Category Archives: Tabletop Games

Anything related to games that are played on the top of a table

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: 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!

Dominion: Fall 2019 Tournament Summary

This weekend, on Saturday, September 21, 2019, I hosted my eleventh Dominion tournament in Cincinnati, OH.

Fall 2019 Tournament

Since I last wrote about my tournaments, several things have changed in the IRL Dominion Tournament world: RGG, the publisher, has decided to stop hosting a “world championship” tournament at GenCon, and it seems they are no longer interested in actively supporting other smaller Dominion tournaments, even by just providing promo cards to give out like they have in the past. These were the main reasons why I was holding 3-player tournaments, so it looks like my tournaments will consist of 2-player games, unless I decide to splash in a 3P tournament every once in a while for variety.

The other big thing that happened was my tenth Dominion tournament. I wrote a blog post about it and published it, but it has mysteriously disappeared from the blog and short of writing a completely new post, I don’t have another way to recover it [EDIT: I have recovered most of that blog post and it has been re-posted] — in any case, that tournament was held in January 2019 and between flu season and a huge snowstorm that came through, the tournament had a very low turnout. I even had to cut the tournament short after the Swiss rounds because of the weather.

Between all of these factors, I’ve decided to make a few changes in my IRL tournaments. The previously-mentioned shift to 2P tournaments will be one of them, but I also want to move away from a Winter/Summer cycle and towards a Fall/Spring cycle to prevent most weather-related issues from causing another “snowpocalypse.” This tournament was the first one in that new cycle.

I also have ambitions of running a larger tournament at GenCon, now that there is no “official” tournament that I’d be stepping on. If I can make it to GenCon in 2020 I definitely plan to do this, so once that gets closer, stay tuned for the details on that event. I’m hoping for a tournament with hundreds of people in it.

Enough of the intro, though. We had 18 people show up for the tournament, and from that field we crowned a winner: Ari Silverton. This was Ari’s first time at one of my tournaments and it’s always nice to see someone win who enjoys the game as much as he does — congratulations! Ari has a YouTube channel where he plays Dominion as well. Also, a shout-out goes to Jake, Marlene, and Jessica who also cashed in the tournament.

Ari, Marlene, Jessica, and Jake with their winnings

For the rest of this post I want to talk about the designed kingdoms used for the elimination rounds of this tournament. I’ll link the Google Sheet that has every kingdom used for your reference, but I’ll only go in-depth about the designed kingdoms here. I’ll post the kingdoms first, then my commentary down below in case you would like to play them yourself before reading what I have to say about them.

Overall, I had a great time at this tournament. Even though I didn’t have 30+ people like I have in the past, I feel like this one was very successful and we got to see some really talented players do their thing. Again I want to thank everyone who makes the trip to Cincinnati and the local people who consistently show up, it’s because of you that these tournaments continue to be successful.

Finals Set 1: Hermit, Diplomat, Treasure Trove, Caravan, Bridge, Hireling, Outpost, Rogue, Old Witch, Vassal, Sewers, Ferry

Finals Set 2: Patron, Tragic Hero, Library, Grand Market, Loan, Necromancer, Harbinger, Oasis, Ghost Ship, Journeyman, Capitalism, Museum

Finals Set 3: Baron, Crossroads, Watchtower, Hamlet, Forager, Talisman, Bandit Camp, Council Room, Treasurer, Fishing Village, Triumph, Canal

Finals Set 4: Faithful Hound, Pillage, Market, Shepherd, Courtier, Ironworks, Mill, Prince, Storeroom, Haven, City Gate, Silos



Finals Set 1: Hermit, Diplomat, Treasure Trove, Caravan, Bridge, Hireling, Outpost, Rogue, Old Witch, Vassal, Sewers, Ferry

The idea behind this kingdom was to have a really good deck you want to build that plays a lot of Bridges, but have a few strange ways to enable that deck. Regardless of what deck you’d like to build here, the opening part of the game revolves heavily around the synergy between Hermit and Sewers. It may not look like much, but with Sewers active and just one Hermit play, you can trash an Estate, two Coppers, and “buy” a Madman that turn by gaining a Hermit with your Hermit and trashing another Copper when the Hermit you played trashes itself for a Madman. This is a surprisingly fast way to get a very thin deck that can quickly add payload here as well, and no matter which build path you go for, I think this type of opening is very strong.

