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Seprix

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Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« on: August 07, 2019, 09:20:00 pm »
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(A lot of what is going to be said will be already known or understood in a general sense by good players, although perhaps not put into words, or maybe not put into the same words. My hope with this article is to perhaps give someone another way of thinking about the game, or to help them break through and improve in how they approach each game. In addition, the article is unfinished and I would like some feedback on it and which direction to take it.)

Cap Management

Dominion is a game of skill, chance management and cap management.

Dominion is a game of skill because there are usually a lot of options in each game and deciding what works and what doesn’t and in what order the things happen in is something that is only acquired with knowledge and finesse. Dominion is a game of chance management because of shuffles and randomness, and sometimes someone has to make an educated gamble in order to potentially win. It is important to understand game positioning and what riskier/higher reward plays are. These are things everybody worth their salt knows already.

Dominion is also a game of cap management. A cap is to put simply, potential. A low cap doesn’t have very much potential, and a high cap has a lot of potential. How the deck actually performs will depend on a number of factors, but it is always within the constraints of the cap. Think of it like a volume knob. The speaker's sound can get as loud as anywhere within the knob's range, but it cannot exceed the maximum range of 11 on the volume knob. A deck can go anywhere within its cap, but it cannot go any further than that cap.

In each game, there are seven different caps to constantly keep track of within the game, and the decks will often only be as good as the lowest cap, or perhaps higher ceilings from other caps will help to overcome the lowest cap through interactions. Knowing these seven caps and how they affect gameplay will be instrumental in becoming a better Dominion player. The seven caps in no particular order are Time, Draw, Plays, Gains, Scoring, Oppression, and Consistency. In addition, it’s important to note that in all games, your opponent has every cap that you do. Remember this for later.

Each cap will be briefly explained with the mindset that they should be approached with, and then how exactly this information will help is up to you. Each cap affects the other caps in some form or another, and it is often important to remember that they interact together in much the same way as cards interact with each other. It is crucial to know how to form relationships between objects, and it is why a lack either of familiarity with cards and strategies, or lack of ability in drawing relationships will make the ideas presented useless.

Time

Time is the average time allotted to each strategy per player before the game ends, and perhaps the most important metric in Dominion. Time is also the most complex cap, constantly changing as the game continues. Because of this, there is no feasible way to measure time analytically in a given game, and it must be done instead with experience and guesswork. Each strategy will take a certain amount of time, and each decision will either take the same amount of time or more, depending on whether that decision was a mistake. In addition, the game itself can decide that the strategy chosen will go faster or slower than usual, based on draws or general luck.

Remembering that your opponent has every cap that you do, your time cap is directly affected by all decisions your opponent makes, and his time cap is directly affected by the decisions you make. This is because choices exist, and any decision anybody makes will have a chance to be reacted to (barring game ending choices) which will change the dynamic of the game entirely. If an opponent commits too hard to Provinces too soon, there is a correct play that will give the time cap advantage to the other player, and an incorrect play that will give the time cap advantage to the opponent instead.

Presented below and in all future cap types will be general questions to ask subconsciously while playing, from the very start of the game to its conclusion.

How fast can the game possibly end to the best of your guessing ability?
How fast can the game reasonably end? Is it time to score? Do you have time to build more?
If behind, does scoring prolong the game and give a real chance or does it just make you lose later?


Answering these questions is going to be difficult a lot of the time, because the answer is dependent on the other caps.

Consistency

The next cap is Consistency, which more or less defined as how predictable the turns will be on average. A lot of things will increase Consistency. Removing bad cards increases Consistency, as does adding good cards. Set-ups and cards such as Summon and Captain can increase Consistency. Simultaneously, adding stop cards such as Provinces will increase the amount of chaos in the deck, and will then decrease the Consistency cap. There is value in getting the deck over-consistent in order to hold more stop cards, but always be mindful of how much time is left.

Again we are presented with a number of questions.

How likely is it that you can do everything you want to do?
Is the deck going to get reasonably more consistent if you continue to build?
Is the added consistency going to matter more than the time left?
Can building continue to consistently handle more green?


Oppression

The Oppression cap is perhaps the least important cap on average and is in some ways the opposite of consistency, but it can sometimes be absolutely crucial. To put it simply, the Oppression cap measures how hard you can grind the opponent's deck to a halt. Usually this means attacks such as Cultist and Mountebank, but also devious pins and some Possession tricks to guarantee bad turns forever, to name a couple of examples.

