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Making Luck Episode 52: Colony/Platinum and Dominate

In this episode, Adam and Jake discuss Colony and Platinum from Prosperity and Dominate from Empires.

Kingdom at the end: Lighthouse, Warehouse, Armory, Nomad Camp, City, Mint, Goons, Grand Market, Hunting Grounds, Expand; with Colony/Platinum

Here's my summary of what I thought were the main points Adam and Jake were trying to get across about Colony / Platinum games:

  • Colony games tend to go a bit longer (at least if they would otherwise have ended on Provinces) and it’s usually worth the time to build more and go for Colonies rather than green earlier and go for Provinces.
  • Money strategies are weaker because they tend to rely on front-running and getting half the available VP before the opponent can build to big turns. You can’t realistically get half the available VP on a Colony board so the money player can’t just “limp across the finish line” of half the VP in this way.
  • Provinces are a better “consolation prize” in Colony games than Duchies are in Province games in the sense that they’re worth 60% of the VP rather than 50%. This potentially makes it easier to catch up and less of a disaster if your opponent gets five of the top Victory card when that card is Colony.
  • On the other hand, most Alt-VP tends just not to cut it in a Colony game, and it’s harder to fall back on (say) Vineyards to make up a 20 VP deficit from losing the Colony split.
  • Copper trashing is far more important in Colony games because Copper is so much worse than the average card you need to buy Colony. In Province games the difference is a lot less so it’s sometimes not worth it if the Copper trashing is weak or slow or there’s a big opportunity cost. Likewise, Silver and Gold are comparatively less valuable in Colony games and Silver flooding is much worse.
  • If your strategy is to end the game quickly on your terms rather than getting loads of VP, you might prefer Province to Colony because it's an easier way to end the game. Examples would be Salt the Earth or situations where your opponent is building towards a mega-turn.

Here are the main points on Dominate:

  • Most of the stuff we said about Colonies is also true of Dominate, but buying Dominate depletes the Province pile so the pool of VP cards is smaller than in Colony games.
  • Also Dominate games don't have Platinum, so more support is needed from the rest of the kingdom. That support usually means draw (it's hard to get to $14 with five cards) but also things like cantrip money can work.
  • Two Dominates is the same VP as five Provinces and doesn't hurt your deck as much, so if there's any way to build towards Dominate then this will usually be better than trying to outscore Dominate by getting lots of Provinces.
  • You can trash the Provinces from Dominate and keep the VP tokens, potentially allowing you to avoid clogging your deck with green. This isn't likely to be worthwhile though unless you're getting additional benefit (preferably VP) from trashing the Provinces (Bishop, Ritual, maybe Salvager).

I must admit I didn't totally get the argument for why money strategies were weaker on Colony boards, so perhaps the above doesn't capture that very well.

Say it's a Province game and I play money, building to one Province per turn, while my opponent builds a higher payload deck aiming for two Provinces per turn but probably getting there a couple of turns later.

Now add Colonies to the mix. Sure it's right for both of us to build a little more than we would have done in the Province version. I buy Platinum the first few times I would have bought Province and now I'm hopefully getting to one Colony per turn starting a few turns later than I would otherwise have been getting to one Province per turn. Meanwhile my opponent also spends a few extra turns building and gets to his two Colonies per turn starting a few turns later than he would have been getting to two Provinces per turn. Whether this situation is worse for the money player than the one without Colony and Platinum depends on whether the extra turns it takes the money deck to build from one Province per turn to one Colony per turn are more than the extra turns it takes the higher payload deck to build from two Provinces per turn to two Colonies per turn. Perhaps that will usually be the case but it doesn't seem clear to me.

Quote from arflutter on November 28, 2018, 9:17 PM

I must admit I didn't totally get the argument for why money strategies were weaker on Colony boards, so perhaps the above doesn't capture that very well.

Say it's a Province game and I play money, building to one Province per turn, while my opponent builds a higher payload deck aiming for two Provinces per turn but probably getting there a couple of turns later.

Now add Colonies to the mix. Sure it's right for both of us to build a little more than we would have done in the Province version. I buy Platinum the first few times I would have bought Province and now I'm hopefully getting to one Colony per turn starting a few turns later than I would otherwise have been getting to one Province per turn. Meanwhile my opponent also spends a few extra turns building and gets to his two Colonies per turn starting a few turns later than he would have been getting to two Provinces per turn. Whether this situation is worse for the money player than the one without Colony and Platinum depends on whether the extra turns it takes the money deck to build from one Province per turn to one Colony per turn are more than the extra turns it takes the higher payload deck to build from two Provinces per turn to two Colonies per turn. Perhaps that will usually be the case but it doesn't seem clear to me.

