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My girlfriend and I have recently discovered the Big Money strategy in Dominion, and it's killing the game for us. We're not very competitive, so we don't want to spend a lot of time and effort trying to play even better than Big Money (as the answers to this question propose). But Big Money is so easy that it's hard to not just play it, and then we lose all the fun of the kingdom cards.

Are there any house rules we could add to simply keep us from being able to play Big Money, so that we can go back to casual games with plenty of kingdom card excitement? I know that if we really wanted to we could learn to play better than Big Money, but the games wouldn't be as fun and easygoing.

We also have almost all the Dominion expansions so we can use them.

12

For my suggestion of a house rule to use, please see the section of this answer titled "Embargo Counters".

If I understand correctly, you were learning the game naturally by playing it - it's just that at the current stage of learning it you have got to, it isn't very interesting, which makes it harder than it has been to carry on learning it simply by playing it.

So, it may be that all you need is to see, or be shown the strategies that are more powerful than Big Money in a natural way, so that you can have fun exploring them, rather than feeling forced into big money all the time.

As part of that I would draw your attention to this list; http://councilroom.com/openings. This is a compiled list comparing how good the first two opening moves are. Silver / Silver (so buying silver with your first and second purchase) is only rated as a +1 - there are 962 better opening moves. The best move involving silver at all is rated as a +4, with 86 possible openings rated as being better.

Similarly the Thief isn't especially powerful, and wont show up highly on the list above, but does actively and obviously combat BM. With no moat or other defence cards in play BM could look a lot less attractive with a Thief available, particularly if there are some action cards that give money, like festival and market out as an alternative.

My suggestions

You could intentionally play a few games with cards specifically from the top of this list (same as linked above), and set a house rule like those suggested in Jefromi's answer, my suggestion involving embargo counters at the end of this answer, or those in other answers, to force you to experiment with these strategies, while still enjoying the game. You should find yourself exploring ways that beat BM anyway. I suggest you employ the lightest touch home rule you can find that does the job in pushing you both away from BM.

You shouldn't need to always play with any particular cards, or with house rules, but seeing and playing a deck built around the cards at the top of this list should help show most obviously and quickly that BM isn't the best strategy. And hopefully do so in an enjoyable way.

Play with others

Having a few games playing with other people - who know the game better than you do. You will hopefully quickly see a wider variety of strategies, without having to put effort into learning them. It might help to see a strategy like Chapel being played for example - it is one of the most powerful cards in the game, as you can see from it's presence in a fair number of the best openings in the list linked above, though you never want more than one, and it's power is not immediately obvious.

Prosperity

Lastly, the top answer here: How can I beat "Big Money" in Dominion? suggests counter intuitively that including cards from Prosperity advantages Kingdom Card strategies, because it slows the game down. - I realise that question isn't the question you are asking, but thought it'd be worth pointing out as a potentially subtle way to further disadvantage big money. That said, it probably wouldn't be enough on its own.

Embargo Counters

It might work to put a small number of embargo counters on each coin denomination at the beginning of the game, so that whenever a player buys one, they gain that many curses. This house rule has the advantages that it should make BM less attractive while not preventing certain other kingdom cards from working, it uses a game mechanic and it doesn't require constantly remembering that you aren't using the cards as printed.

The disadvantage of this home rule is that it could be too heavy handed, particularly at the start of the game (especially with certain setups; for example one that manages to combine no ability to trash curses with no alternative, low cost sources of purchasing power).

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    I think the embargo counters are the thing here that really possibly answers the OP's question. Putting the thief in every game or taking money out of some games sounds pretty drastic, and learning from other players probably requires playing a bit less casually. – Cascabel Jul 29 '15 at 16:15
  • I have restructured the answer accordingly. – Isaac Jul 29 '15 at 19:35
  • Putting embargo counters on silver and gold cards will be really annoying in the early game. – alingex Jul 30 '15 at 7:25
  • Not if they don't buy 'em! But a good point nonetheless. I will edit that into my answer. Thank you. – Isaac Jul 30 '15 at 15:54
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    I'm facing the opposite problem. I play once a week with a related family. They adore the game and have been playing it often for about two months, but their games always end when three supply piles are exhausted. They rarely get to the bottom of the Province or Colony piles. Their solution has been to add five more kingdom card piles. I'm considering using that Embargo method, but on the kingdom cards. – Ned Strong Jan 20 '17 at 22:36
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I think the best house rules here are going to be the ones which don't actually change mechanics of the game, and which encourage or at least allow you to play well, i.e. ones that are consistent with the better than big money strategies with most sets of kingdom cards. That way as you continue to get better at the game under your house rules, everything will still translate back to the normal game.