The first idea is to go straight for a Madman/Bridge build. You can gain Hermits back from the trash with Rogue if you just need to get more Madmen, but being contested on Bridges is a real concern, and this deck can be finicky and slow to actually build and play. I saw a couple of people go for a Madman-fueled Bridge megaturn and both of them ended up losing the game because their big turn just wasn’t enough to win the game.

Another path you can take is to use Diplomat as your village. The issue is that there are only a few ways to get actions from your Diplomats to start out with: you can play an Outpost and do everything cool on your Outpost turn (you have to forego all of the other Outpost-related synergies I put in here like Caravan and Hireling though), you can have only five or fewer cards in your entire deck, or you can rely on your opponent playing an attack on you. If any of this lines up and you have enough Diplomats and Bridges in your deck, you can have some pretty big turns, and though it may look scarier than just Madman/Bridge, I think this style of deck is likely to be the best one you can build here. If nothing else, you can just use Outpost to enable yourself, and Outpost is something you probably wanted anyways.

The last path is to build a deck that uses the duration draw resources and Treasure Trove to flood with Treasure and just buy Provinces the old fashioned way.

Finals Set 2: Patron, Tragic Hero, Library, Grand Market, Loan, Necromancer, Harbinger, Oasis, Ghost Ship, Journeyman, Capitalism, Museum

Capitalism is the only village here — well there’s Patron, but it really just serves to enable Capitalism. If you have Capitalism active, your Patrons are treasures, which means you can play them in your Buy phase without spending any Actions, and bank a bunch of villagers for future turns. You can do all kinds of cool things here if you have extra actions!

There are a bunch of smaller synergies here that are a big deal as well: Patron can be revealed by Loan and Journeyman, Tragic Hero can gain a lot of really good cards once you have Capitalism (hello, Grand Market!). And finally, you can actually trash your Estates using Zombie Mason if you either draw your deck first, then use Oasis to discard an Estate, then play a Zombie Mason. The problem with that is that it’s really hard to draw your deck here, but never fear, you can skip the part where you draw your deck if you just play a Harbinger instead. Oh yes, Harbinger is actually important here and it’s not just because of Museum. You’ll find yourself wanting to stay away from Treasures while you’re still trashing with Loan, and you don’t want too many Oases, and the Harbinger remains useful later on as a way to ensure that your Loan hits your last couple of Coppers after you buy Capitalism.

So I like to open Patron/Loan, and get a Library with my first $5 buy. I really want to get a Villager or two from those first couple of turns, they will be very important for getting this deck to function, because you get more Villagers for later if you have bigger turns earlier. From here, I want a single Necromancer and a bunch more Patrons. Maybe a second Library, some Oases and Harbingers, and at some point I want to make a quick transition away from using Library for draw and towards using Tragic Hero for draw, and around this time I want to get Capitalism — hopefully after I have 4 or more Coppers out of the deck. This decision point and how to set up for it is usually tricky and depends heavily on my draws. After a few Tragic Heroes, I transition to Journeyman as my main source of draw because of its synergy with Patron.

This deck is pretty fun to play if you can find all of the synergies. If you don’t, then you can be subject to Ghost Ship pain, which isn’t too much fun.

Finals Set 3: Baron, Crossroads, Watchtower, Hamlet, Forager, Talisman, Bandit Camp, Council Room, Treasurer, Fishing Village, Triumph, Canal

This set was designed by Wandering Winder, not myself. He did a bunch of playtesting with me for the other ones, but this one was his idea. The main focus is on Triumph because it has a billion great enablers here (Talisman with tons of buys, Canal, Bandit Camp, and even Watchtower; plus the ability to draw a bunch of cards), but there’s a decent amount of counterplay because it’s not totally crazy to deny Estates if you see your opponent commit too hard in that direction. Winning here usually involves building a deck with a lot of options (potential for gains and trashing) and paying close attention to what your opponent is doing.

