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When playing Dominion, I have developed the habit of buying a Gold the first time I can afford one, even if I could afford a Province instead. Is this a good rule of thumb?

My reasoning is that if I manage to hit 8+ coins without a Gold in my deck, I have probably managed to hit a lucky hand. Having at least one Gold makes it much easier to hit 6+ or 8+ coins in the future, whereas having a Province sitting around just makes it harder to buy that first Gold.

If buying the Gold is indeed better most of the time, under what circumstances would it be worse?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Generally you want to get a Gold before you buy a Province in order to sustain your Province buying.

Exceptions include:

  • Situations in which you are using action chains for money (e.g., Minion, possibly Conspirator) because the Gold does not contribute to your chain in a significant manner.
  • When your Treasure Maps hit. If you have 4 Golds from TM, you should have the coin density you need for the game.
  • If there is a trash-for-benefit card on the board that you can exploit (e.g., Salvager, Expand especially if there are Colonies in play, possibly Apprentice). This will be situational; you need to make sure that you're going to be able to stay ahead of your opponent if you trash the Province.
  • If the game is ending quickly (e.g., your opponent is rushing Gardens or Duke/Duchy and the game is going to end on piles before you work all the way through your next shuffle).
  • If you have cards that let you discard for substantial benefit (e.g., Horse Traders is probably enough; Cellar is definitely not), you might be able to avoid some of the penalty for greening your deck early. But, this is a higher variance strategy—sometimes shuffle luck will make you successful, and sometimes the shuffle gods will not be amused.
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If you are using the most basic strategy (just treasure and no actions) than your deck wants $19 worth of treasure before buying the first Province. This number isn't random, it's been found by WanderingWinder (a top 10 player on isotropic) by optimizing a simulation bot:

Simulate it yourself (choose the Big Money Ultimate (Opt) strategy)

So the answer to your question is: if you have less than $19 total treasure in your deck, buy a Gold over your first Province. (If you include action cards (like Smithy), the answer will of course be different)

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This graph of winningness by turn for Province and Gold buys is interesting and relevant. On average, before turn 6, buying Golds is better than buying Provinces. Note that the graph is going to overstate the case for buying Provinces (conditioned buying a Province, we know your deck can generate $8, which is not true for all players buying Golds, so on a whole, just because you can buy a province, you are in better shape). And it's direct evidence that you should take Gold before Provinces before your second shuffle, which tends to happen on turn 5.

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I think it will depend how late in the game you are and how soon the game will end. If your playing a game where the end of the game looks like it's coming soon, buying the province is the best option. If it's early in the game, buy the gold. You'll be able to use it throughout the game for acquiring more gold and provinces later on.

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I've never seen a reason to buy gold when I can buy a province instead.

I can think of two reasons:
1. too much copper in deck to do it again.
2. have multiple buys and sufficient to buy 2 gold.

So, really I don't think your "Buy gold the first time I hit 8+" is of much value.

Me, I buy gold when I hit 6 or 7, and province at 8+.

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If you don't have at least one (and often two) Gold in the deck already, buying an early Province will hurt you the vast majority of the time. The reason you need to have Gold in most situations is that your deck will fill with green cards and so you need the extra coin density to get to $8. This is especially true when you start learning how to buy Duchies; simulations show that you usually should start buying Duchies when there are 5 (!) Provinces left, yet most newer players don't start buying Duchies until far later. Those extra green cards make a difference in the quality of your hand. –  philosophyguy Aug 27 '11 at 19:21
    
True, but if you've got the density to buy a province, odds are it's aready got gold, or a lot of silver. The dukes/Duchies issue also needs to be remembered to be balanced out, or close to it, but that's totally tangential to "Buy Gold vs Buy Province." –  aramis Aug 28 '11 at 6:54
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I'm guessing that you missed the part of the OP's question where he asked about buying a Province without Gold already in the deck. –  philosophyguy Aug 28 '11 at 15:07
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@StasK: you can run the simulations yourself. Geronimoo's simulator is available at forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=144.0. Buying Duchies when there are 5 or fewer Provinces left is known as Big Money Ultimate, the optimized version of the Big Money strategy. –  philosophyguy Aug 28 '11 at 22:25
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Simulators usually fail to include the effect of psychology on decision making. The early province tends to add pressure to the other players. There's a reason it's often referred to as starting the race. Once people have provinces in deck, the way people play changes. –  aramis Aug 29 '11 at 16:06

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