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Topics - Donald X.

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Feedback / Bot trap
« on: March 19, 2015, 06:11:15 am »
There was just a spam post in the rules forum and it reminded me of the bot trap concept and maybe you will want to do this if spam bots ever start to be an issue.

You limit 0-post posters to only posting in one specific subforum. You say which forum it is in the index and ToS and wherever else. It's, you know, an Introductions forum or something. Posting there makes you a 1-post poster who no longer has that limitation.

Then spam bots fail to know that they have to post in that forum and so fail to post at all and that's that.

Feedback / Plz turn off img in sigs
« on: September 21, 2014, 05:56:13 pm »
It's just that imgs in sigs make forums suck to read. We've all been there, it's not worth it.

Forum Games / TownLaunch
« on: March 19, 2014, 04:23:39 am »
A guy who we will call Kevin was at one point a regular at a game night I went to. We talked about making a game for devices. One idea was to make something like a citybuilder but as a little puzzle game. I came up with something and we tried it and well a few of us enjoyed it but it didn't seem like we should pursue it; it didn't seem like it would end up having broad enough appeal. I am sharing it for no good reason in this semi-public place.

It has no art or anything. It's just a bunch of haphazard levels with no frills. There is no button to rotate your board relative to the terrain, someone will immediately want that. It is playable though. It's an abstract game of figuring out the best way to arrange some shapes.

What you are doing is, you are placing buildings on a grid, to get a score. You can place multiple copies of a building and can rotate them by clicking, before or after dragging. You drag a building to the grid (or move it on the grid, or drag it off the grid to get rid of it). There is no passage of time or anything. There is no cost system beyond the space the buildings occupy.

The basic deal is that Houses require Farms and Factories, and then Offices require Houses. So three types of things all connect to Houses. And there are alternate varieties of the main buildings, and buildings can care about other stuff. When you have everything aligned, you will get a nonzero score. Your goal is to have such a high score that you get four stars. Four stars represents either the most points one of four or so people were able to get, or else a smaller but high number in cases where someone beat that score after the last time the program was updated. Anyway it will be hard, you will not just immediately get four stars, it will seem impossible.

Buildings have a number, but your score is just the Offices (or similar); the other numbers just uh get you there. On level one:

Farm: Worth 1 per connected Farm, counting itself.
Factory: Worth 1 per adjacent building (not diagonally okay).
House: Worth the minimum of the points of Farms or Factories next to it (if there are two Farms, add them together, etc.).
Office: Adds the values of adjacent Houses.

So just plop down one of each with the House touching the rest and you've got points. Then figure out what to actually do. Later buildings:

Orchard: Like a Farm but worth 1 per adjacent grass or water square (board edges don't help it).
Pasture: Like a Farm but worth 1 per connected grass.

Mill: Like a Factory but worth a flat 8.

Mansion: A House but gets double value from Farms (plus Orchard, Pasture).
Ranch: A House but gets double value from Factories (plus Mill).

Embassy: Like an Office but counts Houses (and Mansions/Ranches) even if it's not adjacent to them.

Bank: All buildings adjacent to Bank are adjacent to each other, look out. Think of it as "road."
Bridge: The two buildings pointed to are connected (but not other buildings adjacent to the long sides, even the ends). Can go over water. It seems intermittently buggy score-wise and so I would save these levels for last.

The two colors of grass are the same okay. Water is an obstacle. The black square lowers all buildings with a clear path to it by one. It shades areas in case that helps.

There appear to be 34 levels. Like I said they are just haphazard, added to see the new buildings and test out the idea. The first few levels have mostly the same stuff and mess with obstacles, which turned out not to be too interesting; then there's a patch where it goes through combinations of some new buildings, and well you can just skip to whatever level, don't feel like you have to go in order. The level names are just whatever Kevin typed in. Some levels are larger; smaller is better. I don't know the formula for stars beyond four meaning you hit the high score.

From my experience the way to get maximal enjoyment from this is, play some levels and post your best scores, and then other people will post their even better scores, and then you will try to outdo them. Of course you may be able to do better than the score that gets you 4 stars; I know you can for some of them.

Variants and Fan Cards / Sets of 25
« on: February 14, 2013, 02:41:11 am »
So you pick 25 Dominion cards that you have, and then play with those 25 as if they were a standalone - you play games using a random 10 out of those 25. You pick the 25 with some theme in mind, although if your theme is just "stuff I like" that's fine. Here are some examples.

Interaction Mix

2: Duchess, Embargo, Fool's Gold
3: Forager, Masquerade, Smugglers, Swindler, Trade Route, Watchtower
4: Bishop, Gardens, Noble Brigand, Throne Room, Tournament
5: City, Council Room, Cultist, Embassy, Governor, Graverobber, Jester, Knights, Tribute, Vault
6: Border Village

This one just focuses on player interaction. It's bound to be a pip, so I put it first.

Top o' the Deck Mix

2: Beggar, Courtyard, Herbalist, Vagrant
3: Lookout, Swindler, Watchtower, Wishing Well
4: Armory, Bureaucrat, Ironmonger, Nomad Camp, Scavenger, Scout, Spy, Walled Village, Wandering Minstrel
5: Ghost Ship, Graverobber, Knights, Mandarin, Mystic, Royal Seal, Stash, Treasury

Lots of cards interact with deck tops, and sometimes they naturally work together.

Hand Theme

2: Beggar, Crossroads, Hamlet
3: Hermit, Menagerie, Oasis, Tunnel, Warehouse, Watchtower
4: Fortress, Horse Traders, Remake, Tournament, Young Witch
5: Count, Embassy, Explorer, Horn of Plenty, Inn, Library, Mine, Pillage, Rabble
6: Hunting Grounds
8: Peddler

Cornucopia tried on a hand theme, but abandoned it because it's just invisible. The cards played well together though, so here's the kind of thing you can get with that theme.


2: Courtyard, Embargo
3: Loan, Market Square, Wishing Well
4: Militia, Monument, Remodel, Spice Merchant, Spy, Trader
5: Apprentice, Count, Duke, Ill-Gotten Gains, Laboratory, Library, Merchant Ship, Rogue, Royal Seal, Upgrade, Vault, Venture
6: Fairgrounds, Hoard

Do you need a Village for a fun game? This set tries to argue otherwise. There was a lot of room for varying this one, since hey, most cards aren't Villages.

Big Alchemy

P: Vineyard, Transmute, Apothecary, Scrying Pool, University, Alchemist, Familiar, Philosopher's Stone, Golem, Possession
2: Cellar, Herbalist
3: Great Hall
4: Conspirator, Coppersmith, Ironworks, Procession, Wandering Minstrel
5: Apprentice, Haggler, Horn of Plenty, Inn, Jester, Library, Stables

Alchemy was once a large set. What might it look like as one? This isn't trying to look like the original large Alchemy, but rather just to push Alchemy's themes with the additional cards.

I didn't say as much about outtakes for the main set back when; it was material edited into a W. Eric Martin article on BGN, and anyway there were cards that might get fixed up for later sets. And I didn't say as much about the non-outtakes in the first secret history as I might have, because, how much did people really need to hear?

I made 10 cards. I don't remember what they all were. I wasn't preserving everything back then. One was Witch and one was a discard attack. Mine was in there. I had "+1 card +1 action +$1," "+2 actions," and "+1 buy," although nothing said "+1" like that, it was all written out. I had some kind of card-drawing, probably the next-turn one listed below. The first evening we just played the same 10 cards, but they weren't really the same because I tweaked the costs after each game. You mark the piles with dice indicating the current cost.

I made 10 more cards. Some were variations on what I'd had the first time. Some covered obvious territory I hadn't yet. After that I made more cards at whatever rate, eventually dividing everything into a 25-card main set and two 15-card expansions.

I am going to look at the cards in the order they appear in the oldest files. Some of the slots got filled in by other cards after stuff died or changed though; I wasn't saving every image. So, "Dungeon" isn't the first action card I made an image for. And attacks got their own page because they were printed on pink paper, and similarly victory and treasure and reaction cards had separate pages initially, so those cards aren't in the right order either.

I am only doing the first four pages because I want to lead a balanced life. There are six and half pages total, with the cards I'm not doing almost all being ones you know from Intrigue or later anyway.

Page 1:

"Dungeon:" I have talked about this a few times recently. "Trash a card from your hand, discard a card, +3 Cards." It cost $3, then $4. It was a staple trasher that dropped through the cracks. I bumped it to Intrigue and then Dark Ages and then it seemed like I'd covered this ground already.

Village: The first version cost $5 and just said "you may play two more actions." Over the first couple weeks I lowered it to $4, then $3, then added +1 Card, reasoning, part of why it sucked was that drawing Village meant you had fewer cards in hand to be those two actions. Sir Destry bought a lot of Villages early on and it was a month before he won his first game.

Market: Similarly Market cost $5 and let you buy an extra card, and I realized that Market in hand meant less money, so I made it +$1 +1 Buy. At the same time the first game had had "+1 Card +1 Action +$1," and eventually they merged. "+1 Buy" got terminology when it turned out I'd be doing more of those than just Market. I tried on "+1 Purchase" and then "+1 Build." Woodcutter is called Woodcutter because, +1 Build.

Smithy: Initially I was scared of such card-drawing. I had "draw 2 extra cards at end of turn" (as Laboratory). I came around to the beauty of straight card-drawing, and did the simplest one.

Mine: This is the card from the first game that changed the least. It explicitly turned Copper into Silver and Silver into Gold, and now looks at cost.

Chapel: Your Estates are worth points, surely you don't want to trash those. Okay I guess they are dead cards and you sure aren't buying them, but Coppers, they do something. It was a week or two before I said, man, I am just going to try trashing everything. Not long after that I found the 5-card deck - not the Remodel one, the Witch one. Chapel, Silver, Throne Room, Witch. I play Throne Witch every turn (paying $2 since Witch required you to pay $1 to play it). There were something like 45 Curses and the pile did not scale with the number of players, so this deck was not shabby.

Laboratory: This was probably from after the second batch of cards. I don't remember multiple versions. The "+1 Card +1 Action +$1" card was an early star, and after Village got its +1 Card and became a "free" +1 Action, it was like, why not a free +1 Card.

