The basic play of Dominion is as simple as ABC:
- Play an Action (optional)
- Buy a card (optional)
- Clean up by discarding everything in your hand and in play and drawing 5 cards>
This leads to four units of value in each turn: actions, buys, coins, and cards.
Actions are where the fun is, and the real excitement happens when you chain them together. Several actions give you extra actions, so you can play several in one turn. Sometimes this is spectacularly awesome, other times just a spectacle that ends with your buying a Silver (which you can do with half a handful of Copper). If you are the sort of player who lives for big combos, big single turns, and winning big on a good roll of the dice, actions are the most important part of the game for you.
You also get one buy per turn, which is usually all you want. The value of having buys is tied to having coins. If you can buy six cards but have no money, all you can buy is some Copper, which dilutes the value of your deck. If you have a lot of money, you will probably be better served by buying one expensive thing than a few smaller things. On the other hand, there are certainly times when it is useful to buy several cards at once, especially when your chain of actions has netted you a lot of money. As mentioned last week, using money to buy money is one of the more valuable steps in building your deck, and this will be discussed next week in the strategy of Big Money.
To me, the economy of cards is the most exciting part and really the point of the whole game. As I suggested under buying cards, I would rather buy nothing than dilute the value of my deck. That is the between-turn card economy. Within a turn, your goal is usually to have as many cards as possible. More cards means more actions and money, some of which will get you more cards again. You get more cards via more actions, and your extra actions are also cards, so you can get a nice cycle going here.
That synergy comes together in non-terminal cards. Some cards give you at least one more action and at least one more card and then do something else. Village is the simplest of these (and again a future topic for an entire post): +1 card, +2 actions. A village is effectively a free action, because it gives you back the action you used to play it and gives you another card to replace itself and lets you play a third action. For that to be valuable, of course, you need to have two more actions in your other five cards; otherwise, the Village did nothing for you.
The simplest combination is Village and Smithy (+3 cards). If you play both, you now have seven cards in your hand and one action remaining. Effectively, you are back to the start of your turn but with two more cards in your hand. This is a good place to be. Note, however, that you need to play Village first. If you start your turn with a Smithy and four Coppers, play the Smithy, and draw three Villages, you cannot play any of those Villages because you used your one action to play the Smithy. Being allowed to play more actions is valuable only if you have more actions to play, and getting more cards is valuable only if you can play those cards (but either is still better to have, all things being equal).
Market is the simplest card to summarize all of this. Market gives you +1 action, +1 card, +1 buy, and +1 coin. You get one of everything. It is non-terminal, like Village, so you effectively get the buy and the coin for free that turn. Whatever you want to do, Market will give you a little more of it.
Players will tend to focus on whatever is most interest to them, and any path can lead you to victory because they all interact. Some people like having lots of money; money buys you cards, including actions and more money. Some people like having lots of actions; actions get you more cards and money. Some people like having lots of cards; cards are your money and actions.
Part of advanced play is trying to get the most value from each of these. To explain with a parallel, one of the most exciting design ideas late in Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition was working with the economy of actions. When a move is just a move, you can move or not; when there are a variety of things you can do as a move-equivalent action, the potential value of a move action is much higher. The same was done with minor actions, which were almost nothing in the original Player’s Handbook but were a valuable source of optimized actions several years later. If you want to get the most out of your turn in Dominion, you need to think about how you can make best use of your action, buy, and cards to get the most value, both for this turn and to set up future turns. We will later discuss the Chapel strategy that uses turns with negative value to improve your deck.
Next week, we start talking strategy with Big Money.