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Titandrake

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Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« on: September 04, 2017, 05:02:08 am »
+50

(This is part history, part strategy advice, and part opinion piece. Although I intended it to be an article's worth of content, I don't feel like it fits in Articles or Feedback. So I'm putting it here.)

I've been around Dominion for over 7 years. In those 7 years, Dominion discussion has changed a lot.

Let's start at 2010, back when the main DominionStrategy blog had regular updates. There was a heavy focus on understanding Big Money play. People knew that on average, Smithy-BM got 4 Provinces in 14-16 turns, Masquerade-BM could do it in 13 turns, and Courtyard-BM was similarly quick. The Big Money rule-of-thumbs were known by heart: buy Gold over the first Province, Duchy over Gold when there are 5 Provinces left, and Estate over Silver when there are 2-3 Provinces left. This was also the heyday of people using simulators to guide decision making.

Of course, people didn't only talk about Big Money. There was plenty of discussion about things we now call engines. But when you re-read many of the articles from the main site, they follow a similar format: a few paragraphs about the card's objective power level, and then a list of relevant synergies and anti-synergies at the end. Take the Cutpurse article, for example. It focuses mostly on the strength of its opening attack, then gives some token references to cards that make Copper discard more relevant.

I claim this is representative of a larger trend: strategy discussion was focused primarily on explaining cards in isolation. It turns out that's good enough to beat a lot of players! Telling players not to buy Pirate Ship in 2 player is actually pretty effective advice when people are still usually bad at the game, and showing Courtyard-BM is faster than Smithy-BM ended up giving people (including me) a few free wins over people who bought the "Smithy-BM is unbeatable" meme. Engine play was a lot worse, and Silver was better than many of the removed cards from Base + Intrigue 1st edition.

Then, things changed. More expansions came out. Cards got more complicated. Compare the Cutpurse article to the one about Procession about 2 years later. Although the article still talks about specific pairs, like Procession-Ironworks, it mostly talks in more abstract terms. In the Cutpurse article, interactions are listed at the end, but for Procession they're the focus of the entire article.

It's like starting chess discussion by pointing out that knights can attack queens without getting attacked back, and then the discussion evolves into one about material and position. Concrete pieces --> abstract generalizations.

This eventually came to a head with the most influential Dominion articles of all time: The Five Fundamental Deck Types, written by WanderingWinder. This codified strategy discussion for years. It's a framework for thinking about the game, that everything else can be funneled through, and soon it became expected that everybody knew what engine, slog, and rush meant.

It's probably a heavy case of nostalgia, but I consider those years to be a Golden Age of Dominion discussion. It was a wonderful time to get into the game, if you were looking to play competitively. And I'm no longer sure that's true. Everything's been on a gradual decline since those days.

There were a few catalysts for this (the biggest one being the end of Isotropic), but in retrospect I blame the decline on two things. The first:

Quote
It depends on the kingdom.

This meme took over the forums for a while. It's true, but it's also supremely unhelpful advice. People would say that Dominion is too big to describe all the nuances, and the best way to get better at Dominion is to just play more Dominion, watch more Dominion, and get better at reviewing your old matches. Again, very true, but people don't want to read forum posts that state the obvious. For all that the early card articles get wrong, they still form a helpful flotation device for novice players to hold on to before jumping into the deep, seemingly endless strategy pool.

I'm very glad that the "depends on the kingdom" meme has mostly died, because the joke got old fast, and any strategic value in the statement shriveled away long ago.

The second thing I'd like to blame doesn't have as pithy of a quote. I think people spent a long time getting hung up on classification and categorization, at the cost of doing useful things.

First off, why categorize in the first place? If we categorize things, it helps offset mental load. The single word "slog" represents several concepts, like a large deck that wants the game to go long to accumulate more points. It's very useful to have these definitions! But I feel like there was a point where people started to overcategorize and overgeneralize, and would only talk about Dominion within the Five Deck Types framework. That led to debates over whether a deck was Big Money or Engine, whether something was a combo or just a synergy, and all sorts of other arguments. The distinctions between the labels matter a bit, but what matters overwhelmingly more is your opponent buying lots of Provinces or drawing lots of cards. Deciding on a True Name for what they're doing doesn't always help you understand why it's working, and I think arguing about the definitions too much distracts from actually understanding the game.

Dominion players are a group predisposed to pedantry, and these arguments gave plenty of topics people could be pedantic about. I participated in my fair share of this - pedantry can be eerily fun. But in retrospect, it messed with strategy discussion in surprising ways. I once played a game shortly after writing the Beatdown vs Control article. It was a ridiculously fast rush, where the game ended in 10 turns. At the end, my opponent asked who was beatdown and who was control. Although I tried to answer, in retrospect the correct answer was that the game was so weird that Beatdown vs Control didn't apply, and trying to make it apply was a waste of time. Frameworks are great, right up until they stop working.

