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.

[Repost] Dominion: Winter 2019 Tournament Summary

Note: this was originally posted in January 2019, but was lost because of some server upgrades, combined with my own incompetence. It’s being re-posted now for posterity.

This Saturday, January 12, 2019; I put on my tenth Dominion tournament with physical cards near Cincinnati, OH; it consisted of 2-player games.

Coming into the tournament I had projections of 24 people coming — for reference, the last tournament I had projected 21 and eventually had 31 people — so things were looking good until a few days before the tournament when Winter Storm Gia showed up. Cincinnati and a lot of the surrounding area ended up getting over six inches of snow over that weekend and understandably many people decided not to risk driving significant distances to play a Dominion tournament. We ended up with 13 people brave enough to take on the challenge of a Dominion tournament through the snow, which still included five people who travelled from outside the tri-state area.

The game store that allows me to host these tournaments decided to close early the day so people could get home before the roads got even worse, and so this tournament had to be cut short. After the four rounds of Swiss play I would have normally taken the top four players and had them play in a single-elimination bracket to decide placement, but instead the tournament just ended there and I used the Swiss rankings to award prizes to the top finishers and crown a winner.

Luckily, there was a clear winner after 4 games, as exactly one person had won all four of the games they played, so congratulations to Ryan Echternacht for his first tournament win! He placed second in my previous tournament, ended up qualifying for the world championship based on that performance where he finished second again. Congratulations also to the other three people who cashed: Joe Griffith, John Prather, and Nick Galauxy.

I made a total of 24 kingdoms for this tournament, 8 of which were designed. The spreadsheet containing those kingdoms along with other tournament information can be found here. Tables 1 through 7 saw play at the tournament, of which tables 1 through 4 were designed kingdoms (which I’ll talk about below). The other four kingdoms I designed for the finals did not see play, but they’re still in the spreadsheet if you want to try them out. I may make some content highlighting these kingdoms in the future but for this post I’ll only talk about the ones that were played at the tournament.

It was a bit disappointing to have a lower turnout and not get to finish the tournament, but there were a lot of positive things about the way it turned out as well, which I’m trying to focus on. I’m considering a few updates to the way I run future tournaments based on what I learned from this, including adding Cartographer to my ban list due to it taking a while to resolve IRL, sticking more rigidly to a time schedule than before, and moving my tournaments to a Spring/Fall cycle rather than a Winter/Summer cycle to avoid situations like this in the future. I also still hold out hope that the next tournament I host can be done at Origins in Columbus this summer, but a lot still has to go right for that to work out so I won’t promise anything just yet.

Now, let’s look into the four designed kingdoms that saw play in the tournament:

Table 1: Embargo, University, Castles, Shanty Town, Cutpurse, Treasure Map, Tragic Hero, Horn of Plenty, Swashbuckler, Bank; Sewers, Mission, Shelters

The concept here was to have weak draw and Sewers as the only thinning, and have the jankiest ways possible to enable it. You can trash a Hovel for Humble Castle, buy an Embargo or Treasure Map to trash them on-play, or potentially use Tragic Hero or Horn of Plenty’s self-trash abilities to thin your deck here. I also put in a combination of University and Horn of Plenty to allow someone who uses this trashing to bypass the likely Embargo spam. Eventually you can build to a big turn centered around trashing Tragic Heroes for Horns of Plenty, which give you a bunch of Provinces. Marlene, who finished fifth in the tournament and was one win away from winning it all, managed to build this core of the deck, though I think she started going for points early enough that she only got two or three Provinces in a single turn. It was still a crushing victory for her.

Table 2: Courtyard, Pawn, Hamlet, Guide, Market Square, Workshop, Hideout, Cemetery, Sculptor, Inn; Bandit Fort, Triumph

Bandit Fort with no really good way to get Provinces without Silvers and Golds. Many people bit the bullet and went for Silvers and Golds anyways, and some people even won the game doing that. On the other hand, there are ways to enable big Triumph turns here despite the lack of any decent draw. It’s possible to save up some Villager tokens from Sculptor plays on previous turns and spend them on Courtyards on a turn where you have a Ghost in play to gain a lot of cards on that turn and get one or two big Triumphs. A few people built this deck and had success with it as well.

