocking the path of others. Those days were gone.

*The irony that I’m using the words “mature adult” to describe myself is not lost on me.

I had this epiphany when I was still in high school, but many times in my life I have noticed people much older than me who don’t seem to understand this basic concept. The purpose of this rant is to increase awareness of the obligations people face when they are in spaces they have to share with other people. Another purpose of this rant is that I like to whine and it makes me feel good.

I realize that in some situations, the problem is solved by alerting the offending the person to the fact that they’re in the way. Simply saying “excuse me” can suffice in a lot of situations. On the other hand, there are a lot of times where this is inconvenient, difficult, or even impossible to do (as you will see in some of the examples below). I believe it is important, regardless of circumstance, that every person take responsibility for making sure they are always aware of what’s around them when they are in public. At the very least it makes you more pleasant to be around; but it’s nice to not have to worry about distracting people from whatever is so important on their phones that they CAN’T PAY ANY ATTENTION TO WHERE THEY ARE WALKING OR THE PEOPLE THEY ARE ABOUT TO RUN INTO. I also won’t judge you silently and harshly if I interact with you and you’re being particularly annoying to me.

I’d like to outline some scenarios that have come up in my life where people have created situations that made me wonder if they had any awareness that other people might have been around. If you should ever find yourself in one of these situations, perhaps you will have read about it here and you can do the right thing. Even if the people there don’t thank you for thinking ahead, I thank you now for making the world a better place.

Situation 1: You’re in a grocery store aisle. The bad guy (denoted with red circles) is looking at some item on the shelf, but has parked his cart (the red rectangle) across the aisle so that it’s blocking the entire path. Innocent bystanders just trying to get through (the blue circles) now have to either wait for this person, or interrupt them and tell them to move.

Much better would be to park your cart on the same side of the aisle that you’re looking at, or to stand on the other side of the aisle with your cart and look across the aisle at the shelf until you’re ready. A move I sometimes use is to park my cart at the end of the aisle and just hop in and grab what I need, but this has its issues.

Then there are the worst type of people in the universe, who see someone they know at the grocery store and stop to chat with them for however long — while having their carts block so much space that the entire aisle is unusable. They are so engrossed in their conversation that they will never realize what’s going on and don’t respond to interruption. Ugh.

Situation 2: Now we’re in a hallway, or maybe on a sidewalk or something. If we’re on a sidewalk, let’s assume there’s snow piled up on the ends or it’s really muddy or something so it’s oppressive to leave the sidewalk. There are pair of bad guys walking side-by-side in one direction, and even when they see me walking, they will not make any adjustments so that I can get by, despite the fact that the hall is only wide enough for two people, one in each direction. Often I’m forced to come to a complete stop, while one of them brushes up against me and acts like I’m a jerk because they couldn’t be bothered to move. Where am I supposed to go?

There are a couple of variations on this situation. One where I’m coming up behind them and I want to pass them because they’re walking super-slow. If I can’t get their attention somehow, there is no way for me to pass them.

Then there’s this travesty, when the hallway is wide enough for them to still walk beside each other, but they don’t move and I still have to smush up against the wall! When people walk side-by-side like this they are always taking up space that needs to be shared with other people sometimes, so when you do this, be aware of what’s going on around you and stop getting in the way, jerks!

Situation 3: Here’s one I ran into at work the other day. A guy was walking in the building, and he presses the button for handicapped-access, which opens one of the doors in front of him. There is already judgment here because he is fully capable of opening a door himself, but he decided to press the button, and wait for the door to slowly open instead of just opening the door that’s right in front of him. Seriously, how lazy can you be? And before you ask, yes I know he is capable of opening a door because I saw him open the door right behind him, which didn’t have this button (it’s an exterior door and you have to badge in and open it manually).

Anyways, he then goes over to the left side of the hall to enter the open door as I’m coming up. Naturally, I have to stop and wait for him to get back over to the other side of the hallway. I made sure to squeak my shoes nice and loud as I had to come to a sudden stop because this guy is too lazy to open a door that’s right in front of him. And yes, the doors were glass, he could see me coming. There is no excuse.

There’s a scenario that’s even worse, though. When I was in college, there was this same scenario, only imagine instead of one person going each way, it’s a constant stream of people (people entering/exiting a building between classes). Both doors open, but the red people are not allowing the blue people to pass because they don’t want to open the door that’s right in front of them. So the blue people have to just stand and wait because not a single person in the red line has the common sense to just open the other door so everyone can get where they’re going.

There should be a license to have the privilege of walking in a public place and it should be revoked for stuff like this. Come on, people.

Dominion: Never Give Up

I played an interesting game of Dominion today, and while I was nowhere close to perfect, I think the way this game went down is worth talking about. Here’s the kingdom:

Pearl Diver
Courtyard
Urchin
Hermit
Shanty Town
Explorer
Council Room
Forum
Merchant Guild
Possession

I look at this board and I see a couple of things I don’t like: Urchin is the only real form of trashing available, and there’s a way to play multiple Possessions per turn with Council Room to support, so it’s very likely this game will end up being degenerate if both players go for Possession. Also, the Shanty/Council Room draw engine isn’t all that reliable, so there’s potential for “good” decks to have bad turns.

In any case, I judge that the best strategy here is to thin as quickly as possible by opening double Urchin and hoping for the best, then I’ll probably have to prioritize the Shanty Town split as I build my draw engine that aims to play 2-3 Possessions each turn. Once I have all the cards I need for this, I’ll trash all of the other useful cards from my deck until all my deck is capable of doing is playing Possessions.
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Kingdom cards: Pearl Diver, Courtyard, Urchin, Hermit, Shanty Town, Explorer, Council Room, Forum, Merchant Guild, PossessionTurn 1 – Opponent

O plays 3 Coppers.
O buys and gains an Urchin.
O draws 5 cards.Turn 1 – Adam Horton
A plays 4 Coppers.
A buys and gains an Urchin.
A draws 3 Coppers and 2 Estates.

Turn 2 – Opponent
O plays 4 Coppers.
O buys and gains an Urchin.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 2 – Adam Horton
A plays 3 Coppers.
A buys and gains an Urchin.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 3 Coppers, an Estate and an Urchin.

Turn 3 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards an Estate.
O plays an Urchin.
O trashes an Urchin.
O gains a Mercenary.
O draws a card.
O plays 3 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Silver.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 3 – Adam Horton
A plays an Urchin.
A draws an Estate.
O discards an Estate.
A plays 3 Coppers.
A buys and gains an Urchin.
A draws 3 Coppers, an Estate and an Urchin.

Turn 4 – Opponent
O plays 4 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Silver.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 4 – Adam Horton
A plays an Urchin.
A draws a Copper.
O discards a Copper.
A plays 4 Coppers.
A buys and gains a Hermit.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Coppers, 2 Estates and a Hermit.

Turn 5 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards an Estate.
O plays a Silver and 3 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Forum.
O draws 5 cards.

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Things aren’t going very well to start out with. My opponent collides Urchins on T3 and decides to buy two Silvers instead of more Urchins, signaling that he wishes to pursue a more money-based payload. In the meantime, I fail to collide my Urchins, so I have to pick up a third Urchin and I go for a Hermit on T4 — it will help me gain Shanty Towns or Silvers as I need them and maybe help out with thinning.