(To forestall some obvious complaints: I think pedantry is part of f.ds culture, and I don't think the forums need heavier moderation. If the forums were meant to discuss just strategy for Dominion, then they would need heavier moderation. But they aren't. Your off-topic derailment is my community building. I'm just calling for people to stop taking the pedantry arguments so seriously.)

* * *

Let's assume you buy my argument that we're no longer in a Golden Age of discussion. If you don't, treat it as an assumption that everything after this depends on.

The natural question is: can we bring the Golden Age back?

Well, what is the Golden Age? Is it the concentration of Dominion discussion in a single place? Is it the rapid production of content? I think those are elements of it, but the most important one is the experience of the new player. Can we make it easier for new players to get into the game, and grow the Dominion community?

I think that the answer is yes, but it's going to require explaining a bunch more Dominion theory.

Dominion is simply a very different game from what it used to be. I now view Dominion like a bag of interactions. Each card has certain properties, which interact with other properties in positive or negative ways. The strategy comes from identifying which interactions are most important to the game, and from doing small optimizations that make the interactions point in similar directions.

I know this is very abstract. so let me give an example. Take Marauder.



Marauder gives you Spoils and gives your opponents Ruins. So far all we've done is read the card text. How does Marauder interact with the rest of the game?

  • Marauders give Spoils. Spoils give $3. Thus your money distribution is naturally a bit spikier - it's a bit more likely you'll hit $6 or $7 early.
  • Marauders give Ruins as junk, which interacts with things that care about actions, like Vineyard and Library.
  • There are several different Ruins, which makes them interact with things that care about names, like Fairgrounds and Wishing Well.

How have I used these interactions?

  • I've once chosen to open Marauder specifically because I wanted to spike an early Forge.
  • I've considered not picking up Marauder because I knew we were both going to go for Vineyards, or for Fairgrounds.
  • In a game with Wolf Den and no trashing, I opened Marauder and carefully making sure my opponent only got unique Ruins. I got lucky and gave out -12 VP before my opponent resigned.

Ruins weren't designed with Wolf Den in mind, and I assume Wolf Den wasn't designed specifically to make Ruins stronger. It's emergent gameplay that arises from the interactions between different game components.

In this view, the way you become a better player is by

  • Memorizing the very powerful interactions.
  • Getting a deep understanding of the remaining interactions.
  • Use that understanding to devise an argument for what to do on the current board.

In GokoDom III (the finals between JOG and Andrew Iannaconne), Stef submitted this designed kingdom.

Quote
Kingdom Cards: Scheme, Storeroom, Trade Route, Gardens, Plaza, Throne Room, Counting House, Festival, Inn, Mountebank, with Platinum/Colony

Everybody loves this kingdom, because it turns out there's actually an engine here. You use Counting House to draw lots of Copper, Storeroom to discard the Coppers for $$$, then play Counting House again and repeat. To make the deck work despite having all those Coppers, you use TR-Scheme and Inn to avoid ever shuffling the Coppers back into your draw pile. It only works because of all the pieces working together perfectly - Storeroom turning cards into money, and Counting House letting you draw lots of cards, and Scheme/Inn to let you skip shuffling. In the stream, there was a magical moment where you can see Andrew literally figure out on the fly that this deck is possible. Those are the moments that make Dominion such an interesting game - seeing a web of interactions come together so elegantly and beautifully. And that board certainly isn't something you could base a whole article about.

To a lesser degree, the same is true of Marauder. Sure, the things I said apply to Marauder, but parts also apply to any Spoils giving card and any Ruins giving card. The only unique part is that Marauder does both, but that's a pretty minor distinction. If I was trying to write an article about Marauder, I could repeat what I said...but it wouldn't really be an article about Marauder. It would be an article about Spoils and Ruins.

Unless a card does something super, super unique, I don't think there's a point in writing an article about it, and most cards just aren't unique enough to justify an entire article.

So instead, it would make more sense to explain how you find these interactions, what the most common ones are, how you decide on a plan and adapt to new scenarios and avoid treating the game as a memorization of all two-card combos. If I had the time, I'd write more content from this angle, and would point players looking to get better in that direction...except I don't have the time.

It feels like the same is true of f.ds in general. People are less interested in talking about principles they find obvious, because obvious things aren't interesting. Unfortunately, those principles are the most important for new players. The end result is that f.ds has turned into a place where experienced players talk to other experienced players, useful ideas get scattered across 10 threads in 3 subforums, and no one bothers condensing them into useful Dominion lessons, because again, who's got time for that?

* * *

Please don't mistake this as me declaring that Dominion is dying. The community has been through a lot and the game is still going fine. I just think it could be more than it is. I do think there's cause for optimism. Intentionally or not, there's been some really good recent articles in this direction. (For example, Dan's 20 questions post and Adam's blog post about openings.)

Consider this more as a call to action. The game doesn't flourish unless new blood joins the scene, and I don't think we're doing a good job at making that easy.

Feel free to prove me wrong.

