Dominion Teaching Idea

For those easily overwhelmed

I have been a big fan of Dominion since I first encountered it. As a result, I have shared my enthusiasm for the game with others, some of whom are less facile at learning games than the typical gamer. This article will explain how I have taught the game to those who would be initially overwhelmed by a standard teach.

I still remember learning Dominion, and how, even for someone who has played a lot of games, and for whom this game would become a favorite, it was overwhelming. Those teaching me Dominion seemed to play so fast such that it was always my turn and I felt like I was slowing things down. We played with the recommended starter set of Action cards, but the names and what they did were all a blur to me, both after the initial teach, and while playing the first game. After that game, I asked if we could play again with exactly the same set of cards, which we did. Then I played a third game, and asked them to change out only 3 cards. At this point I felt that I understood the mechanics and the basics of the 13 Action cards I had seen so far. From then on, the game was fun and I was hooked.

The areas that cause problems are:

First game

Here is how I would have you introduce a new player to Dominion.

Sit the new player at the end of the table so all cards will be right side up for them. Place on the table only the Victory and Treasure cards, arranged according to purchase price with the least expensive nearest the new player. As you set these out, explain that this game has money and victory points. The person with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. You need money to buy cards, and each card has a price in the bottom left corner. The cards are arranged on the table by price. Within each stack of cards on the table, the cards are the same.

Deal the starting decks and explain that each player starts with the same deck of cards. As in the card game War, we will keep our own cards and use them over and over. Shuffle your deck and put it face down to your left. Draw 5 cards into your hand. We are ready to play. I will go first. On my left is my draw pile, in front of me is my play area, I have a hand of 5 cards, and to my right will be my discard pile, which will be kept face up.

After placing all my Treasure cards face up in my play area, I say how much money I have and purchase the best Treasure card I can. Usually with the 3-4 start, each of us will end up purchasing two Silvers. I explain how, even though I have 4 money, I neither get change nor get to keep the unspent money. The card I purchase (or gain) goes face up on top of my discard pile. The cards in my play area go face up on top of my discard pile. The remainder of my hand goes face up on top of my discard pile! This final action is very unusual to the average game player and I make a point of that. I draw a new hand of 5 cards, and my turn is over.

If you need to draw cards, and your draw pile is empty (this will happen after turns 2 and 4), shuffle your discard pile (on your right) and place it face down to become your draw pile (on your left), and continue to draw your hand. Remind everyone that we always draw 5 cards so we always have a hand. Continue playing. At some point someone will have 5 money and have a decision: Duchy or Silver. Explain the impact of this decision. The Duchy is worth 3 victory points and the game is won by whoever has the most, but it will be "in the way" for the rest of the game. Let them make the decision. Many of my new players will go for the Duchy, perhaps because it is a new card for them, because they hate buying down to a Silver, or because they think I am trying to mislead them into not buying it. They need to learn and this first game will be a quick, easy learning experience.

Of course, Dominion with no Action cards is not much of a game. However, continue playing with only these cards for at least 6 or 8 turns each. Your new player is learning the unusual mechanics of shuffling, dealing a hand, playing, including where the purchased cards go, and discarding everything, including unplayed cards. This needs to become second nature.

Add action cards

At this point, players often end up with 4 money and have to "buy down" and get a Silver. When the new player has 4, stop the game and introduce the Smithy. It is an action card, and they can purchase it instead. Explain what it does. Explain that they are purchasing it for later and that it goes on their discard pile. (Having heard how the card works, new players sometimes believe they are purchasing that ability for right now.)

Keep playing perhaps purchasing the Smithy until a Smithy comes around the loop and is in a player hand. Explain how the turn really works. The mnemonic "ABC" for Action - Buy - Cleanup is helpful here. Once the player has played a few actions, at appropriate times in the game, add more Action cards, one at a time. I often add a Market when the next 5 buy happens as an alternative to the Duchy. At some point I will add a Village and a Celler. Generally I will only add cards from the starter set.

As action cards come into the new player's hand, they get focused on playing them and doing what they say, and forget the "buy" action. Depending on the person, I find it useful to remind them to "go shopping". I also find it useful for each player to say out loud what they are doing. For example, "Village, I draw a card, Smithy, I draw 3 cards, I am out of actions and have 5 money so I buy a Market". New players want to be assured that they are playing the cards correctly and hearing how others play can help. Frankly, I like to hear this "patter" even with experienced Dominion players. It allows me to keep track of what is happening while shuffling and thinking.

When players are able to purchase a Province, remind them that the game is won in Victory points and generally, whoever has the most Provinces will win. When the Province pile is down to 4 cards, point out that the game ends when this pile is empty.

Throughout the entire first game, try to give only information (be it rules or strategy) that is absolutely necessary for the new player. For example, don't tell them the game can end when 3 piles are gone since that won't happen in this game. Don't get into strategy and all the cool things that can happen, like owning lots of Villages and Smithys and how well they work together. Allow them to figure some of this out for themselves. Every bit of time you spend trying to explain stuff they aren't ready to hear is delaying the game, and only serves to portray this game as very complicated (which they are already afraid of), perhaps turning them off to this, and other games.

The initial "training wheels" game should be a quick one. Each of you is playing a strong money strategy with some Smithys thrown in to speed it up. There were few decisions to be made, and the new player should now have the hang of the basic play. At this point, ask if they want to play again. If so, ask if they want to play with the Action cards that are on the table now (there should be 4 or 5) and mention that we normally play with 10. Do what the new player wants.

Second game

By the second or third game you will be playing a game with all 10 Action cards from the recommended starter set. Arrange these in rows by price with the Treasure or Victory at the left end of each row (these provide a reference point that will become familiar). The Coppers are nearest the new player. When it comes time for a purchase (e.g., the new player has 3 money), explain the cards in that row.

They have already seen several of them so there shouldn't be much new to explain. Even though they could buy down to a card costing 2, do not explain those cards to them. Instead say that the cards are priced fairly, so if they have 3 money they should probably buy a card costing 3. Of course, this isn't always true, but it is a fine simplification for a new player on their second game.

Even with 10 Action cards available, remind the new player that they could play this game the same way as their first game. That is, purchase lots of Silver, Gold, and a few Smithys. There is no need to purchase lots of Action cards.

At some point, be sure to fill in the gaps in teaching (for example, that the game really ends when any 3 piles or the Province pile is empty).


I have used this introduction to Dominion with success with several reluctant gamers. Also, I recently used it when I had a short amount of time (6 minutes) and the person wanted to learn the game, but didn't have time to play it right then.

I had one person (studying economics) who, before I had even added Smithy, was trying to figure out the optimum strategy. I have never had a new player tell me they were bored with my approach and wished I had just "explained the whole game".

The time from opening the box to actually playing the game (without Action cards) is about 2 minutes, and the initial teach and training game could be over in as little as 10 minutes. Contrast this to an initial game that often drags on for 45 minutes along with a complex teach.

If you give this a try, I would be interested in hearing your comments and experiences. You could post them to the thread I started at Board Game Geek (and read some other interesting comments) or E-mail them to Clark Baker.

Revised: $Date: 2010/06/22 05:32:12 $

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