I like a Baron/Forager opening here. You can use Fishing Village and Watchtower for a while as draw but soon enough you’ll want Council Rooms in the deck.

Finals Set 4: Faithful Hound, Pillage, Market, Shepherd, Courtier, Ironworks, Mill, Prince, Storeroom, Haven, City Gate, Silos; with Platinum and Colony

The “cool thing” to do here is build a deck that has a Princed Storeroom and a bunch of Faithful Hounds. If you can start your turn with a big hand size and use Silos on top of that, you’re able to pretty consistently enable Shepherd as your main source of draw and use Courtier and Pillage for some great payload options. You have City Gate and Haven to help you get your Prince and line it up with Storeroom somewhat reliably.

I prefer an Ironworks/Storeroom opening. I want to get a lot of Mills and Shepherds so a second Ironworks is usually a good idea. I also want to get Silos online as soon as possible so I can find my Ironworks more often. Get a few Havens and a Market or two to help hit $8, and then start getting lots of doggos while I’m waiting for my Prince to get online. Once the Prince is out with a Storeroom, you can add payload to the deck quickly because of Courtier (Pasture has three types which is a big deal here) and it’s usually a priority to play a Pillage every turn once you’re drawing enough.

There are some neat tricks you can do with Mill and Silos. The deck is somewhat reliable, but if you’re not quite drawing everything, you may want to use Mill to discard a bunch of Coppers, then trigger a shuffle so that your next starting hand is all Coppers. Not only is this a soft defense against Pillage, but if you have Silos, this actually improves your draw because once your Coppers are in your discard, you’re more likely to find your Shepherds and other green cards.

Be careful, though, because if you take too long to set this up, an opponent can potentially end the game on you with a competitive amount of points. Mills will usually empty super-fast, and Estates are worth two points each because of Pasture.

Dominion: Combos

I’ve given a lot of advice about how to build good decks in Dominion. The idea of early-game priorities being thinning and junking, then gainers, then draw, then payload, etc. applies to most games of Dominion and most decks you’ll want to build. But of course there are exceptions to just about everything in Dominion, and my advice has plenty of those.

This article is about a certain type of exception to these rules, combo decks. Sometimes the synergy between exactly two cards is so incredibly powerful that you throw the rest of the rules of Dominion out the window and now the entire game is focused around those two cards and the different ways you can support or counter them.

What makes a combo? Well it must be two cards and not more. Sure, combinations of cards or types of cards can be powerful, but there are enough cards in Dominion that it seems silly to me to write an article about something more specific than two cards, because you may never actually see it come up. The ones here are already rare enough. Past that, it just needs to be powerful enough to make you change the way you build your deck, so that it revolves around the combo.

I’ve compiled a list of every known combo deck, with links to articles about each one if you want more detail. They are divided into two tiers: “Tier 1 combos” are so powerful that unless there is a hard counter present (which sometimes doesn’t exist), you can expect to lose to the combo basically all of the time. “Tier 2 combos” can have a bit more counterplay, but are still powerful enough that the focus of the game is often completely around the combo deck anyways.

Tier 1 Combos:

Capital/Mandarin (deprecated)
Counting House/Night Watchman (deprecated)
Counting House/Travelling Fair
Hermit/Market Square
Hunting Grounds/Lurker

Tier 2 Combos:

Baths/Salt the Earth
Bridge/Native Village
Bridge/[Flagship/Royal Carriage]

Guildhall combos: Beggar, Delve, and Masterpiece

Guildhall can enable some very fast, consistent “big money” decks that drain Provinces before other, more elaborate strategies have time to get enough points to win. Most treasure gainers have strong synergy with Guildhall, but three of them are powerful enough to be called combos.

Each of these decks is somewhat vulnerable to attacks, just like any other “money density” deck might be — if you’re being hit with a junking or discard attack, you can expect to be slowed down by a few turns, so consider investing in those attacks to fight a player who wants to go for these.


Guildhall/Masterpiece can buy its fifth Province around turn 11, and its eighth Province around turn 15. The combo is very consistent in getting to these points in time, mostly because it uses Coffers as its main form of economy rather than relying on getting a good hand to hit Province.

