New Blood Triumphant ...
Erik Schlosser's cards travel in style.
2014 GM of the Year Nick Ferris
Over 40 billion Dominion cards, their owners, and a bunch of schmucks who couldn't be bothered to bring a copy of the game—I mean, delightful and beautiful people, all of you, really—packed the house again for the 2015 tournament. Attendance squeaked up a couple notches this year, thanks in no small part to the GM's Bring A Warm Body Initiative whereby players were rewarded for grabbing any person on the street, slapping a WBC badge on them, and carting them to Ballroom B on Thursday evening to shuffle cards until somebody won. Exactly what was that reward? Perhaps the most tangible of all intangible rewards: immense, sincere gratitude. Whose immense, sincere gratitude? Certainly not mine, thank you very much. Wait, that was accidental gratitude! Doesn't count!
All well-versed Dominioneers (Dominionettes? Dominionatrixes?) celebrated the release of yet another, they-swear-it's-the-last-one-for-realsies Dominion expansion since the previous WBC. Entitled "Printing Money," the latest set features such memorable cards as "Obsessed Collector" which lets anyone who owns all of the Dominion expansions draw two cards whenever they feel like it, and "Jay Tummelson Himself," a card which remains in play literally forever, occasionally reminiscing about the way games used to be.
With so many expansions available—it's like the Ticket to Ride of card games, am I right?—a common question in preceding years had always been "Why don't we play expansions in the preliminary round of the tournament, Mr. GM?" usually followed by the question "Why are you looking at me like that? I'm—I'm sorry, please disregard that. What are you doing? That hurts. Ow, my face!" [GM Note: the GM does not condone violence against players except in the most serious of circumstances, such as it's Thursday night and I missed happy hour at the bar.] Indeed, since the whole room has traditionally played the same sets simultaneously, and never are there enough copies of any expansion for over 100 players, this has made playing all but the base set of cards impossible. That is, until this year!
For the first time, preliminary round players were presented with two options for earning their way into the quarterfinals: playing ye olde base set, or opting for a mix of base and Prosperity cards. "Surely nobody will choose to play with harder expansion cards just for the fun of it," said one of the voices in the GM's head. "Dominion cards burn pretty," added another voice. Yet choose they did--a dozen 4-player tables opted for the more challenging set.
PRELIMINARY ROUND (Base Set Only)
Game 1 ("Quite Contrary"): Bureaucrat, Cellar, Council Room, Festival, Gardens, Militia, Throne Room, Village, Woodcutter, Workshop
Game 2 ("Wait, Isn't This The Same... Ohhhh"): Bureaucrat, Cellar, Council Room, Festival, Spy, Thief, Throne Room, Village, Woodcutter, Workshop
PRELIMINARY ROUND (Base & Prosperity)
Game 1 ("Race For The Galaxy"): Cellar, Council Room, Festival, Spy, Throne Room, Bank, Grand Market, Loan, Quarry, Trade Route
Game 2 ("Power Grid"): Colony, Platinum, Library, Throne Room, City, Contraband, Grand Market, Hoard, Monument, Rabble, Talisman, Vault
Like two societies separated by an impenetrable yet totally invisible barrier, the Have-Prosperities and the Have-Nots set to the task of playing two games to earn enough achievement points to advance to the next round. Sadly, the social metaphor was lost on all but two percent of the players (so, two of them). Perhaps the Base players were too busy trying to find the "trick" to victory to be bothered to notice; those who favored Gardens in Game 1 were more often victorious, while Game 2 saw splits that favored heavy attacks or Throne Rooms as the key to winning. On the other side of the tracks, Prosperity players were probably too excited revelling in their fancy-schmancy-expancy cards to be bothered to put together advance strategies. After all, who needs strategy when your deck has 50 money in it?
Advancing from the quarterfinals were most of the faces frequently seen in late-round Dominion play. Duncan McGregor, Chad Weaver, Brandon Bernard and Mark Giddings each finished with firsts and seconds. Topping the points board for the qualifier was none other than the plaque whisperer Bruce Reiff. (Don't worry, he didn't win the whole thing.)
48 qualifiers advanced. With 17 alternates (those scoring seven or more advancement points), a handful who bothered to appear filled in the gaps left by qualifiers with better things to do. (It wasn't happy hour, people. Come on!) Sadly, the GM had to inform his own fiancee, Jennifer Glinzak that she was ranked 49th in the room and wouldn't get to play in the quarterfinals. But then some amazing weirdo wandered out of the room before seating began and there were only 47 butts in chairs. Hooray for the GM not having to sleep on the balcony that night (except he *had* to make a crack about her finishing "fifth place at a 4-player table" in her games; he slept in the bathtub for that one).