I think the main difference here is that the lady who built more needs to spend less resources moving up from the $16 price point to the $22 price point than the guy who built less needs to spend going from $8 to $11.

In the money density paradigm, the guy who built less has to divide the effectiveness of each card he adds to his deck by the total number of cards in his deck, so as the game goes longer, each card he adds does less and less.

The lady who builds more, let's assume she is drawing her deck. The effectiveness of her turns is increased by the full value of each card she adds as long as she can continue to draw everything.

So MoneyGuy spends $16 on a Platinum and a Gold and ups his money density by less than $1 while BuildLady spends $18 on a Platinum and a Laboratory and ups her per-turn output by $5.

It took her longer to get here but if they were even when they both got to $8+1buy/$16+2buys, the one who built more is in a better position.

Does this help? If this comparison helps out I may want to mention it at the start of the next episode...

I think that does help and would be worth a mention.

What did come across clearly was why you need to build more in a Colony game than in a Province game. When Adam put on his idiot voice and said: "But Jake, I can still play money and still buy Provinces and still end the game exactly the same", I totally understood the point that it's not viable for the money player just to ignore Colony and play money for Provinces exactly as before, because he’s clearly going to lose to the guy who builds an extra few turns to buy Colonies instead. But it was less clear why the money deck can't stay competitive by building more itself, buying Platinum a few times and then contesting the Colonies.

After listening to the episode I went through almost exactly the thought process you describe above. A deck that draws itself every turn and is generating $16 and two buys can add a Platinum, a Lab and (say) a Peddler in less than two turns, whereas a typical money deck that is generating $8 per turn probably needs at least three additional turns to build to $11 per turn. That makes sense after thinking it through, but it didn’t hit me in the face just from listening to the podcast.

There’s also the point that the alternative to money isn’t always a “higher payload deck”. On many if not most boards where you can build a deck that consistently draws itself and generates $16 and two buys, a money strategy won’t be able to compete even in a Province game, and adding Colony probably just means the money deck will lose by an even bigger margin. Sometimes when playing money for one Province per turn is a viable strategy it’s because the best alternative is just playing a more action-orientated deck for one Province per turn. Perhaps there’s no draw but you can thin and then go for Minion or cantrip money or draw-to-X or whatever and hope to get to one Province per turn slightly more quickly than the money deck. In that case adding Colony might even favour the money player because Platinum isn’t so easily accommodated into these other action-dense decks that aren’t based on getting 55 cards in your hand every turn.

Even then, Colony will probably favour the non-money deck most of the time (two extra Minions or Grand Markets still only takes a turn or two to pick up), but I think the case for Colony pushing you away from money-based strategies didn’t come across entirely convincingly, at least to me.

So the main reason money decks are a lot worse with Colony is actually a property of extra VP sources in general (though colony really goes further than most with it). I touch this in a (I think as of yet unreleased?) minisode. Basically, though, the money deck works by being fast. The other deck which draws more will definitely be able to build bigger eventually, because you can build more with more than 5 cards than you can build with only 5 cards. So the drawing deck basically always builds bigger. In order to compete with that, the money deck needs to have some advantage, and that's going to be, it's faster. Sometimes it's not faster, in which case, it's just bad in every case, and it did not matter whatever else was going on. And sometimes the drawing deck can't actually be bigger, in which case, why go for that either? But in the cases where you have an actual choice, it's (almost always, I'm sure there are edge cases) because the drawing deck can go bigger, but the money density deck builds faster. So the whole question is about, can the initial speed of money get to a big enough lead such that the eventual power of the draw deck can't catch up? And any time you add more points, it makes it easier to catch up, either/both by giving more time and giving more possible points. If you tack 3 extra building turns on to the money deck and 3 extra building turns to the drawing deck, the drawing deck is going to be building bigger by the time those last 3 building turns comes up - so advantage drawing deck. Even if somehow the money deck can get to 5 colonies faster than the building deck, it's easier to overcome a colony deficit (using provinces) than a province deficit (by using duchies).

 

The other thing is, 'just add a few platinum' doesn't actually work as simply as you'd like. Let's say you got 5 silvers and 5 golds and your starting cards. Money density is now to the point you can average province per turn (well, just for exactly now, you're making on average $8 per turn). Hooray. If you add 3 platinum to that deck, you're making only $10.2 per turn, which is not enough to colony consistently. Moreover, it's pretty common to actually hit 8 exactly and not be able to afford platinum, which is actually quite important. And add to that the fact that, because the money density changes equal to the difference between the new card and your previous average, adding a green card hurts more when your average/target is Colony, than it does when you 'only' need to reach Province.

 

(I also think that money swinginess/variance increasing when you start adding platinum et al hurts money density more when than when those things aren't there, but I'm not sure about that).