Throne Room: It cost $3 for forever. You could open Feast / Throne Room, some people enjoyed that. You could get it with "Stonecutter," that was significant. Okay I am only going to do 4 pages, so I will not make it to Stonecutter. Stonecutter was "Gain a card costing up to $3, if it's an action play it." You Stonecutter up Throne Rooms and Villages and Woodcutters (once that was around) and then buy "Towers" to rake in points.

"Stables:" The first Workshop-type thing I tried was "Gain an Estate," then "Gain a card costing up to $2." It was trying to be Monument but it would take a while to get there. Then it was "Gain a card costing up to $2. When you discard or trash this, +1 Card." Those of you marvelling at how main set cards anticipate Tunnel and Dark Ages: those were things that had just been around forever. Before the little Workshops, this slot started out as "When you buy an action this turn, play it;" then I tried out "+1 Buy, cards cost $1 less this turn." That seemed scary, but I brought it back in Alchemy (the original large 5th expansion) as the Bridge you know.

Page 2:

"Vault:" First Vault was "your victory cards are also coppers this turn." Then it became the top half of Secret Chamber. That cost $4, then $3, then became Secret Chamber.

Feast: As told elsewhere, Feast started out as a one-use Gold - "+1 Action +$3, trash this." It was strong and turned into Feast.

Trading Post: Started out as a way to trade a card for another of the same cost. Well that's awful. I thought of trading specifically for Silver and that's what it does. People would talk about melding treasure or victory cards - turn two Coppers into a Silver, turn three Estates into a Duchy - but that simple concept required way too many words. I could just turn two things into Silver specifically though and hey sometimes it would be two Coppers.

Workshop: This started out as a deliberate attempt to make a card to support a money-free deck. It was "+1 Action, -1 Buy, gain a card costing up to $3." I was the only one who liked it or could make it work.

Remodel: There's no story here, this was an obvious card that worked well early on.

Cellar: First I tried "+2 Cards +1 Action, put 2 cards from your hand on your deck." It was way too slow. Then I did Cellar but without the +1 Action.

"Highway:" This was "+2 Cards +$2," for $5. It was a solid card that I eventually decided not to do. It seemed strong and it's too easy to compare to other things. It had no special charm.

"Spare Room:" This is Pawn.

"Mining Village:" This version was switched - "+$2, may trash for +1 Card +2 Actions." These days tons of cards are "+$2, do something." Back then, that was not such a thing - cards tried to be good enough via their new ability. So Mining Village was a lonely "+$2" card. Yes Highway also says it but you know.

Page 3:

"Knight:" "Trash the top card of each other player's deck," for $4. I have previously told the story of the games this could trap you in. For a while though it was the standard, several cards were Knight with a bonus. Including of course the Knights. Knight itself started more expensive but I quickly lowered it to $4. At $4 you could buy it when you were losing and desperate; at $5 you would just get a Duchy.

Witch: The first version cost $3 and did not give +2 Cards. Then it cost $4, then $5, then $5 but you had to pay $1 to use it. Then just $5, then with +1 Card, then +2 Cards, with the Curse pile changing to scaling somewhere in there.

Thief: There was a discard attack in this slot first. I tried just making each other player discard one or two cards; it's broken as soon as multiple players buy them or you can chain them. Then I tried out Thief close to how you know it, but with the top cards being put back if they weren't trashed. Militias as you know them didn't arrive until after I showed the game to RGG.

"Wizard:" "+1 Card, each other player gains a Confusion," for $3. Confusion was a blank card. It had a hypnotic spiral on it, and when people were like, "I don't get it," I'd turn the spiral. Confusion stayed in the game for a while, and some other cards used them, but once the game was getting published it wasn't worth the 30 cards.

"Baron:" "Reveal the top card of each other player's deck. Trash those victory cards. Gain the trashed cards." For $6. Why not an attack that just hits victory cards? Within a few months it would change to $4, "each other player reveals the top 3 and trashes a victory card, gaining a cheaper card." Stealing Duchies survived in the game for a while; now you have to play Rogue twice. The best victory-card-trasher I ever had was "Mob" from Prosperity, which dug for one, trashed it, and gave them the next cheapest plus an Estate (or just an Estate if it didn't find one, making it useful in the early game). It is not really anything anyone needs in the game though. I eventually tried attacks that only hit actions; the problem is, I can make that dead by having a boring deck. So in the end there are cards that only trash treasures, and trashers that don't care about type.

Harem: Originally it cost $5, then $6. My version has no art, just a giant 2 coins and 2 crowns (my VP symbol).

"Tower:" This is Vineyard only for $4. I ended up swapping it with Gardens (originally from Alchemy and costing $P) because Gardens is in some sense easier.

Moat: Originally reactions were played when you reacted. Moat stopped one turn of attacks and drew you a card. It was useless on your own turn. Then I made another reaction that stopped all attacks for one round, and then I combined them.

"Battlements:" This reaction drew you two cards if you were attacked (after that it would be in play - so, dead or a Lab). Then it changed to, either play normally for +2 Cards, or play when attacked for +2 Cards. This died when I changed how reactions worked, because it was cumulative; then I brought it back as Horse Traders.

Page 4:

"Plague:" "Trash this, each other player gains a Confusion and a Curse," for $3. In some ways a precursor of Ill-Gotten Gains. Not shabby.

Great Hall: The first version is the same as the last; in-between it cost $4 for a bit after I beat people up with Upgrade / Great Hall (Upgrade had cost $4, which was the actual problem).

"Courtyard:" "When you gain this or play this, look at the top 3 cards of your deck, and discard any number of them," for $2. Did not work out. Previously the name had been on "Discard an Action card, gain a copy of it" for $3. After those the name went on $6, "play 2 actions from the supply each costing $3 or less." You know, you google up some art, but the card doesn't work out, and it's like, something else can be a courtyard.

Outpost: This version made your next turn's hand 2 cards smaller then this turn's, which meant you could take a 3rd turn with just one card and then any further turns you'd have no cards.

"Library:" "Look at the top 5, play one of those Actions, discard the rest first," for $3. It died for being uninteresting. Then I made a new version for Prosperity: "+1 action, look at top 5, put one in your hand, discard the rest." It cost $4 and was broken. At first it seemed like it might be fun broken, we all have crazy decks and aren't we having a good time? No, whoever got more copies of it won. I tried various fixes over the years to follow.

"Servant's Room:" $2, "Choose a card in your hand. Trash it; or discard it and +1 card; or trash it and gain a card with equal cost, in your hand." It was trying to be a follow-up to Pawn. I remembered the bad Trading Post and thought hey maybe it just needs more bad options. It didn't see much play and then turned into "choose one: +2 of something" which then turned into Steward.

Moneylender: The published version; I can't remember another version.

"Tax Collector:" This turned into Cutpurse. "Cards cost $1 less this turn and then $1 more until your next turn," for $3. There was no duration type or color, but I did have the rule that cards stayed out until the end of the turn they finished doing things. Multiplayer with multiple people playing Tax Collectors would have odd shifts in costs. I play it. On your turn you play another one; you break even. On the next player's turn they are hit by two at once. The 4th player plays one and so is only being hit by one total. On my turn mine goes away but the other two are hitting me.

"Caravan:" Only it's Merchant Ship. This replaced "+$2 +2 Actions" for $4. I can't do "+1 Action +$2 something something" for less than $5 (without a penalty), because you just automatically buy it over Silver in most games.

The Bible of Donald X. / The Other Secret History of the Prosperity Cards
« on: October 30, 2012, 02:22:44 pm »
Okay for those of you who were sad not to have the normal style of Secret History, here are the Prosperity cards again, with the individual cards addressed invididually. I am omitting the outtakes and intro; man you've got the original Secret History for that stuff. I am not trying to add any material, just re-sort it, so most of this text is just lifted from the previous version of the Secret History.

Bank: I stole this from Alchemy, where it originally cost $4+P. I wanted something else really simple and classic-seeming. It had been a good fit for Alchemy, since it counts Potions even if you don't end up spending them. Alchemy was years off though, years I say, and Prosperity needed a card now. Then when Alchemy got bumped up, I didn't steal this card back, because it required a little more of the Prosperity rules than I was comfortable with putting out ahead of Prosperity.

Bishop: When Prosperity got delayed, I got extra time to make changes. I decided, why not take out the worst card? At the same time I wanted more cards that used the VP tokens, so they'd seem less gratuitous. I tried a few different cards in this slot and liked Bishop the best.

City: Didn't change from the first version, except for wording. The idea for this card came from the Seaside outtake that cared about the trash, and of course Trade Route. I needed cards in the set that interacted with other players but weren't attacks, so I could have fewer attacks overall (so that Colony would usually be reachable) but still have enough interaction. One thing to do is to look at shared data - the piles. Trade Route cares if a pile isn't full; this cares if a pile is empty. Those were just the two simplest things to check.

Contraband: Another card that didn't change from the first version, except for a wording tweak.

Counting House: My wife came up with this card. Her version got you back all of the Silvers, which was crazy. Women! The Coppers version worked out, and just left getting a good wording.

Expand: Originally cost $6. I missed this the first time so there you go, this wasn't all for nothing. It cost $6 briefly but is $7 in the oldest file with it.

Forge: Originally cost $5, then $6. The "in coins" clause was added late, to simplify Alchemy interactions.

Goons: The art originally submitted for Pawn was not what we wanted for Pawn. We saved it for a future card. It looked like an attack; it had two guys bugging a third guy, so maybe a "choose two." I went with "+$2. Choose two: +1 Action; each other player discards down to 3 cards in hand; take a 1 VP token; gain a Silver. (The choices must be different.)" This card was popular. It had issues though, as pointed out by Wei-Hwa Huang and Bill Barksdale. It was political - someone would play it ahead of you, and then you could pick the discard option or not based on how well that one player was doing (since no-one else would be discarding). With +1 Action making it easy on your deck, it got bought up by everyone, so that you were having to discard constantly. I tried several other versions with different options in different combinations. I tried another card that I thought would work for a while but was just too strong, and finally ended up in a weaker form in another set (that set is Cornucopia and that card is Followers). Finally the Goons you know stuck. Again it squeezes in another use for those VP tokens.