I take a look at my T5 hand and see a draw that suggests I’m likely to collide Urchins on T6, so I go ahead and grab a Madman in hopes of catching up in tempo, while deciding to get a Shanty Town to go along with this plan. I want to re-buy the Hermit later.
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Turn 5 – Adam Horton
A plays a Hermit.
A looks at an Estate.
A trashes an Estate.
A gains a Shanty Town.
A trashes a Hermit.
A gains a Madman.
A draws 2 Coppers, an Estate and 2 Urchins.

Turn 6 – Opponent
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Estates.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Copper and an Estate.
O plays a Silver and 2 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Gold.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 6 – Adam Horton
A plays an Urchin.
A draws a Copper.
O discards a Copper.
A plays an Urchin.
A trashes an Urchin.
A gains a Mercenary.
A draws an Urchin.
A plays an Urchin.
A trashes an Urchin.
A gains a Mercenary.
A draws a Copper.
A plays 3 Coppers.
A buys and gains a Shanty Town.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 3 Coppers, a Shanty Town and a Mercenary.

Turn 7 – Opponent
O plays a Gold, a Silver and 2 Coppers.
O buys and gains a Gold.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 7 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Mercenary and 3 Coppers.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes 2 Coppers.
A draws a Mercenary and an Urchin.
O discards a card and a Silver.
A plays an Urchin.
A draws a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Mercenary and a Copper.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper.
A buys and gains a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Coppers, 2 Estates and a Madman.

Turn 8 – Opponent
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Coppers.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards 2 Estates.
O plays a Copper.
O buys and gains a Silver.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

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Some somewhat fortunate draws for me follow. Thinning is going well and I see my Madman in a hand that has a lot of potential, but I get rekt hard by a Mercenary attack that is a huge setback. At this point I’ll need to add Silvers to my deck to hit $5. My opponent has added several very good treasures to his deck, but no +Buy or any signals that he plans to build an engine, so I take some comfort in knowing that even if I get pretty far behind, I’ll have a good deck to Possess, which gives me a chance to catch up.
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Turn 8 – Adam Horton
A plays a Madman.
A returns a Madman to the Madman pile.
A draws 2 Coppers.
A plays 4 Coppers.
A buys and gains a Silver.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Copper, an Estate, a Courtyard and 2 Mercenaries.

Turn 9 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Mercenary.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes a Copper and an Estate.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Courtyard.
O plays 2 Golds, a Silver and a Copper.
O buys and gains a Gold and a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 9 – Adam Horton
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper and an Estate.
A draws a Copper and an Urchin.
O discards a card and a Copper.
A plays a Copper.
A buys and gains a Shanty Town.
A draws 2 Coppers, an Estate and 2 Shanty Towns.

Turn 10 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Shanty Town.
O plays a Gold and 2 Silvers.
O buys and gains a Gold.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 10 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals an Estate and 2 Coppers.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver and a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals an Estate, a Silver and 2 Coppers.
A draws 2 Mercenaries.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper and an Estate.
A draws a Copper and a Courtyard.
O discards a card and a Silver.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws a Shanty Town and an Urchin.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Silver and 2 Coppers.
A buys and gains a Merchant Guild.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns,
2 Mercenaries and a Merchant Guild.

Turn 11 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Coppers.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards 2 Mercenaries.
O plays a Silver and a Copper.
O buys and gains a Council Room.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 11 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws a Copper and a Silver.
A plays a Silver and a Copper.
A buys and gains a Hermit.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Copper, a Courtyard, a Shanty Town, an Urchin and a Merchant Guild.

Turn 12 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Merchant Guild.
O plays 3 Golds, a Silver and a Copper.
O buys and gains a Gold and a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 12 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals an Urchin, a Courtyard and a Copper.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws a Silver, a Shanty Town and a Mercenary.
A topdecks a Silver.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals an Urchin, a Mercenary and a Copper.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper and an Urchin.
A draws a Silver and a Mercenary.
O discards a card and a Mercenary.
A plays a Silver.
A buys and gains a Council Room.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Copper, a Silver, 2 Shanty Townsand a Hermit.

Turn 13 – Opponent
O plays 2 Golds and a Silver.
O buys and gains a Shanty Town and a Forum.
O draws 5 cards.

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My opponent has chosen to build a reliable deck with lots of Golds and has added a few Forums to it — while the Forums aren’t currently necessary for the deck to stay viable, he should have little trouble staying viable while he greens. I need to get in gear.

I hit $5 a couple of times and get a Merchant Guild and a Council Room — I probably could have just skipped the Merchant Guild and just gotten two CRs, but I was worried I would run out of payload. I probably slow down by one or two turns because of this mistake, though.

On T13 my opponent still has zero points, but now he gets a Shanty Town and a Council Room, which signals that now he wants to build something resembling a draw engine. This is pretty worrisome, as his deck should adapt pretty quickly to this change since he has ample cycling from his Forums.
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Turn 13 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Hermit, a Shanty Town, a Silver and a Copper.
A plays a Hermit.
A gains a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Silver and a Copper.
A draws 2 Mercenaries.
A plays a Mercenary.
A trashes a Copper and a Mercenary.
A draws a Shanty Town and a Merchant Guild.
O discards a card and a Silver.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Silver.
A buys and gains a Courtyard and a Shanty Town.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Council Room, a Courtyard, a Shanty Town and a Hermit.

Turn 14 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Hermit.
O plays 3 Golds.
O buys and gains a Shanty Town and a Forum.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 14 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Silver, a Council Room and a Courtyard.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Courtyard, 2 Shanty Towns anda Merchant Guild.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild, a Silver and 2 Courtyards.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns and a Mercenary.
A topdecks a Mercenary.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns, a Merchant Guild, a Silver and a Courtyard.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town, a Silver and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Hermit and a Mercenary.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Hermit.
A trashes a Mercenary.
A gains a Shanty Town.
A plays a Silver.
A buys and gains a Potion.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Council Room and 3 Shanty Towns.

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Turn 15 begins and my opponent has zero points still, even though his deck is very capable of much more. I have to believe that he’s built this pretty inefficiently, since he could have picked up an earlier Council Room for faster expansion. I think reliable double-Province turns were possible for him at least 2 or 3 turns ago.

I pick up a Potion here, since if I Hermit-gain a Silver and draw it, I’ll be able to use that along with my coin token to buy a Possession, potentially playing it the very next turn. With a decent draw I should have no problem winning this game, as I should be able to reliably play lots of Possessions. At this point, it shouldn’t matter how good his deck is, I should have the control to win the game.
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Turn 15 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 2 Golds, a Mercenary and 2 Coppers.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Coppers.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Silver and a Shanty Town.
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays 2 Golds and 2 Silvers.
O buys and gains a Province.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 15 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Council Room.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Shanty Town, a Potion, a Hermit and a Merchant Guild.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Hermit, a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Hermit, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Hermit.
A looks at a Shanty Town and a Silver.
A gains a Shanty Town.
A trashes a Hermit.
A gains a Madman.

A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, 2 Courtyards and 2 Shanty Towns.