It’s a tough deck to pilot, though, because there are a lot of things that need to stay in balance in order to keep a deck that functions at all. You’re gaining a lot of cards, so having the right number of Hideouts is important to keep the deck from getting too bloated and to make sure you can clean up the Silvers you need in the deck before the game is over. On your bigger turns you really want to be gaining as many cards as possible, so that means having a lot of Market Squares around for extra Copper buys, having some Estates or Cemeteries available to trash with Hideout and gain Curses, and enough Sculptors to keep gaining Silvers so that you can potentially get multiple Triumphs on those big turns.

It’s not crazy to put together a deck that can get two 7-8-point Triumphs every two or three turns and stay viable here.

Table 3: Engineer, Lackeys, Haven, Steward, Inventor, Remodel, Patron, Catacombs, Courtier, Fairgrounds; Exploration, Canal

There were a few things I was designing around here. First, I wanted to make it good to open with Exploration. Second, I wanted more of a “puzzley” board. Third, I wanted to have a dynamic where you saved up and carefully managed Villager tokens. And fourth, I wanted it to have a Renaissance-heavy kick without feeling like a lot of other Renaissance-heavy games where you just rush for Inventors. What ended up happening was a board where there are a lot of possibilities for what to do, and after a lot of tweaking and playtesting, I think the best build looks like this:

Open Steward/Exploration. Get a single Patron while trashing with Steward, and pick up 3 Inventors and 3-4 Engineers. You’ll want to be using your gainers for these things and give up your buys on a lot of turns to stockpile Villagers and Coffers so you can get a Canal (which still gives you the Exploration bonuses!) and ideally one Catacombs on top of that. Once you have all of this, you’ll want to take one turn to shove as many Lackeys as possible into the deck so you have 15 or so Villagers, and then on the next turn spend them all on Lackeys and Catacombs to draw everything (and potentially overdraw so you can gain-and-play some stuff from your earlier Inventors), play your three Inventors so that Provinces only cost $4, then blow up your Engineers so they gain you two Provinces each. I was able to consistently empty the Provinces by turn 12 using this strategy.

I put in a few distractions here: Courtier/Patron is really nice because it lets your use Patron’s reveal-ability along with giving you two of Courtier’s bonuses, but it doesn’t really help you build to this megaturn as fast so I don’t think Courtier is worth getting. Fairgrounds is there mostly as a distraction, Haven usually isn’t worth a buy, and originally I thought Remodel would be great in the deck but it turns out that Exploration is just a better opener and skipping over Remodel was part of the most efficient build I could come up with.

Ryan, the champion, is the only person I saw building this deck (though he made some variations on the build); he was able to get six Provinces in one turn with it.

Table 4: Fortune Teller, Tunnel, Warehouse, Conspirator, Scepter, Scholar, Legionary, Laboratory, Artisan, Grand Market; Capitalism, Star Chart

I’ve been holding on to the concept of this kingdom since early in the playtesting days for Renaissance: the core of the deck was to have a very short action phase where you just play a Scholar, and then in your buy phase, play all of your treasures, then play a Scepter as Scholar to reload and repeat. The deck needs quite a lot of help to function well, so I put it in here.

Star Chart ensures that you draw your Scholar every turn, which is really important. Capitalism can give you options for payload beyond just the basic treasures, and Legionary can give you an option against the other distractions I put in here: Laboratory, Warehouse and Tunnel, and Grand Market/Conspirator can build a decent deck, but it still has reliability issues because of Legionary (Fortune Teller then Legionary, then Fortune Teller again is brutal for this deck) and the complete lack of trashing. The Scholar deck just doesn’t care at all about getting hit by Legionary and has extra flexibility options because Scepter can be payload or more draw, whichever you need at the time. The Scholar deck can use Tunnel pretty well if it needs to, and there are still some crunchy decisions about whether or not you want to play your Coppers on a given turn, since you need at least a few Grand Markets in the deck for your Scepters to copy as it’s the only +Buy.

I saw a lot of people going for the distractions I put in, and a few people go for some of the Capitalism tricks I described, but nobody fully committed to the Scholar-for-draw plan during the tournament.