Grand Market: Originally it cost $7 and was "+1 Card +1 Action +$2." People sure complained about it not having +1 Buy. "How is it a Grand Market?" they'd say. So I added +1 Buy, and then later took the anti-Copper clause from another card.

Hoard: Started out at $5. It was too strong, although it took a long time to get changed.

King's Court: Originally it cost $5, then $6. Of course Throne Room originally cost $3. King's Court got "you may" at the last minute. Throne Room should say "you may," because what if you want to play it for some reason (making Peddler cheaper for example) but don't want to play the only other action in your hand (a card-trasher of some kind say)? The card doesn't keep you honest, like (most) other cards do. And "you may" is a lot less text than "or reveals a hand with no actions," which would also look weird. Anyway it's too late for Throne Room. Should King's Court match Throne Room, or have the fix? It matched until near the end. Man, why not use the fix? That's what I think.

Loan: The original card said "when you spend this, trash another treasure spent with it." All of the Prosperity treasures originally had "when you spend this" phrasings. They caused some confusion - what if a treasure worth $2 has such a rule, and you spend $1 on something and $1 on something else? I eventually reworded them all as "when you play this" or "while this is in play." Loan didn't work like that and died. Then later I brought it back by having it look for a treasure in your deck.

Mint: At one point, the expansions were all 20 cards. Do you count Platinum and Colony? Initially I did. Later I decided not to, and added two cards to Prosperity - Wishing Well and Mint. Wishing Well as you know migrated to Intrigue, but Mint hung around. Originally it did nothing when you bought it. I took that "penalty" from Mountebank. Mint had been too weak and Mountebank too strong, and moving the "penalty" addressed both of those problems. Plus it seems more natural here.

Monument: Originally you tracked VP with Coppers from the supply. You set aside a Copper; at the end of the game it was worth 1 VP. Also the first tested version did not have +$2. It got that in order to be playable. After Seaside it was clear this would use tokens, so I rephrased it, and eventually added more VP token cards so it wouldn't be lonely. Late in the going I realized it could be phrased as "+1 VP" rather than "Take a VP token."

Mountebank: Originally it had the Mint "penalty" and no discarding clause. It was too powerful and left the set. Later I brought it back without the "penalty" (yes it is not really a penalty), then added the Curse-Moating. Briefly you just revealed the Curse (rather than discard it), but I decided that was more hosing than I wanted.

Peddler: The first version was "This costs $2 less per Action played this turn." It came from the ruins of an expansion that only ever existed in 16-card form. That expansion had two themes, one of which was "weird stuff with costs." That was not a good theme. I mean some of the cards were cool but you don't want a bunch of that in one place. Peddler and the Grand Market penalty made it into Prosperity. Late in development I changed Peddler to only change cost during buy phases. This meant now you could Remodel it into Platinum and so forth. The change was for two reasons. First, the Remodel combos are fun and well why not try them out. Second, it made it less confusing. People were always trying to Remodel it and then having to be reminded that no, you played two Peddlers and a Remodel, now it only costs $2. And then, close to the end, I tweaked it to count action cards in play, rather than actions played this turn, so there was nothing to remember.

Quarry: This started out as an action, "+$2. Action cards cost $1 less this turn." It was in Seaside; this was a better home for it. It left the set at some point, then I brought it back as a treasure, which made it a lot sexier.

Rabble: Originally you also revealed your own top 3 cards, discarding the Victory cards. There are two reasons that changed. First, it made the card defend against itself too well, which makes it get played more, which makes the game more oppressive. Second, the card was wordy, and didn't need that extra text to be good enough.

Royal Seal: Originally it was "when you spend this," which is more confusing. When I got rid of those, this one got its "while this is in play" functionality. For a while it triggered on buying, but in the end it triggered on gaining, to line it up with Watchtower.

Talisman: Originally this worked on victory cards; you only need to see so many games of Talisman/Gardens to give up on that. Also it cost $5 and only worked on one card per turn, via a "when you spend this" wording.

Trade Route: This started in the original 4th expansion, and migrated here in the great diaspora of interactive cards. The first version in the 4th expansion was "+1 Card +1 Buy +$1. If anyone got a Province this game, +1 Card." I fixed that up to a less-well-worded version of the card you know when I moved it to Prosperity. Late in the going it got a wording that used tokens and mentioned setup.

Vault: The main set once had a card called Vault that was just "Discard any number of cards. +$1 per card discarded." The top half of Secret Chamber. It cost $4 and then $3 and then it was Secret Chamber. Actually the oldest version was like "victory cards are also coppers this turn," but discarding cards is more flexible and way less confusing. Anyway the original mechanic was just not that good, as evidenced by Secret Chamber getting an additional ability and only costing $2 and still being nothing special. But tack on +2 Cards and you've got a monster. For a long time it had no penalty, but it was just too good.

Venture: This replaced some other treasure midway through development, but never changed. I thought of doing a "when you play this" treasure that drew you a card, and well you'd be sad if the card wasn't a treasure, so it always is.

Watchtower: This showed up late in development, after another card left. Dale complained that the set had no reaction, and this was one I'd been meaning to try. The first version, which lasted only a couple days, also let you put the card into your hand. Destry pointed out the Ironworks combo and so much for that.

Worker's Village: Nothing about this card changed except for where the apostrophe is. I previously had a card that was "+1 Card +1 Action +1 Buy," but it's not exactly fair to say that this is a version of that.

Platinum: This always cost $9 and made $5. $4 is not enough. You have to get to $11 for Colonies; that doesn't just happen. I bet that $5 surprised a lot of people.

Colony: This always cost $11. Originally it made 8 VP. At the time Province was worth 5 VP. When Province went up to 6 VP, I changed this to 9 VP. It stayed like that for a while. 9 VP seemed like a good spot for making both Colony and Province viable in Colony games. In development, Valerie and Dale really wanted it to be worth 10 VP. 1 - 3 - 6 - 10! Except, the 1 and 3 there really don't mean much; Estate and Duchy are not bargains. For a while I said, sure, maybe 9 VP isn't the right value, but you know, it sure has seemed good in testing so far. And it had. It had seemed just fine. I finally tested it at 10 VP anyway though. And well, it usually didn't make a difference in who won, and it made counting scores easier, and it looks prettier. And attacks and rush strategies already push you away from Colony; it's fine if some games you really don't want to stop at Provinces. So 10 VP it is.

The Bible of Donald X. / The Secret History of the Dark Ages Cards
« on: August 23, 2012, 03:15:40 pm »
When I showed Dominion off to RGG, I had five expansions. They were: Intrigue; Seaside and Hinterlands combined; Prosperity; "War;" and a large version of Alchemy with a touch of Cornucopia.

War was interaction-themed. Different ways for players to interact. Its cards included versions of Swindler, Trade Route, Tribute, Council Room, and Smugglers. Council Room kept the same name when I moved it to the main set; now you know how it got that name.

War was my favorite expansion, but the problem was, every expansion needed interactive non-attack cards. Every expansion needed a certain percentage of interactive cards, and attacks slow the game down, whereas non-attack interactive cards may not, and may even speed it up. So I had to spread them around. I made War more attack-themed and gave each other set at least one non-attack interactive card. Man do I need an acronym for that? Maybe I am done saying it.

During work on the main set, I briefly tried rearranging everything into 16-card expansions, and at that time I had an expansion that was top-of-your-deck themed. This theme was no good; it's fine for making some cards that play well with each other, but since I do that kind of thing in every set, the theme is invisible. So I broke that one up, and War ended up taking a few of those cards, thinking maybe it would end up with a mild top-of-your-deck subtheme, which fit with some of the attacks. In the end it only kept Armory. Those of you noting that Dark Ages is the 7th expansion, and that in the Secret History for Dominion I say that Adventurer came from the 7th expansion: that 7th expansion was the top-of-deck one. Ditto for Shanty Town.

Around the time I was working in earnest on Cornucopia, I realized I had to decide what to do about the sizes of the last two large sets. The main set and Intrigue were standalones, and so 500 cards; Seaside and Prosperity had playmats and metal tokens. Hinterlands and Dark Ages did not have such things. Could they just be cheaper or what? I did not know yet if that was okay. However, I could dodge the issue for one of the sets by making it a standalone, and it seemed good to do another standalone anyway. I picked Hinterlands for that and worked to keep that set from getting too complex. And then what could Dark Ages have? And of course I realized that it could just have more cards; it could be 500 cards rather than 300. This would let me do some stuff that might not seem worth the space otherwise, like having a new kind of penalty card or cards that turned into other cards. So I expanded the expansion.

The original interactive theme was gone, and the attack theme was not going to cut it. Joe Dominion just doesn't want a heavy attack environment, that's what I think. And anyone who does can rig it themselves by including more attacks on the table. I figured attacks could still be a minor sub-theme, but slowly the cards that worked with attacks left, until Squire is all that remains (yes plus Beggar but that doesn't count). And as I mentioned, the top-of-deck theme was never going to amount to much.

I filled the void with an upgrading theme and a trash theme. Lots of cards turn cards into other cards, or themselves into other cards, and then a bunch of cards care if they're trashed, and a few care about the trash other ways. And of course the stuff I did with the extra 200 cards amounted to various minor themes too.

War was an unacceptable theme for Hans im Gluck, and I knew this basically from the day they took on Dominion. So way back when I knew I would be retheming the set. Dark Ages, there's a theme. It could be the poor to Prosperity's rich. Then when Alchemy became a small set, it looked like this set, though originally 4th, would be the last Dominion set, and that seemed cool too, going out with the Dark Ages (then Guilds got bumped to after it due to the basic cards product, which is also why Hinterlands wasn't a standalone).

Two cards from the original 2007 version of the set remain basically intact - Altar and Band of Misfits. The Knights were in the original set in a different form, and there was a "+1 card +1 action" trasher which can claim to be an ancestor of Rats and Junk Dealer. The other 16 cards went elsewhere or didn't survive, being replaced by 31 new cards, some themselves from other sets but many new to this one. And of course I added those other cards, the Ruins and Shelters and things. The original war flavor and interaction theme are gone, replaced by the Dark Ages, upgrading, and the trash. The original set was my favorite and it turns out the final set is still my favorite. I liked the original for the interaction between players, and I like the final version for the interactions between cards. It is the crazy combos set.

Let's check out the cards!

