Dominion: Spring 2023 Tournament Summary

On April 15, 2023 I hosted my 14th in-person Dominion tournament near Cincinnati, OH. The turnout was 21 people with a larger-than-normal showing from people travelling out of town to come to the tournament. With the exception of the last tournament I hosted at Gen Con, this is the first local tournament I’ve hosted at a new venue, and based on how this went went, I think I want to host the rest of my in-person tournaments at the new venue.

The new venue was Victory Pints, which is a board game store kept in business by having a bar built-in instead of by Magic the Gathering. This was great for a few reasons: first, people could have food and drinks during the tournament and not have to have it delivered or go pick it up in between games; second, I didn’t have to schedule the tournament around MtG events, which meant I could reach out to my travellers with a bunch of options and pick a weekend that worked for a lot of people; third, the venue was excited to have us and help promote the event; and fourth, when the tournament was over, the store has a HUGE library of playable board games and stayed open late, so everyone who wanted to was able to stick around and have a good time playing board games without worrying about bringing their own games or getting kicked out of the store soon. I think that for both myself and everyone playing in the tournament, it was a much better experience and I’m excited to keep having my tournaments there.

Let’s talk about the tournament itself: we had 21 people show up, including a lot of travellers, and a fair number of people who were new to my tournaments. It’s so nice to be able to meet new people because of this game we’re both obsessed with, it’s the most rewarding part of running these tournaments for me. With such a good turnout, the competition was pretty fierce, and while only four people finished in the money, they could take home a nice chunk of cash and know that they beat out a lot of talented people to get it.

The champion this time was Robert (holding the trophy in the picture above) who is a first-time champion but has come to a few of my tournaments so far. He only lost one game the whole day (which was in the Swiss rounds, to our second-place finisher AHoppy). The trophy match was not played on-site due to time constraints.

Below is a table showing the overall standings from the tournament. Also, here’s a link to the spreadsheet which contains every kingdom used for the tournament (even the ones that weren’t played).

1. Robert
2. AHoppy
3. Charlotte
4. Michael S
T5. Jonathan H
T5. Jake
T5. Sarah
T5. Ryan
T9. Shaila
T9. Mike B
T11. Scott
T11. John P
T11. Behram
T11. Nathan
T15. Bella M
T15. Brian
T17. Isaac
T17. Jonathan B
T17. Nick
20. Jim
21. Kim

All right, the next thing I want to do is talk about the designed kingdoms used for this tournament. I had four kingdoms designed for the bracket, with a backup kingdom if necessary, and all five were used. So let’s get to it!

Finals Kingdom 1: Settlers, Gardens, Guildmaster, Baron, Artisan, Throne Room, Capital, Market, Grotto, Storeroom, Order of Masons, Inheritance

The idea I built this kingdom around was inspired by a randomly-generated board I played once, where there is no trashing, but Order of Masons can function as effective trashing. I added in Inheritance and Settlers to give you the benefit of effectively drawing your Coppers “for free,” along with the potential Storeroom synergy. I also added in some early-game tactical stuff, giving you a few ways to hit an early Inheritance, but not all of them are created equal, and then what you Inherit can be a bit unclear as well.

After playtesting this one a lot, I really like a Baron/Grotto opening. It nearly guarantees that you hit $7 by turn 5 at the latest, and gives you a pretty clear path towards Inheriting Settlers. When a rough draw hits you, sometimes I think Inheriting Throne Room is pretty good, but most of the time I prefer Settlers. You can also open with a Capital, which will get you there, but I find that you end up with a worse deck when you get there, which can be a bit rough. From that point, the objective is to just get as many Favors as possible, because that functions as your trashing for a while. Once you’re able to have a turn with all of your Coppers in the discard pile, you just don’t draw bad cards anymore, so you’re able to build pretty quickly and add payload to your deck rapidly with Throne Room/Artisan tricks. This deck is also very resilient to greening, so Gardens is an option for catching up to an opponent with a Province lead, because there isn’t a great way for them to close out the game by draining Provinces.

Overall, I think this one played very well. It was played twice overall and I think the person with the better strategy came out on top both times.

Finals Kingdom 2: Sailor, Fawning (Hermit), Bridge Troll, Wizards, Laboratory, Merchant, Groom, Bauble, Caravan, Sheepdog, City-State

The inspiration for this kingdom came from two separate ideas that I merged together. The first idea was based around Sailor being the main village for playing Bridge Trolls. The second idea was the endgame trick where you reduce the cost of Province to $3 using Bridge Trolls (with the awkward villages available), get a pile of Favors ready, then buy a Province. This triggers a crazy sequence where you gain a Hermit because of the Fawning trait, play it immediately with City-State, and gain another Province. You can repeat this as long as you have Favors and until the Provinces are gone. After that, you can just buy Duchies with all of your buys because they cost $0.

It feels a lot like assembling the pieces of Exodia, which is a rare feeling in Dominion — get your Favors, grab a bunch of Sailors and some gainers in the mean time, and over the course of two turns, gain some Bridge Trolls and play them with Sailor. Once you get all of these things done, you just win the game. With a big enough stack of Favors, you can cut Sailor out of the equation, but Sailor is a good card for the deck anyways and definitely speeds you up.

This kingdom was only played once, but the player who won the game went for a lot of Bridge Trolls and ended up winning the game from it.