How bad is the oppression? Is it ignorable?
Will the oppression affect the Time cap?
Is it worth giving out oppression yourself?


Draw

The Draw cap is simply how many draw cards are in the deck. Drawing the deck and increasing handsize are both very important things to do. Whether the cards are playable due to being terminal are not is not what the Draw cap worries about, but only whether or not it has that potentiality to draw cards. Some simpler questions:

How strong is the draw?
Is it terminal? How much draw can you actually play?


Play

The Play cap is to put simply, the amount of cards you can play that can do things. This includes cantrips, terminals, action increasers such as villages and even non-action cards like Scepter and Vampire. Anything the deck can play, the Play cap has covered. If the deck has a multitude of terminal cards in it, the Play cap will go down because there are cards that cannot be played. The Play cap will then go up if there are villages added. Remember that this is simply a measurement of what can be played if the entire deck was laid out; it is not a measurement of consistency! Also, sometimes it’s perfectly okay to have a bad Play cap in a sloggy game because the terminal cards are not likely to connect.

Once more, questions:

How many terminal cards can you play?
Would your deck perish if it didn’t have access to enough villages?
How many non-terminal cards can be played, and does it make the deck better when added?


Gains

The Gain cap is how many cards the deck can gain on a given turn. This includes buys and cards like Workshop and Bureaucrat. Some gains are good and some are not so good. Pretty straightforward. Making it a bit more complicated is that some gains matter more than others, but this will be up to the player to decide whether say, Beggar’s coppers are any good. Again, there are a couple of questions:

How much can be gained, and does the deck even want it?
Will the gained cards lower the Consistency cap?
Can the deck gain and play cards?
How much does the deck rely on buys, and does it have sufficient economy to realize the potential?
How do the Gain caps play into time left?
Is there a pileout?


Scoring

Finally, the Scoring cap, which is an approximation of what the deck can realistically expect to score. It is very important to consider the Consistency and Time caps when considering the Scoring cap, especially with the presence of Alt-VP but also with general timing of when to pull the trigger. Final questions:

How good are Provinces? Can multiple Provinces be gained?
How good is the Alt-VP? Is it strong enough to withstand a Province rush? Can it withstand a pileout?
What does the deck want to do, and what is actually possible?


All of these questions should be running through a player’s head as he plays. Some questions are easier than others, but all of them will be at one time crucial to ask.

Kingdom Caps

Complicating things further, all seven caps also exist within each Kingdom. If standard caps measure deck potential, it makes sense that each Kingdom has potential as well. Some Kingdoms have no villages, some Kingdoms have no trashing. All personal deck caps are then restricted by the seven Kingdom caps which exist. As an example, there may be strategies within the Kingdom that increase the consistency cap but take such a long time as to be impractical to realistically pursue. Rushes also are a violent way in which the Kingdom Time cap will slap down any potential deck ideas. For it to work though, the opponent has to actually pursue it!


General Cap Principles

Work backwards. Start with what you know, and use those conclusions to form conclusions about other caps. For example, it is impossible to ascertain when to accurately score without knowing the opponent’s caps.

A higher Oppression cap generally means a higher Time cap.

The second player inherently starts with a lower tempo cap, but how big this gulf is depends on how quickly the decks can become consistent. Higher consistency means the second player has an even lower tempo cap, and then they may have to commit harder to risky plays in order to jump back into the game.

The opponent has every cap that you do. Because of this, all caps are inherently reactive. Know your opponent’s caps. One cap may be less of a problem or more of a problem based on what the opponent’s plan and caps are, and it is important to change strategic directions accordingly.

For example, if the opponent decided he wanted to rush single Provinces instead of building the deck for longer, the appropriate reaction could be to not touch the Provinces at all for a higher time cap; This allows higher scoring with Alt-VP later which otherwise may not have been feasible. It may also instead be correct to follow with the Provincing because it is the only way to score and the time cap is against you.

Another example: The opponent has over-extended his terminals and there’s only one set of villages in the Kingdom. The winning play could be to snatch up all of the remaining villages and give the opponent a permanent lower Play cap.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2019, 03:15:54 pm by Seprix »
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Commodore Chuckles

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2019, 11:01:10 pm »
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Is "tempo cap" the same as "time cap"? You suddenly mention the "tempo cap" at the very end without discussing it earlier.
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Seprix

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2019, 12:03:28 am »
+1

Is "tempo cap" the same as "time cap"? You suddenly mention the "tempo cap" at the very end without discussing it earlier.