Altar: This is identical to the original version from 2007 except for name. Originally it was Foundry, then Tinker. I called it Altar so you could sacrifice Cultists to it. No, don't thank me; it's what I'm here for.

Armory: The lone survivor (here) from the failed small expansion with a top-of-your-deck theme. It's a straightforward card that never changed.

Band of Misfits: This has the same base functionality as it originally did in 2007; only the exact wording and what happens in the confusing cases has changed. For a while this left the set, because I didn't think I could get a good enough wording, but finally I decided to go for it. If you use it as Feast you trash it; if you use it as a duration card it stays out. Okay?

Bandit Camp: I started out trying "+1 card, +1 action, gain a Silver." It was a very basic card I hadn't done yet. It was kind of weak. I tried it with the Fool's Gold reaction on the bottom. Then the set needed another village, so I changed it to "+1 card, +2 actions, gain a Silver." At that point people would complain that gaining Silver was at cross-purposes to having a village - the Silver reduces your chance of drawing your actions together. I thought it was fine though; some people won't see that, and if you are a more serious player who does see that, well, does it stop you from buying the card? I think not. And anyway some of the cards have to be simple.

When I was looking for things to do with Spoils, I saw this card, and thought hey, try changing that Silver to Spoils. And that worked out, and somehow people stopped complaining. The one-shot Gold does not water down your village-ing capabilities as much as the Silver did.

Beggar: I had the reaction on the original card, with "gain a Silver" as the top. Long ago I had had a straight "gain a Silver" action for $2, and it wasn't good enough, but it seemed like a reaction might prop it up sufficiently. Then it got "+$1" for good measure. And well the card was fine, if not exciting. Then I decided to change Squire, as told in its story, and it took the cheap Silver-gaining, leaving me to replace the top here. Three Coppers seemed flavorful and interesting.

Catacombs: This started out in Hinterlands. Hinterlands had plenty of card-drawing though, so I moved it here. It seemed like an okay candidate for a when-trashed ability, so I gave it one. It mirrors Border Village.

Count: The premise was a card with two choose one's, one bad and one good. The bad ones were easy. The good ones initially had "+2 Cards +2 Actions," then "trash up to 4 cards from your hand," in place of "trash your hand," and the card had a dividing line and a "you can't buy this unless you have an action in play" restriction. This was a way to stop you from getting it turn one, and was kind of nice otherwise. It was just way too much text though. So I made the Chapel a little harder to use, moved the bad choice to before the good choice so it would only trash 3 cards normally (or 4 and you gain a Copper), and there you have it.

Counterfeit: I tried out a Throne for treasures in Prosperity. It seemed like a classic thing, but it wasn't as popular as I'd hoped, so I dropped it. I rescued it here by having it trash the treasure you Throne, which makes it double as a way to get rid of Coppers, and hey I threw in +$1 and +1 Buy for good measure. Theory of suggested the name.

Cultist: Attacks need to produce resources of some sort; I know from Saboteur and Sea Hag that people don't like it when they don't (yes the Knights don't all, but most do). And well I have gone through all of the simple options. So Cultist had a tricky problem to solve: it had to have resources I'd already given out, and not be too powerful, but not look too weak. Initially it gave +2 Cards and said "each other player gains a Ruins. If he can't, he gains a Curse." It could potentially give out 20 bad cards to each opponent. It was like that for a while, but in the end I decided that getting Curses and Ruins at the same time was something to save for when it came up out of the randomizer, rather than something to build into one nightmare card.

I tried "Cultists cost $1 less this turn," trying to play into the flavor, but that just never did anything. I gave it a sweet when-trashed ability, but some games you can't trash it; it still needed more than +2 Cards. Finally I thought of letting you play another Cultist.

Death Cart: This card exists to provide a way to give yourself Ruins. So that people don't just hate it, it gives you a use for the Ruins it comes with, a use so good that you almost feel like coming with Ruins is a plus. This has a when-gain ability, like those Hinterlands cards. My initial plan was to do these here and there in the sets after Hinterlands, back when Hinterlands was half of the 2nd expansion. That didn't work out, seeing as how Hinterlands is 6th, but well here's another when-gain card anyway.

Feodum: At last, the victory card that counts treasures that you've been waiting for. As explained in the preview, it only counts Silvers in order to be more different from Gardens and not just favor the kind of deck you already wanted. Making it a Silver piñata seemed cool and the card was just like that from the beginning.

Forager: I wanted cards that cared about the trash. There were not a lot of reasonable things to do. If cards care too much, people end up spreading the trash out on the table, and well how big is your table anyway. This mechanic worked fine though. Taking a cue from Trade Route, it cares about the variety of treasures that are in the trash. This normally only goes up, but can go down due to cards that steal from the trash, and that's fun too. The card originally cost $2, so that you could use it to buy two more of them right away, but that turned out to be too strong. An early version I don't remember says "Trash a card from your hand. +$1 per different treasure in the trash, +1 Card per different victory card in the trash," with no +Action/+Buy.

Fortress: Originally this also went back to your hand if you revealed it from your deck. In the end that seemed way too wonky. Without that it ends up just being a village in games without ways to usefully trash it, but well it is pretty cool when you are trashing it. Or someone else is. For a long time the card was called Walled Village, but then I needed that name for the Carcassonne promo.

Graverobber: It's obvious that you could make a card that gets cards from the trash. What's not obbvious is that it will end up looking like this. There was just a straight line that led from the idea to the final card though. It had to provide a way to get good cards into the trash, so that it wouldn't just stare at an empty trash, or a trash full of Coppers and Estates. So, it's a Remodel. Furthermore it's a Remodel that likes to trash actions that cost $5, which is just the kind of thing you're happy getting from the trash. In games where Provinces end up trashed, such as via other Remodels, it's way too good to be able to gain them with Graverobbers, so you can't. It also can't get cheap cards, which was to stop you from getting Madman (a combo we first suffered through for a while). I later changed Madman to not go to the trash, but kept Graverobber at $3 to $6, because that makes things a little easier - you keep one pile of real trash and one pile of good trash - and it meant I could safely do other non-supply $0* cards in the future without worrying about Graverobber, if somehow that comes up.

Hermit / Madman: I quickly tried four variations on the top before settling on what it has. The premise was to let you trash cards that weren't in your hand; it had to also hit them in your hand so you didn't curse your luck on drawing those opening Estates / Shelters too often. Some of the versions trashed cards from the supply, a mechanic I'd first tried on a Seaside outtake, but it hadn't worked then and didn't work this time. And originally it trashed cards from your deck, but your discard pile gives you a similar selection faster.

I tried the bottom on another card that didn't survive, then put it here. Originally I thought I would have several cards that upgraded into specific non-supply cards, but each one both requires 10 extra cards to handle it, and gives me a card with a ton of text on it. So there are only two. The premise originally came from thinking about Pirate Ship, at a point when it was too late to change it. I realized that I could have made it that Pirate Ship either attacked or upgraded, and it upgraded into a Retired Pirate that made money. This change wouldn't have addressed any problems, it was just a cute thing I could have done, if I'd thought of it in time and had been welling to give up a card slot for it. So after that I planned on one day doing such cards. "If you didn't buy anything" was an obvious simple trigger, and a nice fit for a Hermit. If he doesn't go into town often enough, he goes mad.

Madman started as an Intrigue card for $5. At first it was +2 Actions, +3 Cards, trash this; then I moved it to the large version of Alchemy, which at the time was planning on having a hand-related sub-theme, and changed it from +3 Cards to doubling your hand size, because hey, that's cool. Then of course I moved it to Cornucopia when Alchemy ended up being small and Cornucopia took on the hand theme. Then Cornucopia lost that theme, but this card left first; it was too strong. What would happen was Bill Barksdale would be losing, and moaning about it, and he'd buy a Madman, because what other chance did he have, ugh, ugh, ugh. And then he'd buy two more. And he'd have a turn where he played all three and drew his deck and bought out the Provinces. It seemed like a card still worth doing; it just had to be harder to get them. And so it is.

Madman originally was trashed. I switched it to going back to the pile as part of my ruthless weeding out of the Graverobber / Madman combo.

Hunting Grounds: The bottom started out on a victory card worth 3 VP. It was a defense vs. Knights, and cute with Remodels, but not really so worth doing. So I dropped that card, then brought the bottom back with a simple action top. I see from my files that I briefly tried it at $5 with "+3 Cards +1 Buy" before going to the +4 Cards version.

Ironmonger: This was briefly in Hinterlands long ago. I forget why I dropped it. When I put it here, initially you always discarded the card. Some people hate flipping over their good cards though, so I tried a version where you could keep the card if you wanted, and as you can see that worked out.

Junk Dealer: This was a relatively late addition. I wanted another +1 Card +1 Action thing for $5. I tried a version of this that only gave you the +$1 if the trash had at least 10 cards in it, then 5, and then I just gave you the +$1.

Knights: How about a pile where every card is different? To keep from being too much to remember, they could be variations on a theme. Thus was my thinking back when, and the 2007 version of the set had a pile of Knights. They each had "Each other player trashes the top card of his deck," which was my standard trashing attack in those days, plus a bonus that varied by Knight. At that time kingdom card piles were 12 cards, and exactly 12 people had played Dominion when I made the first version of the expansion, so I had a Knight for each of them.

When the top-card-trashing attacks all died their deserved deaths, I had to find a way to fix up the Knights. I settled on trashing cards in the range $3-$6. I tried other ranges, man, don't think I didn't. If the lower limit is $4, you always buy Silver over $4's, which makes the game less fun. If the top limit is $5, you always buy Gold over $5's, which makes the game less fun. $3-$6 is the range that does not actually stop you from building a deck with actions, while not helping your opponents by trashing junk, and not being so swingy as to trash Provinces. I could have gone $3-$7 but decided to let the $7's be excitingly immune to Knights.

The Knights slowed down the game, and needed some penalty to mildly keep them in check. They still slow down the game, but you know, not quite as much. They are for the people who like this kind of thing, and well some people adore them, slower game and all. Some people are all, my cards, my precious cards, and well there are plenty of other cards in the set for those guys. Sometimes someone else's cool fun thing trashes your cards, that's just the way it is. Anyway where was I. A penalty. I let them Moat each other, which was okay, and also tried letting any attack Moat them. I think Bill Barksdale suggested having them kill each other. It's a good penalty because it means if people go heavy into Knights, they kill each other off and then there are not as many of them.