Finals Kingdom 3: Seer, Spice Merchant, Band of Misfits, Bandit, Astrolabe, Weaver, Marquis, Cardinal, Supplies, Importer, Family of Inventors, Barracks

This kingdom was all about using Family of Inventors to mess with the costs of everything, and lots of cards that care about those costs, especially Seer. Eventually I settled on the idea of using Importer as a hard cap on the number of Favors you have access to, which I wanted to make significant. In some playtesting games, I tried the tactic of reducing a card down to $1 so that Seer couldn’t draw it anymore, which was pretty effective as a tactic if you’ve lost the Seer split hard, and I was happy to see that come up in one of the two times this kingdom was played in the finals. More than anything, this one was meant to just be fun to play, because it offers a different “feel” to a Dominion game.

After playing this kingdom a lot in playtesting, I like a Seer/Spice Merchant opening (reducing the cost of both of them with Favors), grabbing a Weaver and then focusing down the Seers until they’re gone. From there, you can get lots of payload very quickly using Weaver to gain Silvers, Bandit to gain Golds, and depending on your draw situation you can add a Barracks/Marquis to help you draw your payload faster (either discard Weavers for payload or play a Bandit and use Seers to draw your payload). Sometimes you want to reduce the cost of Gold so your Seers can draw it, but you have to think about if that’s better for your opponent than you. There’s also the idea of keeping two Favors around to threaten to reduce the cost of Silver to $1 so Seer can’t draw it to limit your opponent’s options which can come up in some games.

Finals Kingdom 4: Priest, Witch’s Hut, Jewelled Egg, Worker’s Village, Sycophant, Siren, Beggar, Secluded Shrine, Village, Mining Road, March, Coastal Haven; Colony and Platinum

The idea behind this kingdom is to make you feel the effects of Beggar and March as draw. They are not good at being draw, but in this kingdom you’re desperate enough for draw because of Priest shenanigans (and you don’t mind the junk from Beggar) that they are definitely worth going for. Sure, you can draw with Siren and Witch’s Hut but you will find yourself getting a lot stronger if you can use March and Beggar in addition.

This kingdom received a lot of playtesting and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Actions and Buys are in abundance, so the more Priests you can play on your turns, the faster you can get control of your deck and the more payload you’ll have. There’s also a cool trick you can do if you have two or more Priests in play, you can buy a Siren and have the Siren trash itself for $4 or more, effectively converting your extra buys into more money while running out a pile.

After playtesting this one a lot, I’ve settled on a pretty good opening for the deck: open Priest/March (don’t Coastal Haven a card yet) and then on the next shuffle get a Worker’s Village and a Sycophant (don’t be tempted by your beautiful $5 hand, you need that Worker’s Village) and if possible, Haven a card on turn 4. From here you really want to get a Siren and March it on your next few turns, get a second Sycophant-> Siren, and pick up more Villages and Priests. You’ll want to use your Favors liberally to get things to line up so you can do this because once you’re getting a Siren out every turn, your Favors are pretty useless. If you’re getting junked heavily you’ll want to March Priests or Sirens pretty often to keep on top of your deck control. Sure, you can eventually get rid of your junks with Priest but playing Beggar to gain junks to hand is just so much better so you want to get the point where you’re doing that quickly.

“Backup” Finals Kingdom: Peddler, Highway, Devil’s Workshop, Silk Merchant, Flag Bearer, Search, Relic, Marauder, Tide Pools, Courier, Way of the Horse

I had seven kingdoms designed for this tournament, when I only needed four (maybe five), so if this one wasn’t needed I would just use it for the next tournament, but here we are. Sometimes the bracket works out in a way where the finalists have played all four kingdoms between them so we need a backup kingdom. This one was loosely inspired by a Highway/Silk Merchant megaturn that came up in a random kingdom, but I wanted to poke at it with Silk Merchant being the only village and Way of the Horse to keep your deck from being over-terminaled. There is definitely a megaturn here with Highway which is possible, but it’s very tricky to set up because there’s no trashing at all, so you’re relying on Way of the Horse and Imp for draw.

The trick is to bank Villagers by gaining Silk Merchants and returning them with Horse, while contesting Highways along with that. Once you have 3-5 Villagers and the Highways are gone, you can have one “setup” turn where you buy 3-4 Silk Merchants, which should let you pop off on the following turn and grab whatever Provinces (or pile cards) are left. Grabbing some Searches along the way and seeing which Loots you pick up definitely affects the math, but you’ll know what you need to do when the Highways run out and you see which Loots you get.

There are a few other tactical things going on here: The Flag is super important in my mind, because the draw is so tight and you can just Horse the Flag Bearer. Tide Pools is a trap as always, and finding time for Searches and terminal space to play them is a crunchy decision to make as it’s something that can help you a lot in the late game.

The other interesting thing is that the player who won the game with this kingdom (the tournament champion, since this was the final game) used a strategy that I want to playtest a bit more: Search Spam. He did contest the Highways, but for the most part his strategy revolved around buying Search every turn until they were gone and getting a ton of Loots (then Horsing a Search so he could re-buy it and get more Loots, which was a cute trick) and just greening right away. This strategy seems pretty bad when you just talk about it but I’ve heard enough stories of this being good (it won the tournament finals here, for instance) that I want to do a bit more digging.

In any case, that’s my write-up for this tournament. I had a really good time hosting and I think this new venue is a great thing for everyone involved. I’ll see everyone (and hopefully more people!) for the Fall tournament this year; I’m thinking Late September, and thanks to everyone who came for this one!

Dominion: Plunder (expansion) card power levels – first impressions

Over the past couple of weeks, I had a poll open asking people to rate each card-shaped object in the newest Dominion expansion on a scale from 0 to 10. The results are in!

Click here to see the results of that poll in a Google Sheet.

You may also be interested in two podcast episodes where our first impressions of the Plunder stuff was discussed: One Two. I’ll highlight a couple of things that I think were interesting about these results in this post.