I want to thank everyone who was brave enough to come out for the tournament, especially whose who travelled in. It means a lot that there are this many people enthusiastic enough about the game and these tournaments that they’ll brave the elements for one of these. I’m looking forward to putting more of these on in the future!

This episode of Making Luck has an interview with Ryan, the winner of this tournament, starting at 13:40.

Dominion: Running an IRL tournament

I’ve had questions from many people about various aspects of running a Dominion tournament with physical cards. For a while I had just dumped my thoughts into a Google Doc and linked them to that, but the doc wasn’t finished, had gotten out-of-date, and never actually linked to a helpful place for using the scripts I’ve written to help my process. I finally decided to stop being lazy and adapt that into a blog post that I’ll actually be able to maintain, so here it is!

Update, August 2022: I now have experience running a tournament as part of a convention! My insights on this are now included in the post.

Running an IRL Dominion tournament

So you want to run an IRL Dominion tournament? That’s awesome, I really think there should be more of these, and they just won’t happen without people like you who want to run them. There can be a lot that goes into organizing this, but the biggest hurdle you have is the first one, so if you can get past it, you should be able to tackle the rest of it.

I. Logistics

You need a venue.

You have a choice to make when it comes to a venue: you can either have your own standalone event or you can run your tournament as part of a convention. There are pros and cons of each of these, which I’ll discuss below, but this is the first thing you need to figure out, because it affects everything else you do.

Standalone Event:

I imagine that there’s a tabletop gaming store somewhere near you if you think you can get enough interest to hold a tournament; while there are potentially other options for renting out a space with tables and chairs, a game store is probably going to be the best one. It’s likely you won’t have to pay anything to use the space (except maybe give the store a cut of the entry fees before you make the prize pool) and most of them should be happy to host any event that brings people in the door. Just talk to the owner or whoever is working and ask about hosting an event there.

The problem with most game stores I’ve seen is table space – many of them don’t have that much table space, so even if they let you use all of their tables, it may not be enough to host a tournament of any decent size. I’ve seen many people get stuck on this, where they can’t find a venue with enough table space anywhere near them, or maybe they don’t want to give up all of their table space for 6 or more hours. Unfortunately, this stops a lot of peoples’ dreams from going any further.

I’m very lucky in that I have a local game store that has a ton of table space. The store is Game Swap in Mason, OH; and here’s a recent video of the table space that the store offers, just to give you an idea of how much table space you could end up using for your tournament (I use about half of what’s shown here, and the store has more table space than what the video shows).

Be prepared to schedule around other popular events. For instance, I know to plan my tournaments around the popular Magic: the Gathering events the store hosts.

Part of a convention:

Running your tournament as part of a convention solves your table space problems — It’s usually possible to become a gamemaster without any previous experience, as long as you can provide all the materials you’ll need for the tournament. The convention will take care of a lot of the promotion for your event because people will be able to find it through the convention’s event catalog, which is searchable. People who wouldn’t travel for just your event might travel for the convention as a whole, which means more people will play in your tournament.

You also get a bit more flexibility for the format of your tournament — you can have qualifiers and then finals, which allows you to support a tournament with more people than you would have the materials to do without a convention setting.

You’ll get a bigger turnout for less promotion work if you go this route, but there are some downsides, too. You’re stuck with the date, time, and location of the convention, so you lose flexibility there. You may have to travel to get there, deal with housing, parking, and your own admission to the convention, so if you weren’t already going to that convention anyways, that’s a significant extra cost to you in both time and money. It can also be much more difficult to physically get everything set up for large conventions.

My experience with running a tournament at Gen Con also came with the hassle of my getting questions answered — if you’re not a big publisher, it’s hard to get their attention. It’s pretty easy to miss significant details because the answers to your questions are either impossible to find in their gamemaster materials, or buried under some arcane ticketing system details, with nobody to help you through the process. I would assume that smaller conventions wouldn’t have this problem but I can’t speak from experience there.

Non-venue Logistics:

…so you have a venue, and as part of that you probably have a date or a small range of dates nailed down as well. Congratulations! You’ve done the hardest part, and the rest of your prep will probably not come with any showstoppers.