(Edited September 5, 2017 to fix minor typos and some poor phrasing.)
« Last Edit: September 06, 2017, 01:02:27 am by Titandrake »
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2017, 08:26:57 am »
+4

I think you have a lot of good points here. "Depends on the Kingdom" plus all the edgecases leads to really useless advice. When some new player asks a specific question, they don't want to hear about the one crazy time where the advice you gave them is not useful.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2017, 09:38:28 am »
+1

I agree with pretty much all of this. I'm definitely guilty on the "write an article for every card" front, but I still think there's some value in at least pointing out the obvious bits for each card. The wiki could probably do with some thinning though - in particular, there are a lot of combo/counter articles that aren't really that important (whether ones I put up or ones from the early days of theory's blog) that should probably be removed.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #3 on: September 04, 2017, 10:05:32 am »
+1

This shit is on point 100%. A few thoughts:

1. I've been trying to write articles forever, but whenever I sit down to, I get bogged in some detail and give up quickly. Not sure if it's a "me problem" or what. I think Dominion getting more noticeably complex (not in card design, in popular play style) contributes to this. What I've tried to do instead is to record little audio clips while driving, since talking is easier, but I haven't done anything with the 20 or so clips I have yet.

2. The single card articles are STILL super important for getting from ISO 25 to ISO 50 or so. They are absolutely essential for new players and even f they don't help us as much I think we should still try to make them sometimes.

3. The Five types have changed and I need to write about what I think the new types are. I've shared these thoughts on discord a lot and I just need to do the work.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2017, 10:07:03 am by Chris is me »
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #4 on: September 04, 2017, 10:32:29 am »
+17

Thanks Titandrake! Very fascinating! What if the history of Dominion also represented the stages that every new player must progress through? In the same way the community needed to learn all these things a new player needs to go through the same learning process. I personally came on the Dominion scene the day Isotropic died. I would describe my Dominion play as progressing through stages:

Stage 0) Learn the basic card mechanics
Stage 1) Learn cards in isolation (for example card articles)
Stage 2) Learn about card power rankings
Stage 3) Learn about the 5 decks types
Stage 4) "Depends on the kingdom" Learn how to read a kingdom as a whole
Stage 5) See the whole game from the beginning

When I found the Wiki I only knew a couple of expansions. [Edit: when I say "Wiki" here and later I actually more so am talking about the strategy blog.] So all I could do for fun was read Dominion articles on the cards I knew. It opened up a HUGE world to me. As a "stage 1" player I didn't know much about the cards or the game, so learning details about individual cards were all I could understand and gave me the fuel to beat players who didn't know this.

One important step for me is not mentioned in your history, learning card rankings. This was a game changer. I needed to learn that Mountebank is far stronger than Saboteur. I learned some of this from card articles, but here I could compare cards side by side.

After learning the 5 deck types, I remember a game that was a turning point in my Dominion life. A kingdom popped up that had a combo on it I recognized from an article I had read, I think maybe it was Scavenger/stash. I literally pulled up the article for reference during the game. I was thinking to myself - "this other guy is going to get schooled by my advanced play." I played the combo according to the set rules in the article. My opponent considered the board as a whole and played the same combo better but used other pieces in the kingdom that made it better. My article didn't mention these pieces... The lesson of course is obvious: it depends on the kingdom. Or to steal a phrase from another part of my life: context is king.

This game propelled me to be a stage 4 player. I realized I needed to read every card on the board and consider them together. A strategy that works for 9 of the cards on the board might be totally changed by the 10th card. This is where I personally see the golden age of Dominion coming alive. Because this work of seeing the whole board happens best by making and watching videos (or live streaming and spectating). I stopped reading articles and started to watch every WW video, when I ran out of his I moved on to Mic's. By watching these guys I learned about stage 5. Mic would say something crazy like "Grand Market isn't good here" and then the next game "Grand Market is amazing here." And I learned that Mic not only saw the whole board, but he also saw the whole game. He had in mind what his deck would look like and could make his opening judgements with that in mind. Don't get me wrong here, this concept of your deck needs to be updated regularly throughout the game!

So here is my point. I get sad when stage 5 players talk about the uselessness of the wiki, because stage 1 players need the Wiki! But it's totally true, once you reach stage 4 or 5 even when new cards come out you don't really need the article on them, you are able to learn them in the context of whole kingdoms and whole games. But the sad thing is that new players are stage 1-3 players. So if us stage 4 and 5 players talk the way we do we will confuse them when we say the articles are garbage, and we aren't interested in writing material for them because we see it as useless or hurtful to consider a card in isolation.

But furthermore this is why I see us as still in the golden age. Stage 4-5 is perfect for videos! And there are people making them! In a video and live streaming you can see and discuss a whole board, you can see the whole game and how to make decisions that way, and you can update your concept of the whole board and game regularly as the game progresses.

