When analyzing the board at the start of a game, one often analyzes each card by its functionality. These functionalities don't necessarily correlate with the card's type, but can be grouped into several productive categories.
Unlike card types, card categories are informal; they are not referenced in any way by any official rules or card texts. However, from a strategic point of view, they are very useful to think of. Since most kingdom cards are Actions, almost all card categories refer mainly, if not exclusively, to Actions. All kingdom Victory cards fall under Alt VP, while kingdom Treasures can fit into some of the more specific categories.
Broadly speaking, all Dominion cards are classified by their terminality: cards that decrease the number of Actions you have are called terminal, while cards that maintain or increase your Actions are called non-terminal. These are then usually broken down like so:
- Non-terminal, sensu stricto (maintains the number of Actions)
- Village (increases the number of Actions)
Any non-terminal that draws at least 1 card (or exactly 1 card, depending on who you ask) is called a cantrip.
Throne Room variants blur the line between terminal and non-terminal; while most decrease your Actions, their ability to play other cards affects your deck similarly to a Village, and if they play a non-terminal card, your Actions can take a net increase.
From there, most categories care about other aspects of cards; what benefit the card brings to your deck.
Main article: Attack
Main article: Junking attack
Junkers are Attack cards that hand out junk to opponents.
Most often, that junk is Curses and cards which hand out Curses specifically are called cursers. Cursers are often the most important card to look for. Cursers are cards which have the potential to distribute Curses to other players. Cursers are some of the strongest cards in the game, including Witch, Torturer, Sea Hag, Familiar, Mountebank, Young Witch, Followers, and Ill-Gotten Gains.
 Handsize attack
Main article: Handsize attack
Handsize attacks are Attack cards that reduce the handsize of your opponents decks are also called handsize reducers, discard attacks, and discarders. Usually your opponents can choose the cards to discard and never have to discard down to less than 3 or 4 cards in hand. Typical examples are Militia, Goons, Margrave, Followers, Urchin, and Sir Michael. Ghost Ship is a little different as it doesn't let your opponents discard the cards, they have to put them on top of their decks and it therefore messes with the tops of their decks too. Bureaucrat is similar although putting the Victory card on top of the deck hurts more than losing it out of the hand. Bureaucrat, Cutpurse, and Torturer are also the only discarding attacks that could stack down to less than 3 cards in hand - depending respectively on the number of Victory cards in hand, Coppers in hand, and the choice of your opponent. Minion doesn't let your opponent choose what to keep, similar to Pillage, where you can choose the card to discard.
 Deck order attack
Main article: Deck order attack
Deck order attacks are Attack cards that mess with the top of your opponents' decks. Spy, Oracle, and Scrying Pool let you inspect 1 or 2 cards which you may discard, so that bad cards are likely to stay on top. Bureaucrat, Rabble, and Fortune Teller directly put Victory and Curse cards on top of their decks. Ghost Ship lets your opponents mess with their own decks because you make them put cards from their hands back on top.
 Trashing attack
Main article: Trashing attack
Trashing attacks are Attack cards that trash valuable cards from your opponents' decks. Some of these are limited to Treasure cards, such as Thief, Noble Brigand, and Pirate Ship. Others offer replacements that your opponents may choose (like Saboteur) or that you may choose (like Swindler). Another subcategory trashes only within a price range from to (like Knights and Rogue).
Main article: Village (card category)
Villages are cards that provide at least +2 Actions. Most of these cards have Village in the name and commonly facilitate engines centered around terminal cards. However, many villages come with additional bonuses (such as coins, buys, or extra cards) which may aid many strategies.
Main article: Cantrip
Cantrips are Action cards which provide at least +1 Card and +1 Action, may provide any of a number of other bonuses, such as producing money (like Peddler), providing additional actions (like Village), providing additional cards (like Laboratory), trashing (like Junk Dealer), attacking (like Sir Bailey), cursing (like Familiar), or being worth (like Great Hall). They are often considered to be harmless cards because playing a cantrip replaces the space it took up in your hand and the action it took to play it. Cantrips are inherently non-terminal and can usually safely be bought in multiples and played repeatedly within a turn.
 Peddler variant
Main article: Peddler variant
Peddler variants are cantrips that produce Highway); one way or another they make it easier for you to buy cards.or reduce costs (like
 Non-terminal drawer
Main article: Non-terminal draw
Non-terminal drawers are cantrips that provide at least +2 Cards. They are often considered to be variants of Laboratory or to be handsize increasers, since you have more cards in hand after you played them than before. They can be chained together for megaturns and they can supplement many strategies, including Big Money.
 Terminal drawer
Main article: Terminal draw
Terminal drawers are Action cards that allow the player to draw cards but that don't provide additional actions. Smithy and Hunting Grounds are pure drawers when played, but terminal drawers may also be Attack cards (like Torturer, Rabble, or Margrave). They pair well with villages and Big Money strategies.
 Draw to X
Draw to X cards draw you a non-fixed number of cards by drawing until your hand is a certain size. Library and Watchtower are the archetypes of this category. They are particularly useful with disappearing villages and in response to discard attacks.
 Terminal Silver
Main article: Terminal Silver
Terminal Silvers are Action cards that provide no additional actions and produce Silver. Many Action and Attack cards are terminal Silvers and they can be crucial in strategies depending on sources of virtual money., eliciting a direct comparison to
Main article: Trasher
Trashers are cards with the ability to trash one or more cards from your own hand or deck. Trashing is a very strong move - often underestimated by beginners - because you remove low value cards from your deck so you can see your good cards more often. They generate a high density of quality. Because many cards have this ability, they are often divided into subcategories.