If this is your first tournament, don’t expect a huge turnout. You can promote your event a lot and still only end up with barely enough players to make any kind of a tournament format work out — it’s OK. My first tournament only had 9 people, and about half of them were there because one person brought pretty much his entire family. The best way to get more people at your tournament is to just keep having more of them on a consistent schedule (and run them well, of course).

I found that having a tournament every 6 months was about the right frequency for me. For a while they happened every 3 months but I noticed a dip in attendance after a while. When I talked to people they said that it didn’t seem like a big deal to miss one because the next one would be pretty soon afterward. There is such a thing as too many tournaments.

Promoting your tournament:

People need to find out about your tournament, and it’s your job to let them know. For your first event, I would recommend having a significant number of your own friends who you play Dominion with plan to attend. These types of people shouldn’t bail on you because they found something better to do, and I would even consider planning the date of your tournament around the availability of these people. Getting to a game store and playing through that tournament the first time is a huge deal for increasing the attendance for your next tournament, so I would consider that a complete success.

1. Word of mouth: it takes a long time for this to pay off but once it does, man, you start to see the rewards. The best promotion you can get for your tournament is to have people who have been to a previous tournament talking about it. Those people bring their friends, and they bring their friends, etc.

The biggest part of word of mouth is your own mouth. Every time I ever hear Dominion come up or see people playing, I tell them about my next tournament. It feels shameless (it kind of is) but it gets the word out. I used to carry around slips of paper with the information on it that I could just give to people until my wife told me that I should just make Dominion business cards, so I did. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve given these out to and it’s an awesome solution for me. Part of this is because I play a lot in public game stores and people see my storage solution and they ask me about it (so if you have an impressive storage solution, this is a great selling point for your tournaments! No joke!) so there’s a link to a blog post I made about my storage solution as well. The business cards also solve the problem of talking to someone who isn’t into Dominion, but maybe their brother is. Giving them a business card will get the word out to that brother when maybe nothing else will, and that brother can bring his entire gaming group with him, and now you have these new connections which are a huge deal.

2. Social networking: Of course have a Facebook event for your tournament, and have an event for every social network you’re on. But it doesn’t stop there; I admin a local boardgaming group in the Cincinnati area so I’ll promote the event on my group’s page, but there are plenty of other groups out there that will be happy to let you cross-post your event. As an admin of my group I get these requests all of the time and the only time I ever turn people down is if it’s clearly a bot or a publisher trying to get free advertising on our page. Those admins LOVE to have these events to put on their pages so just send them a private message and almost all of them will be happy to link your event at the very least. If you don’t get a response, just try messaging some other admins — any group that’s active at all will have at least one active admin, so sometimes you have to work a bit to find them. is a huge resource, it’s probably the most success I’ve had from a “social networking site.” Update 8/2022: I can’t say for sure but my impression is that this is less true since the pandemic.

There are also Dominion-specific websites you should promote on. The Dominion subreddit is a decent resource, the Dominion Discord Server can be useful, and I may know someone who runs a prominent Dominion blog or two who really wants to promote IRL tournaments. I also started a Facebook group for notifying people about events in the midwest USA area — you are welcome to promote relevant events there (just contact me and I can give you the permissions) or make a group for your area if you think that will help. The online crowd may not be local to you, but they’re fairly dedicated and many of them will travel quite a ways to go to a Dominion tournament.

A couple of site-specific tips:

Once you have the date, time, and location of your event finalized, post it on these sites as soon as you can. It won’t get buried and people there are more likely to attend if they have extra time to make travel plans. I’d update again a couple of weeks before the tournament at the very least, and definitely stay engaged with discussion on all of these places — people want to be sure they aren’t going to show up to play and nobody will be there.

You can promote your tournament on Boardgamegeek, and I’ve had success with getting people to show up who found out through BGG. Unfortunately, just know that depending on the mood of the moderators, phase of the moon, etc. they may delete your post since they have an incredibly stupid policy against promoting outside content on their site that some people think applies to IRL tournaments (even though they have an entire subforum dedicated to organized play). It’s probably worth posting there, but just be aware of that.

II. Format

How do you have a Dominion tournament with physical cards? What format is best to have people play their games in? Do you design kingdoms, play random sets? How do you handle matchmaking? How do you deal with time constraints? There are a lot of questions, and not all of them have firm answers. I’ll give you my take on all of this.