You’ll want to open in a way that maximizes your chances of hitting $5 on turn 3 or 4 — Silver/Silver is pretty good for this, but you can often find some kingdom support to help you out here. Get a Guildhall on your first $5 hand and at that point, get a Masterpiece on every $4+ hand, spending all of your Coffers each time. Do this until you have at least two $7+ Masterpieces, and consider getting a third Masterpiece like this if you think you’ll need more than 5 Provinces to win the game. If you have $3 or less, just get a Treasure card.

After this point, just use your Coffers to buy a Province every turn, usually starting around turn 7 or 8. If you don’t have enough coffers to get a Province, just get another Masterpiece to stock back up.


Guildhall/Beggar does not have the same consistency as the other two combos in this article. Because of the risk of colliding Beggars, you can get a bad draw, slowing you down a few turns. Without any collisions, you can expect to have your fifth Province around turn 12 and your eighth Province around turn 16.

You’ll want to open Beggar/Beggar and get a Guildhall on your first $5 hand. After that, you’ll immediately want to either spend your Coffers to buy a Province, or get another Beggar (or just a Treasure card if you don’t think you’ll play the Beggar before the game is over).


Similar to the Masterpiece combo, you’ll want to open in a way that maximizes your chances of hitting $5 on Turn 3 or 4. Frequently you’ll get two Silvers on your $4 hand and something else to help out on $3. Get a Guildhall on your first $5 hand.

After you have Guildhall, you’ll want to spend your turns up through turn 7 (the third reshuffle) just getting Delves and stockpiling Coffers — make sure to buy a Copper at the end of your Delves each turn, and if you have an odd amount of money, spend a Coffers to get an extra Delve. If you have $7 of more without spending Coffers, it’s Ok to get up to one Province before this shuffle if you think you’ll need more than 5 Provinces to win.

After this point, get a Province at every opportunity, spending as many Coffers as needed. You’ll usually have your fifth Province around turn 12, and your eighth Province around turn 16.


A video of these “combo” decks can be found here. This article is a summary of that video, but note that there are a few discrepancies — when playtesting for this article, some optimizations were found that improve the play of these combos beyond what the video suggests.

Combo: Hunting Grounds/Lurker

Hunting Grounds and Lurker combine to form a strategy that is extremely fast to end the game, and scores enough points that it’s extremely difficult to compete with. The synergy between these cards is so strong that there is usually no counterplay or support available that actually makes a difference.

Combo At-A-Glance

The combo deck begins by opening Lurker/Lurker, regardless of your opening split. Every time you play a Lurker, trash a Hunting Grounds from the supply, gaining a Duchy, until the Hunting Grounds are empty (if the Duchies empty first, gain the Estates, of course). Buy Lurkers whenever you’re able, and trash Lurkers from the supply after the Hunting Grounds are gone.

This combo/rush ends the game reliably by turn 11 with 27-33 points. The game usually ends on a 3-pile with Hunting Grounds, Lurker, and Duchy; but sometimes you’ll empty Estates instead of Duchies if the Hunting Grounds are contested. It’s extremely difficult to compete with something that ends the game so quickly while scoring this many points, so whenever you see these two cards, you’ll be pretty safe just going for this combo deck and ignoring whatever else is going on.


I’ve only found two cards that can actually support this combo:

Catacombs: On turns 3 and 4, your Lurker plays can go towards trashing a Catacombs and gaining more Lurkers instead of directly trashing Hunting Grounds. If your opening Lurkers don’t miss the shuffle and you’re uncontested, this can speed up the end of the game by 1-2 turns.

Stonemason: You can open with three Lurkers by using Stonemason’s overpay ability, which helps out a bit. Trashing Coppers with Stonemason can be nice, but don’t do this over buying another Lurker, and don’t attempt to gain Hunting Grounds from the trash in hopes of trashing it to a Stonemason.

While other combo decks have room for other kingdom cards to give some optimization, even extremely strong cards like Donate don’t tend to matter much when compared to Lurker/Hunting Grounds.


