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Donald X.

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Dominion: Alchemy Preview
« on: June 20, 2011, 04:12:11 pm »

The Inevitable Dominion: Alchemy Preview

The new Dominion expansion, Alchemy, has been out for a few days now, which means it's high time for another one of my "previews." What's in Alchemy, anyway? What do the cards look like? What can you do with them? Are these rhetorical questions? All this and more, coming up!

What You Get

Alchemy has 150 cards. It's half the size of a "normal" Dominion expansion. Those 150 cards break down into 12 kingdom cards and one "basic" card.

The "basic" card is Potion! It's part of the supply in games using Alchemy cards. It's a new resource. It's a treasure, but instead of making money, it makes a potion symbol. Ten cards in the set have that symbol in their costs, and to buy one of them, you need a Potion, plus whatever money they cost. The rulebook covers cases like, how does Remodel work with these cards, etc. It all works pretty much like you'd expect. A Potion is like money, but doesn't combine with other money. It's worth a Potion.


Some cards in the set care about Potions. Alchemist comes back next turn if you have a Potion; Apothecary draws Potions (and Coppers) for you. Other cards don't mention Potions, but do useful things with them. Herbalist lets you reuse one of this turn's treasures next turn; Apprentice lets you trash a card to draw cards based on its cost, which is handy with a Potion you no longer want.

[Alchemist, Apothecary, Apprentice]

The set has a sub-theme of "cards that care about Action cards." Vineyard is a victory card that counts Action cards in your deck. Golem plays the next two Actions from your deck (other than Golems). University gains you an Action, and provides +2 Actions for playing all the Actions you end up with. Scrying Pool draws you all of the Actions from the top of your deck

[Vineyard, Golem, University]

If there's just one card out with Potion in the cost, is it worth buying a Potion in order to get that card? It oughta be. So, the cards with Potion in the cost are almost all useful in multiples. Apothecary, Scrying Pool, University, Alchemist, and Familiar all provide +1 Action or more. Golem plays other Actions from your deck, which can end up giving you +1 Action. Vineyard is a victory card, and Philosopher's Stone is a treasure - both useful in multiples. That just leaves Transmute, which can at least turn unplayable Action cards into Duchies, and Possession, which costs so much that you won't typically be able to buy more copies than you want.

[Scrying Pool, Familiar, Possession]

How to Play With this Expansion

As usual, the choice of kingdom cards to use is yours. You can use whatever method to pick out 10 cards, and whatever method to pick out that method. It's methods all the way down! And they're all yours.

However, since multiple cards in Alchemy cost this new resource, Potion, some people prefer to see more than one Alchemy card on the table at once. So that you have a choice of what to buy when you draw your Potion. And some of those people are used to just dealing out 10 random cards to play with.

For those people, here's a method you can use. Deal out 8 cards at random. Then, if any of those cards are from Alchemy, dig through the randomizer deck for two more cards from Alchemy. If none of those 8 are from Alchemy, dig for two cards that aren't from Alchemy. Either way, put the cards you went past back on top of the randomizer deck. This way, in the long run, you will see each card just as often as you would have otherwise. The Alchemy cards will just end up clumped together.

There are other ways to achieve this. Or you can just always deal out 3 cards from Alchemy when you're using it, and 7 from your normal randomizer. Or you can just deal out 10 random cards, and live with sometimes having just one card with a Potion in the cost. It's not so bad. But if you wanted a method for using a randomizer deck, there's one.

Your Guide to Costs in Dominion

To pad this sucker out some, here is a short essay about a random Dominion-related topic. I have chosen the cost system, since Alchemy mucks with it.

People sometimes try to make a tidy formula for calculating how much the +'s in Dominion are worth. They assign values to +1 Card etc., to try to get them to add up correctly for the existing cards. It doesn't work. The costs in Dominion aren't linear. The abilities aren't linear either! +1 Action is better if it comes with +1 Card; +2 Buys isn't twice as good as +1 Buy. And so on.

A big thing is, you start out with 7 Coppers and 3 Estates. That seriously distorts the low costs. Your deck can make $3 consistently right out of the gates, and it makes $4 plenty. Then, as you buy more cards for your deck, each card has less and less of an effect on your draws - since your deck is larger! At the same time you are buying better cards, but it isn't quite enough; building up from $7 to $8 is generally harder than building up from $4 to $5.