QUARTERFINAL ROUND (Intrigue, Seaside, Alchemy, Prosperity)
Game 1 ("Troubled Waters"): Bridge, Courtyard, Ironworks, Trading Post, Bazaar, Ambassador, Fishing Village, Lighthouse, Warehouse, Wharf
Game 2 ("Cards Into Gold"): Colony, Platinum, Potions, Alchemist, Apothecary, Apprentice, Familiar, Vineyard, Forge, Grand Market, Quarry, Venture, Watchtower
There were absolutely no remarkable stories about Game 1 of the quarterfinals. None. People played Dominion. There were winners. There were others. Let's not beat a dead Ambassador. Game 2, however, proved infinitely more interesting with a number of players remarking at seeing a combination of cards unlike any they'd encountered before. After all, who combines the set widely regarded as the best (Prosperity) with the set often called the worst (Alchemy)? Only crazy people and Dominion fanatics, that's who! Faced with favoring a big-money strategy over one centered around stronger Alchemy cards like the Alchemist, several players lamented making crucial mistakes in early card choices that led to decks bloated with useless Potions while their opponents took seemingly endless turns full of Grand Markets and Platinums.
Perhaps more remarkable were the advancement point scores coming out of the quarterfinal round. While average AP generally rises a bit as the true Dominion elite separate themselves from people who just lucked into two preliminary second places, a whopping third of the room finished with double-digit advancement points. With a semifinal advancement cutoff in the ten range for the first time in recorded tournament history, the GM made the hard call to select only three alternates—the lower-scoring 10s. Of course, as it happens every year, at least one round of the tournament always conflicts with some other vital event, and this year saw that happen during the semifinals, forcing a number of the usual suspects to vacate their positions. As a result, only 13 semifinalists and 2 alternates appeared to face... dramatic pause... these cards:
SEMI-FINAL ROUND (Cornucopia, Hinterlands, Seaside, Dark Ages)
Game 1 ("All The King's Horses"): Horn of Plenty, Hunting Party, Menagerie, Tournament, Prizes, Border Village, Develop, Highway, Nomad Camp, Scheme, Spice Merchant
Game 2 ("All The King's Men"): Shelters, Ruins, Spoils, Bazaar, Haven, Smugglers, Treasury, Armory, Death Cart, Pillage, Marauder, Squire, Urchin, Mercenary
Yes, it's true. The GM opted to include the busted-est of busted cards—Tournament and its overpowered Prizes. But it's such a fun card! What, you're not a fan of cards that reward players who have more victory points with cards that make getting even more victory points even easier? Well maybe you should be! At least the complainers had their opportunity to take it out on their opponents in Game 2 with the vicious Pillage card in play. What, nobody at any table bought it??? Sheesh, there is just no making you people happy, now is there???
Looking closer at the semifinal action, there was no messing around at three of the tables which recorded back-to-back victories for Chad Weaver, Tim Tu, and new face Dan Boyle. At the fourth table, Duncan McGregor secured enough points across his first-and-second to edge Patrick Richardson’s second-and-first for the fourth spot at the Final table. Loc Nguyen, at Weaver's table, took sixth place overall with two seconds. So the Final would be contested by three former laurelists and Boyle.
FINAL ROUND (Intrigue, Guilds)
Game 1 ("Overpay Through The Nose"): Bridge, Duke, Nobles, Pawn, Upgrade, Doctor, Herald, Masterpiece, Stonemason, Taxman
Special Rule: Players stack their starting decks as desired.
Game 1 featured the tournament's first appearance of the Guilds expansion, focusing on those Guilds cards for which players can overpay to receive some bonus effect. Also included in the set were Intrigue favorites like the cards-and-actions-like-whoa Nobles, discounter Bridge, and perennial NCAA-tournament top seed Duke (or maybe just the card that makes Duchies a better buy). Players were invited to stack their starting decks as desired, providing options for 4-3 or 5-2 money starts.