The first thing you need to decide is how many players will be in most games in your tournament. From my experience, people would rather play in tournaments with 2-player games, so that is my recommendation. However, if you are limited on supply card sets or table space, you may need to have 3P or even 4P games be the standard for your tournament. Just be extremely careful when selecting kingdoms for these types of games, as you want to be able to actually test the skill of your players, and this can be much more difficult in games with larger player counts. More on this when I talk about kingdom design later.

The main focus I’ve always had is to make it so that the players have fun. If the players are having fun then everything else falls into place, so everything I do is done with that goal in mind. Granted, a lot of that other stuff is done with the purpose of getting people to have more fun, but still it’s helpful to remind myself that the whole point is to have fun.

With that in mind, there are several things that will lead to more fun rather than less fun…

People shouldn’t lose in a way that feels bad. I mean, it’s Dominion and there’s luck, so that’s not completely avoidable, but through the years I’ve tried to identify the ways people lose that make them feel bad and I do what I can to minimize the chances of that happening.

  • I allow players to stack their decks at the start of each game. This way, nobody can get mad that they lost to a lucky 5/2 opening or something like that. Do I think this increases the effect of skill on the winner of the game? Absolutely not. I’m just removing one of the more visible instances of luck from the game so that the less visible ones will be more impactful, and I’ve found that makes people feel better when they lose.
  • I have a banlist of cards that I don’t allow in any kingdoms used for the tournament. Most of the cards are less popular and infamous for increasing the variance in a particular game. There’s only so much time to work with so you want people to feel like skill decided as much as possible, so removing these cards from the pool will prevent people from getting upset that they lost “another stupid Torturer game.” It’s not perfect, but it shows you’re making an effort and people appreciate it. Here’s my banlist for that reason: Swindler, Ambassador, Urchin, Rebuild, Torturer, Possession, Cultist, Page, Pirate Ship, Cutpurse. Pirate Ship and Cutpurse are OK to use in 2P tournaments, but have caused problems in 3P games in the past for me.
  • I have another banlist of cards that just take a while to resolve with physical cards — through observation, I’ve seen that games with these cards tend to take longer. My banlist for that reason is: Hunting Party, Scrying Pool, Golem, Cartographer, Peasant, Tax, Philosopher’s Stone.
  • I also don’t use Tournament and Black Market in any of my kingdoms because I personally don’t like the cards. I would advise against using Black Market in any IRL tournament because setup is just a nightmare for that card.
  • I use a tournament format that makes it so you can lose a game and still win a tournament. If a tournament is single-elimination from the start, people are going to feel bad whenever they lose, but you can avoid this by using a format that doesn’t require a perfect day to take home the prize.

You should try to be welcoming of all skill levels. Granted, you shouldn’t have to explain the rules of the game to everyone, and I don’t think you need to shy away from using all of the expansions unless you think that nobody at your tournament has seen any of them. If I were to run another event at a convention, I would definitely have two separate sets of kingdoms — one for the early games where none of the complex cards are used, and another for the later stages where I don’t hold back at all. I haven’t done the work on this, but I would probably start from Shuffleit’s card pool levels to get a list of “simple cards.”

I try to make sure that my kingdoms promote a variety of strategies so that the games feel different to play. Along that same line, I make sure I play at least one game against a bot online for all the kingdoms I plan to put in, just to make sure there’s nothing awful about a kingdom that I didn’t see when I made them. People want to feel like their skill matters, so games where Big Money or slogs are the only options aren’t going to be popular unless there’s something people can feel good about finding in those kingdoms.

You want to play as many games as possible so that skill has the highest chance to matter, but the event shouldn’t take too long. Especially for people who lose the first few games and don’t realistically have a shot to win it all, you don’t want to force those people to stick around and play more if they don’t want to. You should definitely have a tournament format that allows people to drop out at any point if they want, and after three or four games, you should seriously consider making it so that only the people with the best tournament scores continue to play. If there’s a real shot at the money people will be more motivated to play hours 6 and 7 of Dominion for the day, but not otherwise. I try and make it so my events are over after 7 hours at the latest.

