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Dominion: Starting Setup Strategies

What to Buy on the Beginning Board Layout in Dominion




Image courtesy of Rio Grande Games

Dominion is a game with literally millions of possible board layouts. However, if you're just learning the game, then the chances are good that you'll be playing the recommended starting setup, consisting of Cellar, Moat, Woodcutter, Workshop, Village, Smithy, Remodel, Militia, Market, and Mine. Here are some strategy tips for that layout.

1) Opening Options

Presuming you have a 3-4 split, you probably want to open with a Silver for your $3 buy, and one of the $4 action cards for your $4 buy. This starts you with only one action in your deck, guaranteeing you don't have a dead one in your next shuffle, but the silver will add some much-needed buying power.

All three of the $4 actions are reasonable opening buys. The Militia disrupts your opponent, Remodel will clean your deck, and Smithy can be the best raw buying power. Really, you can't go wrong with a first $4 buy on this board.

You can, however, easily go wrong with a $3 buy. Early on, Woodcutter's extra buy won't help you at all, making it inferior to a Silver. Likewise, Village is a great card later in the game, but won't help you at all on your first shuffle.

Silver is always a safe choice, although there's an argument to be made for Workshop, which can help you stock up on Silvers and/or Villages without taking your entire buy for the turn. But stick to one of those two.

2) Terminal Actions

Don't overbuy terminal actions. This is good general advice, but especially worth repeating for your opening layout. Village, Market, and Cellar are the only three non-terminal actions here. The other seven actions may be more attractive, but if you buy many of them without Villages, you WILL get stuck with unplayable actions in your hand.

If you do overbuy terminal actions here, you have two ways to fix it. The first and most obvious way is Villages. Villages will give you spare actions, so you can play your Militia and your Mine in the same hand.

A less obvious, but still useful fix, is Remodel. If Remodel is in your hand with dead actions that aren't working for you, you can remodel one of those actions into Gold, or a Market. Either of these reduces the number of terminal actions in your deck, while simultaneously giving you a powerful new card to increase your buying power.

3) Form a Strategy

While buying a lot of random cards can be fun, decks are most effective if you have a general plan for getting yourself up to the Province-buying level. Here are some of the plans this board offers:

  • Big Money -- Aside from a single Smithy, just load up on all the Silver you can get, and then Gold once you can afford it. This is a very boring strategy, both to play and play against, but it is effective.
  • Chained Smithys -- Lots of Smithys, Lots of Villages. You'll still need some Silver with this strategy, but you'll likely have tons of cards in your hand by the time your buy phase comes around. The multiple Villages also mean this strategy is easy to compliment by throwing in a few other actions.
  • Deck Improvement -- Mines and Remodels will let you get rid of the Copper and Estates your deck starts with, changing them into Silvers and more Remodels, respectively. A few Villages won't hurt this deck, and means that the occasional 2-Mine draw won't hurt you. Late in the game, you'll Mine Silvers and Remodel Remodels into Gold.

4) Individual Card Warnings

Moat may seem like a great defense against Militia, but it takes up space in your hand. If you have other terminal actions, and no villages, this may be a case where the cure is worse than the disease.

Cellar can be good early in the game to get to your powerful cards, but it becomes very weak once your opponent has played Militia on you. If your opponent opens with Militia in the first two buys, consider not getting a Cellar.

Don't buy Woodcutter. It's a shame to say this, since all of the Kingdom cards are supposed to be balanced, and each useful in their own way. But the only way Woodcutter is useful on the starting board is when your opponent buys it instead of something better.

Village may seem like the perfect card because you're never sad to have one in your deck, but often you'd be even happier to have drawn a Silver instead.

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