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Huge mistake from me here, I forgot I’d lose my Hermit by not buying something here (Pearl Diver would have been just fine). I actually didn’t realize this had happened (thanks, ShuffleIt) until I drew the Madman. Also, at this point I’ve trashed my Urchin and my last Mercenary, thinking that I want him to have large hands for me to Possess. This is probably premature, and it will certainly hurt now that I have to take and extra turn buying a Silver instead of the Possession that I wanted so badly. My opponent is greening hard at this point, so time is running out.
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Turn 16 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Mercenary.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 3 Golds, a Forum and a Council Room.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws 4 cards.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Silver.
O plays an Urchin.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a card.
A discards a Silver and a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Forum.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes 2 Silvers.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Courtyard.
O plays 5 Golds and a Silver.
O buys and gains 2 Provinces.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 16 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns and a Merchant Guild.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws a Potion and a Madman.
A plays a Madman.
A returns a Madman to the Madman pile.
A draws a Council Room.
A plays a Council Room.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Courtyard and 2 Shanty Towns.
O draws a card.
A plays a Courtyard.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Silver and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Silver.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Silvers, a Council Room and 2 Shanty Towns.

Turn 17 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and an Urchin.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Forum.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 3 Golds, a Forum and a Council Room.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws 4 cards.
A draws a Courtyard.
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Province.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Mercenary.
O plays an Urchin.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a card.
A discards 2 Silvers.
O plays a Mercenary.
O trashes a Silver and a Shanty Town.
O draws 2 cards.
A discards a Courtyard.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys and gains 2 Provinces.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 17 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Council Room.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Courtyard, 2 Shanty Towns and a Potion.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns, a Courtyard and a Potion.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns and a Merchant Guild.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Potion.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Potion.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Silvers.
A plays 2 Silvers and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Possession.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws 2 Silvers, a Courtyard and 2 Shanty Towns.

Turn 18 – Opponent
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Province.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Mercenary.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Province.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Gold.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals an Urchin, 2 Golds, a Forum and a Council Room.
O plays a Council Room.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 4 cards.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 cards.
O discards a card and a Province.
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards 2 Silvers.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys and gains a Province, a Courtyard and a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

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I had my hand hovering over the resign button on this turn — if he double Provinces here, he’s got 7 Provinces and I can only play one Possession on my next turn. I just don’t see much of a way I can catch him here, but luckily he’s a dollar short, so I decide to keep going. He also adds cards to his deck that are huge liabilities when Possessed, so all hope is not lost. He does, after all have seven stop cards in his deck (six Provinces and a Mercenary).

Notice that he’s played his Mercenary twice, it seems for the purpose of just attacking me, and he trashes three Silvers and a Shanty Town from his deck. Yes, this is annoying, but Shanty Town does soft-counter discard attacks, so the fact that he’s making his deck much worse because of this is a pretty big deal. He could have trashed Forums to get the money to Double on that last turn but he doesn’t. Right now, his deck is set up for something I’ve never actually pulled off in a game of Dominion before…
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Turn 18 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws a Council Room, a Shanty Town and a Merchant Guild.
A topdecks a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns and a Council Room.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Courtyard, a Shanty Town, a Possession and a Merchant Guild.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, 2 Shanty Towns,a Merchant Guild and a Courtyard.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns and a Potion.
A topdecks a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild and a Potion.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Possession.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Potion.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver and a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Silver and a Potion.
A draws a Silver.
A plays 2 Silvers and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Possession.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, 3 Shanty Towns and a Merchant Guild.

Turn 18 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Courtyard.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a Shanty Town.
A discards a Silver.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 2 Golds, a Mercenary, a Council Room and a Courtyard.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws a Gold, a Province and 2 Forums.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 2 Provinces and a Forum.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Forum.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Forum.
O discards 2 Forums.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys a Council Room.
A gains a Council Room.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O draws 5 Provinces.

Turn 19 – Opponent
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

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My opponent draws “the perfect hand.” I now have the ability to play more turns than my opponent with his deck, and the ability to ensure that he’s able to do absolutely nothing with his turns. I have all the time in the world to make up this points lead, while his deck gets to buy me Forums, Duchies, and everything I need to keep my foot firmly placed on his throat. BUAHHAHAHHAAHHAHAHAHHH!!
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Turn 19 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 3 Shanty Towns and a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws a Courtyard and a Shanty Town.
A plays a Courtyard.
A draws a Council Room, a Shanty Town and a Possession.
A topdecks a Possession.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Shanty Town, 2 Possessions and a Potion.
O draws a card.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Possessions, 2 Shanty Towns and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals 2 Possessions, a Shanty Town and a Potion.
A plays a Possession.
A plays a Possession.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Potion.
A draws a Silver and a Courtyard.
A plays a Courtyard.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Duchy and a Council Room.
A topdecks a Duchy.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Duchy.
O draws a card.
A plays 2 Silvers and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Council Room and a Shanty Town.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Duchy, 2 Shanty Towns and a Possession.

Turn 19 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Council Room and a Forum.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Forum.
O discards a Province and a Mercenary.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold and 2 Provinces.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws a Province and 3 Forums.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys a Forum.
A gains a Forum.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a Gold, a Shanty Town, an Urchin and 2 Forums.

Turn 19 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Mercenary and 2 Forums.
O discards a Mercenary and an Urchin.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Council Room.
O discards a Province and a Forum.
O plays a Shanty Town.
O reveals 2 Golds, a Forum and a Council Room.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws 3 Provinces and a Forum.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 3 Golds.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Province, a Courtyard and a Forum.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Courtyard.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 2 Provinces and a Forum.
O topdecks a Province.
O plays 5 Golds.
O buys a Forum.
A gains a Forum.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O draws 3 Provinces, a Mercenary and an Urchin.

Turn 20 – Opponent
O plays an Urchin.
O draws a card.
A discards a Silver, a Duchy and a Shanty Town.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws 5 cards.

Turn 20 – Adam Horton
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession and 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Possession.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws 2 Shanty Towns.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Shanty Town.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals nothing.
A draws 2 Council Rooms.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws a Council Room, a Shanty Town,a Potion and a Merchant Guild.
O draws a card.
A plays a Council Room.
A draws 2 Courtyards, a Shanty Town anda Possession.
O draws a card.
A plays a Council Room.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Duchy and 2 Forums.
O draws a card.
A plays a Forum.
A draws 2 Duchies and a Shanty Town.
A discards 2 Duchies.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, 2 Shanty Towns,a Merchant Guild, a Duchy, a Forum, a Silver,2 Courtyards and a Potion.
A plays a Forum.
A draws a Silver and 2 Duchies.
A discards 2 Duchies.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, a Shanty Town, a Merchant Guild, a Duchy, 2 Silvers, 2 Courtyards and a Potion.
A plays a Shanty Town.
A reveals a Possession, a Merchant Guild,a Duchy, 2 Silvers, 2 Courtyards and a Potion.
A plays a Merchant Guild.
A plays a Possession.
A plays 2 Silvers and a Potion.
A buys and gains a Possession.
A shuffles their deck.
A draws a Silver, a Duchy, a Council Room, a Shanty Town and a Forum.