First, I’d like to talk about the places where my ratings differed the most from the community’s ratings:

Silver Mine is getting a very low score, among the lowest in the set, while I gave it an above-average score; I also rated Gondola quite a bit higher than the community. After viewing lots of discussion on the topic, I think this is a difference in the value of Silver. It’s very popular to dunk on Silver and Gold as being extremely bad and it’s my opinion that this is pretty overblown. The difference in ratings certainly reflects that.

Shaman has quite a bit of things happening to it, so the difference between my rating and the community’s rating is just not telling the whole story. I’d like to share a graphic showing the cards with the highest variance stat, meaning that there is the most disagreement among the community.

Shaman (as well as Cage) are two cards that have a significantly higher variance than everything else in the set. In Shaman’s case, where I personally believe that should receive a high rating, but I believe the card is also unpopular, the variance is likely to be pulling Shaman’s overall rating closer to the middle than it should be. It’s also possible that people are rating only the on-play effect of Shaman, as opposed to considering the effect it has in all games. This is a perfectly valid way to rate the card and could also be pulling its rating towards the middle.

As for Swamp Shacks, after some discussion it appears that there is some real disagreement there: I think that Swamp Shacks is much less powerful than everyone else does. Time will tell what the story is…

Next I’ll talk about what the community rated as the most and least powerful cards in the set:

These are the highest and lowest card ratings — I agree for the most part with all of these except for Silver Mine, which I’ve already talked about… and Rope.

As I played more with Rope I lowered my rating on it from 8 to 6. My belief is that Rope is a card that looks great and feels great at first, probably because it does so many different things; but I think the community will calm down by the time the time my next Card Power Levels poll comes out. Rope is fine, but I just don’t think it’s one of the best cards in the set.

Let me know what you think!

Dominion Galactic Championship Summary

The Dominion Galactic Championship was held this past weekend at Gen Con in Indianapolis, IN. The tournament and the whole experience was unlike any of the other tournaments I’ve run in the past, and I’m glad I put this tournament on and went through the process of running a tournament at a convention. We had 48 entries in the tournament and had a deserving winner, Eugene Lee AKA ceviri.

I’ve attended Dominion tournaments at conventions before, but all of the tournaments I’ve run up to this point were standalone events. I’ve had people ask me what it’s like to run a Dominion tournament at a convention and I’ve also wondered myself what it would be like, and this was the time to find out. I’ll be making a separate post about what I’ve learned from this experience as a tournament organizer, to add to those resources, but I’d like to list a few of the big takeaways here that were more relevant to this specific tournament.

– It’s hard to promote your tournament when you’re running it at a convention. Thankfully, the fact that you’re part of the convention is its own promotion in a way. People are usually coming there for the convention and your event will be seen by a huge amount of people who don’t have to make a huge commitment to play in your tournament. There’s not much doubt that you will probably get more people to attend your tournament with less promotion work if you’re part of a convention. This is the largest tournament I’ve ever hosted by a significant margin — larger than I would be able to do without a convention setting.

– If you’re having trouble finding a venue for a standalone event, a convention will solve your problem. You’ll have the table space you need to have a tournament as large as you want, in a space suitable for gaming.

– You’ll end up doing more work jumping through the hoops you need to work with the convention regarding scheduling, entry fees, and whatever other rules the convention places on you. You’ll also usually have to buy a convention badge in order to run a game there, so you’ll be paying money to run your tournament as opposed to most venues which will be happy to just have a cut out of your prize pool.

– You’re more likely to have players who are much newer to the game in attendance, so you may want to take some steps to make your tournament more beginner-friendly.

For me personally, after this experience, I think I’ll be focusing again on standalone events in the future — I’m lucky enough to have multiple good venue options near me and I’ve already established a legitimate network to help promote my events, and I appreciate the extra flexibility I have to work directly with a venue.

It’s possible that I’ll run another tournament at a convention some day, but if I end up doing that, it will be at a different convention (not Gen Con). If that happens, I’ll be changing the name of the tournament, so I can confidently say that our first and only Dominion champion OF THE GALAXY was crowned this weekend!

All right, enough of that, let’s talk more specifically about the tournament. This one was a bit different in format because I wanted to be able to have a lot more people be able to play if they wanted to. There were four qualifier rounds throughout the convention, and players who survived their qualifier were invited to the finals at the end. It’s a bigger time investment for me but it allows for up to 128 entries and for people to enter multiple qualifiers if they want to.

The format was a giant double elimination tournament — last as long as you can before you lose twice. The longer you last, the higher your placement, and the more money you’ll win from the prize pool (if you make it far enough). The last one standing is called the champion. All games were two-player games, so it’s possible for a player to have a bye round, where they are either matched with an opponent who has already been eliminated, or just given a win if no such opponent can be found.

Here’s a link to the spreadsheet containing all of the kingdoms used for this tournament.

I’ll take a moment now to talk about the four kingdoms I designed for the later stages of this tournament.

Finals Kingdom 1: Hunting Lodge, Miser, Hamlet, Island, Cultist, Witch, Swindler, Barbarian, Experiment, Rats; Seaway, Tomb

The intent here was to have awful decks with so much junk in them, that Rats as the only trashing plus Tomb improves your deck to the point where the pile control you get (especially if you Seaway them) plus the immediate VP from Tomb and the synergy with trashing Cultists is strong enough that it’s game-decisive, even if you have more junk than your opponent. A lot of playtesting went into this kingdom which has so many cards from the banned list present, and I had the experience I wanted a few times during playtesting.