I would fight for more content for all stages! We need to make more stage 0-1 content, and stop talking about it like it's garbage. But we can also celebrate stage 4-5 content and enjoy that live steaming, spectating, and videos are the best place for that be discussed. Also I would argue that articles can be written at every level. A stage 0-1 player needs to learn that chapel trashing is good! Who saw that coming???? And a stage 2-3 player needs to learn that extra gaining in the game is a game changer. And we can know that "context is king/it depends on the kingdom" and live in the golden age of spectating and videos.

....or maybe this is all just an overly complicated way of saying I agree we need content for all skill levels :)
« Last Edit: September 09, 2017, 01:36:55 am by Derg17 »
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2017, 11:11:11 am »
+1

When talking about development as a dominion player, I think it is important to realize that different people learn different ways. When I started playing I really didn't read anything in the articles section, I just played a lot of games and posted/read in the game reports section.

My growth as a player was learning how to play by experience, rather than being taught through articles, etc. Now, don't get me wrong, I picked up on a lot of that just by spending time on the forum, but i wouldn't say it was how I got to where I am as a player. I find it much easier to learn through experience. But some people learn through articles. So, "depends on the person" I guess. Haha

All that to say, I think there is significantly more streaming (analogous to YouTube videos that used to be posted more) than there ever has been. The live interaction with the game may very well contribute to the decrease in articles. Take the "cage matches" that occur. Take seprix's recent article on lurker. He had a sample kingdom, it was challenged, played out live (streamed on twitch), and corrected. That is the evolution of learning dominion.

But there are people who don't learn that way, and I think you are totally right. Articles are essential in their development. I am not entirely sure what point I was trying to make, but yes. You are totally right.  We may be losing out on an audience that needs/wants those articles. And also no, learning how to play dominion has evolved and reaching people it would not have simply through articles
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2017, 12:19:39 pm »
+1

First off, why categorize in the first place? If we categorize things, it helps offset mental load. The single word "slog" represents several concepts, like a large deck that wants the game to go long to accumulate more points. It's very useful to have these definitions! But I feel like there was a point where people started to overcategorize and overgeneralize, and would only talk about Dominion within the Five Deck Types framework. That led to debates over whether a deck was Big Money or Engine, whether something was a combo or just a synergy, and all sorts of other arguments. The distinctions between the labels matter a bit, but what matters overwhelmingly more is your opponent buying lots of Provinces or drawing lots of cards. Deciding on a True Name for what they're doing doesn't always help you understand why it's working, and I think arguing about the definitions too much distracts from actually understanding the game.

The distinctions between the labels matter a lot, because they are based on strategy principles. If you don't understand those, you have very poor prerequisites for understanding the game at all, and if you do understand them, you will automatically understand why something is or isn't working.

WW's fundamental deck types are certainly less than ideal, but they're not completely wrong.

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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2017, 12:39:31 pm »
+4

As games both expand in size and man-hours played, the community collectively gets better, but what you're pointing out is that the community has not kept up in explaining strategy, meaning there's a larger and larger and perhaps unbridgeable gulf opening up between experts and players who want to be really good - a new player not only has to learn this now more-complex game, but isn't really given a decent guide with which to do so.  I watched a similar thing happen with the online poker community in the mid to late 00s decade as the game exploded online, but for different reasons - poker's a game where you get rewarded for knowing something the other guy doesn't, so as people would be playing against their message board compatriots more and more, they realized that giving away strategy tips was costing them money.  The difference between that and Dominion is that the rules to poker aren't changing.

I think more importantly than guiding novices along through particular strategies - though this certainly is important - they should learn the game more slowly than I think most people around here would have them do.  There's going to be 11 expansions soon and as Donald X has said before, every card is a new rule.  I think the only time a player should see more than 3 new cards is if A: they're playing their first ever game or B: they're playing against a player who is also not familiar with the new cards.  But what player, extremely excited for more Dominion, would actually heed this advice?
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2017, 01:45:49 pm »
0

People keep saying all the discussion is on Discord. I have 2 questions.

1) What is Discord?
2) If all the discussion has moved over there, could someone make a sticky thread or something saying as such and linking to it? Visibility about this seems to be limited to people just occasionally bringing it up.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2017, 01:53:01 pm »
+7

People keep saying all the discussion is on Discord. I have 2 questions.

1) What is Discord?
2) If all the discussion has moved over there, could someone make a sticky thread or something saying as such and linking to it? Visibility about this seems to be limited to people just occasionally bringing it up.

Discord is a text and voice chat service that has all but replaced IRC and is slowly replacing Skype, at least in gaming networks. It has a lot of great features and is extremely reliable, but for whatever reason the developers decided to make all Discord channels private. There is a link to the channel in my signature (I'm the admin of the channel). At first I spammed the link a lot, but it seemed like it might be annoying people, so I try to limit talking about it now. I agree there should probably be a sticky; it's a highly active channel at this point and strategy discussion does in fact seem to mostly be happening there and not on the forums these days. With that said, the channel is not actually affiliated with Dominionstrategy (nor do I necessarily want it to be) so not having a sticky also makes sense.