Turn 20 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Courtyard.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Council Room.
O draws an Urchin and 3 Forums.
A draws a Shanty Town.
O plays 4 Golds.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O buys a Duchy.
A gains a Duchy.
O draws 2 Provinces, a Shanty Town and 2 Forums.

Turn 20 – Opponent [Possession]
O plays a Forum.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a Gold and 2 Provinces.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Province and 2 Forums.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Gold, a Province and an Urchin.
O discards 2 Provinces.
O plays a Forum.
O draws a Mercenary and 2 Forums.
O discards a Mercenary and an Urchin.
O plays a Forum.
O draws 2 Golds and a Courtyard.
O discards a Gold and a Shanty Town.
O plays a Courtyard.
O shuffles their deck.
O draws a Gold, a Province and a Council Room.
O topdecks a Province.
O plays 4 Golds.
O buys a Province.
A gains a Province.
O draws 3 Provinces, a Shanty Town and a Mercenary.

Turn 21 – Opponent
Waiting for Opponent.

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I don’t blame him at all for ragequitting, Possession is not a fun card to be destroyed by, but when you play so hard into Possession, this is what happens. Even the largest lead can be completely neutralized if your opponent is able to completely shut you down.

I was ready to give this game up, but sometimes it’s worth playing out.

Rant: Kibitzing in board games

At a game night a couple of weeks ago I was playing a game of Spyfall with a group. My wife doesn’t enjoy games that involve her having to lie or deceive so she was watching this game, but she has played it before and she knows the rules. (In Spyfall, each person is dealt a card that tells you a location except for one person, who is the Spy. The goal is for the Spy to hide long enough to figure out the location before everyone else figures out who the Spy is.) I was dealing out cards to everyone and she asked to know what location we were at. Without really thinking about it, before I even looked at my own card, I showed it to her. She looked confused, then passed me the card. Everyone instantly knew I was the spy, I tried to fight it but there was just no hope.

Obviously what I should have done (and did for the rest of our games that night) was just to deal her one of the location cards we weren’t using before shuffling the ones we did use for that game. It was a reminder of how kibitzing in board games is easy to allow, even unintentionally, and the effect it can have on games (this one was totally broken, we should have just started it over at that point, even if I wasn’t the spy I would have had an unfair advantage).

What is kibitzing? It’s when someone who is not playing a game offers commentary on the game being played, such that the players can hear it. The easiest example I can think of is if a group of people are playing poker and a guy walks up to the table, sees someone’s hand, and shouts “Wow, three of a kind! Nice!” prompting everyone else at the table to fold.

The Spyfall game I referenced was a lapse in judgment on my part, I normally make a policy to never show anyone outside of the game any hidden information I have in a game I’m playing, especially social deduction games where the whole point is to read people. I have everything to lose and nothing to gain by showing this information, and in the worst case the game can be broken by information like this being revealed to other people because of something external to the game. It’s questionable that my wife should even be allowed to see a location card at all since she’s not playing the game, but she knows how I feel about this and she did close the head of her hoodie so that most of her face was obscured. It was a casual game of Spyfall so I think everyone was OK with it.

Obviously, if you’re not playing a game, revealing hidden information about that game to the other players is rude. I could argue that people shouldn’t even seek out that information in the first place. I’ve had a lot of experiences similar to this that have really soured my game experience.

I’m sure it’s a pretty common situation where I’m playing a game and we’re pretty far along and there are a couple of people nearby who are hanging around waiting for us to finish up (maybe 10 minutes away from being done? Close enough that it’s not worth it for other people to pull out a short game and play that). Maybe they just got to game night a little late, or their game finished up ahead of ours and they’re ready to join up with our group to play another game. Many times what will happen is the spectators will give advice to players, or maybe just distract them with conversations unrelated to the game. What ends up happening is that instead of our game taking 10 more minutes to complete, it takes 30 minutes, and usually people, including myself, get frustrated.

I have a policy that I never give (serious) advice on what to do in a game while the game is being played unless I’m specifically asked to by the person seeking advice. Of course I will never miss an opportunity to suggest that a player buy as many Curses as possible on their turn in Dominion, but that’s different. I may give some generic tips when explaining a game, and I’ll suggest that players take a course of action that benefits me in games where that is relevant, but these are different things. A lot of people out there would rather figure things out on their own.

But when you aren’t in a game, I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to comment on that game. Even a comment like “looks like Adam is winning” or “who’s winning?” before the game is over can affect the outcome of the game. At best it derails the game and makes it take longer (usually resulting in the people causing the distraction to have to wait longer to get in a game!) and at worst it compromises the integrity of the game.

There’s a regular game night that I often go to, and I have to arrive late. Most of the time there’s a game in progress and I have to wait for it to finish. I always bring my 3DS or something to do by myself while I’m waiting for this game to finish; many times I’ll even sit at a different table until they’re done. Yes, I enjoy the company of the people I play with, but I enjoy it a lot more when I’m in the same game as them — to me it’s about the same as them texting or being distracted while they’re playing. So while it feels a little weird to sit by myself while I’m waiting for them to finish up, I feel like it’s the best thing to do.

Dominion: the dangers of simulation

Disclaimer, because I feel like I need one of these:

Some people have put a lot of time and effort into writing software that simulates Dominion games, and I’m about to be pretty critical of their work. Those same people have made lots of meaningful contributions to the community including, but not limited to, having their software used to help playtest actual Dominion cards before they are published. Dominion simulations do have some value and I’m questioning some of it; this article is meant to focus on the applications of Dominion simulations that I find misleading.

And it should go without saying that I have nothing against these people personally. I think these people are nice people. I want to be very clear that I’m not trying attack anyone’s character, but I am going to be critical of some ideas that they have worked hard to support if I don’t think they are valid and sound.

OK that’s enough for the disclaimer, let’s get to the good stuff.

1. What is the simulator trying to tell me?

You may have seen some statements out there like “Jack Big Money beats Mountebank Big Money”, so you come across a game with Jack and Mountebank, and you play Jack BM and your opponent plays Mountie BM and you lose anyways! Hey! What happened? Simulation is worthless!

Not quite. There are many, many things wrong with this; let’s get to them:

First, the statement “Jack Big Money beats Mountebank Big Money” is pretty misleading. What it means is that a simulation matched two bots against each other, and the Jack bot had a higher winrate than the Mountie bot. This does not mean that Jack will always win a game against Mountebank — sometimes the strategy that’s favored won’t win because you have bad luck. So maybe you just got unlucky. Great! You now have a reason to get really salty and whine a lot, and tell your opponent about how you are still better than them even though you lost! This is great sportsmanship!

Not so fast. Even if your strategy was actually favored, maybe you should be a little more gracious in defeat as a start; let’s put that Haterade aside for a minute. But also, YMYOSL. This is a great time to look critically at your own play and figure out if you could have done something better…

“Better? I already picked a strategy that’s favored! I should win! What more do you want from me?”

Second, just because Jack BM is favored against Mountebank BM doesn’t mean it’s the best thing you can do. A strategy that incorporates both Jack and Mountie will do even better — you’ll be more favored. Maybe this game you just lost could have been won if you played a better strategy that would win a higher percentage of games against what your opponent was doing.