 Trash for no benefit
Trash for no benefit cards are beneficial purely in the removal of unwanted cards from your deck. Chapel, Lookout, Steward, Masquerade, and Count belong to this category. Ambassador fits here too, although it doesn't trash your cards, but removes them from your deck (which has often the same effect). Island and Native Village aren't trashers either, but are often called pseudo trashers because they remove cards from your deck, but are returned to your deck later. Loan, Junk Dealer, Dame Anna, and Jack of all Trades also belong to this category because the benefits they provide don't depend on the trashing. Mint gets an honorable mention as its trash for no benefit effect happens when you buy it.
 Trash for benefit
Main article: Trash for benefit
Trash for benefit cards give a benefit dependent on the card you trash. Often, the benefit is another card and the dependence is on the cost of the trashed and gained cards; cards of this type are called remodelers. Remodelers comprise Remodel, Mine, Upgrade, Expand, Remake, Governor, Graverobber, Procession, and Rebuild. Forge is different as it may trade in multiple cards for 1 card. Develop works the other way around: it trashes 1 card for 2 cards. Farmland gets an honorable mention as its remodel effect happens when you buy it.
There are many other trash for benefit cards that don't belong to the remodel family.
- Transmute cares about the trashed card's type instead of its cost.
- Salvager and Counterfeit trash for coins instead of gaining a card.
- Apprentice trashes for +Cards instead of gaining a card.
- Bishop trashes for .
- Trader gains you a quantity of Silver equal to the trashed card's cost.
 Trash for fixed benefit
Trash for fixed benefit cards give a benefit independent of the card you trash. Moneylender, Spice Merchant, Trading Post, Hermit, Altar, Death Cart, Mercenary, and Rats all give fixed benefits without regard to the cards you choose to trash. Trade Route and Forager belong to this category too; although the benefit is variable, it does not necessarily depend on the card trashed.
Main article: Gainers
Gainers gain other cards without using buys or trashing cards. Gainers always restrict the cards they may gain by name, type, or cost: Bureaucrat only gains Silver; Workshop and its variants gain cards up to a certain cost; Smugglers is restricted by cost and by the cards the previous player gained on his last turn; University is restricted by type and cost; Graverobber and Rogue are restricted by cost and to cards in the trash; Jester cannot gain Victory cards and is restricted to the top cards of your opponents' decks.
Feast isn't usually considered a gainer as you must trash a card (namely itself), though it can gain cards without trashing when played multiple times by Throne Room or its variants. Develop is an exception to no-trashing rule as it gains 2 cards by trashing only one and is often considered as a Gainer. Border Village is an honorable mention as its gainer effect happens when you gain it.
Main article: Sifter
Sifters are similar to drawers but they come with the penalty of discarding cards. They may draw or discard in either order, but the benefit to sift through the cards in your deck, keeping the valuable ones and discarding the worthless ones. Sifters shine when you have cards you don't mind discarding (thus, the discarding feels less like a penalty). Therefore, they can combat Curses, Copper, and other clutter and can help you throughout greening.
 Defense cards
Further information: Beating attacks
Defense cards protect you from Attack cards or mitigate their effects. Many are Reaction cards since "when another player plays an Attack card" is the most common trigger for them.
- Moat protects you from all Attacks.
- Watchtower and Trader offer protection from gainer attacks (such as Witch, Swindler, or Mountebank).
- Horse Traders offers protection against discard attacks.
- Secret Chamber and Market Square offer protection from trashing attacks.
Plenty of non-Reactions also offer protection.
- Lighthouse is similar to Moat's Reaction.
- Library offers protection against discard attacks.
- Menagerie can benefit from discard attacks.
- Jack of all Trades was designed to offer some amount of after-the-fact protection from all attacks.
 Alternate Victory cards
Main article: Alternate victory points
Often called alternate Victory cards or alt-VP cards, these are Victory cards in the Kingdom, not the basic Victory cards. The presence of Victory cards in the Kingdom can often steer the ideal strategy of the entire Kingdom. These cost from to , allowing you to craft a winning strategy that never produces the or usually required to purchase game-winning Provinces and Colonies. Examples include Gardens, Duke, Vineyard, and Fairgrounds. The presence of these and other alternate Victory cards often results in the pursuance of Rush strategies in order to gain more of these cards than your opponents - as the game can often depend on them. Their cheaper cost also makes them easier to gain with gainers, instead of buying them (see the classic Workshop-Gardens strategy).
 Alternate Treasure cards
As above, alternate Treasure cards refer to Treasure cards in the Kingdom, not the basic Treasure cards. The presence of Treasure cards in the Kingdom, however, is rarely game-altering. Most of these cards fit into the categories of their Action counterparts. Examples are:
- Ill-Gotten Gains is a unique curser.
- Venture can be considered the Treasure equivalent of a cantrip (specifically a Peddler variant).
- Loan is both a trasher and a quasi-sifter.
- Horn of Plenty is a notably powerful gainer.
- Harem is an alternate Victory card.
Among others. While it is good to note their presence, alternate Treasure cards rarely form the centerpiece of a strategy.
 Cards that bend the rules
Essentially, all cards extend the rules of Dominion. However, some interact more deeply with the basic premises of the game. These cards are the ones that let you take multiple turns (like Outpost and Possession), play cards multiple times (like Throne Room, Counterfeit, or Prince), or buy cards from outside the Kingdom (like Black Market). Band of Misfits probably counts in this category (although when played it often mimics a card from a different category).
This category is a catch-all for any remaining unusual cards. The use of these cards often introduce special situations and unusual tactics. Possession and Black Market are notably disliked by many and require many extended FAQs to clarify the disruption they cause to the standard rules.