# Phantom Province Houserule

The gaming group that introduced me to Dominion plays with a houserule known as Phantom Provinces, explained as such:

After the normal condition for ending the game is reached (including running out of provinces), the game continues until all players have had an equal number of turns instead of ending immediately. During this time, there are an effectively infinite number of provinces to buy (even if the pile ran out as said condition).

This is designed to counter a perceived advantage with going first and disadvantage with going last. Is there statistical evidence for or against the validity of this rule? Is this rule in popular use?

• perceived advantage? I think simulations have been performed that place the actual advantage at 2-3VP using some basic strategies Big Money, BM Enhawnced, etc. – user1873 Dec 4 '13 at 0:42
• @user1873, if you can find a link to those simulations (or otherwise back up your statement), then that's a fantastic answer. – PotatoEngineer Dec 4 '13 at 0:47
• @PaulMarshall, not exactly. That only confirms that peoples perceived advantage exists, and is somewhat quantifiable. This question requires that at a minimum, because it is asking if making all players have an equal number of turns removes that supposed advantage. – user1873 Dec 4 '13 at 1:47
• That at least means that there's statistical evidence for the validity of doing something, though whether the rule itself is good is another matter. – doppelgreener Dec 4 '13 at 3:42
• In this question i discuss all the other advantages of going first besides the extra turn. boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/7815/… – Andrey Dec 10 '13 at 14:32

## 3 Answers

There is certainty a first-player advantage in Dominion. However, that particular house rule gives a possibly even more significant second-player advantage. The reason for this is that the first player can never safely end the game. He has very little control over how the game ends. The best he can do is to build up a significant lead, then end the game and hope. Meanwhile, the second player (assuming a 2 player game) can end the game exactly when he needs to in order to win.

There is a lot of discussion about this exact rule here: http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=9791.0.

And here is a well-written article explaining the reasons behind the first-player advantage: http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=1467.0

There are definitely statistics to support this advantage. http://councilroom.com/ contains statistics from thousands of online Dominion games with top players. You can pick almost any good player at random and see that their win percentage as first player is much higher than their win percentage as second player. It appears that the search functionality on councilroom is down at the moment, but here is a link to statistics gathered from there: http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=54.msg723#msg723. Finally, there is a lot of discussion on the statistics of first-player advantage here: http://forum.dominionstrategy.com/index.php?topic=946.0.

This advantage was designed to be countered by playing multiple games, and having the winner go last in the next game, which is actually written in the original instruction book.

• Very informative! Interestingly, this answer and the attached discussions speak a lot about 2-player games as if that was the most common scenario, but I had not even considered that, as I've never played with only 2 players. – Southpaw Hare Dec 4 '13 at 17:17
• Good point. It's worth noting that among what I would call the more "serious/competitive players", 2 players is by far the norm, probably because it plays as a more competitive game, with a little less luck. But I suppose 3-4 players would be more common as a whole. – GendoIkari Dec 4 '13 at 17:33
• I play this in a club environment, where we are all quite competitive and serious gamers, yet there's too many of us to not want to play group games over two-player games when able. – Southpaw Hare Dec 4 '13 at 17:40

The creator of Dominion has stated that the reason for the first player advantage is that he or she can effectively get more turns. If you force everyone to have the same number of turns using phantom Provinces, then you should nullify the first player advantage.

Getting an extra turn is definitely an advantage. But going first is only an advantage if you get that turn. If you go first but don't get an extra turn, a tiebreaker going to the other guy amounts to just randomly stealing a deserved tie from you. You didn't play worse, you just randomly went first. A tiebreaker there doesn't solve the problem of an advantage due to going first (and does nothing for cases with no tie); it just randomly awards victories in some cases where there was no such advantage. It's the same as flipping a coin.

http://boardgamegeek.com/article/2809700#2809700

So among casual gamers, up until the creator of Dominion, the phantom Province houserule seems like a pretty reasonable fix.

At the "expert" level, as GendoIkari points out, this house rule does no good. Besides the issue of game ending, there are also powerful mega turn decks that get weird. Let's say King's Court, Bridge, and Worker's Village are on the board. You can start to create decks that can buy 20 Provinces in one turn. In these games, the SECOND player gets the advantage. Let's say both players are building power decks, and on a given turn, both P1 and P2 can buy 7 provinces in a turn. If P1 buys 7 provinces, P2 can build for another turn. Now P1 has a stuffed deck, and if he buys 1-2 provinces on the next turn, P2 can pounce and buy 12+ provinces and win. On the other hand, once P1/P2 are able to buy 8 Provinces, if P1 doesn't go out with a bang, P2 will buy out the pile and P1 won't have bought anything.

I would say that if your group (1) doesn't count points so that people know who is in the lead and by how many points, and (2) doesn't produce decks that can buy >2 Provinces per turn, playing with the house rule is more fair than playing without it (of course, playing a bunch of games and exchanging 1st player position is best).

• Note that that quote from the designer is linked to from the last link in my answer; and it is widely believed that Donald was mistaken; first-player advantage exists even when both players get the same number of turns. – GendoIkari Dec 10 '13 at 17:27

The main problem here is that player 1 does not have an unlimited amount of Provinces to buy.

So if there is one Province left and p1 buys it, p2 could buy 10 Provinces that are not there.

If you're going with this house rule, you should let p1 buy phantom Provinces as well.

• I'm pretty sure the rule as stated allows player 1 to to buy unlimited provinces as well. – Marcin Feb 16 '14 at 2:09
• Okay, I might have misread it. In that case, it might work. – Davio Feb 18 '14 at 13:01