This is exactly what the spirit of YMYOSL is (You Make Your Own Shuffle Luck) — the player who blames bad luck for his loss, even if he isn’t wrong in doing so, can miss out on a chance to get better at Dominion by refusing to look critically at his own play.

Anyways, this is an illustration of how simulator results can be interpreted incorrectly. Just be careful to not take simulator results to mean anything more than what they’re saying, and realize in a real game of Dominion there will be many more factors at play than what the simulation results have taken into account. In fact, enough factors that the simulation results themselves are often not going to be useful anymore…

2. Attempting to apply simulation results to your play

I’ll say this up-front: simulation results can be pretty accurate for Big Money games with minimal player interaction. In fact, because of simulators, the game has effectively been solved if you use no kingdom cards! They call this “best strategy” BMU, or Big Money Ultimate. It knows just how to build and Duchy Dance and observes PPR (the Penultimate Province Rule, which only actually applies with zero kingdom cards), which represents the extent of player interaction in the game with no kingdom cards.

This goes back to a criticism I often hear for Dominion — it’s just multiplayer solitaire. My response to that criticism is that if you think Dominion is just multiplayer solitaire, UR DOIN IT RONG. Player interaction is in every single game of Dominion and if you ignore it, you’re just going to lose more. This is actually true of any game with player interaction.

The problem with simulators is that it’s really hard to account for player interaction when you’re making the bots that are inputs to the simulator. It’s theoretically possible but it would be extremely laborious to actually do, and there’s basically no way to ever know that you’re finished. Why?

Let’s say I want to match up two different strategies on a kingdom of ten given cards to decide which one is better (has a higher winrate). I program my two bots and let it fly. Boom. Done. I got a number, Bot A beats Bot B 55%-40%-5%(tie), post it on the internet! QED.

What I’ve shown here is that I am slightly better at programming a bot for strategy A than for strategy B. How do I know that I did a good job with either one? This number would only be valid if I could know somehow that both bots are playing perfectly, not only in general but also perfectly in reaction to the other bot’s play. This is clearly impossible, but let’s try to get as close as we can and then we can realize how far away we are from this.

I’ll work on refining Bot B’s play to get its winrate up. Maybe I’ll try adding in a couple of tricks that deny resources to Bot A. Ha! If I just pile the villages super-fast and then play Big Money I can beat Bot A most of the time because Bot A will not adapt to the fact that its deck won’t work with only 3 villages. Maybe Bot A is vulnerable to an attack on the board, so when Bot B starts buying that attack, Bot A does worse, mostly because it doesn’t adapt to being attacked.

So you go and work on Bot A — play around these new tricks Bot B is trying to pull. The winrate swings back and forth as you go back and forth, just seeing what works well and what doesn’t. But the goal is to create one Bot A that accounts for everything and one Bot B that also does. The bots get refined and refined, and in theory the swings in winrates will get smaller and smaller until it settles around somewhere. Sweet, I think we figured it out.

But how can you know that you’ve thought of everything? How can you know that there aren’t weaknesses in your bots that you just haven’t found yet? How can you know that you’re building as quickly as possible? Try everything imaginable? I mean, that’s about it. So as much work as we did to get here, we still don’t know if we’re there, we can only assume that we’re getting closer. This process is so difficult and laborious because it’s the only real way to account for the interaction between players in a game of Dominion, using a tool that isn’t particularly good at it.

So theoretically it’s possible to optimize a bot and get a number from a simulator. I suppose that if we take a cue from the scientific method we could come up with a peer review process: whenever someone states simulator results, they should include the bots they used and invite people to improve upon each of the bots until a consensus is reached. I feel like if this doesn’t happen, simulation results shouldn’t be taken seriously (or at least not any more seriously than someone chiming in and saying that they feel like it’s different).

I’ll say this again so I can bold it, because it’s kind of the whole point of this article. Simulation results without the bots used to generate them shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s the scientific equivalent of stating your results without any method, data, or sources; if you want to get better at Dominion, I feel like this is the least you can do to make sure your information is legitimate.

I’ll even go further and say that I have very rarely seen any simulation results posted where any attempt was made to account for player interaction; and the attempts that I have seen made are almost never even close to being rigorous enough to get accurate results. The single exception to this is what I mentioned before, about the case where there are no kingdom cards. What this means is that any simulation results that cover matches with any player interaction at all can’t be considered accurate. (Man I hope I can change this statement some day, but it reflects the current state of the way simulation results are generated and presented.)

I should be a little more specific about this. I think the margin of error for Big Money vs. Big Money matchups is small enough that you can get some value out of them, and by “Big Money” I’m including most definitions of “slog” as well. Let’s just say that if each bot is assuming the end of the game will come from the same endgame condition (Provinces or the same three piles) and neither bot aims to get more than one Province on a turn, you can take the simulation results somewhat seriously. If this is not the case, you cannot assume the numbers your simulator is giving you are accurate.

3. What are simulation results good for?

I’ve been pretty harsh so far on simulation results, and for pretty good reason IMHO. On the other hand, they are out there and there is some value in using simulation tools, you just have to be really, really careful about the conclusions you draw (namely, that you don’t draw any conclusions). Think of it as a good first step to the conversation about how to play better.

For example: let’s take a certain matchup between Bot A, which plays Militia Big Money, vs. Bot B, which plays Ironworks/Gardens. I suspect that Bot B is winning this matchup a lot of the time if you just use the canned bots for these two strats, so let’s try and improve Bot A and see what we can learn about playing against rushes. You might find that greening a bit earlier than normal increases the winrate. You might find that choosing other big money enablers besides Militia will give better results against a rush which doesn’t care about discard attacks. You can try all sorts of things to see what gives you better results.

Taking this first step is a good start to the conversation. Maybe the rush can play differently to account for these changes, so we have no idea which strategy is best yet — but remember that’s not really an attainable goal. We have learned something about how to get better at Dominion — that we suspect these methods of playing around a rush could be good. Maybe it’s not, maybe the rush can easily play around some of them, but the simulator results nudged us in this direction so it’s probably more promising.

This is something that leads to getting better at Dominion, and it had next to nothing to do with the numbers the simulator output. We can learn about ways to optimize certain strategies with a quick-and-dirty way to get an idea of how effective they are. Now we know which ones to investigate further. Simulation results aren’t about the numbers, it’s about the steps you take to increase those numbers. It’s not about the “what,” it’s about the “why” — it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

Tables that compare winrates of strategies against each other, in an attempt to determine which strategy has the most raw power are great examples of a misuse of simulator results. There is no attempt to modify each bot to play the matchups well, and it’s all about the numbers. This is more of an exercise of which bots are easier to program (and can do things that the other bots aren’t likely to account for or need to play around) than which strategies are actually best in a game of Dominion. If you wanted to answer the question of which strategy has the most raw power in Dominion, I don’t think simulation is the best way to get there. I also don’t think it’s a question worth answering, but that’s a different topic.

This article is a great example of using simulation results to get better at Dominion. Yeah, the big money bot they played against probably wasn’t adjusted to play well against this engine so the numbers probably can’t be trusted, but the narrative in this article shows you how this deck works and why, and it gives you a great starting point for building the deck if you’re having trouble coming up with it yourself. There is more to playing this deck than the simulator lets on, so don’t stop trying to get better because you think the simulator figured it out for you, but it’s a great first step.