Unfortunately, the version of this kingdom where I tested the direct Seaway/Rats deck (aiming to 3-pile Coppers, Curses, and Rats) was done before Ruins were in the supply, and while that “degenerate” deck wasn’t fast enough to beat a Miser-focused deck that uses Hunting Lodge, the Ruins allow the Seaway/Rats deck to end the game too fast and with enough points for anything else to get going.

One of the games played in the tournament ended up being a Seaway/Rats mirror, which fortunately was interesting enough, but it wasn’t what I was going for. I’m not quite sure how to fix that problem other than to replace Seaway with something else, but this is the board that was played in the tournament.

Finals Kingdom 2: Royal Carriage, Festival, Forager, Tactician, Priest, Candlestick Maker, Legionary, Mystic, Squire, Tunnel; Pathfinding

The intent with this kingdom was to build a deck where you put Pathfinding on Tactician, then call Royal Carriage on Tactician to activate multiple Duration Tacticians in a turn. Nothing else you can do here will increase the number of cards in hand, and the explosive payload of Priest gives enough reason to justify jumping through these hoops.

This game was played one time during the tournament, and neither player saw the multiple-duration-Tactician deck, opting to play a more “standard” double-Tactician deck with Pathfinding+Candlestick Maker as payload.

Finals Kingdom 3: Tiara, Bridge, Vault, Chapel, Stonemason, Villain, Altar, Bureaucrat, Bandit, Trader; Gamble, Bandit Fort

Bandit Fort stifles most money decks you can build here, with the possible exception of using lots of Vaults and few Golds. There is a powerful megaturn deck here, though, that uses Gamble and Bridge at its core. The deck thins with Chapel aggressively, gets a single Altar, a Villain or two, a few Vaults, and then aims to add Bridges quickly using Stonemason (aided by the cost reduction from Bridges) and Altar. Your turns should look like this: play a Vault, discarding everything in your hand, and start Gambling. You can use stored Coffers from previous turns to make sure you can play all the cards in your deck using Gamble. Without being attacked, this deck can consistently empty Provinces on turn 12 or 13 while Playing Villain at least once on most turns after the first 6-7.

This kingdom was played twice at the tournament, both times with one player going for the Gamble/Bridge deck and the other playing a simpler money density deck. Each deck won one of the games, but the Gamble/Bridge deck that won used Bandit to gain Golds, which served as the deck’s draw instead of Villain. This is an interesting variant on the deck I intended, with a few differences:

The Bandit deck doesn’t rely so much on starting each turn with a Vault, so it doesn’t have to be as thin and pick up extra Vaults for consistency.

Action cards drawn in the starting hand can’t be played unless the opponent plays a Vault consistently on their turn — there are enough Golds in the deck that a single Vault play usually does the job. That was the case in this game, but I question if this deck would be viable against an opponent who stopped playing Vaults and pivoted to a Gold flood to combat this strategy. The Bandit attack probably hurts a Vault-based money density deck about as much as Villain’s attack does, but potentially does less against the gold-flood pivot.

Having a large number of Golds is a significant amount of negative points from Bandit Camp, which is a liability if this deck allows the opponent to get enough Provinces before the megaturn. However, it can potentially enable some better turns in the midgame because you don’t have to try and save your Coffers for a megaturn.

Are these tradeoffs worth it? I’m not sure, I’d have to playtest it more. My gut says that Villain out-performs Bandit in the megaturn deck but I can’t be sure.

Finals Kingdom 4: Bank, Coin of the Realm, Astrolabe, Market Square, Transmogrify, Catapult/Rocks, Secret Passage, Throne Room, Haven, Crystal Ball; Canal

I actually had a different version of this kingdom finished before Seaside and Prosperity’s second editions were released, but then Astrolabe and Crystal Ball fit so much better into this kingdom than Scepter, I was really happy with the way this kingdom came alive and featured two of the newest Dominion cards.

Bank is great here with tons of enablers, but the only thing here resembling draw is Haven and there’s also Catapult, so you’re looking for ways to squeeze as much value out of your deck as possible to put into your Banks. You have Transmogrify and Market Square to help you gain Banks easily, you have Crystal Ball which helps you get thin quickly, then turns into effectively a cantrip with lots of money on it in your Buy phase, you have Secret Passage to help ensure that your Banks are the last treasures you play, Astrolabe and Coin of the Realm (easily gainable with Canal/Transmogrify if you have extra Coppers or Curses around), and Haven can help you bring cards from previous turns to give you bigger turns.

This kingdom was used for the tournament finals, which were recorded on video. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

I’ve been running Dominion tournaments since 8 years ago, this is my thirteenth tournament. I’ve put a lot of work into each one, and a lot of work into constantly improving the way things are run, both for the benefit of the players and for my own benefit. I’ve also put a lot of work into promoting my tournaments and establishing a network where people can find tournaments like mine not only in the Midwest, but reaching out to people who are willing to travel even farther just for an event like this. My beginnings were humble, and no part of getting to where I am today has been easy, especially given the last two years.

Both tournaments I’ve run this year have had people there who heard about them through my promotion and networking — people who love the game are able to find a place to play the game they love, face-to-face, with other people who feel the same way. Every time I give this experience to another people or group, I’m reminded of when I had that experience for the first time, and also of the friendships I’ve made with people because they showed up to my tournaments in the past. It’s so validating to see more and more people show up to this because of the other people in the past that have had positive experiences. It’s not often that you get to directly see the results of your hard work.

On top of this, there was a sizeable group from the online community that travelled to Gen Con because the tournament was happening, and got to meet up in person. Many of them travelled from across the country for this, and I was specifically told that it wouldn’t have happened without the tournament. It’s another instance of that validation I was just talking about, but this one went a few levels deeper.