When uncontested, the combo wins games because it ends the game extremely quickly, so that should be your focus. When mirrored, you are faced with a reality of this combo deck: it is hard-capped in the number of points it can score. Getting more points, particularly winning the “Duchy Split” is usually what decides these games.

“Duchy split” is in quotes, because the main way of scoring points is by trashing Hunting Grounds. The way to get more points is to trash more Hunting Grounds, plus buying up to 2 Estates after you have 4 Lurkers (provided you feel like you’re not sacrificing the Trashing-Hunting-Grounds-split to do so).

The other forms of interaction you care about in mirrors are Action-Victory cards. Nobles, Mill, and especially Distant Lands end up mattering a lot. Never leave these cards in the trash under any circumstances.

The presence of Pasture (Shepherd’s Heirloom) will cause you to prefer the 3 Estates over the Duchy when trashing a Hunting Grounds.


There are a few forms of counterplay to the combo, but let me be clear: they are just a drop in a bucket of what you’ll need to compete against the combo deck without going for it yourself.

Contesting Hunting Grounds: If you can get 3 or more Hunting Grounds before the combo player empties the Duchies, you can force them to aim towards emptying Estates instead. The combo player can easily see this coming and play around it — you usually don’t slow them down by doing this, but you can decrease the number of points they can score.

Attacks: they do pretty much nothing against Lurker/Hunting Grounds. Sure, cursing is probably better than not cursing against the combo, but don’t expect to get very much out of it.
The main exception to this is Enchantress. If you open with two Enchantresses and focus on having an Enchantress in play on most turns, you can expect to slow your opponent down by a turn or two, meaning that you’re looking at trying to get 4-5 Provinces by turn 12 while needing to play an Enchantress on most turns.

Combo: Bridge/[Flagship/Royal Carriage]

When Bridge and Royal Carriage are in the kingdom, you should always consider the possibility of going for the “combo build”. With only these two cards, it’s possible to build a deck that empties Provinces around turn 12-15*. In some cases, you may be better served by going directly for a “combo build” rather than trying to build a more generally good deck that trashes or draws, and doesn’t build for a megaturn.

Combo At-A-Glance

The most important thing about this combo is to get six Royal Carriages as quickly as possible. You’ll usually open Bridge/Silver to achieve this, and put up to 2 more Silvers in the deck to help. On a 5/2 opening you’ll usually find a $5 card that offers some support, such as something that can gain Royal Carriages or Estate trashing to help you hit $5 more; but if that’s not the case you’ll prefer to open Royal Carriage/nothing instead of getting a Bridge. Your goal is to get 6 Royal Carriages as quickly as possible. Feel free to call Royal Carriage on Bridge to help you gain more of them. You’ll typically get your sixth Royal Carriage around turn 7-10*.

Once you have 6 Royal Carriages in your deck, you will inevitably have a turn where you can get all of the Provinces. Get all of your Carriages onto the Tavern mat as quickly as possible, and along the way you’ll want to pick up a second Bridge. It’s OK to get more Carriages if they’re available, but make sure not to call any until your megaturn. Beyond the second Bridge, you usually don’t want to buy more cards other than cantrips, sifters, and possibly a third Bridge. If you know you won’t shuffle before the end of the game, you can get some Victory cards as well.

Eventually you’ll find yourself with a Bridge in hand and at least 6 Carriages on your mat. Play the Bridge, replay it with all of your Carriages, and empty the Provinces.

*The turn benchmarks given here are best-case scenarios for the combo deck. It’s possible that you can have very bad draws, which can delay you by several turns, just from not hitting $5 enough.


It’s absolutely critical that the deck described above gets six Royal Carriages. Without six Carriages, the deck can’t threaten to win the game, so the focus of most counterplay and the measure of its success is preventing the combo player from getting enough Carriages.

Royal Carriage is a good card in just about any deck, so denying them to your opponent has its perks for you as well.The tough part is that the combo player can get 5-6 Carriages pretty quickly, so just outracing them usually doesn’t work well. We want to find ways to slow them down.