Here is a general guide to the base costs:

$2: Since your deck starts out already making more than $2, these cards struggle to be good enough. Often they really have to be worth $3. Otherwise you're just so rarely buying them. Mainly you buy a $2 when 1) you get $2 on turn one or two and the $2 at least isn't going to hurt your deck, 2) you get a victory-card heavy draw late in the game and the $2 is useful then, 3) you're choking on Curses, 4) you have an extra buy and can get the $2 with something else, and 5) the $2 is really worth $3. Often the main thing I go after with a $2 is, I at least want you to be able to buy it with a 5/2 opening without regretting it.

$3: These cards are squarely up against Silver. Silver is a good buy, and not a "terminal action" either. A terminal action is one that doesn't give you +1 Action. The problem with a terminal action for $3 is, you could be using up your action on something costing more instead, which would be more powerful. Sometimes your strategy doesn't involve an expensive terminal action, so you can go ahead and take a few cheap terminal actions. Other times you can live with having extra terminal actions, and other times you are just not buying a lot of $3's. Unless of course they aren't terminal! If they give you +1 Action then it's a whole different story. You may just snatch up some of those.

$4: These cards are also squarely up against Silver! $4 is just not that much more than $3. You most often start the game with either 3/4 or 4/3 hands; you are buying a $4 right away. A main distinction for $4's is, you can't buy two of them on turns 1 & 2. Some cards are too strong if you can buy two immediately, so those may end up at $4 rather than $3. Some simple cards are at $3 so that I can make variations at $4; if Village cost $4, Village-with-a-bonus would have to cost $5, and that's a lot more. But with Village at $3, I can make Village-with-a-bonus at $4 and it all works out.

$5: These tend to drive your strategy. They make the biggest difference between actions and treasure; you can get Silver at $3 and Gold at $6, and you can only afford to have so many terminal actions, so you probably buy Silver at $4 some too. At $5 then you have actions that really do stuff for you, with very little competition from Silver. $5's get to be a lot more powerful than $4's. And if you have a game that's missing a particular cost, this is the one you really don't want to be missing. Ideally there are multiple choices at $5.

$6: It's hard to compete with Gold, and you don't just get $6 immediately too often. People will snatch up a $6 if it's a good one, but still, I don't do that many cards at this cost. The main set had one, Intrigue had two, Seaside didn't have any. They don't do as much to promote different strategies as the other costs, and they get played in fewer games. The cost isn't a complete dud - it can be cool to have something at $6 sometimes. It's just not a significant factor in the game.

I haven't done cards costing less than $2, except for Copper and Curse. Originally this was because of things like Bridge - I didn't want it to be too easy to empty a pile. And if a card costs $0, you can just take it with any +Buy, so probably it's going to be pretty weak. But really, $2 itself is already pretty low-end. There's no point to having cheaper cards. Often a card costing $1 would actually be worse than the same card costing $2 - you wouldn't be paying $1 for it, and it's worse with Remodels. Anyway a card costing $0-$1 isn't out of the question, especially when you consider weird additional costs. It's not really on the menu though.

Some people think I should never do a card costing $7. They think that hole is doing so much for the game. When actually, if there's a card costing $7, then in almost all games there still is no card costing $7. Whatever that hole is doing for the game, it's still doing, almost always. And then whatever you get from having a $7, you get to have that too, in those games where that card is out. Anyway a $7 here and there is just not causing a hole-filling problem. Instead the problem with $7 is that this is an engine-building game, and that engine normally tops out at buying Provinces. Province costs $8. If you aren't building a deck designed to buy multiple Provinces in one turn, a $7 is going to usually be overkill. You would buy one if you got $7 early enough, but later on you'll look sadly at the expensive action and then buy your Duchy. Hence, no $7's. And no $8's either. To compete with Province - as Possession does - you have to offer up a Province plus extra.

Alchemy mucks with this arrangement by adding in Potions. It's tempting, like with those people trying to figure out what +1 Action is worth, to try to assign a $ value to having a Potion in a card's cost. You can't though. It's not linear! And this is especially obvious with Potions. Transmute and Apothecary are pretty close in cost, barring +Buys; Apothecary and Golem aren't. Gardens was originally in Alchemy, way back when, with Vineyard in the main set. When they were switched, Gardens cost a Potion - no $ - and Vineyard cost $4. But that doesn't mean that Golem is roughly worth $8. Potion doesn't really have a $ equivalent, but is worth more on cheaper cards.

Fun With Potions

Normally at this point I'd be talking about what Throne Room does with all of these cards. Man, everyone has figured Throne Room out by now, right? You do the thing twice. So instead I'm just going to say whatever nonsense pops into my head about some of the cards.