I originally called time cap tempo cap to be more pretentious and then decided the allusions to chess wasn't worth the potential confusion, I'll go and change that, must have missed it

UPDATE: changed the ordering of one of the caps, changed some wording and in that case added some humor, and removed all instances of 'thusly'.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2019, 03:16:38 pm by Seprix »
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ipofanes

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2019, 11:01:58 am »
+1

Are cards gained for sake of their price worth an extra question in the Gain section? Such as gaining Ill-Gotten Gains or Border Villages primarily to feed them to Upgrades and Recruiters?
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Seprix

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2019, 11:05:32 am »
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Are cards gained for sake of their price worth an extra question in the Gain section? Such as gaining Ill-Gotten Gains or Border Villages primarily to feed them to Upgrades and Recruiters?

That's more for very specific cards that care about the price of cards, and some of them do not even gain stuff, such as Recruiter. I don't feel it's particularly relevant, but maybe I'm wrong.
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Wizard_Amul

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2019, 03:01:06 pm »
+1

Are cards gained for sake of their price worth an extra question in the Gain section? Such as gaining Ill-Gotten Gains or Border Villages primarily to feed them to Upgrades and Recruiters?

That's a good question/answer to be aware of when it matters, and I suppose it can apply to the time or gains caps--it could be worded as multiple questions. The questions could be worded something like the following: "Are there trash-for-benefit cards and synergies with such cards present in the kingdom? Are there ways to gain multiple of those cards in a turn such that the time clock is sped up significantly (e.g., Governor or Upgrade with Rats, etc.)?"
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Titandrake

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2019, 10:22:07 pm »
+1

I think this is a good start but could use cleaning up.

I'm not sure why you need to say things like "Dominion is a game of skill", this feels like it isn't actually saying anything.

I'm not fan of the word "cap", I like potential better.

The time cap doesn't seem very useful to me. You have to consider when the game ends, but uniquely this depends way more on your opponent than anything else. These are useful questions to ask but it isn't like you have "time potential" or "time cap" or anything. It's more about whether you have inevitability or not.

For Oppression, it seems very very similar to the opposite of consistency, and an example like Ghost Ship may be better than junker example. If you are Ghost Shipped every turn your deck can still be consistent, it's just that your deck is consistently performing terrible.

It seems weird to define Draw without considering whether you can play the draw. Every other cap has the property that you can increase it by itself without worrying about the other caps, and your deck will get better. Of course, your deck is better if you coordinate how you're trying to improve each of the caps. But Draw feels like it isn't an example of this.

I don't think you want to define the Kingdom as a separate cap. You want keep it at the level of, the Kingdom defines the upper bound of every other cap and decides which ones you prioritize. It feels like needless notation to describe this as a "Kingdom cap".

The general feeling I got was that I don't feel like I learned anything. I think it would be stronger to give examples of how you increase / decrease different caps.
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Wizard_Amul

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2019, 10:28:08 am »
+1

The general feeling I got was that I don't feel like I learned anything. I think it would be stronger to give examples of how you increase / decrease different caps.

As a relatively new player, I've even been thinking about writing an introductory guide to getting better because many Dominion guides seem to ask good questions but not answer them. I know many of them can't easily be generalized, but some can be generalized.

So, what happens if there isn't draw? Am I playing just big money with a few payload action cards? Is +Buy still worth going for if there is no draw? What about if there is trashing?

What if there isn't a village? How many terminals on average should I aim for? Does that change if I can trash?

I know it's hard to give very specific answers to these questions, but I think there are general answers to at least some of these.
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Seprix

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2019, 10:38:29 am »
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I'm not sure why you need to say things like "Dominion is a game of skill", this feels like it isn't actually saying anything.

Maybe I could cut that, makes sense now that I think about it.

Quote
The time cap doesn't seem very useful to me. You have to consider when the game ends, but uniquely this depends way more on your opponent than anything else. These are useful questions to ask but it isn't like you have "time potential" or "time cap" or anything. It's more about whether you have inevitability or not.

Given I can't really say anything about Time except generalities, yes it makes sense it's not very useful to you or probably to anyone for that matter. But it is an essential and perhaps the most essential part of the game, and games in general. Maybe Time doesn't slot itself into caps well in general. Maybe I didn't visualize it well enough and it works fine from another angle.

Quote
For Oppression, it seems very very similar to the opposite of consistency, and an example like Ghost Ship may be better than junker example. If you are Ghost Shipped every turn your deck can still be consistent, it's just that your deck is consistently performing terrible.