My relationship with the online community informally ended many years ago, and it was not on good terms. There is still bad blood between myself and the other people involved, and it is for that reason that I didn’t have any expectations of interacting with the online group, beyond knowing to watch them closely because I expected them to play well and make it far in the tournament.

The tournament finals came, and this is when that online group planned to all be at the tournament to hang out and hopefully also be playing in the tournament. They had come together to somehow find a Hinterlands 2E Update Pack (which I had not been able to find in time for the tournament) and gift it to me as a thank-you for organizing the tournament, which was such a nice gesture by itself, but they were nice and welcoming to me as a part of their group whenever I had downtime during and after the tournament. It was such a positive experience for me and it meant a lot that they would be as welcoming and thoughtful as they were.

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I had entered with such low expectations of how that interaction might go (which was not justified, by the way — none of these people had anything to do with any of the stuff that caused me to leave that community), or the fact that most people, especially me, have been so starved for real, in-person human connection over the last two years. But I really enjoyed this group of people and I was really happy them came to the tournament, it was way beyond what I thought could happen. It’s making me rethink my position of not wanting to be “a member of the online Dominion community” after many years of being glad I wasn’t.

Dominion Galactic Championship!

It’s official! I’ll be hosting a MASSIVE Dominion tournament at GenCon this year! GenCon goes from Wednesday, August 3 through Sunday, August 7, 2022 and it’s in Indianapolis, IN. My tournament will be taking place on Thursday the 4th and Saturday the 6th. ALL games will be 2-player games. Here’s a link to the GenCon events page that will help you find it, you’ll be able to sign up for events starting Sunday, May 15, 2022.

The tournament has four qualifier rounds — you only need to sign up for one of them. Three qualifiers are on Thursday at 10AM, 1PM, and 4PM; and there’s a fourth qualifier on Saturday at 10AM. If you survive your qualifier then you’ll be able to show up for the tournament finals, which will be held at 1PM on Saturday, where we’ll play until we have a winner! Qualifiers are 3 hours and the finals will be up to 6 hours. Each qualifier can have up to 32 people, which means the tournament can have up to 128 entrants!

The tournament is a modified double elimination tournament; once you lose two games you’re out. Matchmaking will be more of a Swiss-style, and there are some rules to handle tie games gracefully, but the objective is to survive as long as possible in the tournament. The ten players who survive the longest will get cash prizes! Here’s a link to a Google doc with more detail on the tournament format.

Entry fee is $8, though you must also be registered for the convention to sign up. $6 of every entry fee goes to the prize pool, where first prize will be just above $300 (if the tournament fills up). Normally, players who make the finals and survive for three games will cash.

All expansions and promo cards may be used. Kingdoms will be randomly generated, but then tweaked and filtered by me for maximum fun and rules clarity. The last few kingdoms will be designed by me.

I’ve had ambitions of hosting a large tournament at a convention for quite some time now, I’m super excited that this is actually happening! Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions about the tournament. My contact information is in the event descriptions and also under the Contact tab on this blog.

I will mention that there is another Dominion tournament at GenCon this year that I’m not affiliated with. The games in that tournament are 4P games, which I have some opinions about. But if 4P Dominion is your cup of tea, there is another option for you this year at GenCon.

Dominion: Spring 2022 Tournament Summary

On April 9, 2022 I hosted my 12th in-person Dominion tournament. It’s been a really long time since the last one I hosted, between the pandemic and my own health issues. I was personally very excited to just leave the house and do anything at all that I enjoy, and that’s what happened. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of attendance this time, but we had 17 people show up, including two groups that drove for about 12 hours just for the tournament.

Overall, it was just really nice to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a very long time, plus I got to meet some Dominion enthusiasts that I hadn’t met before. It’s such a change from the way life has been for the past few years, and I imagine that most of the people who played felt a similar way.

The spreadsheet which contains all of the info about the tournament, which is all of the kingdoms that were used and could have been used, is here. It also contains the four designed kingdoms that were used for the elimination bracket. I’ll talk about those designed kingdoms here as well later on in this post.

Our winner this time was Dale Montgomery, who has a story with my tournaments that I love to tell — at one of my earliest tournaments, Dale and his wife showed up and were still learning the game. After being eliminated early on, Dale left the game store with a huge stack of Dominion expansions. Every time he comes back he shows more skill and gets further in the tournament, until this tournament where he finally took away first prize. It’s nice to see not only someone who became hooked on the game in large part due to my tournaments, but also to see someone work hard at getting better at the game and then have that shown as the winner of this tournament. On top of that, the Montgomerys have been such a huge help to my family the past couple of years; it’s hard to imagine the win going to someone more deserving.

My next tournament will be in 4-6 months or so. I’ve submitted a 128-person tournament to GenCon 2022, which is still in the approval process but that looks like it’s going well. If that goes through, that will probably serve as my big Fall 2022 tournament. If not, I’ll have another Cincinnati tournament, aiming for September or so. If you want to stay up-to-date on all of the IRL Dominion events I plan to host, as well as the ones other people in the Midwest are hosting, you can keep your eyes on this blog, and also check out this Facebook group.

