How do you analyze a Dominion Kingdom set to determine what your strategy is going to be for the game? In other words, are you looking for specific cards? for abilities (e.g., trashing cards or chaining actions)? for combos (e.g., if I draw these two cards together then I can do X)? for counter-strategies? How do you rank those things in your evaluation process?

I'm trying to learn what the thought process behind the strategy looks like, so walking through specific examples, like the suggested Kingdom card setups, would be greatly appreciated.

Feel free to use any Dominion expansions in your advice.

5 Answers 5


Know the difference between an early game card and a mid game card

Quickly evaluate what cards will be good for your first few buys (besides money). This is the only time where it doesn't matter if an action is terminal or not because you won't really have many actions. Deck thinning cards like chapel, cards that let you draw a lot like smithy, and cheap attack cards like militia can all be good investments. Plan your first few buys out of the good starter cards.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Cards that give you +actions. This will help you judge how many combos to go for. If there's tons, stock up on those and draws to get some major combinations.
  • Cards that give you +buys. You definitely want a few of these for your later game, its a matter of what options you have. Don't go for woodcutter unless you don't really have any better choices. Having a good amount of buys can also help you end the game early if you want, but that requires some advanced planning.
  • Cards that give you +cards. How much money do I need to buy? Are cards that give +actions but NOT +cards going to be effective?
  • Cards that give you +$. If your only source of $ is from treasures, don't skimp on gold because your action chains will only get you more cards and maybe some attacks.
  • Attack and reaction cards. Helps you judge how much interaction there will be and how you will prepare. If there's going to be a cursing war (witch), might as well not get left out/defenseless.
  • How strong is big-money? This helps you know how hard you should go on actions. If all you need to win happens to be some silver, gold, a witch, and some counsel rooms, make sure you take that into account. Actually evaluating how strong this combo will be is more complex, but recognizing that it exists is a good start.
  • Unique cards that need certain combos to work well. Don't get adventurer unless you have a higher density of gold in your deck. Only get gardens if you plan to have the cards to expand your deck to 40+ cards. Don't get a throne room unless you have something worth throne-rooming. Get a library or two if people are going hard on militia because it lets you redraw all the cards you lost.

As per your request, here's an analysis of the starting cards they recommend.

Cellar, moat, village, militia, workshop, woodcutter, smithy, remodel, mine, market. They're listed here.

There's one strong attack card, so a moat or two would probably be a good investment if people end up buying as they should. Hit the village and market pretty hard (maybe cellar as well if you have a lot of weak cards in your deck) because they're the only ones that give +actions and you're main hope for getting big combos if you choose to go that route. Remodel and mine will let you get rid of bad cards, like estates, so get on that soon if possible. woodcutter and market both give +buys. Woodcutter is one of my least favorite cards as a silver is almost always a better bet. Since you can get +buys from market I personally wouldn't buy any Woodcutters at all. Village will be good for combos because there's a few terminal actions that are very useful (militia, smithy, workshop, etc.) Since remodel is available you will able to hone your deck to a slight degree later in the game, so don't be super afraid of buying cards that will only be mostly useful short-term, like a mine at the beginning of the game.

for the beginning:

  • 2-5 split: Get either a moat or a cellar for the 2$ buy and a mine. At this point, anything that gives you extra actions isn't really very beneficial, AKA village. Anything you can do to get rid of your bad cards (AKA mine) in the beginning is almost always a good idea. A moat will protect you from the early militias that will likely be played, but a cellar would help you go through your deck more quickly and get to the better cards in it. I'd probably go with the moat first and then cellar in the next few turns.
  • 3-4 split: Get a workshop and a smithy/remodel/militia. These are all great early 4$ cards, the smithy will let you draw lots of cards, the remodel will let you trash bad cards, and the militia will put you ahead and slow others players down, all of which are amazing strategies. I'd probably go with the remodel or militia, but you'll be able to get more 4 cost cards with workshop soon after anyway, so it won't make a huge difference.

Here's some rough estimates of how many I'd go for long term.