I enforce a time limit on all of the games in the tournament: 45 minutes (40 minutes for the game and 5 minutes of in-between time). This is a necessary evil because you don’t want to have 20 people just waiting around for 20 minutes just for one game to finish. This also allows people who finish early to feel good about going on a quick food run since you have something that resembles a schedule. In any case, you’ll need to come up with a graceful way to handle games that end because of time and make those rules clear before your tournament starts. Keep an eye on games that look like they could run long and constantly give them updates on how much time is left, even when it feels like it may be too early. Preventing issues with slow playing and the like is the best way to deal with them.

For my tournaments, the rule is that when time runs out, you play until everyone has had an equal number of turns (or the game naturally ends some other way) and then we count points. With enough warning, people can plan accordingly, as long as you’re clear about which turn will be the last before that turn actually happens. This isn’t the only way, but it’s the way I use, and I rarely have to actually use it.

As much as I’ve said about tournament format, the decision is ultimately up to you. I’ve given you my general guidelines, and now I’ll say a couple more things that I don’t think are really negotiable when it comes to format:

  • Do not add any tiebreakers to the game that are not present in the rulebook — a tie needs to be an acceptable game result. If you do this, then the game you’re playing isn’t Dominion anymore. The only tiebreaker in the rulebook is number of turns taken, and if that’s the same, the game is a tie. Period. Don’t count Provinces or Duchies, or Golds (ugh) or anything else.
  • Do not take any information from a game other than placement — don’t distinguish between a win on turns vs. a win on VP, and don’t even record the VP totals at the end of the game. Once again, this turns the game you’re playing into something very different than Dominion and it will cause you more trouble than it’s worth.

With that said, here are the documents I use that outline the tournament format I use for my 2P and 3P tournaments. You don’t have to do it the same way as me, these are just an example.

Kingdom Design:

I get a lot of questions on kingdom design, and unfortunately I don’t think I’m all that great at it. This is in spite of the fact that I do design all of the kingdoms used in the final rounds in my tournaments and I get a lot of positive feedback from it. There are a lot of different approaches you can take for designing kingdoms and I’ll talk about them briefly here, but really you have a lot of freedom when it comes to what kingdoms you use.

If you’re looking for a completely designed kingdom, you can start from a number of different places:

  • Take a powerful card or combo and design a kingdom to make it bad
  • Take a weak card and design a kingdom to make it good
  • Have a restriction (no village, no draw, no trashing, no +Buy, etc.) and design a kingdom to either exacerbate or deal with that restriction in a creative way (restrictions breed creativity!)
  • Use an unconventional synergy to get around a restriction you place (Secret Passage/Vagrant/multi-type cards as the only source of draw, for example)
  • Take a popular card like Menagerie and design a bunch of synergies around it to make a board that’s just fun to play
  • Take multiple strong strategies and put them together in the same kingdom
  • Use attacks or landmarks to try to invalidate some or all of the potentially good strategies you allow

These principles can work for kingdom design for any purpose. I have a few pointers that are a bit more specific for designing kingdoms for IRL tournaments, though. Mostly these are things you want to try and avoid, but not always

  • Try to avoid having a visible source of game-decisive luck that is out of the players’ control. My banlists are there to try to minimize this, but you should still be careful of things like Mint as the only thinning, or various attacks that can have very good or very bad results for one player.
  • You generally don’t want to have a kingdom where the only thing you can do is Big Money or some type of slog — make your kingdoms feel unique or have some type of decision that feels difficult.
  • Try to avoid kingdoms that will regularly take a very long time to complete; you don’t want every single game with a given kingdom to run into the time limit, but at the same time you want to have games that feel different, so if all of them are over lightning-fast that’s also not ideal.
  • You want to be extremely careful of junking attacks in games with more than 2 players. Sometimes, even the strongest deck control resources are not enough to help you get control of your deck in games like this, so make sure you don’t include games like this where it just feels like the same “claw your way up to Duchies” thing that so many 3+P games turn into. A tournament is not the place for this kind of thing.