This has been this week's Discord PSA. You are welcome to come visit the channel and see it for yourself.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2017, 02:02:35 pm »
0

Thanks jsh. I'll check it out at some point.

If it's a format like IRC, is it easy to find old information or does strategy discussion that happens eventually become hard to find over time? Would be a shame if strategy is developing but those who are not around at the time miss out.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2017, 02:16:13 pm »
0

Thanks jsh. I'll check it out at some point.

If it's a format like IRC, is it easy to find old information or does strategy discussion that happens eventually become hard to find over time? Would be a shame if strategy is developing but those who are not around at the time miss out.

There is a search feature, and the channels that have not been deleted (temporary tournament channels mainly) are searchable. However, no, nobody is trying to save information in particular. We just learn a lot tossing ideas back and forth.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #12 on: September 04, 2017, 09:16:51 pm »
+3

The natural question is: can we bring the Golden Age back?
[...]
Please don't mistake this as me declaring that Dominion is dying.

Here's a highly personal opinion: Dominion is inexorably becoming more like Magic: The Gathering, and I don't like or play Magic.

For me, the turning point came somewhere around Dark Ages. The cards in Dark Ages were awesome, and I'm very happy to have that expansion, but the set also had a lot of cards that were significantly more complex than all but the really gnarly exceptions in earlier sets. Suddenly, it became harder to give the kinds of overarching strategic insight that Dominion used to thrive on.

And then Empires feels like it's passed the turning point, and suddenly Dominion is a somewhat different game: it's now so difficult to play analytically that it leans more heavily on intuition and holistic arguments rather than assessing the strengths and synergies of the cards.


Taking your example, Marauder is, indeed, a fairly challenging card which serves significantly different purposes in different contexts. It's harder to say what it's "for" than, oh, Witch or Smithy. But then Catapult/Rocks is way over the horizon! Managing the relationship between the two cards is challenging enough, before you've even considered how you're going to slot it into an overall strategy for your game. And then you have the headache of working out what other people are doing to the split pile: even figuring out if you're going to be able to buy the engine components you need is now fraught, interactive and imponderable.

Don't get me wrong: Catapult/Rocks is tremendous fun to play. But then you notice you're in round twenty and everyone's so busy flinging stuff at one another that nobody's greening yet. Strategy has been all but forgotten.


So...

Maybe Dominion is dying, at least a little bit, at least for some people?

Maybe we should be hoping for a return to the kind of cards people used to write about, rather than trying to figure out how to write about the kind of cards we're getting now?

I'm now nervously awaiting Nocturne, hoping like crazy it'll feel more like Adventures than Empires to me.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #13 on: September 04, 2017, 10:19:34 pm »
+12

I'm now nervously awaiting Nocturne, hoping like crazy it'll feel more like Adventures than Empires to me.

Huh. I feel like Empires is simpler than Adventures on the whole. Per card, I mean; Empires does have more stuff total.

In general I guess I'm the opposite of you when it comes to this stuff. Or something. Maybe it's just that what you're saying seems contradictory to me. You say it's become "harder to give overarching strategic insight that Dominion used to thrive on". Well since there are so many cards now, it seems to me that overarching advice has become the most important kind, as advice about individual cards and card combinations becomes less and less pertinent to the average game. And I'm not sure I agree that Dominion used to "thrive" on it. Personally, I'd prefer to have to analyze a board and look for interesting new interactions rather than having them all pre-memorized and playing by rote. I feel like I've probably completely misunderstood your post, though, so apologies if this isn't what you meant at all.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #14 on: September 04, 2017, 10:30:46 pm »
+4

What's wrong with dominion having more strategic depth?
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Titandrake

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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #15 on: September 05, 2017, 01:49:09 am »
+3

What's wrong with dominion having more strategic depth?

I actually had a similar feeling about Empires at first.

Empires forces you to make more on-the-fly decisions because of things like:

  • Landmarks that influence when to buy certain cards, like Defiled Shrine.
  • Split piles that force hard decisions on when to "unlock" the bottom half and how many of the top half to buy.
  • Castles, a pile that changes literally every buy, where the top card depends both on your opponent's strategy and who gets enough money first.
  • The Gathering cards (Temple and Farmer's Market), where again, the VP depends on your opponent's strategy and who draws which actions first.

All of this was present in the game before, but Empires pushed this angle of the game a lot more heavily. It makes it much harder to plan everything in advance, because you keep getting the question of "VP or better action card", "get the last card in the top half or wait for my opponent to buy it first", "play Temple and add VP or don't play Temple", etc. If you thought of Dominion as a game where you execute a plan you devised at the start of the game with little interruption, Empires might not be for you, because all the short-term tactical decisions mess with your plan, and those decisions are more explicit, important, and obvious.

