Big Money is the benchmark strategy for Dominion. Understanding that means you are no longer a newbie. Big Money is the baseline against which all other strategies are measured. Big Money is also very dull, and moving away from it has been one of the more important design goals of Dominion’s expansions.
Big Money is a simple strategy: unless you can buy a Province, buy a Gold or a Silver. That’s it. The fancy version is to possibly buy a Duchy instead of a Gold once you are at the end game.
Every turn takes just a few seconds: you use 0 actions and 1 buy, take any new money, and clean up. Done. Boring.
Effective! Big Money frequently beats non-strategies because it avoids making dumb moves. New players tend to buy lots of actions because actions are new and exciting. They end up with too many action cards and not enough actions to play them. They end up not having enough money to buy expensive things. They end up losing because they rarely have the 8 needed to buy a Province, while Big Money ends up with lots of money and Provinces.
Big Money is easy to improve. Big Money plus an action is almost always better than Big Money, because that action is going to be worth more than one silver. Big Money plus Smithy is the classic version in the starting set of cards. You get just the one Smithy so that you do not use Smithy to draw another (now useless) Smithy, unless your deck is big enough to make that a low risk event. Big Money plus Village is obviously pointless because you have no combos to play with that Village.
Big Money is the benchmark because you should ask yourself whether the action you are going to buy is going to be more valuable than just buying a Silver. It is not hard to do better than a Silver, but you do need some money, and does your new action play well with others? Money always plays well with more money. One step up from the per-turn economy, you must remember that you will only get so many turns before the game is over; there are few circumstances when it is harmful to have a non-terminal card, but if it does not get you closer to winning the game, it is still a wasted card and a wasted buy.
Big Money is benchmark the way Goldfish is (was? it has been a while) a benchmark in Magic the Gathering. Goldfish is a solitaire game against an opponent who does nothing. How long will it take you to kill that opponent? For some control decks, that is not a good measure, but it is a meaningful consideration for most decks that plan to deal damage. Similarly, some long-term plans in Dominion are hard to measure against “should I just buy a Silver?” but you should always consider, “Should I just buy a Silver?”
Understanding Big Money is the point at which you get how the economy of cards and buys works. Once you understand that, you can go back to the economy of actions and play intelligently. It is the point at which you are actually thinking, versus having no strategy or overthinking and doing worse than “just buy a Silver.” The unwillingness of some players to think can be found in many forum threads about how unfair it is that Big Money is as effective as it is. These are players who have trouble beating Goldfish in Magic.
Next week, we will see their problem as we discuss the Village trap.