Alchemist: The obvious combo is Herbalist. Put your Alchemists on your deck via having a Potion; then put the Potion on your deck via Herbalist. Nothing puts the Herbalist on your deck though. I don't know what to tell you there. There are other ways to try to make sure you've got a Potion handy of course. You can look around in your Cellars for a Potion. You can trash things with an Apprentice, madly looking for Potions. And of course you can just buy a bunch of Potions.

Apothecary: There are a bunch of cute tricks you can do with Apothecaries, but one of the simplest combos is just another Apothecary. The first Apothecary gets some Coppers and maybe a Potion into your hand, and lets you reorder the other cards you looked at. Then the second Apothecary draws you the card you wanted that you put back (and who knows, maybe more Coppers).

Apprentice: I know what you're thinking. Not now, in a second. You're thinking, someday, I will trash a Province with that, and draw eight cards. You will, too. And if trashing a Province with it can be good, trashing anything can be good. They especially like to feed on each other.

Familiar: It's free (it gives you back the card and action it cost you), it hands out Curses, what's not to like. When the Curses run out, it essentially vanishes from your deck; move along, Familiar, your work here is done. Free attacks can be scary things and well it does cost a Potion.

Golem: Golem is insane. Fortunately it's expensive and you have to set it up. You worry more about what exactly is in your deck when any of it may leap out at you when you play a Golem. The fun thing of course is to have to play a card-trasher you may not want to, such as an Apprentice. Something's going down. Another thing about Golems is, you can get combos. Sometimes there's some combo between two action cards that you'd like to see. Only you need to draw a Village and both cards together and well it doesn't just happen. With Golem, it just happens.

Herbalist: To some eyes, this is the only card in the set having nothing to do with Potions. Ten cards have the potion symbol in the cost; Apprentice cares about potion symbols in costs; and Potion is potion. What's up with Herbalist? As it happens Herbalist is in the set specifically for how it interacts with Potions! A cheap +buy is a handy thing when you're trying to buy cards with the potion symbol in the cost. And then it puts a treasure back on your deck. A treasure like... Potion? That's right. Of course you already knew that from the bit about Alchemist.

Philosopher's Stone: This one is tricky. You want to draw through your deck in order to play it more often. But when you play out that line of Villages and Smithies, suddenly your cards aren't in your deck anymore, and Philosopher's Stone doesn't make you any money. You want ways to draw it more often that don't actually put cards into play or your hand. That sends you into the realm of underappreciated cards like Chancellor and Navigator. Or hey, Herbalist.

Possession: The most common question is, if you Possess someone and make them play Possession, who controls that turn? They do. Possession isn't an attack, but can feel like one, and sometimes you'll try to defend against it. One obvious thing to do is to buy attacks. Not attacks that gain you cards - hurty attacks. If you Possess me and I've got Witch in my hand, do you play it? Either way, that hand was better for me (had I gotten to play it) than it was for you. You are not getting full value from that Possession. Another trick is to go for special victory cards like Gardens. In a typical Gardens deck, my hand is full of Coppers and victory cards. I'm just trying to get to $4. If you Possess me and I do have $4 this turn, the best you can do is take a Gardens away from me. You built a deck that can make $6 plus a potion; you're going for Provinces. Once again my hands are better for me than for you.

Scrying Pool: Here's another way to draw 8 cards. The massive card-drawing this can do for you does not just happen by itself. There are actions to acquire, Coppers to trash. If you look closely, you will see that the vision in the pool is of a Village.

Transmute: Yes, if you Transmute a Great Hall, you get both a Duchy and a Gold. And a Curse doesn't turn into anything. At least you get rid of it.

University: When your University is gaining you Markets, it's a business school! When it gets you Festivals, it's clown college! When it's getting you Torturers, that's one badass university. If you have other Alchemy cards out then it will often teach new Apprentices. Yes all I really have to comment on here is the flavor. Gain actions, then play them, what's not to like. It's important that University can't gain itself, or you would see piles empty so fast.

Vineyard: The obvious card to compare this to is Gardens. There are a lot of differences though. The cards that make each one good are completely different. Gardens wants Coppers, Estates, and other copies of Gardens. Vineyard doesn't like any of those, or even other Vineyards. It wants cheap actions and lots of them. This makes playing a Vineyard deck a lot different than playing a Gardens deck. Another thing is, when you're going for Gardens, other players will buy a few to stop you from going too nuts. They can't buy Vineyards without Potions though. Did they get Potions? They didn't always get them.

And That's That

They were rhetorical questions! In retrospect it was obvious.
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