This section still needs its own slot, because the ability to stop the opponent is as important as the ability to start up your own deck. They're both different things, even if the end result is similar. But yes, the consistency definition isn't incredible. Mostly in general the entire thing will need rewording and reworking whenever I feel like it, but the thing is mostly here already. It won't hold up to lawyering but it'll hold up to casual thinking, and honestly that's good enough for me at the moment.

Quote
It seems weird to define Draw without considering whether you can play the draw. Every other cap has the property that you can increase it by itself without worrying about the other caps, and your deck will get better. Of course, your deck is better if you coordinate how you're trying to improve each of the caps. But Draw feels like it isn't an example of this.

Well you do consider whether or not you can play the draw. You don't think about the caps in isolation, I'm just highlighting what they each do. In addition, you can increase the Play Cap (Action Cap really, I still wince at the name Play but I wanted to separate the concept of villages from cantrips) significantly by adding tons of villages but that's not actually improving the deck per se if there's nothing to play with all of those actions. But maybe the caps should each stand on their own. Sure they lose their purity but maybe it's more practical.

Quote
I don't think you want to define the Kingdom as a separate cap. You want keep it at the level of, the Kingdom defines the upper bound of every other cap and decides which ones you prioritize. It feels like needless notation to describe this as a "Kingdom cap".

Caps. Not cap, caps. Everything your deck can do is limited by what is possible in the Kingdom. It's the deck's box within the meta-box of the particular Kingdom, which is what you are saying, just less granular at the Kingdom level. I probably said Kingdom Cap but it's made up of all of the individual caps, and perhaps potential is a better word overall anyways. Better for imaging.

Quote
The general feeling I got was that I don't feel like I learned anything.

I wouldn't expect you (or anyone worth their salt) to learn anything at all from this article, so not really surprised in the slightest. I'm just pushing forward an idea of thinking about the game, and whenever I tackle the prospect again I might toss all of this out entirely or build on it. The final goal is creating a Universal Theory on Dominion, and this is just a potential brick in that wall.

 It makes sense to break down Dominion into its parts, and what I eventually want to do is to use those parts to build bigger things, and who knows, maybe this helps AI at the end of it all. I'm trying to put universal logic into a game that seemingly has no universal logic at all conceptually. I'm just some idiot trying something, hopefully it works out in the end, or at least helps someone else work something out.

The general feeling I got was that I don't feel like I learned anything. I think it would be stronger to give examples of how you increase / decrease different caps.

As a relatively new player, I've even been thinking about writing an introductory guide to getting better because many Dominion guides seem to ask good questions but not answer them. I know many of them can't easily be generalized, but some can be generalized.

So, what happens if there isn't draw? Am I playing just big money with a few payload action cards? Is +Buy still worth going for if there is no draw? What about if there is trashing?

What if there isn't a village? How many terminals on average should I aim for? Does that change if I can trash?

I know it's hard to give very specific answers to these questions, but I think there are general answers to at least some of these.

I'll work on this next, I think. This "article" is more arm-chair stuff, but if the arm-chair stuff isn't helpful to practical situations it's not really any good at all, is it? And maybe this will help with the seeming struggle more than breaking the game down. Who knows, I'll give it a shot.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2019, 10:41:18 am by Seprix »
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faust

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2019, 11:07:03 am »
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So, what happens if there isn't draw? Am I playing just big money with a few payload action cards? Is +Buy still worth going for if there is no draw? What about if there is trashing?
Depend on what you mean with "no draw". It it's just, no way to increase your handsize over 5, an engine may still be possible, with lots of cantrips (think Grand Market). In those cases +Buy can be quite important; cantrips tend to be less powerful, so you need to get a lot of them. If there are not even cantrips, then yeah it will most likely be a good stuff deck. You don't want to specifically go for +Buy but of course sometimes you'll get cards that happen to have +Buy (like Spices).

What if there isn't a village? How many terminals on average should I aim for? Does that change if I can trash?
Generally speaking, I think about 1 terminal per 6 other stop cards. In theory, 1 per 4 stop cards makes it possible to have no collisions, but that's only with perfect luck, so you want to go lower. It changes if you can trash insofar as trashing reduces the number of stop cards in your deck. It's also really important which terminals to get, often there is a key one and you don't want to clog your deck later by going for an early Cargo Ship over Silver.
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GendoIkari

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Re: Dominion Cap Management (Unfinished)
« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2019, 12:25:02 pm »
+1

A bit disappointed that this thread wasn't about the best way to manage your collection of these:

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