Now let’s talk a bit about the designed kingdoms. The first two were kingdoms I intended to use for the Winter 2019 tournament, but the finals were snowed out. I quietly published the spreadsheet containing these kingdoms, but they didn’t get much discussion because I didn’t specifically talk about them in that post. I liked these kingdoms a lot and I don’t think anyone out there was practicing them, so I put them in this tournament along with two other freshly designed kingdoms (that actually contained some Menagerie cards 😉

Finals Kingdom 1: Urchin, Fortress, Scheme, Throne Room, Gladiator, Familiar, Cobbler, Market, Horse Traders, Fool’s Gold; Barracks, Save — This kingdom started just to see what would happen when Mercenary/Fortress was the only source of draw. It turns out you have to jump through a lot of hoops to make a kingdom that can possibly be fun to play with Urchin in it. First, the only thing in all of Dominion up to Renaissance that can prevent most games being over by turn 4 because of Urchin collision is Save. Second, Mercenary/Fortress isn’t that good for draw and there’s a brutal discard attack around with Mercenary, so I had to build in a ton of reliability into the kingdom on top of Save, because Save by itself still gets hit pretty hard by Mercenary’s attack, so we have Horse Traders, Barracks, Cobbler, and Scheme to help out here. Finally, we have very efficient payload cards in Fool’s Gold, Market, and Fortune. That accounts for most of these cards…

It turns out that the Mercenary split is pretty important here (yes I just said that unironically) so I put in Throne Room to take some of the pressure off of that, and finally I added in Familiar as a trap card, but I guess it can be good if your opponent doesn’t really try to thin their deck (or forgets the Save exists) as a win-more card. In any case, it took a lot of playtesting and stuff to make this into something that can only snowball if a player doesn’t take advantage of the right resource at the right time. Even with everything I put into the kingdom, this one is a brutal slugfest.

Finals Kingdom 2: Pirate Ship, King’s Court, Sacrifice, Bandit Camp, Trading Post, Ducat, Beggar, Mining Village, Storyteller; Trade, Keep — This was loosely inspired by a ladder game I played years ago, where Pirate Ship was actually good. It doesn’t take too much to do it, you just have to be able to play enough Pirate Ships to destroy all treasures, plus Pirate Ship has to be the only source of virtual money. So that’s what I designed this kingdom around.

There are many things that look like virtual money here: Sacrifice, Beggar, Mining Village and Bandit Camp. They are very temporary, though, and won’t work as sustainable solutions for any deck that wants to, well, do anything at all under lots of Pirate Ship attacks.

If both players go for Pirate Ships, it’s an interesting dynamic. The person that gets more Pirate Ship tokens is usually at a huge advantage, so you want to start playing Ships ASAP and also trash all of your treasures as quickly as you can if you see your opponent getting Ships. I’ve never had a game go to a stalemate before but it could theoretically happen, which would be so cool I wouldn’t even be mad that it would be a problem for a single-elimination tournament bracket.

Finals Kingdom 3: Mint, Rabble, Fairgrounds, Haven, Crown, Animal Fair, Improve, Sheepdog, Leprechaun, Merchant; Way of the Rat, Exploration — I wanted to make a kingdom around a few cool Menagerie synergies: Crown and Mint were already around, but throw in Way of the Rat and Sheepdog and you really take it to another level. I chose Animal Fair and Improve for payload here. You really do have to build a lot because of Rabbles, and Crown being the only village, it’s important to use all of the tools at your disposal to get as many of them as possible.

When the eventual tournament champion played this kingdom, it was against a previous two-time champion who was undefeated that day. Dale tried a Mint opening, planning to turn the Haven into an Animal Fair, which worked out but IMO left him a bit behind. I had intended to have Havens be the way to set up a Mint a bit later on (and the Havens are still useful later because there is no Estate trashing). With a crazy last shuffle, Dale was able to pull out a win with two consecutive explosive turns, though.

Finals Kingdom 4: Develop, Snowy Village, Black Cat, Treasurer, Magpie, Laboratory, Bank, Vagrant, Monument, Band of Misfits; Way of the Turtle, Gamble — I started making this kingdom wanting to just have some fun with Gamble. Make it so that you want to spend all your money every turn just Gambling, and then making jokes about having a Gambling problem. And I believe that did happen here, but I wasn’t content to just have the Gamble/Monument deck, I wanted more, so I made the big draw focus on Develop, Gamble, and Way of the Turtle. Now you’re happy to hit basically any type of card with Gamble.

What I didn’t expect to have, though, is the experience we have actually playing this kingdom. There are just so many possibilities with what you can do at so many points in the game, the decision tree just explodes so quickly and it makes your brain hurt so much. It’s not clear to me what kind of deck you actually want to try and make, it’s not clear to me that you actually want to have a concrete plan. So many things are good and your deck composition can change so drastically in just one turn because of Develop, I’ve tested this kingdom over 30 times and I still don’t really know what is best to do here. All I know is that you can do so many things and they are all really good.

Dominion: Allies First Impressions – Results

Over the last week and a half or so, I collected the general first impressions of the new Allies cards, asking people to rate them on a scale of 0 through 10. This post is meant only to present the results of that poll, but this time I’m able to give a bit of commentary on cards where I maybe have very different ratings than the average.

Here’s a link to a spreadsheet with the raw data for this poll, as well as the results I’ll be referring to here.

The highest rated cards are: Island Folk, Peaceful Cult, Specialist, Clashes, and Royal Galley.

The lowest rated cards are: Sycophant, Gang of Pickpockets, Merchant Camp, Mountain Folk, and Forts.

The cards with the highest variance tend to be Allies, which makes sense because it’s not entirely clear what it means to “rate an Ally,” as for actual kingdom cards with high variance, we’re looking at: Forts, Swap, and Sentinel.

Now for the fun part, where I disagree most with everyone else:

Townsfolk: I gave this a 9 and the community gave it a 5, it’s the biggest difference. 5 seems way too low for this pile, and while I could see giving this an 8 instead of a 9, I feel like this is one that people will grow on for sure.