Dominion: Hermit/Market Square Revisited

Hermit/Market Square revisited

Shortly after Dark Ages was released, herowannabe came out of nowhere and blew our minds with the Hermit/Market Square combo. It wasn’t long before this combo dominated every game we saw the two cards in — and with good reason, Hermit/Market Square really is that good and you have to try really stinkin’ hard to come up with boards where some form of this combo isn’t the best thing available when played correctly.

The article I linked is a pretty good starting point; but it, and the discussion that ensued, only scratched the surface of the strategic depth this combo offers. Some of the advice given doesn’t hold up in practice as well as it could, given that you are completely uncontested so rarely. Also, for such a powerful combo, some more in-depth discussion on mirror matches is appropriate. This article aims to be a new starting point on how to play the combo best in all circumstances, and what sorts of interaction you can expect from the rest of the kingdom.

How to play H/MS: the basics

From 55 feet up, the combo looks like this: Open double Hermit, focus on getting as many Hermits as possible until the Hermits are gone (go ahead and trash your starting Estates/Shelters, but be careful as you might want to hold on to one of them for later). At this point, gain Market Squares with your Hermits while turning the Hermits into Madmen during your Buy phase. You’re looking for a deck composition that looks something like this:

  • (X) Hermits
  • (X+2) or (X+3) Madmen (X should really be 1 or 2 here, the combo doesn’t work with 0 Hermits and there is really no practical reason to do more than 2)
  • As many Market Squares as you can get before they’re either gone or low enough that you feel piles are in danger. If you have less than 3 MS, you’re in trouble and you would prefer at least 4
  • Your starting Coppers (these are sort of important to keep around, the combo requires some cards to stay in hand for your later Madmen to continue to draw, but more importantly, taking the time to trash them just isn’t worth your trouble)
  • One non-treasure card that you can trash to start things off (can be a starting Estate/Shelter or maybe something else you’ve gained with your Hermit like a $3 cantrip or something — in the worst case one of your Market Squares will suffice)

While building, your priority is usually to get Hermits first, then if you have a choice between gaining a Madman and buying a Market Square, you’ll want to gain the Madman (unless for some reason the MS split is super-critical, but this is very rare). You primarily want to use your Hermit-gains to get Market Squares.

THE BIG TURN

When to start: You’ll want to play either two or three Madmen to start off your big turn (this the +2 or +3 that we added to X above), once you play two Madmen you’ll have a reasonable-enough chance to draw a third. So when choosing the turn you need to go off, you’d really prefer to either have two Madmen in hand, or have one in hand and know through deck-tracking or something that you’re very, very likely to draw a second. There are cases when you have only one Madman in hand and you just need to YOLO it, these cases are when the game is almost over and you’re behind, to the point where you feel like you will lose the game if you give your opponent just one more turn.

What it looks like: So you play two or three Madmen to draw your deck (or most of your deck. It’s totally fine to not draw everything if you have that third Madman in hand, sometimes it just doesn’t do much for you). Then you play a Hermit, trashing that one non-treasure card I was talking about before, and trigger all of the Market Squares you have in hand. Gain something with your Hermit that you can trash to future Hermits if you’re going to repeat this step (Estate or Curse should be available). Play a Madman to draw again — you should draw most of your cards at this point, but if you don’t draw some, it’s OK. You can repeat the Hermit-trash-then-reveal-MS-then-Madman-Draw portion of this as long as you have Madmen and Hermits to keep this going (it should be X times). Now, play your Market Squares for the buys and play your starting Coppers and the billion Golds you gained this turn and buy a whole bunch of awesome stuff (I’d recommend some green cards, usually you can end the game at this point).

The nice thing about this combo is that it’s pretty versatile — normally you can just win the game on the big turn, but if you can’t, you can at least take a big honkin’ lead and your deck should be able to Province pretty reliably for the rest of the game; after all, it’s full of Golds and Market Squares and very few stop cards.

In-depth analysis: mirrors vs. uncontested

The old article got you to this point. Now, we’re going to go deeper. Let’s talk a bit about the mirror match vs. when you’re uncontested. I should say that even when you’re uncontested, you’re mostly not going to be totally uncontested: every time I’ve played H/MS against an opponent who didn’t know about it, they saw me open double Hermit and thought “oh, that hormat must be really good if my opponent is racing that card, better get ALL TEH HERMITZ!!!!1111” and then something similar with Market Squares. You have to pay very close attention to what your opponent is doing and what the potential of their deck is throughout the game.

(X+2) or (X+3)? How do I know which one to go for? Well playing three Madmen to draw your deck is pretty good, so if it’s not too much trouble, go for it. Sometimes you don’t need that: usually when you only have 4 or 5 Market Squares in your deck plus your seven Coppers, your deck is actually pretty thin, so that extra Madman doesn’t provide much value. The (X+3) is something I go for if I have the time or resources to do it, which isn’t all that often, TBH — the old wisdom is that you really needed three Madmen to draw your deck and I find that just isn’t the case very often, especially in mirror matches.

Racing Hermits: the Hermit split is magnified in the mirror match for sure. 6 Hermits can get you two rounds of revealing Market Squares on your big turn, 5 Hermits can just get you one, and while it’s possible with only 4 Hermits to get a decent megaturn, it’s going to be seriously gimped and it requires a bit of good luck for anything good to happen at all. Hermits are super-important in the mirror and you’re in trouble if you don’t get at least 5 of them. When uncontested, you really want to get 7 Hermits; take comfort in knowing that if your opponent manages to get 4 Hermits and isn’t going for this combo, they probably aren’t going to accomplish all that much this game, so you should be OK. In any case, your strategy doesn’t change much because you want to just get as many Hermits as possible as quickly as possible until you have 7 or the pile is empty.

I guess I’ll stop for a minute here and mention #thedreamhand. Something like Necro/Hermit/Hermit/Copper/Copper + Baker Token, where you can play two Hermits to gain Hermits AND buy a Hermit (yo dawg, I heard you like Hermits). While this is a strong play, you should gauge the pace you get by getting two Madmen so quickly vs. the possibility of giving up a Hermit (will doing this actually mean you get one less Hermit?) and consider taking the two Madmen instead of buying that Hermit. This is kind of edge-casey, but could happen if your opponent opens Embassy or Council Room, or gets a Lost City or something kooky.

Racing Market Squares: Naturally you want to get as many of these as possible, but usually getting Madmen is more important than getting Market Squares. I’ve alluded to this before, but I’ll just briefly mention the exceptions to this rule; they are almost always when the pile is low. If you’re in pile danger (your opponent has gone for a Cursing attack that you’re dealing with nicely because Hermit is amazing) then you may not want to let the Market Squares get too low before taking a lead — you may be better off gaining Silver here instead of letting the MS pile get low. Also, if you’re looking at the last Market Square in the pile, you may want to consider denying it to your opponent over getting a Madman that turn. Usually this matters in the mirror…

Let’s be real, the mirror matchup will end on three piles most of the time, with those piles being Hermit, Market Square, and Estate. Limiting the number of buys your opponent has by denying Market Squares can be a key to victory — you usually threaten to pile Estates yourself when you do this and force your opponent to make some uncomfortable decisions like going for the megaturn earlier than he would like, or in the most desperate of times, buying/gaining Estates to lower the pile to within striking distance. Also, less Market Squares will mean less payload for your opponent in most cases. Think about how many gains they can have on their big turn (remember to take into account Hermit plays!) and if you can deny them the chance to threaten the Estate pileout, you could go for that. This is most effective when there are no other gainers or +Buy cards that cost $3 or less.