The 12-card pile had a few abilities that have not survived. There were a few that scaled with the number of players in a way that I sometimes am okay with but which wasn't great. Like, +$1 per treasure trashed. There was one that attacked the turn you got it: the Hinterlands Knight. And all of the original resource abilities were weaker - it was +1 Card etc. rather than +2 Cards etc. The Knights needed to be better, and improving the bonuses was more fun than improving the attack.

The Knights are still all named after real people, so hey let's meet them! Some of them are even illustrated on the cards, although two declined, two are small children, and some of the remaining six resemble the actual person more than others.

Dame Josephine / Dame Natalie / Dame Sylvia: My wife and daughters.

Dame Molly / Sir Destry: Two friends who were in the first game of Dominion, along with me and Dame Josephine. For you Prosperity fans, Dame Molly is the one who suggested "spendy" as an expansion theme.

Sir Martin / Dame Anna: A friend who would have been in that game, but he'd moved away some months earlier, and his girlfriend.

Sir Bailey: Dame Molly's boyfriend, and the second person to have a copy of Dominion. He was also the first person to make homemade cards, if mine don't count, and he made Courtyard.

Sir Vander / Sir Michael: My e-friend who suffered through endless conversations about Dominion but did not playtest much, and another e-friend who playtested a bunch.

Marauder: Originally it gave you a Silver; now you get a Spoils.

Market Square: Once Intrigue had the top half. By the time I was working on Intrigue for publication, it didn't seem worth a slot. I brought it back here because I needed a simple top for the reaction. Before that I tried the reaction paired with Fool's Gold's top.

Originally the reaction was, you could trash this to gain a Gold when one of your cards was trashed. Time has shown that gaining a Gold is not as awesome as it looks (btw spoilers), and I eventually got around to testing the stronger version that made it into the set.

The reaction also dates back to Intrigue. I had a reaction that let you gain a copy of a card of yours that was trashed. To be good enough it had to give you Gold instead.

Mystic: This is a late card, from a point where I had a couple slots to fill, and wanted $5's that didn't use up your action. I made a list of cards to try, and we tried them, and this one stood out. It's just Wishing Well with +$2 instead of +1 Card. Only, as with Highway vs. Bridge, that change means that various combos that don't work with Wishing Well actually work with Mystic.

Pillage: Discarding a card the attacker picks was a basic thing I hadn't done yet. It's so rude that the card is a one-shot. Originally it gained two cards costing up to $4 each, but that was too good. Now you get Spoils.

Poor House: This started in Prosperity. At the time I thought having a few anti-theme cards in a set would be cool. It turns out it's not; it just makes those cards less likely to be played when playing with kingdom cards heavy on whatever expansion. So Poor House moved to Hinterlands, and while it seemed fine there, one day it seemed like, why isn't this in Dark Ages.

The original card got you +$5 if you had no treasure in hand. Sir Bailey suggested changing it so that you got varying amounts of money depending on how close you came to no treasures. Then for a long time it cost $2, but Sir Martin suggested having it cost $1 for flavor reasons. It makes a functional difference in various situations and that's cool too.

Procession: There was an ancestor of this card in the original large Alchemy. It was, play an action from your hand, trash it, gain an action costing up to +$2 or +Potion, play it. So you could go, play a Moneylender, trash it, gain a Golem, play the Golem. It was crazy and confusing but had a certain something.

Another Throne variant in Dark Ages didn't work out, and I thought of that old card and made this one. It does not go so crazy but can still facilitate a cool transforming engine.

Rats: Here it is, my favorite Dominion card. Your kingdom, overrun with rats! And somehow this will work out for you! There had been a card back when that was "+1 card +1 action, trash this or a card from your hand." It had cost $2 and was crazy. When I thought of making an action that gave you copies of itself, I brought it back as the action. Of course it can't trash copies of itself, because then it would be crazy again. There were a few versions of this that tried different ways to balance the card, and to address the issue of, what if I just buy one Rats when they're all but sold out, to get a good trasher with no penalty. Some versions had a penalty if you couldn't gain a Rats. In the end the key was making Rats a 20-card pile, and giving you a bonus for trashing it.

Rebuild: A late addition. I had an empty slot, and noticed that all of the large expansions gave you answers to the question, how do I deal with these dead victory cards? Intrigue has victory cards that aren't dead; Seaside lets you set them aside with Island, and, if you're crafty, Native Village; Prosperity has VP tokens; Hinterlands pushes card filtering. So I tried this out. Originally it didn't give +1 Action, but that version could not compete.

Rogue: Back when, Intrigue had a card called Bandit: "Each other player reveals the top 2 cards of his deck and trashes one. Gain one of the trashed cards." For $4. So, like a Thief that can steal anything, although the attacked player got to pick what to lose. Like Thief, Bandit would helpfully eat Coppers for your opponents, but at least it threatened to take Provinces later. I tweaked it into a card that cost $5, looked at the top 3 cards, and only trashed stuff costing from $3 to $6. Then I took it out of the set. It was slowing games down and did not have that certain something.

A few years later, I made a new version as what Urchin turned into. It looked at the top two now, still trashing something for from $3 to $6. This was in the set for a while, then got upped to taking any $3-$6 card from the trash, not just one that was just trashed. But one day I got too fed up with it. The problem was, it was the kind of attack you might feel like buying to fight itself, only you couldn't - you had to buy Urchins and get them to upgrade, which can take a while when you start on it later. Bandit was normally just a thorn in your side, but some games it would get played a ton and take your stuff and you couldn't even get in on it.

So, I replaced what Urchin turned into with Mercenary, and made this new Bandit, now a Rogue. He only trashes or gains, not both at once, and he can't trash if there's anything to gain. He does make +$2 though, which makes all the difference. Some games there is stuff in the trash right away, like Hermits, and the Rogue never gets to trash cards, but well that's the kindler gentler Dark Ages that people prefer.

Sage: The initial version was +1 Action, name a card, draw the next card that you haven't named for Sages yet this turn. So with multiple Sages it would get more selective. I pared that down to just drawing you a $3+.

Scavenger: At one point I thought I might push doing stuff with the discard pile as a subtheme. I didn't really, although a few cards care about it. Scavenger lets you pick a card from your discard pile to draw. To make sure there is something, it lets you put your deck there first. Originally you had to put your deck into your discard pile; Wei-Hwa Huang argued for making it optional, to get rid of certain cases where you were sad to do it. And as a result you can set up multiple cards with it, if you play multiple Scavengers and only flip the first time.

Squire: The first version of this, from way back when, was the not-so-similar-looking "+1 card +1 action, you may play an attack or buy a Silver." It was a village that only played attacks, or a +buy that only worked on Silver. When it turned out that I wouldn't be doing more cards that let you buy cards in the action phase, due to Black Market being confusing, I dropped buying Silvers (at that point "buy a Treasure") and added, "when trashed, gain an attack." Now the card was just a blank cycler in games with no attacks. For a while I thought that was okay, but people sure complained about it. I made it, "when trashed, gain an attack or silver," but of course some games there's no way to trash it either.

I liked the bottom, so the solution was to give it a spiffy top that you would always be happy with. And there it is, a counterpart to Steward. It took "gain a Silver" from Beggar and well that worked out too.

Storeroom: This was an old idea that I had briefly tried and forgotten about long ago. I wanted a card-filterer to help dig through your Ruins and saw this on a list and thought hey, let's try that again.

Urchin: I wanted an attack that learned how to be a better attack. The initial attack had to be weak, and it had to have +1 card +1 action, making it need to be even weaker. "Discard down to 4" was an obvious candidate and worked out immediately. It can hurt, but is often inoffensive.

Originally it turned into an earlier version of Rogue, as told in that story. When that didn't work out I tried Mercenary. It's a bigger discard-based attack, so you can feel like your Urchin got better at that kind of thing. Otherwise it was a card I'd tried as a regular kingdom card in the set but which had been too good. It's still pretty snazzy if your Urchins hit right away. It's a Steward that does all three things!

Vagrant: It's a Lab where the extra card is always bad. Actually that would be more powerful but slower; it doesn't guarantee you a bad card, it just can't do better. Sometimes you're happy with blank cards to discard to something, and when you aren't, at least it can clear a bad card out of the way of your next draw. It's not going to be a star, but some cards that cost $2 have to really look like they're just a $2.

Wandering Minstrel: In Cornucopia I tried out a card that was +$2, name a type, dig for it, leave the first match on top. It would have been "strictly better" than Chancellor at $3 (since you could name a type that wasn't in your deck), and I didn't want to charge $4 for it or give it an awful condition specifically to make it worse than Chancellor (a card not famous for being strong). So I dropped it. I turned it into a village in Guilds, then moved it to Dark Ages, where I made it always dig for actions, with no choice. That card was a bit too strong and also slowed down games more than an ideal amount. So now it just looks at the top 3 cards and leaves the actions on top.

I haven't covered a few of the extras, so let's do those:

Ruins: Back when, the main set had Confusion - a blank card - and an attack that gave it out. Confusion just wasn't worth the 30 or 50 extra cards it required. It plays so much like Curse. When I decided to make Dark Ages 500 cards, I of course thought of Confusion. Confusion still wasn't worth doing though. But what about more interesting penalty cards? They wouldn't need to be all the same even. And well there they are, the Ruins. It was always those five. Some people argued that Ruined Village was more funny than worth printing; it's easily the worst one, and in a multiplayer game someone just randomly got handed it while someone else got Abandoned Mine. But I thought that wasn't so bad, and felt that it was important that it be very easy to learn the Ruins. Four are +1's and then there's Survivors. Bam.

I needed a rule for putting out the pile, and so put "Looter" on the bottom of the relevant kingdom cards. It seemed like it would be confusing if the Ruins pile wasn't in the supply, so it is; that meant the top card had to be visible, so that for example if I name it for Contraband we know that that's what you'd be buying (and you can't). This means you have to carefully deal them out in turn order and well that was as good as it got.