Forts: I gave this an 8 and the community gave it a 4.5; I wonder if the community rated this pile so low because Tent is on top — I think Tent is a fantastic opener and 4.5 seems crazy for this pile.

Carpenter: I gave this a 9 and the community gave it a 6. I realize I’m quite a bit warmer on Carpenter than most other people and my rating may go down in the future, but for right now I think it’s one of the strongest cards in the set, it’s hard for me to imagine a game where I don’t get at least one of them.

Merchant Camp: I gave this a 7 and the community gave it a 4.5 (but notably a lower 4.5 than Forts, I’m rounding a bit here for this post). Sure, there’s a downside in that this doesn’t draw a card but I think people are putting way too much into that downside and not seeing the benefits of having a much more consistent deck.

Contract: I gave this an 8 and the community gave it a 6. Did you know Silver is a good card?

Galleria: I gave this a 7 and the community gave it a 5. I could definitely see where I’m a bit optimistic on this card, I could definitely see where everyone else is a bit pessimistic on the “terminal gold” aspect of it. Time will tell who’s right about this (or if we just end up somewhere in the middle)

Modify: I gave this a 9 and the community gave it a 7. Modify is fantastic and I’m confident this rating will go up in the next few months.

Royal Galley: I gave this a 6 and the community gave it an 8. Finally, something where I’m less optimistic than everyone else! Giving an 8 to Royal Galley seems pretty optimistic to me. I’ll be honest, I considered a 7 rating but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, I just don’t think this card is that strong and there seems to be some real disagreement here.

Past this point, the rating differences get small enough that I’m not really sure there’s much disagreement at all. It will be exciting to see where these ratings go in a few months when we revisit card ratings, and how these ratings differences might change!

Dominion: Allies First Impressions

A new Dominion expansion was just released and it’s time to get everyone’s scorching hot takes on the cards in this new set! Here’s a link to a poll where you can give a 0-10 power level rating on all of the card-shaped objects in Allies. The poll will be open for a little more than a week (until March 23-24ish, 2022) and at that time, I’ll collect the data and present it here on this blog post. A few months later we’ll do the poll again and see how perceptions have changed.

Dominion: Menagerie (expansion) Cards Revisited

When this expansion’s cards were made public, I conducted a poll to measure the community’s first impressions on how powerful the cards were. You can read about that poll in this post. Last week I did another poll to see how those impressions changed, and this post will present the most notable results of that poll.

Before talking about it though, I’d like to link to a few things. First, the raw data for these ratings, which includes all of the data ever collected in any of my card ratings polls and will be updated as new ratings are collected. If you want to see the data for yourself and look for something specific, that’s where to go.

Second, there are two podcast episodes where Wandering Winder gives his first impressions of the cards, and then I give my first impressions of the cards. You can also listen to our revisiting episode where we both talk about our own updated ratings as well as how they differ from the community’s ratings and each other’s ratings.

Now that we’re done with that, I’ll present the data that I want to talk about in this post, focusing on how impressions of card power levels have changed in the months since Menagerie was released.

This table shows the cards whose ratings changed the most since the last time data was collected on them. It’s no coincidence that even though all cards were eligible to be re-rated, the ones we’re seeing here are all Menagerie and Renaissance cards. Those are the newest cards and they were at the top of the poll because I wanted the most new data on them.

The only comment I’d really like to make here is that I’m not putting too much stock into the ratings for Ways, much like for Landmarks — it’s not clear to me what it means for those things to be “powerful” in a more severe way than with just cards or events or other things in Dominion.

Dominion: Menagerie (expansion) First Impressions

It’s that time again, a new expansion! That means it’s time to collect the hot takes of everyone out there. I opened up a poll, inviting anyone to rate all of the card-shaped objects in Menagerie on a scale of 0 through 10. This post is meant only to present the results of that poll, in a couple of months I’ll make another poll to see how things have changed and at that time I’ll be sharing my own ratings and where I may disagree.

Here’s a link to a spreadsheet with the raw data for this poll, as well as the results I’ll be referring to here.

I’ll just give a couple of highlights of the data here. The highest rated cards are:

Seize the Day, Bounty Hunter, Mastermind, Way of the Chameleon, and Wayfarer. Bounty Hunter and Mastermind had particularly low variance, which is a good sign for both of them.

The lowest rated cards are:

Ride, Sleigh, Black Cat, and Way of the Mule

The cards with the most disagreement are below, but it’s worth noting that all of the Ways have a lot of high variance — this makes sense because they are a new concept, so they’re a lot harder to rate.

Way of the Pig, Cavalry, Populate, and Gamble

That’s all for now, check out the spreadsheet if you want more details, and stay tuned for the post in a few months where I’ll revisit these ratings and give a bit more commentary!

Dominion: What is an engine? Revisited.

Over a year ago I wrote an article, where the point was to use data to try and figure out the value in the term “engine” when it comes to Dominion. This is meant to follow up on that article, and also provide some personal commentary based on my experience with this topic.

What is the instructive value in a word like “engine” in Dominion? That may seem like a simple question, but it’s actually two separate questions, both of which are not exactly easy to answer. The two questions are:

1. What do people mean when they say “engine” in the context of Dominion?

2. How can someone use the strategic distinction that the word “engine” provides to improve their Dominion play or understand the game better?

The previous article really only aimed to answer the first question, and between the data and my commentary, there wasn’t exactly any clarity. I had shown a graph and narrowed the responses down to seven categories that probably have some part in what people mean when they say “engine”, but that’s where the discussion ended. There was no consensus on which, if any, of these terms were even the most commonly accepted, so when I see the word “engine” used in a conversation, I’m usually left guessing what the person is actually trying to say unless more context is given.