These can be hard goals to attain, and it can be hard to predict what people will do when they’re playing your kingdoms in your tournament. Regardless of whether a kingdom I have is designed or not, I like to go online and do at least a little bit of playtesting to make sure the kingdom is fun and somewhat interactive. The more playtesting you do, especially with other human beings (which can be difficult because many of the people you might want to test with could be playing in the tournament so you can’t bounce ideas off of them), the less likely it is that you’ll run into these issues.

There are a decent number of resources online for playtesting your kingdom — many people from different countries are usually happy to playtest some kingdoms with you and give you some feedback, and getting another set of eyes on your kingdoms can be much better than just playing with the bots.

I like to try and take out weird, counter-intuitive rules interactions so they don’t come up during the tournament. If there’s one that I really want to keep in, I’ll write a little rules reminder and include it with the kingdom, just so nobody has any nasty surprises. I know that other organizers choose to leave these in (some will even design kingdoms around them) so if you think your players would appreciate that kind of thing, then by all means go for it.

Update, August 2022: I have a spreadsheet of all errata that I’m maintaining, which I cross-check every kingdom I use with. If there is a major errata that matters a lot for a kingdom, I’ll usually try and edit that out so that errata doesn’t affect much. I try to get as close to the concept of playing the printed cards in front of you, while not being radically different than what people are used to online. It’s getting harder as time goes on, but as of now it’s still doable.

Most of the kingdoms I use are randomly generated. This is because I like the idea of randomly generated boards being a test of Dominion skill, but I do filter out kingdoms that look like they won’t work well for a tournament setting.

I wrote a Python script that helps me generate random kingdoms (here’s a link to all of my tournament scripts). I tell it how many copies of each card I have access to, and how many tokens, mats, etc. I have, and it keeps track of what I’ve used for each kingdom I’ve already generated. It presents me with a randomly generated kingdom using only the components I still have available, and if I decide I like it, it will record that kingdom and mark all of the components needed as used so future kingdoms it suggests won’t offer something that’s already in use.

There are times that I will make tweaks to kingdoms after the script generates them, mostly to make setup and cleanup easier (I like to minimize how much I have to unsleeve and resleeve cards) but I usually try not to change the board in any meaningful way.

When I select randomly generated boards, I usually don’t put too much thought into it; I skim over the board and think about what I would do, and if it’s not an easy choice for me, I usually just say I like the kingdom and move on. After I generate enough kingdoms and then a few extra, I’ll go through and rank them and just pick the best ones to use for the tournament.

It’s very likely that table space at your venue could be the limiting factor in how many people your tournament can have, so you’ll know exactly how many kingdoms you’ll need. However, if you’re lucky and have a venue with basically unlimited table space like mine, the next limiting factor in how big your tournament can be is likely to be the number of base cards you have access to (Copper, Silver Gold, Province, Duchy, Estate, Curse). If you need to, you can just buy the base cards box for $15 a few times to up your supply, but chances are people will ask if they can bring anything when they RSVP to your tournament, so I usually have a few people bring their base cards with them. In most cases I don’t need them, but it’s come up a couple of times and it’s nice to have a bunch of extra supplies on hand just in case you have a big turnout. Keep in mind that you’ll need a lot more of these and a lot more kingdoms if you plan to have a 2P tournament, so if you’re limited in any way, you might have a 3P tournament just for that reason.

I guess you can have a tournament that consists of 4P games, but man I don’t recommend that. If you can do anything at all to stop that from happening, please do. I think everyone will be happier.

III. Preparation

I start preparing for my tournaments about three months in advance. Most other people I know start a week or two in advance. I like to take a long time to work on my designed kingdoms and completely finalize them before I move forward with any other aspect of preparation, and it’s nice to have a date nailed down because about half of the people who attend my tournaments need to make travel plans to do so, so I like to give them a lot of time.

Staying organized is extremely important for me. I usually end up borrowing kingdom cards from other people so I can have at least two copies of each card, and I want to make sure that everyone’s cards get returned to them in good shape on the day of the tournament, and nothing gets lost. As for the mechanics of the tournament, they basically run themselves on the day of the tournament — in fact I was able to automate everything (including kingdom design and prep) enough that I could have a friend moderate the tournament and I could play. I lost horribly. The point is that I’m prepared enough before the event that everything is pretty well taken care of.

You can prepare in whatever way works for you, but this works for me so I’ll share the details of it in case you want to use any of these ideas.

