Tuesday 13 July 2010

the Dominion bug (with Intrigue and Alchemy)

Now I see why people love Dominion (which I first wrote about in Nov 2008) so much. After the previous blog post about playing Race for the Galaxy and Blue Moon against AI's, I discovered a computerised version of Dominion too (it contains base game + Intrigue + Seaside + Alchemy). It makes playing the game much much much faster, because the computer manages picking cards, arranging cards, shuffling, card effects, counting, tracking - basically all the chores - for you. I've played 85 games in 4 days, and have been enjoying myself very much. I need to increase my rating of Dominion, maybe to 8.5.

One thing I like about this program is you can name your AI opponents. I gave them names of two good friends whom I first played Dominion with.

Here is a list of random observations:

  1. All my games were 3P games against 2 AI's. I win 58% of the games, come in second 21%, am last 21%. Not that I'm good at Dominion, just that the AI's are not as strong. I think it's due to how many different combinations of action cards Dominion can have. It's hard to program a generic AI that can adapt to all sorts of combinations. Sometimes they do apparently silly moves, like buying a Garden (cost $4, worth 1VP per 10 cards in deck) on the first turn. Not sure what the logic is behind that. There must be some rules that the AI's follow, and somehow under specific situations based on those rules they think that buying a Garden is a good idea.
  2. The AI's mostly don't know how to defend against Pirate Ships (cost $4, when you play it you either attempt to rob all other players or make use of the coins you've acculumated; if robbing, each other player reveals two cards, if any player reveals a treasure card, gain a coin, and you get to trash one revealed treasure card of each opponent; if using coins, +$1 per coin). I enjoy employing a fleet of Pirate Ships and they are quite effective most of the time. By the time I have 5 or 6 coins I can buy a Province almost every turn. The AI's don't use Pirate Ships much. Sometimes I feel guilty for bullying them. But once when there were Moats (defense card) in the same game as Pirate Ships, the AI's stocked up on Moats and my Pirate Ship strategy didn't work well. I haven't quite thought about how to defend against Pirate Ships myself. I guess you need to get your money from the +$ cards as opposed to treasure cards.
  3. I think this was one of the games when Pirate Ships worked very well for me. I won 45pts vs 12pts vs 9pts.

  4. I hate hate hate Saboteurs (your opponent reveals cards from the deck to find a $3+ cost card, trashes it, and gains another card cheaper by $2 or more). I've lost Islands (VP card) this way. I've lost Provinces (6VP!) this way. I don't know how to defend against this. No $3+ card is safe from it because you have to dig through your deck till you find one. I've tried to use Islands to stash other VP cards safely away, but sometimes I can't do this quickly enough. It feels like some bully keeps coming back to kick a sand castle that I keep trying to build. Maybe I should go kick his sand castle too.
  5. This is why I hate Saboteurs. I ended the game with only 1 action card because all the rest have been trashed by enemy Saboteurs. I had many other victory point and treasure cards trashed too. I kept buying Estates since they cost $2 and were not vulnerable to Saboteurs. That didn't work.

  6. I like using the Ambassador to "return favours" (cost $3, show a card from your hand, you may return one of two of this card type to the supply, then your opponents each take one such card). I love it when Ambassador comes up together with 2 Curses. I not only get rid of my Curses, I also force my opponents to take them. It's even sweeter when the Curse supply has exhausted (which happens quite often in games with Curse-giving cards). My opponents may think they are safe from further Curses, but I get to return Curses to the supply and then "award" them out.
  7. Curses annoy me a lot, but I wonder whether they are that big a deal. They are -1VP. They clog up your deck. But sometimes I wonder whether it's worth the effort to get rid of them using cards like Ambassadors, or to protect yourself from getting Curses by buying cards like Moats and Lighthouses. Maybe sometimes it's better to live with them and focus on earning VP cards, or apply strategies that minimize their impact and at the same time allow you to go for VPs.
  8. I hate Ghost Ships too (your opponent puts cards from hand back to deck until only 3 cards remain). Ghost Ships are used on me quite often. They make my hand much less effective. If I put victory cards back to my deck, I will draw them again in my next hand and they will be just as useless. Sometimes I get attacked again on my next turn. Aarrgghh! Very disrupting. I have to keep the VP cards in the current turn, wasting my current turn, so that next turn hopefully won't be a waste.
  9. The AI's buy Coppers quite often. I'm always reluctant to buy Coppers because they are inefficient. Maybe I need to reevaluate my prejudice.
  10. I like the hybrid victory point cards - Harem (cost $6, worth 2VP and at the same time is a $2 treasure), Island (cost $4, 2VP, can be stashed aside with another card, thus slimming your deck), Nobles (cost $6, 2VP, +2 actions or +3 cards), Great Hall (cost $3, 1VP, +1 card +1 action). I like them simply because they are not "useless" victory point cards. I find them very useful. They make your hand seem much less wasted.