  • cellar: 2-3, great cards that keeps your chain going. Good if you've only got 2$, otherwise go with something more powerful.
  • moat: 1-3, Only get if militia is being used a lot, or maybe you need to draw cards for cheap, a cellar won't work, and you don't have many action cards (otherwise you'd probably have something better to play in your hand).
  • village: 2-3, good for mid game combos, depends on how many +cards cards you have.
  • militia: 1-3, beat on your opponents while getting money, what's not to like?
  • workshop: 1-2, good at the beginning, only buy 2 if you can remodel into market later or have a strategy that works with lots of cards costing 4 or less.
  • woodcutter: 0, go with a silver instead. This isn't a kingdom set where trading an action for a buy is going to be worthwhile very often.
  • smithy: 1, good at beginning of the game, maybe remodel later into gold. Only get 2 if you have a couple of villages or a big money strategy (not many actions in your deck).
  • remodel/mine: 1-2 of each. Try to get them early so you can upgrade your deck. Think about the odds of you getting them and the cards you want to upgrade at the same time. A mine is a total disadvantage if you have very little copper or silver, so plan accordingly. Remodel I'd probably go with 2 just because you can remodel gold into provinces in the later game.
  • market: 2-5. This is a pretty generic cards that is almost always helpful and will be strong with this kingdom set, but be sure to weigh it properly against the other options and don't just choose it because its a good all-around card.
  • gold: buy lots early, there's not a set number. As I said earlier you will want to determine how much money you'll want to buy early in the game. Buy some silver early if you like, or use mine/workshop to get it instead. In the beginning you'll want to get gold whenever you have 6, especially since you can remodel them into provinces. Once you get to late game you might want to go with a duchy instead.

Potential combos:

  • remodel + gold = make money into provinces during end-game.
  • remodel + workshop = get lots of cards costing 3-4 and crank them up to better stuff later. Workshop is a good early card that you can remodel later if you need to as its not very strong in the end-game.
  • remodel + mine = get 2 mines early and upgrade as many copper and silver as possible. Then remodel the mine into a gold once you don't need it anymore.
  • workshop + village = Use workshops to get lots of villages and smithy's while you use you actual money for better things. A village in your deck never hurts as long as you aren't using to much energy to buy it, and the village + smithy combination can get you some mega drawing action.
  • village + militia = launch a relentless attack with 3+ militias to keep other players' cards down. Add village to keep your chains going. If you buy up moats you can be even more evil.
  • cellar + moat + village = get some silver and gold

  • woodcutter + mine = get some woodcutters early with $ or a workshop. Use the extra buys to stock up on copper, and have 2 or 3 mines to crank up the copper into silver and gold. This is sort of a modification of big money, so getting a smithy can help. Just watch your number of terminal actions. I crossed this one out because its actually pretty weak. Buying copper is rarely useful, and relying on getting lucky to use a mine to upgrade it to a silver is pretty bad as it really dilutes your deck.

These are only guidelines. Dominion is a dynamic enough game that no strategy should ever be followed to the letter. Use your judgement and knowledge of combos to make a good choice, but flexibility is always important.

Another very interesting read is about the silver test, which is basically where you weigh all your $3, $4, and $5 choices against a silver. If you read this, be sure to skim through read the replies with +20 score to make sure you get both sides of the story!

Evaluating a kingdom set properly takes practice, and experience is the best teacher. However, this should give you a pretty good start to learning some of the most important issues.

If you want to see some other specific sets analyzed, post them in a different question and I'd be glad to help. :)

  • 3
    I'm a little confused by Village/Militia being listed as a combo. As the Militia attack doesn't stack and Village card draw only replaces itself, something like "Village, Militia, Militia" is just a more complicated way of getting the same result as "Militia, Silver." Granted, you don't have an action left over, but you're not relying on having the village in hand to start things off. Jan 15, 2012 at 22:32
  • Though I should also say +1 for a nice and thorough answer! Jan 16, 2012 at 0:43

I'm only an occasional Dominion player so take any advice from me with a pinch of salt, but...

Generally I'd be looking for a couple of cards that seem like they would combo well with each other. In my first few games I was like a kid in a candy store, buying one each of many different action cards. This was all well and good, except the performance of my deck was pretty much completely random!