Shelters: Tom Lehmann suggested replacing starting Estates with something else, to make the environment feel more Dark Ages-y. I thought this was a great idea. Ruins obv. doesn't work, because some people would make out, unless we picked specific ones. And Curse isn't very interesting. But I could just make up three new cards, which is what I did. Necropolis shakes up early turns, since you can stomach more in the way of terminal actions; Overgrown Estate gives you a little prize if you crack it open eventually; and Hovel tempts you into buying a victory card when you might not have.

Hovel is the only one that changed. Originally it was an action you could trash by discarding your hand. It turned out that trashing it turn 1-2 usually seemed like the correct play, even if you drew it with four Coppers. So that was no good. Hovel as printed has nice flavor going for it; you move out of your old Hovel and into a nice Duchy.

Spoils: One day looking through my ideas file I decided it was time to try out "card that makes a one-shot Gold." The first version was just that: cost $3, you gain a Spoils. It seemed cute but was weak, so I gave it +1 Action. At that point it still seemed weak, but people bought it anyway.

I knew some people would be all, where are the other cards that make Spoils? And I was not possibly giving them another way to get Madmen or Mercenaries. So I thought, maybe three cards total could make Spoils. So I went looking for something else to stick Spoils on. It ended up on Marauder, Pillage, and Bandit Camp.

Then the original card died, because it just didn't have much going for it at that point.

You originally trashed Spoils, and could get them from the trash. It seemed simpler if they returned to the pile. It drops some words from the three cards that give them out, and matches Madman. Forager can still put a Spoils in the trash, it just doesn't get that handed to it for nothing.

On to the endless outtakes.

- The reaction part of Trader started here, first by itself, and then for a while as a treasure-reaction worth $1. The top half of Inn started here too, for $4 (it was fine, I just needed someplace to put the bottom half of Inn). There was also a similar card here later, "+2 Cards +1 Action, discard a card," for $4, which ended up being too good. Spice Merchant without the Woodcutter option was here, but didn't exactly lead to Spice Merchant. Fool's Gold was in here at one point, in addition to the bottom being tried on Bandit Camp. Cartographer started here; it was a simple card that seemed perfect for Hinterlands, at the time a standalone.

- Swindler, Trade Route, Tribute, and Council Room started here. Council Room originally cost $4; Tribute didn't say "differently named" and revealed the top card of each adjacent player; Swindler didn't give +$2 and instead gave them a card for $2 less than the trashed card; and Trade Route was "+1 Card +1 Buy +$1, if a Province has been gained this game, +1 Card." Smugglers had its roots in a card here that was "+$2, cards gained on the previous turn cost $1 less this turn." I tried a victory card with the Horse Traders reaction here. Hunting Party and Spy were briefly in this set before getting whisked away.

- Vineyard was in the set for a while, sometimes with a reaction. Masquerade visited. Monument was here for a bit, after leaving Prosperity and before returning to it. The card that ended up being Horn of Plenty was here for a while after leaving Intrigue. When it was here it was some version of, "+2 Actions +1 Buy, while this is in play, when you play an action +$1."

- There was an attack that gave out Confusions and doubled as a Moat. There was an attack that was +1 Card +1 Action, name a type, each other player reveals their top card and trashes it if it matches. I tried a weaker version that only hit $3-$6's before killing it.

- For a long time there was an attack which in its best form was "+$2, they trash the top card of their deck and gain a cheaper card that shares a type with it, or a Ruins if they can't." I liked it. Eventually I decided though that there was enough hatred of trashing attacks out there that I should just stick with the Knights (plus Rogue, but it's only a fractional attack).

- There was an attack, gain an Estate, they gain a Curse, for $3. It dominated games too much. I replaced it with Marauder, and used the Estate/Curse thing on Followers.

- There was a trashing attack that could only trash cards that didn't match cards in the trash.

- There was a Spy variant for $2 that put bottom cards on top or didn't.

- There was a flipped version of Margrave - +2 Cards, each other player discards down to 2, then draws a card. Oh man. So painful. A version that was around for a while cost $4 and gave you 2 Silvers if it was trashed. Another version cost $5 but came with a Spoils.

- After that attack died, I tried, they discard down to 3, you look through your discard pile and either get a card from it into your hand or draw 2 cards. It needed the +2 Cards option in case your discard pile was empty. Well I decided Scavenger was okay, but you don't need to see too many of these getting back Platinums.

- Early on Intrigue had had a one-shot that played every attack in your deck (digging them out of it). It moved here and stopped being a one-shot, then gained the setup of "add an attack pile to the game." It was in the set for a while, producing gigantic piles of pain.

- There was a village that had you Spy first whenever you played an attack. Play three of them and you'd be making three decisions per player per attack. I liked it for a while.

- There was a Throne Room variant that gave +1 Card +1 Action, and had every opponent play the card you Throned on their next turn. It had built-in super-crazy just by playing it on itself.

- Another Throne was "Choose one: +1 Card +1 Action; or Throne." It cost $4 when Throne Room itself cost $3. When Throne Room had to cost $4 there was no place for this card, which would be sad at $5.

- Another Throne hung around, set aside, until you wanted to use it (it was $5 and also gave you +1 Action when played). This works differently from Throne in multiples; two of them would let you do an action three times total, since each one just did it an extra time. This card was cool and was in the set for a while, but setting it aside indefinitely was problematic - in the past we've included playmats for that, and I didn't want playmats here - and the card was strong. A few times Bill Barksdale built a deck with lots of these Thrones and an Altar, which would take advantage of not actually having to trash a card to Altar if there are none in your hand, and would suddenly buy a pile of Duchies. One of those games, Bill pared his deck down to just an Altar and five copies of this Throne, drew the five Thrones and then watched a trashing attack trash his Altar. Good times.

- Another Throne had you draw 2 cards, play an action twice, then discard 3 cards. That may look straightforward, but it's all kinds of weird.

- I had discarding victory cards for +$2 each. It started out at $4, went up to $6, moved to Hinterlands, then was dropped for not being interesting enough.

- There was a Remodel that put the card into your hand. Originally it didn't give +1 Action; then it did and was crazy.

- There was a Remodel for $4 that Remodel'd one of the top 3 cards of your deck, putting the new card on top. I thought it was a keeper, but in one set of surveys it became clear that it was a dud for several playtesters.

- Another Remodel turned one card into two different cards that each cost exactly $2 more. I did Develop instead.

- There was a victory card for $6 that was worth 2 VP and you gained two copies of it. That runs out the pile twice as fast, so I changed it to 1 VP but it came with a Duchy. That moved to Hinterlands, was there for a while, then left when I made Border Village cost $6.

- I tried a victory card that was worth 1 VP per 3 copies of whatever action you had the most copies of. I had a few different reactions on the bottom, including Moat and giving you a new hand when attacked.

- I tried a version of Wall here, which had been a Hinterlands card that I did a better way as Island, then tried to do another version of for a while. The version here was an action-victory worth 2 VP with "look through your discard pile, shuffle all but 5 cards from it into your deck." The various Walls all were ways to shuffle your deck without so much garbage in it; I dropped it from Hinterlands in the end because I did Inn.

- There was an old old card, gain a Silver to hand, each other player gains a Copper to hand, for $5. Way back when, we didn't know any better, and this card seemed okay. Then I tried a bunch of things to make this good enough, eventually drifting into "+1 Card +1 Action +$1, each other player gains a Copper in hand then discards down to 4." In the end nothing has survived. Giving other players Copper is bad in general because the pile varies in size so much, depending on the number of players and whether or not you add together the main set and Intrigue. It's fine if the attack is limited as to how much Copper it will really give out, like Jester and Noble Brigand and Ambassador.

- There was a card from Seaside, "+$2, when you discard this from play you may put this on your deck," for $3. It seemed innocent for a long long time. Steve Wampler eventually demonstrated that it was not. Scavenger provides a way to get that +$2 every turn, but you need two of them, and might draw them together.

- I tried a few ways to give you a combination of +'s that you picked. It sounded like something but was never interesting.

- There was "+1 buy +$1, if you buy a 2nd card on a turn with this in play, trash this and gain 2 Silvers." I tried a few different "turns into 2 Silvers" cards over the years; this was its last stand.

- When it looked like Band of Misfits wouldn't survive, I made a card that was just a big choose one with the kinds of things you'd like to see on the table with Band of Misfits.

- A few cards tried to provide other uses for the Ruins pile. One was "+1 Card +1 Action, play the top Ruins, put it on the bottom." It was cute but there's a tracking issue. I did Ironmonger instead. Another card played the top four Ruins. It gave you +$3 instead if the Ruins ran out, because what fun is that.

- Here's a weird one. Woodcutter, copies of cards in the trash cost $1 less this turn; setup: we each put a kingdom card into the trash. Let me tell you, some slow decisions there, and then you have to keep the trash all spread out. It was interesting though. Those of you complaining about the Band of Misfits FAQ, this is how you could get King's Court to cost less than Band of Misfits.

- The original main set had "Trash a card from your hand, discard a card, draw 3 cards." I dropped it from the main set for being redundant; there were other trashers. I slotted it right into Intrigue and then bumped it from there too. I stuck it here and well. It was interesting in its day, but wasn't so interesting these days, being similar to various other cards.

- An old card drew you 2 extra cards in your next hand, and was a Moat. The idea was to increase your chance of having reactions in hand for attacks.

- A few times over the years, I tried to make a card that cost the other players a victory card at the end of the game. It attacks your score. This version I'm looking at was an "Action - Endgame." I tried versions that made one card not score, or two. At two no-one scores. At one it just wasn't interesting enough. The rest of the card can't exactly compensate; the text doing this weird thing has to be worth it.

- I tried $2, "+1 Card +1 Action, each player draws a card." It's pretty rude with Militias.

- I briefly had a card-drawer that gave you cards when it was trashed. I guess that still describes Cultist.

- A somewhat late card read, "+1 Buy +$2, while this is in play, when you gain a card, you may trash a card from your hand." It was fine, it was just lackluster. I see another Woodcutter here I don't remember; Woodcutter, a card costs $1 less this turn per copy you reveal from your hand.

- Another late card was a treasure-victory card, worth $1 plus $1 per nontreasure in your hand, and worth 1 VP per 10 cards in the trash. The VP part was crazy, and I replaced this with a treasure worth $1 per different card type in your hand. It was cute in all-Dark Ages games and not so great otherwise. It flirted with staying in the set, then I replaced it with Rebuild.

