As a former Magic: The Gathering enthusiast, I was very excited to learn, around a year ago, about the game called Dominion. It promised all the fun of a deck-building strategy game, without the cost required to assemble a fearsome collection of powerful cards, since all of the “buying” is done withing the context of the game. Having played a handful of times against human opponents, and a few hundred or so times against androids, I have had the chance to try out a couple of non-obvious, but very effective, strategies.
The first is called trashing. Novice players may not realize, but the ability to rid oneself of the weak starting cards is as good, if not more so, than acquiring powerful cards. Streamlining one’s deck – using chapel, for example – and eliminating the estates and coppers clogging it up allows the golds to come up more often.
Another strategy employed by some seasoned players is called “megaturn“. Instead of trying to slowly accumulate victory points over the course of the game, a player acquires certain action cards that would (hopefully) allow him to buy a bunch of victory cards all at once. Each turn starts with an endowment of five cards in hand, 1 action, and 1 buy. This would appear to limit the amount of points one could possibly get each turn, and normally, this is true. However, by playing cards that provide extra cards, actions, or buys can extend this somewhat. The idea of a megaturn is to use iterative combinations of cards to massively increase these resources.
Playing either only costs one action – but provides a bounty of resources if played on one of the previously mentioned cards. Now imagine playing a King’s Court on another King’s Court, and you can start to see the power of iteration. The player can use these cards and actions to get even more cards and actions (and buys). In fact, a good megaturn is only limited by the total number of cards in the player’s deck. In one (computer) game I managed to end up with 36 actions, 32 buys and 134 coins. By was of comparison, the majority of turns have only one action and buy, and virtually never are more than 20 coins spent at once. So trying to plot a megaturn on a graph would quite literally put it off the charts.
This is reminiscent of Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s idea of a Black Swan. This is defined as a rare, unexpected event whose effects overshadow all of the everyday happenings combined. For example, a stock trader can slowly and consistently rack up millions of dollars in capital gains over the course of decades – and lose it all (and more) on a single day on a sudden crash. One way Taleb explains a black swan is the behavior of a farmer to a turkey. For months, the farmer feeds the turkey every day, right up until Thanksgiving, when something completely unexpected – based on the framework of events heretofore – happens. The explosive power of the megaturn is an emergent property that may be very surprising to opponents who have never seen in before. When a successful megaturn happens (if at all), it is a surprise even for the player who spent the whole game setting it up, because it requires drawing the right hand to get it started. So it may take a while for the conditions to be favorable. Once it gets going, however, the megaturn is unstoppable. Recall a previous post about crystal nucleation, another process that depends on a rare event that radically and expectantly changes the entire landscape of a system.