That means you don't want anything like modifying costs, gaining curses, removing money entirely from the supply, or any really drastic limits on what you can and can't buy.

I'd probably start simple, just requiring buying a decent number of kingdom cards. After some thought, my best initial guess is: require one of your first two buys to be a kingdom cards, then for the rest of the game allow buying basic treasure cards at most two turns in a row - once you've done that, you need to buy a kingdom card or victory card. (If that turns out too restrictive, you can make it three turns.)

Note that you might need a physical reminder for this, but that's pretty easy: buy a treasure, take a token. If you have two tokens, you can't buy treasure. If you buy something else, get rid of your tokens.

There are very few setups where it's actually correct to buy two silvers on the first two turns, so that rule's definitely good. The second part should get you pretty far in the right direction, at least. It's not exactly ideal, since late-game you might sometimes get stuck with 3 money and no good choices, but it's probably a good starting place and easy to keep track of. And since you can reset your counter by buying a kingdom card even before you're required to, it'll encourage you to make smart buys when you have 4 or 5 money instead of defaulting to silver. Note also that the requirement prevents you from buying too much treasure, rather than forcing you to buy kingdom cards, so if you're doing extremely well and just buying provinces every turn, it won't stop you.


Other things I considered...

I initially suggested a minimum number of kingdom card buys over the course of the game. That might still be a good thing to try, but I think it's a little awkward because some kingdom card setups will make that much less meaningful of a restriction than others. You might also have issues with reaching the end of the game when only one player has bought enough kingdom cards - kind of awkward.

Limiting the number of silvers and golds appears promising on the surface, but I think it'll quickly lead to you basically playing big money for the first half of the game, buying silver and gold whenever possible to make sure you get it before it runs out.

I do like some of the suggestions from other answers like embargo counters on silver/gold, but I think the issue is that they actually change the game. So while they might accomplish the goal of discouraging buying only treasure, you're going to be learning to play a slightly different game, and when you go back to normal rules, it'll be a lot harder to adjust. That doesn't mean they're bad, just that they might not be as helpful in the long run for getting you to avoid big money without needing house rules.

I have essentially the same issue with anything to do with always using specific kingdom cards. Sure, they might discourage big money, but you're only going to be learning to play the game with those cards, not how to find a good strategy with other cards.

  • Part of the reason I suggested the embargo counters rather than changing the cards ala alingex's suggestion, is the memory issue. Buying treasure no more than once every two turns would be a lot harder than not being able to buy treasure twice in a row. Remembering if you brought treasure last time isn't trivial (at least for me) without something physical to remind you, let alone remembering the time before. So even though it's a bigger change, I suggest not being able to buy treasure twice in a row instead - or adding some physical reminder mechanism. – Isaac Jul 29 '15 at 17:24
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    @Isaac That is a valid concern, but I think it's better to deal with it (keep track with tokens) in order to avoid changing the game too drastically. I do still like the embargo counters and think they'll accomplish a similar thing, I just think this might be better in the long run. – Cascabel Jul 29 '15 at 17:31
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I think you shouldn't limit the possible actions by removing the money, but you could try to somehow devalue money cards.

One way to do this would be to give money cards a negative victory point value, like copper -1, silver -3, gold -6 victory points. You would both start the game with -7 victory points obviously, but it doesn't really matter. For a weaker effect, -1 point for silver and -2 points for gold could be enough.

Another way would be to increase the costs to 4 for a silver and 8 for a gold. As a side effect, this would strengthen cards that provide free silver/gold cards.

Both methods require a fair amount of balancing, but should make BM strategy worse instantly.