When to go mega: Considerations for this are pretty different when uncontested or in the mirror; I’ll talk about them separately. Obviously, you’ll want to keep your finger on the pulse of your payload each turn you could potentially go off, and if you can win the game, just do that. You know, that was kind of the whole point of this thing anyways, right?

Uncontested: This means you haven’t been contested on components enough to really hurt you. You have 7 Hermits, you have access to as many Market Squares as you want. When you get that fifth Madman, you should hear a little timer in your head go “ding!” That means your deck is ready to take out of the oven like a glorious soufflé that has risen like three inches, ready to be devoured in all of its eggy goodness. Be careful, it’s hot! Unless you are under some huge pressure by your opponent, there’s not really a reason to rush things if you aren’t certain you can find enough Madmen this turn to go off. Just pay attention to what your opponent is doing, what kind of pressure they’re putting on you, and use your judgment here.

You’d really like to get your full complement of Golds on your big turn, but the sooner you can go off, the better — just press the button the first solid chance you get. You’re probably wanting to go with (X+3) Madmen and (X) Hermits where X=2 here.

Mirror: You’re going to end up with a much thinner deck in this case, so you can probably get away with (X+2) Madmen with your X Hermits where X=1 and you have an extra Hermit laying around sometimes. If you’ve bossed the Hermit split 6-4, then yeah let X=2 if you have the time. But you probably won’t. You spent two gains on Hermits while your opponent got Market Squares with those two gains, so he’s threatening a three-pile on you most of the time. Get yourself in gear!

Ideally, you want to go off first and empty Estates and win. If you can’t do that, then your opponent probably can, which means you’re in deep doodoo. Consider pulling the trigger somewhat prematurely (meaning you only have one Madman in hand) and/or start gaining Estates to put them within your reach. If your opponent goes off first, you lose anyways. Here’s an example game where this strategy worked out in a mirror where I lost the Hermit split 6-4 with no other support. Fun fact, this is the shortest game of Dominion I’ve ever heard of where all players were trying to win the whole time: 7.5 turns! It just goes to show you how incredibly fast this combo can be. I apologize in advance that I was eating popcorn during my commentary, it’s so embarrassing.

If you can go off this turn but can’t end the game, you probably have to go off anyways and just try to get two Provinces (maybe some Estates too). You have to take enough of a lead so that you don’t immediately lose. Calculate what your opponent’s payload will be when they go off — if you can make it so they can’t win if they go off, do that. If not, make a dent in the Estates and just hope they don’t end it on you next turn. Or maybe you can get two or three Provinces and try to buy some more on your next few turns. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to track your opponent’s deck to know how likely they are to kick off on any given turn, other than the number of Madmen they have.

If you go off second and haven’t already lost the game, then most of the time you get a little bit of flexibility to wait for just the right time to go crazy. What you’d like to do (if you can’t just end the game) is to put yourself in a position where you’re roughly equal to your opponent in points and you have a better deck. Consider gaining Silvers for additional payload if you’re waiting to go off — if you know you’re going to go off on this shuffle, playing a Hermit to gain a Silver, even if you’re forced to buy a Copper to keep the Hermit around, can be better than not doing so. Keep careful track of the payload of both your deck and your opponent’s deck.

Interaction with the rest of the kingdom

Most of this article so far has dealt with the two-card kingdom of just Hermit and Market Square. The combo is so powerful and so fast within itself that this is a really good baseline for all games that involve these two cards. You’re always either opening double Hermit or crying because you got a 2/5 without either Stonemason, Baker, Ball, Borrow, Save, Alms, etc. to bail you out. You’re always piling Hermits ASAP. There are very few cards that cost more than $3 that will interact with this combo at all (they can’t be gained with Hermit and it’s really hard to buy them with this deck), so these cards should really be your focus. I’m going to talk about all cards, though.

Counters?

It’s pretty well-known that H/MS doesn’t really care about junking attacks. Hermit can just trash the junks before you ever draw them with very little opportunity cost, and the combo doesn’t care too much about having extra Coppers around. Junkers are pretty safe to ignore.

It’s assumed that discard attacks will just wreck H/MS. This is just not true, though you’ll have to play differently if you see your opponent going for these attacks. Mainly, you just need an extra Madman to start your big turn, so change that “(X+2) or (X+3)” to three and four and you’re good to go. The only discard attack that costs $3 or less is Urchin, but that’s not something I’d get over a Hermit or a Market Square. We’ll revisit Urchin later on when he fits into the discussion better, but his discardy-ness doesn’t really factor in here. Along with the extra Madman you’ll need to kick off, you’ll want to make sure you know you can find that third Madman after playing only two Madmen, since your first two Madmen draw much less than normal.

What about trashing attacks? Swindler, Knights, Rogue, Sabby, Warrior. Well you play around these guys the same way you would play around them in any other deck: have some redundancy. Get more components then you know you’ll need, and look for alternatives (which I’ll discuss later) if you still run low. The nice thing is that if your opponent has spent time going for these attacks, they likely have done so at the expense of contesting you on components so you’re probably in good shape. I’d say it’s pretty safe to go for H/MS over Knights, Rogue, and Saboteur. My gut says that Warriors are too slow to compete as well, but I’ve never tested that either. Swindler is a bit different because it can trash Madmen and can be Hermit-gained, I’d consider Swindler in a mirror matchup where I felt like I was behind; with some good luck the mustachioed man in purple can get you back in the game pretty nicely.

Does anything counter H/MS? Well, umm, yeah kinda. Possession. Possession with some good trashing can get online before you have a chance to go off, and while they can’t really steal your big megaturn (they gain all the Golds so you-possessed-by-them don’t re-draw them), they can spend your Madmen as you build and prevent you from ever having your big turn. They can even gain Madmen from your deck and build up to multi-Possession turns even with no other village support. Possession might need some support (Copper-trashing, a village, some draw would be really nice but not necessarily required), but it’s the only card that would make me consider not going for Hermit/Market Square at all.

OK, so Possession isn’t around. Do other kingdom cards matter? Of course they do! Here are the things you’re looking for, in order of importance:

  1. Game-changers like Scheme and Alms.
  2. Other cheap trashers.
  3. Other cheap +Buy or gainers.
  4. Cheap cantrips and other minor support.

Let’s talk about these in more depth.

  1. Game-changers

Scheme is a big deal, it lets you gain a Madman without trashing your Hermit, and it’s a great way to guarantee you play a Hermit on almost every turn. Full disclosure: I’ve never played a game with these three cards so my numbers may be a bit off, but you do want to change the way you build your deck significantly. Still you open double Hermit, but after that you want to buy and gain Schemes instead of Hermits — you want to have 2 or 3 (or maybe 4? That seems excessive though) actual Hermits in your deck, about 3 Schemes; and from there, go immediately into the phase where you’re gaining Madmen for your buys and Market Squares with your Hermit-gains. The reason this is so great is now you aren’t contested on Hermits, and you can start getting Madmen sooner which will speed you up by several turns. It also decreases the odds of Hermit-less turns, which are next to useless.