Fortunately, just about every attack in the game slows down the combo deck in a significant way. Discard attacks severely hurt their ability to hit $5 often, junking attacks are brutal, and even the weaker attacks like trashing attacks are still devastating when you manage to connect with a single Royal Carriage. In the presence of just about any attack that can be played early on, the combo deck needs to invest in building more in order to deal with them, and while the focus of the game usually still revolves around winning the Royal Carriage split, attacks shift the game’s focus away from the combo and toward other interactions in the kingdom.


Most types of support will improve the combo deck when uncontested, but when Royal Carriages are being contested, especially in a mirror, a lot of the support you would use comes at the cost of getting more Carriages ASAP. When attacks are around, support (including the attacks) becomes a lot more important.

The strongest type of support for this combo deck are cards like Warehouse, which help you get your Carriages on the mat more quickly and increase your consistency with hitting $5. You’ll still want to open with a Silver but then get these cards over Silver later on. The next strongest form of support is trashing, especially those costing less than $5. Other sub-$5 non-terminals like Peddler, Caravan, and other cantrips can help a bit.

Gainers are usually a bit weaker, because you really want to be gaining Royal Carriages with them, but there are a few exceptions: Vampire, Alms, and Talisman are reasonable support, as well as things like Altar if you’re lucky enough to hit $6 early enough for it.

If you open with a 5/2, you’re looking for good trashing, gaining, and economy cards at those price points, as they are often better than just opening Royal Carriage/nothing and being sad about it.


In the presence of most attacks, you’ll want to go for them as mentioned before, and frequently this causes you to move away from the combo build. In either case, getting 6 Royal Carriages is usually game-decisive because you just can’t do anything when you only have access to four of them.

The interesting part about being mirrored is when the Royal Carriages are split 5 each. You still want to have a megaturn, but it’s unlikely that your megaturn will end the game — you usually end up buying 4 Provinces and 2 Duchies, and the game can come down to other VP you can buy on your other turns. If you’re lucky enough to find $4 in addition to your Bridge on your big turn and kick off before your opponent, you can get 5 Provinces and pretty much lock the game up.

Getting more than 3 Silvers in this case is great for increasing the chances at a 5-Province turn, and other sources of non-terminal +Buy or cost reduction works well for this situation as well. Aside from that, you would prefer to have your megaturn first so you can just go hard for green afterwards.


When Plunder was released, Flagship was quickly found to be a suitable substitute for Royal Carriage for this combo – in fact, it seems to be a slightly more powerful version, though less prone to support. The biggest similarity is that you need six Flagships to get this combo to pop, so getting six Flagships (and denying that to your opponent) is the most important thing.

The price point you need to hit is now $4 instead of $5, which means this combo is much more resilient to attacks, and is a bit quicker to set up. The tricky thing is that whatever support you are looking for is much better if it’s not an Action card – this limits you quite a lot. It can be good to get an Action card gainer (or getting your one Bridge before you have enough Flagships) to help with getting as many Flagships as possible and winning the split, but once you commit to storing up your Flagships for a megaturn, you can’t play any other actions until you’re ready to play your Bridge to win the game.

The best support is either villages or Flagship-gainers that aren’t Action cards. Toil and Coin of the Realm are both good examples of villages you can use, and Tools and Advance are mediocre support.

Bite-Sized Articles: the most powerful Dominion cards

While it’s not clear what exactly makes a Dominion card “good” or “powerful,” people do card power level ratings anyway. There are many valid and conflicting reasons to rate a card as good or bad, but some cards are consistently rated as very strong across all of these definitions. Knowing which cards are rated this highly can impact the way you look at kingdoms, as they either have very strong effects or are strong enough to include in a wide variety of decks; knowing what these cards and why there are powerful can be very helpful to you as a player.

So I’ve compiled a list of roughly the top 10% of all Dominion cards and, with some help, written a short blurb on why each of them is rated so highly. Below is a list of those cards, with links to the appropriate articles. If there is a more detailed (and good) resource on that card, the bite-sized article will link to that as well.

Bounty Hunter



City Quarter








Fishing Village


Grand Market


Island Folk

King’s Court


Lost Arts








Peaceful Cult






Scrying Pool


Seize the Day


Silk Merchant

Star Chart








Some of the most powerful cards have been deprecated. There are articles about those cards here: Ambassador Goons Mountebank