  • "Devaluing" money the way you suggest actually makes BM more powerful, since gold and silver are actually cheaper to buy. The VP fix you suggest sounds like it would need a lot of tweaking to get right, and would take awhile to get used to. – Nuclear Wang Jul 29 '15 at 13:21
  • Oh, you're right of course. I mixed up the costs to buy the cards and the value. I fixed that part now. – alingex Jul 29 '15 at 14:01
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    -1 for silver and -2 for gold would suffice. Punishing you for having copper is unnecessary; it's not like you'd ever buy it and trashing it is its own reward. The concern I have about these methods is that they'll train to to play a different game, not just discourage big money. (Messing with kingdom cards that let you gain treasure as you point out is kind of unfortunate too, but more isolated.) It'll still work though of course! – Cascabel Jul 29 '15 at 23:09
  • Yes, -1 for silver and -2 for gold would probably be enough. I do like Isaacs idea of using embargo counters / curses to achieve this effect, because it's an existing mechanic. However, having to deal with curse cards would be really annoying in the early game up to the point where you don't want to buy silver/gold at all. – alingex Jul 30 '15 at 7:05
  • I would just go with the text from landmark Bandit Fort from Empires which says "When scoring -2 for each silver and each gold you have. " – Styxsksu Dec 18 '18 at 18:35
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I think @Isaac and @Jefromi here have some good suggestions. As pointed out in the top answer to How can I beat Big Money in Dominion? and by @Isaac here, after starting out playing almost exclusively action cards there comes a time when players learn the Big Money strategy, and I agree that Big Money is a boring strategy. Luckily most groups realize that you can outdo Big Money in most cases.

One possible house rule until you learn strategies that beat Big Money is to disallowing buying treasures until a player has played his first action card. After a player has played his first action card it is back to ordinary rules and the player can buy as many treasures they want. This forces some action cards purchases and makes it more likely that buying/gaining more action cards to supplement those you already have.

In my opinion such a small house rule will make enough changes so that the game becomes more lively.

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Purchase better Kingdom cards.

One option is to update your set. The base set has been revamped in Dominion: Version 2 with more powerful Kingdom cards. 6 cards that have been the source of many weaknesses to the game and issues such as the big money misunderstanding have been removed. 7 new cards have taken their place. Intrigue has also been given a remake in the same fashion. You can purchase these new sets or just get the update pack for each.

Similarly, most later expansions come supplied with Kingdom cards that offer some more obvious strategies than the original base game that are more powerful than big money.

0

The simplest way to modify the game to avoid big money is to remove the money! If you remove Gold from the game, then you will need to use Kingdom cards in order to get enough Silvers in your hand at once, in order to afford the Provinces. If you remove Silver from the game, then you will need to use Kingdom cards in order to get enough Coppers in your hand at once, in order to afford the Gold.

If you remove both Silver and Gold, then you need lots of Kingdom cards to get enough Copper in your hand at once. Although that might be a bit extreme.

  • I think this is extreme enough to not be terribly useful. A lot of kingdom card setups are going to be really unpleasant to play like this. – Cascabel Jul 29 '15 at 17:53
  • @Jefromi - I agree that it might not work with all card setups. Maybe, if playing with Mine, you would still be able to get Silver/Gold with Mine - you just can't buy it direct. – AndyT Jul 31 '15 at 7:42
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Another option instead of removing Silver and Gold entirely is just to limit the number in each pile. For example, only have 4 Golds and 8 Silvers in the game. Of course, that really ruins cards that specifically gain Gold or Silver, so maybe you just want to limit the number you can buy.

I think a better alternative might be to play using powerful cards like Wharf, Mountebank, Goons, Minion, Chapel, Remake, or Ambassador. Some of these cards aren't too tough to get the hang of - with the exception of Chapel and Remake, you basically just want to play as many as you can as often as you can (you'll need some kind of Village as well, usually). A big money player simply won't be able to stand up to these power cards, especially if going up against the attacks. This way, you're not changing the rules of the game, and it will get you used to being able to identify strategies that will beat big money. Big money is rarely the best strategy on the board, you just need to find something faster.

A common mistake is to buy too many action cards. It's great to play a bunch of Wharves and draw your whole deck every turn, but unless you have some cash to spend at the end of it, it's really not worth anything. Some strategies augment big money (like including a Smithy or two for draw), while some completely replace it (like a Minion deck that wants 10 Minions 0 treasure cards). Whenever you buy an action, you should think about if you'll be able to play it (do you have enough actions), and if so, how will it improve your economy. Buying actions you can't play is one of the worst things you can do, and buying actions that won't help you (more villages when you aren't using all your actions anyway) is also a waste of time.