Most newbies, like me, just don't get that building quick money and then early Provinces can often be a surer route to victory than splashing out on a dozen "cool" action cards. If you are investing in actions, you'd better make sure they are (a) good, (b) good in combination with each other, and (c) not clogging up valuable slots in your deck that would be better off having Silvers in them! As such, you want to err on the side of buying fewer action cards, not more, in general.

One other important consideration: immediately check what Attack cards are available, and also what defences. If there is a really good Attack out there, jumping on it early and in multiples can cripple your opponents' effectiveness before they have time to develop their game. Conversely, if someone else beats you to the punch and is clearly about to start throwing out attacks every turn, make sure you have the Reaction cards you need to survive such an onslaught, if at all possible!


Personally the first thing I look for is trashing cards or other deck thinners - Chapel, Steward, Ambassador, etc. Nothing opens up the opportunity for a powerful deck, regardless of other available cards, like a thinner.

Next I'll generally look for action-draw chains like Laboratory, Alchemist, or Village + a heftier draw card. This is mostly because I personally get a kick out of splashy action chains, even though they're not always best.

Scoping out the existing attacks is good - some Attack cards are more popular than others. If Pirate Ship is out there, you'd better have a plan to account for it even if you're not personally going to buy any. I personally don't tend to attack much so I mostly focus on how I'll defend the clear attacks on the board.

When all this basic stuff is clear in your mind, sometimes you really just have to wing it and hope to spot a cool interaction between cards on the board. Sometimes the best play really is Silver + Silver the first two turns until you see what the others will do.


I tend to focus on which cards will net me the most points. Perhaps that's a Colony, or Dukes and Duchies, or Gardens, etc... If any of those exist I focus on building them to max potential, so in the example of having Gardens on the table, I would focus on cards with +Buy or "Gain a card" and stay away from deck thinning cards (Trash cards). For Duke/Duchy I would look for cards that let me get extra cards costing 5 like Feast (especially effective for this strategy if Throne Room is also available), or a Bridge coupled with a Workshop or Ironworks.

So the idea of focusing on specific combos is right, but make sure that that combo works well with the Victory cards on the board. A deck thinning strategy is great for cards like Library, but would work against you with Gardens on the board.

Dual type cards can also be a huge boon and a great thing to focus on in your combo hunting. Combos like Scout + Nobles or Harem and Ironworks + Great Hall are good choices to focus on too.

Another thing I look at is are there any cards that allow giving out curses, because being able to block them with a defensive card or being able to dole out curses in bundles can sometimes be a great strategy (Throne Room + Witch).

All in all, focus on the kingdom cards that augment your VPs (both positive and negative) and focus your strategy around those.


Since everyone plays differently, I'll just share my personal checklist for coming up with my board strategies.

1: I'm a "Thin-to-Win" guy so the first thing I'm looking for is a decent, preferably non-type-specific trasher. So I'm looking for Chapel, Steward, Bishop or Forge. In a pinch, Moneylender, Counterfeit or Spice Merchant are good for dumping your early Coppers. For later in the game, I'm also checking for something like Remodel or Governer to upgrade Golds to Provinces.

2: Are there any attack cards I can either use, or have to counter? If Thief or Noble Brigands is on the field, I'm checking for either alt-money or or a direct counter-card (Moat). If there's a hand-size attack (Goons, Urchin, Militia), then I'm checking if there's Watchtower, Library or multi-card draws (Preferably with a Village variant since those are usually terminal cards). Junkers can usually be handled either with the aforementioned Trashers, or Watchtower, but Trader's also nice for getting a Silver instead of a Curse.

3: Are there any entertaining or potential Mega-Turn combos? Something like King's Court/Bridge, Hermit/Market Square, Beggar/Gardens, Goons/Watchtower etc. If you're playing with experienced opponents (or even just opponents who've seen that particular combo before), you either need to prepare to counter/mitigate it or go for it yourself.

I usually have pretty good luck by taking the above into consideration, though my usual opponents are starting to adapt to my play-style.

  • One thing worth mentioning... Since Bishop helps your opponents trash cards just as much as you, it may not be good to think of it as a deck thinner in general (with deck thinners, if you use them but your opponent doesn't, then your deck should be thinner than his. But Bishop doesn't do this).
    – GendoIkari
    Oct 4, 2014 at 18:38

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