- More late cards, briefly tested in case they somehow worked out, all costing $5. A two-use Gold (you trash it and gain a Spoils). +3 Cards, we all set aside a card from our hand, then we all take one of those cards. +1 Card +1 Action, When you gain or trash this each other player gets a Ruins. +1 Card +1 Action +$1, may discard x cards to gain a card costing $x. +4 Cards, +1 Action, discard 3 cards. And there was a hot potato card - you passed it left when you played it and got some benefit, and at end of game it was worth negative VP - that I tested but did not make a prototype card image for. The slot all these cards were tested for went to Mystic.

- A few cards moved to Guilds, including one that then didn't survive there, but that story will have to wait.

True story!

Dark Ages Previews / Band of Misfits rules questions
« on: August 15, 2012, 01:53:42 pm »
2) The rest of us wondering if we're supposed to be talking about the leaked cards
Well Reddit is more public than this subforum. They are talking about them on SomethingAwful too. Not on the German forums or BGG though.

So, how many bugs will Band of Misfits have? I think Doug had an obscure one he never fixed.


Here they are at last, the Shelters. In an all Dark Ages game, your starting deck is 7 Coppers, Necropolis, Overgrown Estate, Hovel. When mixing sets up, the rule for using Shelters is similar to the Platinum / Colony rule.

Shelters may not be worth the 1 VP of an Estate, but they are way better to have in your deck. Necropolis lets you go a little heavier on terminals from the get-go. Overgrown Estate gives you an extra little treat if you ever manage to trash it. And Hovel has a built-in way to get rid of it - you move out of that Hovel, and into a nice Duchy or something.

You can't buy Shelters, but they cost $1. That's just to shake up how various cards interact with them. A Remodel doesn't take you as far as it used to. And with only one being a Victory card, that Crossroads doesn't go to as many places. Baron doesn't know what to do with these. And an Ambassador can't even give them away, since they have no piles to return to. On the other hand, they are fine places to get animals for your Menagerie. And how much exactly can you build Fairgrounds up to now, in games without Black Market? Man. A lot.

Even though I previewed 15 cards, only 9 of them were kingdom cards. There are 26 kingdom cards left that you haven't seen. That's as many as a whole set! It's like there weren't any previews at all. And yet they're over. Someone will no doubt post the card list after the set comes out at GenCon next week, and I will post a Secret History shortly afterwards.

Dark Ages Previews / Dark Ages Preview #4: Rats, Pillage, Spoils
« on: August 09, 2012, 09:02:09 am »

Rats is my favorite Dominion card. Now you know that about me. You give your kingdom a rat problem. Sure, you get rid of some garbage, but now you've got Rats, and they don't get rid of themselves. Isn't the solution worse than the problem? Plus, let's not forget, there are twenty Rats, rather than the usual ten. That's right: today, you didn't get the whole story just looking at the pictures. Twenty Rats, even in two-player games. Just chewing your deck to pieces. Well secretly there's probably something you can do with them. Looking over the cards spoiled so far, they seem to be a combo with most of them, what's up with that.

Pillage is a more conventional attack, in that it attacks your opponents. It's a one-shot. There haven't been very many but this is one. You make everyone else discard their best card, which is bound to hurt them, and you get two Spoils, which sounds good at least. It's a pretty rude attack, but at least it only happens once per copy bought, barring Graverobbers or something. The thing being Pillaged in the art is of course a Village. I remember when that was a peaceful place, with a guy on a horse.

Spoils is a one-shot Gold. That makes Pillage a one-shot that gets you two one-shots. You can't buy Spoils; there are three different ways to get it, and the other two get you them repeatedly. A one-shot Gold is pretty good if you were only drawing it once anyway, or if you didn't really want Gold in the long run, and if those things aren't true well hey it's still something.

There are 15 Spoils. I have seen them run out (temporarily of course) but it's rare. A little math reveals that there must therefore be only one victory card pile. Dark Ages has 35 kingdom cards, adding up to 352 cards, and 35 randomizers; 50 Ruins; 10 extra Rats; 10 Madmen and 10 of some other card you upgrade into; 15 Spoils; and 18 Shelters.

Dark Ages Previews / Dark Ages Preview #3: Squire, Hermit, Madman
« on: August 08, 2012, 09:01:08 am »

Squire is the complement to Steward that you always knew I'd make. Okay maybe you didn't figure that one out. You get a choice of three things that Steward doesn't get you, plus $1 in the bargain. It's a pretty nifty $2, just for that. And if he gets trashed, then you get an attack, any attack on the table. You can Remodel a Squire into a Remodel and a Familiar.

A major theme of Dark Ages is upgrading, whatever that means. Actually I think I can explain it: it's, turning cards into other cards. Some cards turn other cards into other other cards, like Graverobber does, but some cards turn themselves into other cards, and Squire is one of those.

Hermit is another. He's normally content to just trash certain cards and gain some Silvers or something. But if you don't make enough trips into town, he loses it. He goes mad. And then he blows up one day in a fit of card-drawing. Which is my way of saying, well it's all there on the card. That stuff.

Hermit turns into Madman, a card that isn't in the supply. You can't buy a Madman; if you want one, you have to get a Hermit and then not buy something. And then you only get it once! Somehow it's worth the trouble.

Turning a card into a specific new non-kingdom card requires a pile of ten of those cards. Yes do you really need ten, I know. But you do. And well how much of the set wanted to go to that stuff, rather than say new kingdom cards? So in the end I just did two of those. Now you know one of them.

The Bible of Donald X. / Dominion Preview / Review
« on: March 17, 2012, 05:27:12 am »
BGN had a preview/interview for Dominion back when. BGN is no longer with us, but is archived at, where you can still see the preview:

And here it is so you don't have to click on that. The preview is from W. Eric Martin.

Game Preview/Review: Dominion

By W. Eric Martin
October 17, 2008

Publishers: Rio Grande Games / Hans im Glück / Filosofia Games
Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Players: 2-4
Playing Time: 15-45 minutes
Release Date: Spiel 08
Languages: English / German / French
Price: $45

Okay, I’ll admit that I talked Dominion up after first playing it in April 2008, even predicting that it will outsell Race for the Galaxy. Am I crazy? Perhaps, but I don’t think my guess will be far off the mark because the game is addictive and short (like RftG), while also being easier to learn and play.

Dale Yu and Valerie Putman published an overview of the game at the end of June 2008 prior showing the game at Origins, but here’s my take on it: Dominion takes the deck building aspect of a collectible card game – an activity you normally do prior to playing the actual game – and makes that deck-building the game itself.

The Deck

While a comparison with Magic: the Gathering might seem inevitable, designer Donald X. Vaccarino says that beyond Magic‘s core activity of putting a deck on the table for each player, the game had no influence on Dominion, which was initially called Castle Builder and later dubbed Game X.

That said, Vaccarino notes that Magic did kickstart a fertile period of game design for him. “Prior to 1994 I had played hardly any gamer’s games. I had designed a few games, but it was just something I did once in a while, without really thinking it through or anything. I have maybe two games from prior to 1994 that are worth playing, and they’re both party games. Magic changed everything. It introduced me to the concept of interacting rules on cards – I had never seen Cosmic Encounter or Wiz-War. It made me a bunch of friends who showed me gamer’s games and Euros. It inspired me to make my own games, with many of the early ones pursuing the ‘game where the rules change’ idea to various extremes.”

Starting in 1997, Vaccarino traveled to Wizards of the Coast roughly once a year to show off new designs, despite Wizards not being in the market for outside submissions. “Really it was just, ‘Hey, I get to play my games with Richard Garfield,’” he says. “In fact, for a few years the focus of my game design was ‘Will this impress Richard?’ which typically translated into ‘How novel is this game?’”

The Concept

One of Vaccarino’s game designs from 2003 was Spirit Warriors, in which players built fantasy heroes by going on quests and fighting monsters. “The idea was to make a game that my friends would like as much as possible,” he says, and while that goal was met, “I was not really considering trying to get it published; it has 500 or so unique cards, and just making a more presentable prototype would be a ton of work.”

In 2006, though, he decided to make a sequel that would keep the hero-building flavor of the game, while being its mirror image in terms of game mechanisms. Says Vaccarino, “In Spirit Warriors you rolled dice for combat, so in Spirit Warriors II you would play cards. In Spirit Warriors you had one classless hero, so in Spirit Warriors II you had a party of four heroes with classes.” Each class consisted of eight cards, and you shuffled the cards for all of your heroes together. Draw the paladin’s sword card, and your paladin now has that ability. While a hero’s abilities were weak at the start of the game, consequently making the card weak as well, the sword skill would develop throughout the game, improving the power of the card. A drawback to the game, though, was that it still consisted of 500 cards, which led to slow development work due to the low probability of ever seeing such a game in print.

One part of the game that Vaccarino did see fit to work on was the combat system, which took a lot of time while players evaluated their hand and calculated figures and drew mental graphs and solved differential equations. “I made up a sample situation and had people look at it,” says Vaccarino. “It took everyone forever, and most people ended up with the wrong answer. The fix was to have the cards change from something like ‘Deal 3 damage per level of sword skill’ to the much simpler ‘Deal 3 damage’ – but I wanted to retain the hero-building, and the best solution I thought of was to gain new cards as the game progressed. Once I thought of that, I realized I could make it a separate game with none of this other stuff. No monsters or quests or board or whatever – just building a deck while playing a game with it.”

The Design

That concept crystalized into reality in October 2006 when Vaccarino was trying to prepare a new game for friends for an upcoming game night. ”Spirit Warriors II had no chance whatsoever of being finished in time,” he says. “However, I could just whip out the simple deckbuilding game. I just needed to make ten or so cards and do some cutting and sleeving. If it worked, I could make more cards later, so I whipped it out. I spent a couple hours deciding how the rules would go and what the cards would be.”

While that description sounds like the game was a toss-off, the actual design process was more involved, starting with the notion of how you get to see the deck that you’re creating. “If you draw one card a turn, you won’t get to play the deck you’re building,” says Vaccarino. “The game would need to last hours, with deck construction stopping at some point for you to actually see your deck. The obvious solution was to have you draw five cards a turn. Now you see your deck over and over.”