Here is a list of new and reinforced impressions / opinions of Dominion:

  1. I enjoyed Intrigue well enough. Some cards give you choices, i.e. some flexibility. The choices are quick though and they don't slow down your game, unless you are very indecisive. I am a little tempted to buy a physical copy of Intrigue, but the problem is I don't even play my combined base game and Seaside very often. So it's probably not a good investment.
  2. I thought Alchemy was just so-so. I like University (cost $2 + potion, +2 actions, gain a card costing up to $5). Transmute (cost $0 + potion, trash action card / treasure card / victory card to gain Duchy / Transmute / Gold), Vineyard (worth 1VP for every 3 action cards in your deck), and Philosopher's Stone (treasure card worth $1 per 5 cards in your discard pile + deck, i.e. it will be worth more as your deck grows) are interesting. I'm not tempted to buy Alchemy. Somehow I find it distracting to have to manage the potions. The AI's almost always buy potions if there are cards costing potions in the mix. I sometimes don't bother and am happy with the no-potion-cost cards.
  3. I appreciate Dominion much more now that I have played many more games. Eliminating the tiresome part of the game helps to bring the strategy part to the fore. Dominion is very much about the macro strategy and not tactics. The key decision is what card to buy, and not how to use the action cards in your hand. The former is the strategy, the latter is just execution, with some small decisions sometimes. The game is very much about analysing the 10 action cards available in the game and picking a strategy. It is also in watching how your opponents play and deciding whether you want to react to that.
  4. I suspect it is better to stick to one focused strategy rather than trying to do too many things, i.e. just buy a few types of cards which you think will work well together. Sometimes when there are many cards that you like, you may lose focus and buy one or two of each, and end up not having any coherent strategy. You do need a coherent deck. If you are going to have many action cards, you better have action cards that give extra actions.
  5. Pacing is important. You usually need to buy and play cards differently at different stages of a game. Some cards are more useful in the early game, e.g. Coppersmith (Coppers are worth $2 instead of $1), Cutpurse (force opponents to trash Coppers - more useful in early game when everyone has mostly Coppers, less effective later when everyone has more Silvers and Golds, in fact in late game you're helping your opponents by trashing their inefficient Coppers). Some cards are more useful in the late game, e.g. Scout (draw 4 cards, return to your deck non-VP cards - this makes your next turn more efficient because you have weeded out VP cards; this is more useful in late game when you have more VP cards). When you buy a card that will only be useful in the early game, you need to be prepared to suffer the consequences of a dead/weak card when the usefulness declines. E.g. Sea Hag and Familiar are not so attractive when Curses run out. Hmm... not that I find them physically attractive. Just functionally. Sometimes.
  6. In Dominion there is this default (or control, or reference) path to victory. You buy Silver, then buy Gold, then buy Provinces. Maybe you buy some action cards to help you a little here and there, but mostly you try to upgrade your treasure cards or buy better treasure cards, until you can regularly draw $8 to buy Provinces. The trick to Dominion is how to make use of combinations of action cards to do better than this basic reference strategy. If you are not careful you can end up trying to implement a strategy which is worse than this reference strategy. There are so many cards and so many different combinations that sometimes they distract you, make you want to try something fancy, and you will only realise later that it doesn't really work.
  7. KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. The AI tends to buy all sorts of cards. I only had 7 action cards (compared to 15 and 16 of the AI's), 5 of which were Treasury cards (+1 action, +1 card, +$1, with possibility of putting it back to the top of your deck if you do not buy a VP card). I beat them 83:34:17, having bought 11 of the 12 Provinces.

  8. It is not always the case that you need to do better than the reference strategy. Sometimes you can try to make your opponents do worse than the reference strategy, i.e. the destructive approach. Curses, Ghost Ships, Bureaucrats, and all sorts of attack cards. I had one game where the AI won with 8VPs. The other AI and I had 7VPs. I think it was a game with Saboteurs.

I think Dominion would be a great game to play using the iPhone + iPad combination. Computerise the chores, focus on gameplay.


荒凉。儒 said...

where to get this game?

Tom Vasel said...

Thanks for all the good thoughts, but you never mentioned where one could get the game?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi guys, this computerised version was earlier downloaded from BGG, but it seems now it has been removed. Hmm... probably is not a legitimate program and I should uninstall. :-(

Anonymous said...

the program appears to be an earlier version of this: http://www.slightlymagic.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=2323

Anonymous said...

I found a newer version here:


deck said...

Huge flameout on the BGG forums over this, from what I can tell. Since the designer mentioned that there's going to be an official computer version of Dominon, I think I'll wait for that.

toomanybarts said...

Rob Cannon - zonealarm says malicious "zombie" ??

Cecrow said...

I usually employ a deck that's high on Silver to counteract Saboteur, making that the most likely card I'll lose. Bureaucrat is useful for this, maybe Explorer or Mine. Saboteur's downside for its user is that it does nothing for them, only hurts their opponent. If it doesn't even do that substantially for them, you're ahead and they've a useless card in their deck.

Best Ghost Ship counter (or Bureaucrat counter) is probably Scout, to lift away those useless green cards.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Good points! I haven't thought of these counter strategies myself. Looks like I need to play Dominion more. :-D