So what that means is that there are enough widely different things that people mean when they use the E-word that it’s not worth it to try and nail one down and stick to it. That’s OK, it still has a place in conversations between people who have an understanding, but there are other places where “engine” is just not the right thing to say if you want other people to understand what you’re saying. Here are a couple of examples:

“Engine decks tend to be better than big money decks.”

“X tends to be better for engine decks than it is for other decks.”

“On this kingdom I want to build the engine.”

At face value these look like innocent enough statements, but if you’re trying to understand what strategic or instructive value is actually there and you try to dig into them, you’ll find that without a definition of “engine” that is explicit and shared by the speaker and the listener, these statements don’t actually say anything useful. It’s not enough to assume that the listener already understands enough to know what you mean by “engine” via some more abstract or implicit definition of “engine,” because those type of people don’t stand to benefit from statements like that anyways.

Either I’m just trying to exchange ideas with someone, or I’m trying to teach them something new. Statements like these don’t serve either purpose, and in practice they just tend to obfuscate any real insight for the purposes of trying to make the speaker look smart. Look at how smart I am because I can say things that you don’t understand! It may seem like I’m saying something that only really applies to people who write articles or make instructive Dominion content, but anyone who is serious about improving their Dominion skill should aim to fully understand why what they believe is true so they can more rigorously question what they can’t adequately explain, even to themselves or other players of similar skill.

And this is why my goal has always been to be able to speak in a way that will actually be instructive, to help people get better at the game because of what I told them — because I get the benefit of that as well. I used the concept of an “engine” to help get to where I am in the game, so if there’s any strategic insight left in there, I want to make sure it isn’t lost — I continue to see people afraid to commit to decks that aim to have bigger payloads and the materials I’ve already made haven’t been enough to get past this issue. So the second question aims to dig deep into the data with my own critical mind and try to find what’s in there that can actually help people. Once I find it, maybe I can come up with a more effective way of communicating it to people. This is where I take a good hard look at the seven categories I left off with before:

Draws/”cycles” a lot
Buying power/payload
Actions (villages)
Card Value Property

If I’m looking at this, just trying to find new insights I haven’t explored before, I can start by eliminating the things I’ve already fleshed out: Buying power/payload is a concept I’ve explored in-depth with success when I talk about payload and deck control. Actions/villages and draw are other well-defined concepts I’ve talked about a lot, and even the concept of “cycling” (playing your best cards more often) is something I have material on and have had success with teaching, and this covers “Consistency” about as well as I could expect (I personally believe that word is a bit of a rabbit hole, it’s so hard to nail down what that word actually means in a general sense when it comes to Dominion). So what does that leave us after the first pass?

Growing, Synergies, and the Card Value Property: “A deck whose average value per turn derives from its total deck composition, rather than its average deck composition.

These are all similar in concept and are actually results of one concept in Dominion that it turns out, I haven’t been talking about enough: drawing your deck. A deck that draws itself every turn is fundamentally different enough, and this exact property is what causes it to be fundamentally different. Drawing your whole deck causes these three remaining items, with the Card Value Property being the most precise way of describing exactly how to get there.

After well over a year of observation and looking for this specific thing, it’s clear to me that a lot of the time, people really want to talk about decks that draw themselves when they talk about “engines.” But given the confusion that the E-word brings, I definitely prefer to just say “drawing your deck;” or to talk about deck paradigms where one of them is the “whole deck” paradigm. There’s a lot of value in knowing exactly what it takes to enter this paradigm, while keeping in mind that the paradigm is temporary — your deck isn’t always one that draws itself every turn of the game, you have to work to get it there and you have to work to keep it there: once you stop doing that, you aren’t drawing your deck anymore.

I’m not going to say that whenever anyone says “engine” they mean “drawing your deck,” there are some people that use the E-word to talk about only the concept of draw: “A Village/Smithy engine”. Check out the previous article to see ALL of the possible things people can mean! I will say that I think I’ve become better at communicating about Dominion when I stopped using the E-word and kept myself accountable for actually explaining what I mean when I talk; and between the concept of drawing your deck (the “whole deck paradigm”) and the other concepts I’ve l inked above, I’m confident that this is enough to give a complete strategic picture of the game without missing any of the broad strokes.

I want to be clear that I’m not trying to tell people they shouldn’t use a certain word. I believe that there are certain situations where using “engine” in strategic Dominion discussion can be constructive (you NEED to provide specific context, in the form of a specific deck you’re talking about on a specific kingdom), but I also believe that if I want to change the way other people talk about the game, telling them that what they’re doing is bad is not going to make it happen.

I have to come up with a better way of communicating than what they currently have, and people will hopefully see that it’s better and start using it. My previous post showed that the E-word had issues, but it didn’t present any coherent alternative, and more importantly, I still didn’t know what to tell people when it came to whatever strategic advice was behind the concept. Drawing your deck is the last piece of the puzzle. We did it, reddit.

I know my content has shaped the say people already talk about Dominion (as much as some people don’t want to admit it). I’ve “coined” various terms that are used somewhat commonly now like “terminal space”, “deck control”, and the now widely-accepted definitions of “village” and “draw.” I believe these have caught on because they’re just good terms — accessible but they hold up to intense scrutiny. I have no delusions that people will stop using the E-word completely, but I hope that by providing better tools for communicating about Dominion and effectively using them myself, eventually the quality of Dominion discussion out there can change for the better in the long term.