Tu's opening rounds saw him grab Silver and a Bridge, while McGregor diverged toward a Pawn and Upgrade. Boyle snagged a Doctor and Silver, but Weaver overpaid for his Doctor to nix two Estates. Other early plays saw all but Tu opt for dramatically overpaid Stonemasons, allowing their purchasers quick access to coveted Nobles. McGregor edged out the others for a total of five Nobles in early rounds, culminating in his purchase of the first and third Provinces. Weaver followed closely behind with the second Province.
In mid-game, Boyle pulled the trigger first on a Duke-Duchy strategy, purchasing one or the other in six of his last nine turns. Tu struggled to catch up with just a single Nobles in his deck, nabbing some Golds and the fourth Province. But the real battle came down to McGregor and Weaver, both with decks bulging with Nobles. McGregor opted for Golds, while Weaver went with card-resurrecting Heralds. As the Provinces depleted somewhat evenly around the table and decks became loaded with green, McGregor and Weaver spent their last turns filling up on Duchies and, when those too started to disappear, tons of Estates.
The final tally was one of the closer Final finishes; while Tu trailed at 27, Boyle's Dukes netted him 41 VP, and McGregor finished with 43. But Weaver's early deck-cleansing paid off as he finished with enough Duchies in his deck to push his score to 47.
FINAL ROUND (Intrigue, Seaside, Cornucopia, Hinterlands, Dark Ages)
Game 2 ("Fallen On Hard Times"): Courtyard, Fool's Gold, Haven, Lighthouse, Masquerade, Pawn, Poor House, Remake, Squire, Steward
Special Rule #1: Before the game starts, the Silver supply pile receives 1 Embargo token (giving a player who buys one a Curse card as well), and the Gold supply pile receives 2 Embargo tokens (giving a player who buys one two Curse cards as well).
Special Rule #2: All players stack their decks as follows (top to bottom): 3 Copper, 2 Estates, 3 Copper, 2 Estates.
One good evil rigged game of Dominion deserves another, as they say. "They" probably doesn't include a couple of the players in this year's Final, especially after the unveiling of Game 2. With an assortment of cards across five sets, the early theme was readily apparent: cheap cards. But the appearance of inexplicable small silver tokens on the Silver and Gold piles might have baffled casual observers. But all four finalists recognized their consequence almost immediately: the game's good money had been Embargo'd, requiring those who purchased them to also take deck-clogging, VP-negating Curse cards too. Making things even worse, players were instructed to stack their decks for equivalent opening rounds—meaning they'd start with one more Estate and one less Copper than normal.
Weaver, looking to augment his Dominion plaque collection ("I need a second and a fourth! But I should probably aim for more firsts, right?"), seemed jovial coming out of Game 1 with a victory *and* the first player position in Game 2. He dove right into the vicious game's flagrant violation of sacred Dominion tenets, nabbing a Fools Gold and Squire to open. Other players also nabbed Fools Golds early, killing that pile by the fourth round. McGregor centered his strategy around Stewards early and Squires later, while Tu made the only purchase of the card-passing Masquerade. Boyle went heavier into Fools Gold territory than his opponents and cleansed his deck of two Coppers quickly.
The mid-game saw all but McGregor bite the bullet on purchases of Gold that earned them two Curses each as well. Weaver's Remake turned Estates into Silver, but those ultimately gave him only enough money for mostly Duchies and Estates. McGregor bought the first Province early, with over two full rounds passing before Boyle acquired the second and Tu the third. The Squire supply pile exhausted well before the game's midpoint, enacting worries of a premature conclusion before players could capitalize on their slow-growing fortunes.
As Weaver's deck faltered under the weight of its own Duchies, McGregor and Tu trod along, nabbing occasional Provinces and consolation Estates. But the strongest deck became apparent down the final stretch as Boyle's success with Fools Gold and consistent, well-distributed treasure draws scored him three Provinces and a slew of Duchies. Tu's four Provinces positioned him well for victory on his next turn... but that turn never came as Boyle took the last Duchy—enough for 37 points and the victory. McGregor and Tu finished tied at 31 with Weaver right behind at 30—a yet closer finish even after the tight Game 1.
Tu's fourth-and-second (by virtue of turn order) wasn't enough to elevate him out of fourth place. McGregor finished third overall with his second-and-third. Weaver took home another unique plaque for his collection ("Just need a fourth now!") when his first-place Game 1 was followed by a missed-it-by-that-much fourth (as two more points in Game 2 would have given him enough VP overall for the tournament win). Newcomer Boyle's third-and-first finishes scored his first WBC shield.