It's not that depth is bad, it's that Empires adds depth in a very different way.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #16 on: September 05, 2017, 01:54:14 am »
+3

You say strategy has been all but forgotten, this simply isn't true. You still analyze the kingdom, but you must also react to what is happening in the game.

PS: Empires takes some getting used to, but it adds do much strategic depth, it's arguably the best expansion ever made. Adventures on the other hand can be very luck based.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2017, 05:27:54 pm by Beyond Awesome »
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #17 on: September 05, 2017, 07:23:52 am »
0

Empires forces you to make more on-the-fly decisions because of things like:

  • Landmarks that influence when to buy certain cards, like Defiled Shrine.
  • Split piles that force hard decisions on when to "unlock" the bottom half and how many of the top half to buy.
  • Castles, a pile that changes literally every buy, where the top card depends both on your opponent's strategy and who gets enough money first.
  • The Gathering cards (Temple and Farmer's Market), where again, the VP depends on your opponent's strategy and who draws which actions first.

All of this was present in the game before, but Empires pushed this angle of the game a lot more heavily. It makes it much harder to plan everything in advance, because you keep getting the question of "VP or better action card", "get the last card in the top half or wait for my opponent to buy it first", "play Temple and add VP or don't play Temple", etc. If you thought of Dominion as a game where you execute a plan you devised at the start of the game with little interruption, Empires might not be for you, because all the short-term tactical decisions mess with your plan, and those decisions are more explicit, important, and obvious.

It's not that depth is bad, it's that Empires adds depth in a very different way.

See, but this keeps things lively and exciting!
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #18 on: September 05, 2017, 11:29:23 am »
+3

OK. I'll rephrase a bit.

I see an axis in gaming with two extremes:
  • You play the same game over and over, gradually building experience and mastery over the decades, exploring every last wrinkle. This seems to be how serious Go players work.
  • You play a series of completely different games. You just played a game of Crokinole, followed by Codenames; almost nothing about either experience is transferable to the game of Puerto Rico you're about to play.

Though I'm far from either extreme, I lean towards enjoying a game I can get better at by playing again. While also liking a bit of novelty.


With that in mind, I guess I'm saying that Dominion occupied the sweet spot for me, but feels as though it's drifting towards poorer transferability of experience from one game to the next. Trying Gladiator/Fortune teaches me less about how to play Castles than Monument teaches me about Goons or Merchant Guild teaches me about Candlestick Maker.

I've played Dominion many hundreds of times, though probably not a thousand. Yet I can look at an Empires board and feel that all my experience gives me little traction in working out what on earth to do.

It occurs to me that actually the sweet spot for people like DonaldX and LastFootnote might be in much the same place as for me, it's just that people who've played 10,000-100,000 games of Dominion have a different perspective on experience v. novelty from people who've played 500-1,000 games.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #19 on: September 05, 2017, 11:34:14 am »
+1

The interesting thing is that major criticism of Dominion was that it felt like two playing solitaire against each other. Now Empires made that explicitly untrue by providing lots of choices that depend on your opponent.

crj, I fail to see how this makes games more analytical, could your observation be explained by Empires just being new cards? I know that it happens for me: When an expansions comes out, I just buy cards and see what happens. Being more familiar with them brings back the analytical component. I do agree that Adventures is overall easier to learn, except a few cards.

I think the problem with card articles is that it is already required to have a nuanced understanding of the metagame to get something out of a meaningful card article. This is especially true in Empires. Someone who doesn't understand the value of drawing your deck every turn will have a vastly different experience with Wild Hunt that those who do. Then you would have to explain why that is true and have a chapter on Engine 101 and it turns into a thesis where you have to explain basic concepts for the first couple of pages. After all, that information will be a lot more useful than anything specific you could say about Wild Hunt.

So I think it's much more important to explain concepts, which will make a lot of the cards appear easier. (For example, someone should write an article how VP are overrated, most of the time). That alone takes a lot of heachache away from Empires.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #20 on: September 05, 2017, 11:46:45 am »
+9

A fantastic piece by Titandrake!  This seems to be exactly the kind of meta-analysis the Dominion community should probably practice on a regular basis, and I’m always excited to see these sorts of discussions and community introspection. 

As someone relatively new to Dominion and f.ds (started playing IRL about three years ago, online about two years ago, and participating in the forums about a year ago), I’ve thoroughly appreciated the Wiki, the old strategy blog, and I believe them to be foundational to my Dominion learning, especially early on.  I definitely resonate with Derg’s description of a player moving through the stages of reading about cards in isolation, understanding power rankings, and learning how to recognize and construct the 5 deck types. 

Learning from my own play experience was critical, but there are many things I just never would have learned without these resources—I remember the distinct moment when I realized in an IRL base game that Coppers and Estates were bad cards and Chapel could be used to get rid of them (and not just for Curses), but I never would have learned the most efficient trashing tactics (i.e. open Chapel, and in a hand of all Coppers/Estates, do not hesitate Chapel your whole hand) without reading the Wiki article on Chapel.  Later, I remember thinking Bishop was one of the best cards in the game (I get to trash, and get a bunch of VP tokens??), and reveled in learning how to create an unstoppable Golden Deck, but then I read through theory’s annotated game where theory’s early game Bishops allowed DG to trash down and build a powerful KC-Pawn engine—I learned immediately that Bishop can be a dangerous trap, especially in the opening. 