Once I’ve finalized the kingdoms I design, I use the kingdom generation script to generate a bunch of other kingdoms and eventually I decide on about 12 to 14 additional kingdoms that I’ll prepare for the day of the tournament. I put them into a spreadsheet that looks like this. I color code every kingdom card and any sleeves used, all of the extra components, supply cards, everything; according to who it belongs to. I’ll make adjustments to the kingdoms if I have to in order to make this more organized — I want to minimize the situation where one card in this set belongs to me, and the rest of it belongs to someone else, for example. While the finals are taking place, I’m able to start cleaning things up so I can return peoples’ cards to them, and I’ll frequently have offers to help clean up so being organized helps a lot here. I carry a paper copy of the color-coded grid of all of the kingdoms in my pocket on the day of the tournament just in case there’s a last-minute change or addition, I’ll have it for reference.

About a week before the event I’ll pick up all of the sets I’m borrowing and start setting kingdoms aside. I used to just put the kingdoms in ZipLoc™ bags in a big stack, but recently I acquired some plastic trays that are very useful for moving around kingdoms after they’ve been gathered together. I have pieces of dark cloth that I use to cover the kingdoms while they’re not being played, and I label each kingdom with a “table number” so that I (or my script) can keep track of who has played what table and I can assign people to tables. You can just use cloth napkins or cut up some fabric for this purpose. Without these covers, people will get curious and go looking at kingdoms they haven’t played yet, and be tempted to talk about them, which can cause some issues. I also use small zip-top plastic bags to store any extra components, just so they don’t go flying around and get lost — you can get these in any craft aisle and they’re pretty cheap and handy to have around anyways.

I use a Python script I wrote to take care of matchmaking on the day of the event. If you use a similar tournament format to me, it may be useful to you, but you can do other things as well. The important thing is that you ensure that nobody plays the same kingdom twice, and it’s nice if people don’t have the same opponents too often, and if people are paired with other players of similar skill. Some people just have pre-set paths for each player to take for their games (this is what I do for the finals of my 3P tournaments) which will also work, but you’ll have to come up with a scheme for those paths to accommodate any number of players, since it will be different based on that. Some people prefer to enforce a multiple of 3 players for 3P tournaments so you don’t have to deal with 4P games, they do this by having one or two friends on hand who are OK playing or not playing, just to even out the numbers — this makes the paths a lot easier to come up with (though it gets more complicated if people want to drop out of the tournament).

In any case, you’d prefer to not have down time between rounds of the tournament, so as much pre-processing as you can do for matchmaking will be very helpful.

IV. Day of

There are a few things about the day of the tournament that you should probably be kind of ready for. At the beginning of the tournament you should probably be ready to give a welcome speech, explain the format of the tournament, any special rules you have, etc. You’ll also want to make it very clear that if they have any questions they can call you over, but they have to accept your ruling even if they don’t like it.

Past that, I’m mostly just focused on answering questions, replacing card sleeves that tear, handing out extra tokens for people who need them, enforcing the schedule (set an alarm, don’t rely on yourself to check your watch enough), and talking to people.

Update, August 2022: As I run more tournaments, I find that talking to people is an increasingly important part of increasing attendance over the long-term, and it turns out that I enjoy connecting with new people over a game we both love. If people can come to your tournament and compete and feel good about it, that’s one good thing, but coming to your tournament and making new friends is a good thing on a much deeper level, especially after the pandemic when so many people have been starved of this kind of human connection for so long.

Make sure you don’t give any (serious) strategic advice. Many people will ask you for it, but as a moderator it’s important that you don’t give out any advice, even if you don’t think you’re a good player. In general, you don’t want to even give the perception that anything unfair could possibly be happening in your tournament.

Whenever I’m asked for strategic advice I will either tell people to wait until they’re done with the game they’re playing (and then I give that advice privately) or I will give them advice that is obviously a joke. “If you buy Copper every turn, eventually you will draw a hand of all Coppers” or “how many Curses can you buy this turn?”

Hopefully this answers a lot of questions you may have about putting on an IRL tournament for Dominion. If you have any other questions that I didn’t address here, feel free to contact me at Good luck!