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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dominion I - Tracking Score ()

This blog post is brought to you by another contributor and friend of mine: "Sapphire Harp".

One of the most important things about playing Dominion competitively is knowing the score.  In Dominion, the leading player is based on who has the most victory points in their deck.  You aren't permitted to look at any player’s decks during the game, so this is hidden information - but it’s easily knowable.  In every game, all players start with three victory points and will show all other players whenever they purchase more.  It’s a simple matter to keep track, especially if you use a notepad to write on.

The advantage of keeping track is being able to make smarter decisions towards the end of the game.  One of the players is going to decide when the game ends by buying either the last Province or by buying the last card of one type ,once two other purchase options are sold out.  If one player has a major advantage in a game, knowledge of the score won’t help change the outcome.  However, if you’re contemplating buying that last Duchy and your opponent is two to four points ahead of you, knowing the score can make a big difference!

Keeping track of the score can also be a good method of evaluating your strategy, if you are less concerned about winning this particular game.  Knowing the score moment to moment will let you see when your opponent is pulling ahead of you.  It can also give a sense if they’re making poor decisions and getting lucky draws, or if their strategy is a superior one.  Maybe you’re using an over complicated approach and buying too many action cards, while they quietly pick up VPs every three or four turns.

Dominion - Main VP cards
Whether you want to keep track of the score or not usually depends on how important winning that specific game is to you.  If you’re playing with friends, I strongly recommend against it unless you all enjoy one-upmanship.  If you’re in a competition playing Dominion for prizes, I would anticipate every player keeping close track - either mentally or on paper.  And I find using a scratch pad is a more accurate way to keep track, which is important because the games you really want to win will often be decided by a small number of points.  

Ultimately, deciding whether to keep detailed track of the score or not should be based on how tolerant your other players are to the delay.  You could easily be performing addition instead of making decisions when your turn starts, so the other players will have to wait while you’re calculating.  It isn't conducive to a good time, so it’s important to streamline the process if possible.

At first I kept running totals, but eventually switched to a simpler method I now prefer.  The total number of points accumulated isn't important, in itself.  All you actually need to know is who’s in the lead and by how much.  To do this I use individual
columns for each player.  When a player gains victory points, I write that digit in their column.  When all players have gained an equal number of points, I cross out all of those digits together.

For example, I buy a Duchy and an Estate, so I’d either write a ‘4’ or a ‘1’ and a ‘3’ in my column.  My first opponent buys four Estates for no understandable reason, so I’d probably write a ‘4’ in his column, but might write ‘1’ four times.    My second opponent buys a Province, but already has two Curses in his deck.  I put a ‘6’ in his column in addition to the two ‘-1’s I've already written there.  Then, because we've all changed scores by a matching value, I cross all of these digits out.
Scoring Sample:  At this point, everyone has
accumulated 4 points so simply start over at 0
I believe it presents a smaller mental demand than totaling scores as you go, as well as being faster to write.  It isn't going to keep the other player’s waiting more than a couple seconds.  Additionally, it keeps you thinking about the score in terms of the cards, themselves.  A player might be nine points ahead of you, but it could be because they have a Province and a Duchy, or it might be because they have a Duchy and six Estates.  These two possibilities represent very different levels of challenge from your opponents and it’s good to know which is occurring.

Not totaling also offers a little flexibility if your current game involves cards which change in value over time.  Gardens are a frequent problem for keeping track.  Dukes from the Intrigue expansion present another.  In these games, I would use ‘G’s and ‘D’s to keep track of those purchases.  Crossing them out isn't an option since your Garden’s value will not match your opponent’s.  I usually didn't keep exact track of deck sizes in Garden games, but you might find it important enough to do it.  

As for Dukes, it should be relatively easy to know the value of your opponent’s deck if you use exact values when writing down digits on your pad.  In that situation, you can look at their column and see how many ‘3’s there are, whether crossed out or not.  That count will be the value of their Dukes.  Also, once all of the Duchies are purchased, the Dukes become a fixed value for the rest of the game.  At least, it’s highly unlikely a Duchy will be discarded at that point.

This is the best and quickest method I've come up with for tracking the score of Dominion.  If you choose to give it a try, your mileage may vary, but I believe this style has a considerable amount of advantages.  You will want to adopt and adjust to find the practices that work best for you.  And it will change from game to game, depending on what your card selection turns out to be.
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