This still happens to me today—I think I understand a card or a particular synergy, and then I play a game where everything I thought I knew about that card or synergy is thrown out the window. 

***

Over the years of playing and reading, I’ve come to realize that probably more than any other game ever made, Dominion is a game of nuance.  Titandrake emphasizes this point—with well over 300 card-shaped-things and counting and the near infinite number of possible kingdoms, it makes total sense that “it depends on the kingdom” would become the most prevalent, albeit unhelpful advice.  With such staggering numbers of combinations, we naturally feel the need to categorize and classify and define and create brackets and rank things just to make some sense of it all—the problem of course is that no category or ranking or definition will ever satisfy all situations.  As an example, Travelling Fair taught us that even Counting House, a card ranked dead last for years, could become a powerhouse under the right circumstance and decimate a more traditional engine.  Titandrake isn’t saying that our categories, definitions, and rankings are not important—on the contrary, many of them are incredibly valuable frameworks which can help new players move from stage 0 to stage 4—however, we must hold these frameworks loosely, lest our pedantry and arguing about what’s an engine and what’s not distracts us from actually learning and teaching others how to play the game better.
 
All that to say, Titandrake is calling us to continue to discuss Dominion in a way that’s helpful to stage 0-3 players, through articles, general frameworks, and fundamental principles, while also living with nuances, holding our frameworks loosely, and easing up on our pedantic tendencies which usually do little more than shut down potentially helpful conversation and confound new players from learning new concepts. 

As others have said, I think that much of what’s been created so far, the Wiki, the articles, is by no means worthless (though indeed some things are outdated and should be cleaned up).  The Wiki and the blog are where so many of us originally started, and many of principles we can learn from articles by WW and theory are critical reads for new players, even in the midst of the ever-evolving game of Dominion.
 
Derg is spot on about videos and spectating being one of the best mediums for teaching Dominion—reading a kingdom over the shoulder of one of the best players, with all of its intricacies, and then watching them identify interactions, point out key engine components, “see the game” before they open, and make adjustments as they play is perhaps one of the best ways to learn how to play better.  To all of you who stream and make videos—keep it up!  I’ve learned so much from watching Mic commentate a championship game, or Qvist realize a critical mistake in a league match, or Burning Skull demonstrating how important getting Sentry early is in his Base game videos.
 
And finally, I’ll add that while Discord has been highly conducive for free-flowing discussion among experienced players, and I’ve learned a lot reading the chats there, I’d love to see how important ideas and principles there can be made more accessible to earlier stage players, through articles and videos which reference key Discord insights and discussions. 

I’m very optimistic about the future of Dominion and the Dominion community, and so long as we take the time every so often to think about these things as Titandrake has prompted us to do and then work to make helpful strategic discussion and content accessible, the game and metagame will continue to flourish and bring in new players as we all once were for many years to come. 
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #21 on: September 05, 2017, 12:15:04 pm »
+8

Been around since Cornucopia came out (though always lurking. Was always too shy to participate). I remember playing a ton of Dominion on Isotropic. Back in those days, I saw the Blog as the Dominion site. I would go there to see the card images and get excited for buying my new expansion. I would read the articles and the comments. I always understood that they couldn't possibly apply to all situations, but they still helped me as a new player to see the possibilities of various interactions. Hearing other's ideas about the cards being spoiled really got the mental juices flowing. To me, Hinterlands and Dark Ages were the “golden age”, partially because there was just so much to look forward to as it felt like the sky was the limit, but also because of heavy nostalgia blindness (right after my wife and I started dating, I got her into Dominion. It was the first thing we ever really bonded over, and Hinterlands has always been our favorite expansion. We were broke, living off of minimum wage, but you’d better believe we always found a way to budget for the new expansion. Dominion got us through so many stressful times. I’ll always treasure those memories).

Anyway, much later, when Adventures came out, I ran to the blog, and saw that it hadn't been updated in years except to announce tournaments. This, to me, is a great travesty. I guarantee you this has convinced new players that the community is dead, because I was an active player all of those years and even I thought it was dead. To this day, the homepage still has Guilds listed as the newest expansion. It wasn't until a month or two later that I realized that the forum and wiki were still thriving in the background!

As far as questions about whether things have been over categorized: I really don't think they have. You mention that advanced players learn to see the whole kingdom and find interactions. But that doesn't happen by magic. The way we think about card interactions are similar to how one would think about interpreting law, writing code, or studying mathematics. It takes a lot of knowledge about semantics, set relationships, and technicalities. Unless you're a very high IQ individual, this doesn't come naturally. You get there by taking the time to read about the difference between buy and gain or trash/discard/return to the pile. You get there by learning to think about "sifters", "throne room variants", "villages", "cantrips", “remodelers”, “cursers”, etc. As far as I'm concerned, the wiki still holds immense value for intermediate players, and should be update often. Those categories help get the wheels turning. And combo articles help players to practice finding interactions through the words on the cards.