Alms is a big deal for a few reasons. First, you can trigger an Alms to gain a card in your buy phase while also having your Hermit go cray-cray. Second, it gives you easy access to $4 cards in the kingdom that may support your strategy, or even $3 cards that you can’t afford because you’ve got dead Hermits/Madmen in your hand or whatever. Alms can even save you from a disasterous 5/2 opening and potentially make it a boon if Ball or Rogue or something else is around to let you take advantage of it.

In both of these cases, the main thing is that you can (and should) start gaining Madmen earlier than normal, which will speed you up by a couple of turns in building. You’ll get these benefits regardless of how much you’re contested by your opponent.

Two: Trashing

It’s true, without pressure from my opponent, if I could choose any trasher in the game to use during my megaturn to trigger my Market Squares, I would choose Hermit. Why? Well the terminal-ness doesn’t matter, I’ve got plenty of actions from my Madmen. Hermit gains food for future Hermits to trash, it empties the Estate pile which I want almost all of the time; but more importantly it’s much better to have in my deck as I build because it gains all of the components I care about (Hermit and Market Square) and can turn into a Madman, which is usually the limiting component of my megaturn. That’s why Hermits are so important, that’s why we open double Hermit and just pile the Hermits until they’re gone. That’s why any competent opponent (and most incompetent opponents) will contest you on Hermits.

But other trashing in the kingdom can make losing the Hermit split be not-a-game-decisive thing. You still need (X) “Hermits” for your megaturn, but on that megaturn itself, as long as you have something that trashes a card, Market Square doesn’t care! This means if you pick up these other trashers you can turn more of your real-Hermits into Madmen and have a bigger megaturn, even if you don’t have that many real-Hermits. Suddenly, your options in a mirror matchup for larger turns are much greater.

So what matters here? Really, you’re looking for anything that Hermit can gain that will trash a card, except for Loan (it needs to be played in the Action phase) — be careful with Lookout and Doctor, too. Being able to trash Coppers is a big plus, since you don’t need to worry about keeping extra non-treasure junks around to feed them on your megaturn (only Hermit is capable of gaining food for your next trasher at the $3 price point). If you end up replacing all of your Hermits with Copper-trashers, you can even get rid of that last junk card you had laying around as Hermit food! Being terminal or non-terminal doesn’t matter at all. Giving you a +Buy or gains is also really nice because it fits into the next category as well, so Stonemason, Forager and Trade Route are the real rock stars here (but not Develop, since the ability to gain Estates is pretty important in many cases).

Wait a tick, did you just say Trade Route is a rock star?

Yes I did, do not adjust your screen. Trade Route is amazing in a H/MS mirror. mic drop

awkwardly walks back on stage and picks up the microphone

Ahem. As you can see I’m not done talking yet. Uhh, let’s continue.

Be careful with Stonemason, it needs $3 food to really work, so gaining a Silver or triggering a Market Square somewhere along the line has a lot of value here. Also consider emptying Stonemasons as your third pile if you’re short on gains.

What if the trasher is $4 or more? Well if you really need another Madman for your turn to mean anything, yes you should consider putting a Silver (or maybe a Candlestick Maker or something) in your deck to try and hit $4 (or maybe you’ve still got that Baker token lying around from the start of the game?) to get that one single Treasure Map that will guide you to victory (I’m not kidding, T-Map works just fine, though Remodel and the like are better of course). Let’s be clear, in a 2P game this is mostly a desperation play for when you’re way behind — you lose a ton of pace by going for this and normally it will just come up for you on a “lucky” draw for some turn that you aren’t gaining a Madman. This isn’t normally something you play towards. If your trasher costs $5, you can basically forget about it, the odds of actually being able to buy it are super-small. Sure, if you’re staring at five Coppers and the Hermits are gone then go for it, but I’m not holding my breath.

And let me just say this right now, those synergies you’ve heard about like Bank, yeah it would be great to have a Bank in your deck on your big megaturn, but you’re never hitting $7 to buy it and going out of your way to hit $7 is super-not-worth-it. Just don’t. And while I’m here, other gainers like Talisman? Nope, Hermit gains Hermits just fine, no need for that stuff.

In a game with more than two players, though, this becomes much more reasonable. In fact, building up after the Hermits and Market Squares are empty and before you go off becomes much more viable when there’s a third player who already has some points but very little pile control, preventing the this-game-is-over-immediately threat. Here’s an example 3P game where this became relevant, it also shows the disaster that can ensue when you play a Madman to go for your megaturn and get an awful draw.

Three: +Buy or Gainers

The same issues with cards that cost $4 or more apply here that I already talked about. I’m focusing on cards that cost $3 or less that give you extra gains on your turn; and by gains, I’m talking about cards that can gain Estates; these are mostly useful for threatening an Estate pileout if you didn’t get enough Market Squares to do so, and are pretty much only useful in a mirror match. You shouldn’t need too many of these to threaten the Estates unless you totally borked the MS split (in which case you might just be lost anyways) so being terminal shouldn’t usually matter here, just don’t put yourself in a bad situation, make sure you can actually play all of your cards and gain all of the Estates.

The big star of this show is Squire (plus the stars of the previous show, namely Stonemason) because it gives you two Buys for just one card played. Super-hawt.

Four: Other minor support

If the Hermits and Market Squares are out and you find yourself being forced to gain something off of a Hermit play (because you need another Madman), you can often do better than a Silver (though if you know you’re going off later this shuffle, a Silver is frequently the right choice). Sure, those other cards I was talking about are going to be much better than anything I mention here, but many other cards can be relevant in a H/MS deck. Surely some other non-treasure card in the kingdom is better than your last Shelter/Estate, like a cantrip or something (I’m looking at you, Urchin). Maybe, just maybe, you get to play it once for some benefit before trashing it on your megaturn.

There are also a couple of events that are relevant (other than Alms, of course) since you can trigger events and still get your Madman, which is better than just doing nothing. Expedition can be useful, along with Scouting Party, Save, or Borrow.

Conclusion

Oh, mansies. Are you still with me? That was a lot, but these details can be game-decisive in a Hermit/Market Square mirror and there are lot of counter-intuitive things to think about (Trade Route, I know, right?) If you know what to look for, you will win more games. I’ll take this opportunity to caution you against overbuilding and going for the Nine-Hermit Megaturn (X=3) against an opponent who doesn’t contest you. In very few cases are you not putting yourself in real pile danger for not-much-benefit, so be very careful and don’t be afraid to go back and scoop up two more Hermits later on if it feels safer. Usually a competent opponent won’t give you the time and resources you need to live out such a glorious turn, so it’s best not to play with fire.

Hopefully this article can get you from not knowing about the combo to a full understanding of how to play Hermit/Market Square games precisely and maximize your win rate. Comments or suggestions are always welcome. Now go forth and Make Your Own Shuffle Luck! <3