  • Throne Room might be worth mentioning, as amplifying action card strategies. – Isaac Jul 29 '15 at 12:25
  • Agreed, and King's Court takes that idea to a whole other level. Other action support cards could include sifters like Warehouse, which lets you play key cards that you only have 1-2 copies of more regularly, or gainers like Ironworks, which let you pick up more cheap cards than you normally could. Make sure those cheap $4s will actually help and not hurt, though, like Caravan, Herald, Procession, or Tournament. – Nuclear Wang Jul 29 '15 at 13:27
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    Always playing with the same powerful cards sounds like it might unfortunately turn nearly as monotonous as big money. – Cascabel Jul 29 '15 at 14:53
  • I think it could still be worth pointing out some key cards though; seeing how strong these strategies are might help them break away from BM naturally, and a few games exploring some of the most powerful kingdom cards could help them see that. – Isaac Jul 29 '15 at 16:46
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    But if there are a limited number of Silver/Gold cards, you're going to be competing to get them before they run out. Therefore you'll start the game playing BM, and only go on to buy kingdom cards afterwards. – AndyT Jul 31 '15 at 7:43
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Summary

Try playing with setups that have better trashing and action card synergy, and maybe try Colonies (or just add some extra Provinces during setup).

In detail

Some combinations of kingdom cards encourage you to fine-tune your deck with cards that serve specific purposes. But most random combinations just encourage you to buy gold to increase the average cash value of the hands you draw. This is because most random combinations lack good trashing and good synergy between action cards.

Example: together, Village and Smithy make a formidable combo. You can chain Village / Smithy / Village / Smithy together to explode your hand and sometimes draw your entire deck at once. But on its own, Village does nothing other than replace itself with a different card, and Smithy just increases your hand size by 2 at the expense of an action. And even Village + Smithy depends on each Smithy semi-reliably drawing the next Village instead of garbage (i.e. Copper and Estates).

So, try some combinations with good trashing and action card synergy. If you're playing base Dominion, try one of these:

  • Chapel + Village + Council Room + Sentry + others
  • Chapel + Cellar + Festival + Library + others
  • Chapel + Throne Room + Sentry + Market + others

No house rules needed.

Other than Big Money's simplicity and its robustness when there aren't good action cards, its main strength is that it starts buying Provinces really early. Looking at a setup of kingdom cards, how long would it take to fine-tune a deck built on action card combos? And once fine-tuned, how soon could it realistically catch up with Big Money's head start in VP? Can it catch up before the Provinces run out? Sometimes it can; sometimes it can't; that's just part of the game. Knowing these things is core to Dominion strategy.

But if you want to give a fine-tuned deck more of an advantage, you can lengthen the game. Dominion: Prosperity does this nicely with Colonies. You could even do something similar just by adding more Provinces to your game if you can get a hold of some extras or make your own.

-2

Fund the next Dominion purchase with a "swear jar"

Make yourself a cheat sheet of all the kingdom cards with two checkboxes (first and last) for each. When you play a game the first player to buy a particular kingdom card marks the first checkbox for that kingdom off, and the other player has to put a quarter in the swear jar. Similarly if a player buys the last kingdom card of a stack they mark off the last checkbox for that kingdom and the other player has to put a quarter in the swear jar.

This will give you an external stimulus to avoid big money, with the added benefit that doing so will fund your purchase of the next expansion of Dominion whenever it's released! Finally you get the slightly addictive "achievement" of being the first/last to buy each kingdom card.

And the best part is it doesn't significantly alter the gameplay, so when you have friends over and play with other people you'll be less likely to have picked up bad habits from playing with house rules!

  • This would often end up being a "pay to win" mechanic, as you would be forced to choose between the optimal strategy and getting money in real life. – GendoIkari Jan 23 '17 at 23:26
  • @GendoIkari Um... No. First off, the proposed purpose of the swear jar is to fund the next expansion. Since they already have all the expansions, they're probably going to pick up the next one already. Second playing a winning strategy forces the other player to put a quarter aside, but only partially... The point is to encourage purchasing Kingdom cards (OPs problem) without altering the actual game. – aslum Jan 24 '17 at 14:00
  • With 10 cards in the Kingdom, it's often true that you only should buy 3-5 of them throughout the game. A player can hurt his own chances of winning by buying one of each of the other 5-7 cards, in order to force the other player to pay money. If one player has only a couple bucks to his name, while the other player is well-off, there would be a big difference in how often each player could afford to play the best strategy. – GendoIkari Jan 24 '17 at 15:25
  • Again this is a couple, and the point isn't to force the other person into poverty, rather to incentivize pursuing other strategies besides Big Money. – aslum Jan 24 '17 at 15:28
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    I don't mean to criticize the intent; I know your point/intent; I just think that there would be unintended negative side effects from this system. As a general idea, introducing out-of-game rewards/penalties to in-game mechanics is a bad idea. – GendoIkari Jan 24 '17 at 15:29

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