As far as the debate going on about expansions, I don't agree that Dark Ages was a negative turning point for Dominion. Yes it was complex, but it was the biggest expansion the game has ever had (soon to be tied), and originally meant to be the last one (kinda). The overpay and coin token mechanics that Guilds introduced create so many possibilities without being too confusing to new players. I mean, prior to its release, we all could relate to the experience of wishing we could carry over some coins into future turns, or wanting to get some kind of reward for having just a little bit extra money left over.

Adventures and Empires bring exactly what I wanted to Dominion: more of the existing ideas with some fresh twists. In fact, ever since Guilds was announced to be “the end”-ish, while others were begging for more Durations, I’ve just been sitting here praying for more Potion interactions, Overpay cards, or (more importantly) more Cornucopia-like cards that care about variety or card names. I really don’t believe that the game itself has suffered post-Dark Ages. So far, the post-Guilds releases have been expansions that up the ante on existing ideas.

Though I will concede: it sounds like Nocturne may be complex. But hey, it’s been 5 years since Dark Ages (dear god, that doesn’t feel right to say), the time for a complex one seems right.
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Polk5440

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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #22 on: September 05, 2017, 12:28:50 pm »
+6

You make some very good points, and I agree with a lot. But, I do think there is an obvious case for pessimism.

1)
More expansions came out. Cards got more complicated.

This is a big deal. If you view every card as a new rule, then this makes is harder to learn the rules of Dominion before even beginning to play a game in the "big leagues", i.e. full random. Every expansion added makes full random less and less friendly regardless of the strategy advice out there. There are reasons why collectible card games like Magic have cards that come in and out of rotation, and it's not just to force you to buy new cards. It's also to keep the complexity down and make the experience better for new players. When Magic is simpler than Dominion (and we're almost there, if not there already), then we've lost one of the main selling points of Dominion and what certainly attracted me to the game as a new player originally.

2) There are a lot of really good, new games that compete directly with Dominion. It's very likely that Dominion has reached it's high water mark in board game geek rankings, for instance.

3) Online Dominion is no longer optimally conducive to giving and taking strategy advice, especially for new players. It's very hard to find and analyze old games. The Game Reports and Help! section of the forum is all but dead. Spectating and streaming is not nearly enough.

Quote
The natural question is: can we bring the Golden Age back? Well, what is the Golden Age? Is it the concentration of Dominion discussion in a single place? Is it the rapid production of content? I think those are elements of it, but the most important one is the experience of the new player. Can we make it easier for new players to get into the game, and grow the Dominion community?

I think that the answer is yes, but it's going to require explaining a bunch more Dominion theory.

You make a very good case, and I want to share your optimism, but I think the answer is not explaining a bunch more Dominion theory. It's 1) explaining important, existing, core strategy concepts well, 2) identifying power/key cards (as you mention) and 3) having competitive experiences that are more new player friendly.

For instance, update the blog with simple introductory articles. Maybe theory can add some new admins to keep things current. Have a newbie friendly tournament that uses only Dominion, Intrigue, and the newest available expansion for generating kingdoms. RGG still gets the hot-new-thing promotion, but it's not prohibitively complicated for new players.
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trivialknot

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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #23 on: September 05, 2017, 12:42:54 pm »
+5

I advocate rebooting the blog.  When it comes down to it, even if f.ds were to provide the best Dominion advice ever, how many people realistically end up seeing that?  Forum posts just aren't a good broadcasting format.  Blogs are.  If experts just want to talk among each other, f.ds is fine, but if you actually want to teach people strategy, you have to broadcast.

I don't know why exactly the blog stopped.  I'm guessing it was a combination of administrators becoming less active, and would-be writers becoming disillusioned with simple advice.  The irony is that people today could easily write articles that are better than what's in the blog archives.  But they don't, because they think they aren't good enough.
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Re: Dominion Strategy: Then, Now, and the Future
« Reply #24 on: September 05, 2017, 01:38:26 pm »
+2

When Magic is simpler than Dominion (and we're almost there, if not there already), then we've lost one of the main selling points of Dominion and what certainly attracted me to the game as a new player originally.

Whoa. I mean, I have friends who play both Dominion and Magic a lot, and they agree that Dominion is still nowhere near as complex as Magic, and never will be. Magic is hella complex.

EDIT: Did you know there are, like, five levels of Magic judges? You can basically judge Magic tournaments for a living, or at least as a lucrative source of side revenue. Try to imagine that ever being the case with Dominion, even if it somehow matched Magic's popularity.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2017, 01:40:43 pm by LastFootnote »
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