While multiple resources were a consideration, Vaccarino stuck with one – money – to keep the game simpler and give players more opportunity to do what they might want to do while playing the game.

“For utter elegance, I put everything in the deck,” he says. “Victory points are in the deck, resources are in the deck, actions are in the deck. This was just so I could pursue the concept to its logical extreme. Obviously putting victory points in the deck meant that your deck would get worse once it started being worth points, and that was nice, too.”

This desire to strip everything to simplicity led to the use-it-or-lose-it quality of cards and money. If you had $2 left after a turn and that money carried over, then you’d need tokens or counters to track that, taking away from the fundamental nature of the deck. Using money and having it be removed from the deck would lead to tiny decks that players could draw in entirety each turn; thus money would be recycled by placing spent coins into your discard pile.

“The biggest question,” says Vaccarino, “was how to determine which cards were available for purchase each turn.” While initially considering a Showmanager or Queen’s Necklace-style purchase system in which cards dropped in price the longer that they were available, in the end he chose a simpler solution. “We’d just have every card available at once, and hey, that way if a card was broken, I’d find out right away. Then if the game seemed to work I’d figure out how to make the cards show up. Well of course we liked just buying whatever we wanted, so I never did replace that system.” With all of the cards being available at all times, he chose to make the exhaustion of one pile the endgame condition.

As for the cards themselves, Vaccarino says, “I design cards different ways, but the main way is just trying to explore a particular area of card-design-space. Say I want another attack card: Okay, what is there to attack? What are the ways you can attack that? The game has particular data and you can manipulate it using logic and program-flow. I make lists of possibilities and try to find the interesting ways to synch things up. I don’t, say, sit around waiting for an idea to show up; I hunt that idea down. Of course other times a card is based on flavor or on something that happens in a game or something, but typically it’s the explore-space thing.”

The only limitation to the cards is the size of the text box and the designer’s desire to keep the complexity of the game from growing unmanageable. By creating shorthand terms, the text box can effectively be larger. “Really there’s no practical limit to what you can with the cards,” says Vaccarino. “You are only confined as to how much you can do without defining terms.”

For the main set – the cards that each starting player would encounter – Vaccarino tried to keep the cards simple. “You have to learn both the game and the cards; it makes sense to make learning the cards easier, so the main set has a bunch of cards that are just the simplest implementation of that branch of concepts, or cards that just give you +1 or +2 of a few things and that’s that. The expansions will probably have a dearth of such cards and have more cards that do more complex things and make you read.”

With the design questions answered, it was time to test the game.

The Group

“The effect [of Dominion] on my gaming group was to kill all other games,” says Vaccarino. “In October 2006, I had a game night and a Magic night. On game night we played a mix of my games and storebought games, but game night immediately turned into Dominion night, and Magic night followed suit about a month or so later. Shortly after making Dominion, I cranked out three new games, and my friends were just utterly uninterested in trying them. I finally got a third of one played.” The response? “Okay, this needs work, now let’s get to our Dominion.” Vaccarino pressed the other two games on people in restaurants as they lacked in-booth Dominion delivery.

Flash forward to 2008, and the situation remains the same as it was after the game’s introduction. “A month or so ago, a friend showed up at game night with Agricola,” says Vaccarino. “She hadn’t planned on bringing it; she’d ordered it delivered to her work, and it had shown up that day, so she had it with her. I was the only one interested in trying it. We played Dominion instead.”

Two years after creating the game, Vaccarino estimates that he’s played it about one thousand times, with those games spread across any number of card configurations. “Most of those games have involved expansions. With the main set you may eventually feel like you’ve made all the decks; once you have an expansion or two, you will never see everything.”

The Development

By July 2007, Vaccarino felt ready to present the game to publishers, and Jay Tummelson at Rio Grande Games made a deal for the game after seeing it at Origins. Development of the game was directed by Boardgame News columnists Valerie Putman and Dale Yu, who asked Tummelson whether they could serve as developers because they were enthusiastic about the design after seeing it in prototype form.

Since Castle Builder was yet another 500 card project, Vaccarino worked to trim some elements of the game, lowering the number of cards in most piles from 12 to 10, for example, and removing Confusion cards. “Originally there were two bad cards you could give people: Curse is worth -1 victory point (VP) and is useless when you draw it, while Confusion was just useless to draw. The highlight for me was that the Confusion card just showed a hypnotic spiral pattern with no text, and when a new player was like, ‘I don’t get it, what does this do,’ I’d hold up the card and rotate it so that the spiral did that optical illusion thing. Ah, memories.”

“Anyway,” he continues, “Confusion was fine except you need to print 40 Confusion cards to go along with the attacks that hand it out. That’s a lot for something that feels so much like Curse. I don’t have any plans to ever bring it back in an expansion; we would need those 40 Confusions and those card slots could be three more Actions instead. There could possibly be some other penalty card like Curse in the future, but if there ever is, it will have to actually do something.”

Another card that got the axe was an Attack that trashed – that is, removed from the game – the top card of each player’s deck. “One of the most basic ways to hurt the other players is to trash cards from their decks,” says Vaccarino. This card was part of the set from the earliest days, but it was simultaneously weak (potentially removing useless cards from opponent’s decks and improving them), random (hitting a useless card for one player and a high VP card for another) and destructive enough that players could end up with five card decks from which no one could recover. “It’s cool to have ridiculous game states like that, but they have to be things that happen only once in a while due to an unusual combination of cards and the planets being in syzygy.” As such the card was removed from the main set, although a tweaked version or two might show up in future expansions. An Attack that hit VP cards met a similar fate.

One shortfall with the game discovered during development – with credit for the find given to, ahem, Sir Shuffles-a-lot – was the “Duchy rush problem,” with Duchies being a 3 VP card that costs 5. Says Vaccarino, “You could just buy Duchies and Silver (which give you 2 coins each time you play one) and ignore all of the pretty Actions. If two people did this, you couldn’t beat them; you had to join them. I had seen the Duchy rush, but didn’t think it was a problem because all it did was make everyone play that strategy; it didn’t give you an edge. This was obviously foolish because you shouldn’t be able to make the game suck for the other players like that. (You should be forced to insult them or throw food at them, like with most games.) One guy would go for Duchies, then someone else would, and then the game would be locked in an eternal Duchy winter.”

To solve the problem, the Province – the most valuable victory card – was boosted from 5 VP to 6, and the game-ending condition was changed from “any empty Victory card pile” to “an empty Province pile or any three empty piles.” This change prevented the game from ending due to a run on Duchies and Silver; effectively those players would now be hobbling themselves from a chance at winning because their decks wouldn’t be able to catch those buying Provinces. The “three empty pile” condition comes into play when certain Attack cards inhibit a buying strategy or someone pursues a non-Province strategy while trying to end the game quickly. Says Vaccarino, “Originally the ‘three other piles’ didn’t count money or Curses, but Valerie wanted those to count and it’s both simpler and slightly better that they do.”

Putman also gets credit for simplifying the card drawing process when a player nears the end of her deck. Under Vaccarino’s original design, if a player needed to draw five cards but had only two in her deck, she’d shuffle those two into her discard pile to form a new deck before drawing. “Any time you draw a whole deck, I worry about card-counting, which I think of as no fun, and one fix is to not to end up drawing every card,” says Vaccarino. “Valerie’s way is simpler and what people expect. Sure, there’s a little card-counting sometimes, but it’s pretty minor.”

The Rejects [sidebar]
 Which cards didn’t make the cut? Vaccarino gives some hints, while leaving out details for those cards which might reappear someday.
- There was a smaller Workshop which let you gain a card costing 2 coins or less, plus a bonus. The main ability was very weak, and the bonus, while interesting, was on the confusing side for the main set. The bonus is on another card that may make it into an expansion someday. There could still be a little Workshop in some form, but this wasn’t it.
- There was a weak card that I gave an additional ability to, made cheaper, and stuck in an expansion.
- There was a different Victory card in place of Gardens. It was narrower and so Gardens was a better fit for the main set. The other card may show up in an expansion.
- There was a card that was just “+2 coins, +2 cards” for 5. It was too powerful at 5 and not exciting enough for 6. I don’t expect to ever revive it; instead you can do things with variable amounts of coins or cards that are better balanced and more interesting.
- There was yet another card reminiscent of Workshop. It needed some work and was too redundant to stay in. It could show up in a fixed form in an expansion.
- There were two perfectly good cards that were a little too redundant. We wanted the main set to have a lot of variety and so while it’s reasonable to make multiple cards like Workshop, for example, having two in the first 25 cards seems excessive. Anyway there was a card too close to Mine and another too close to Chapel, and they’re both earmarked for expansions. They are different and interesting but there was more variety possible than they were producing.
What makes a card good or bad in the long run? Says Vaccarino, “The way I look at card power level is to see what people buy. If people never buy a card, then it’s too weak or uninteresting or something. It’s bad, whatever the core reason. If, when a card is out, you can’t win without buying it, then that card is too powerful. If a card seems awesome but I can ignore it and win doing something else, then that card is fine.”

While several cards were replaced – see the sidebar for details – only a couple of cards had their text changed and only one had its cost adjusted. (Long-time Magic players should be able to spot the culprit on an initial glance through the cards.)
In the end, though, the number of cards remained at 500. “You could have 8 cards in each pile instead of 10,” says Vaccarino, “but 10 is better; you could have 20 different Kingdom cards instead of 25, but 25 is better. You don’t need the randomizer deck [one of each Kingdom card that allows you to create random set-ups], but you want it. You could get by with fewer Treasure cards, but you don’t want to run out very often, and it’s nice to have spares. We went with ‘more fun’ instead of ‘cheaper’ every step of the way.”

“Dale came up with the name,” says Vaccarino. “I was calling it Castle Builder. You need to name games, so you can talk about them, but there’s no point spending forever on that name because who knows, this game may disappear without a trace after one play. Then of course you get used to the name and it sounds reasonable, whether it is or not. The initial set of cards did focus on castles. There are only so many rooms in a castle, so I branched out to places in kingdoms, although I never did call it Kingdom Builder.”

Vaccarino adds, “There was never any talk of changing the flavor, except from my esteemed interviewer, who wanted restaurant flavor. Perhaps one day you will get your Restaurant Builder, Eric.” It’s true – I contacted Vaccarino with questions after playing the game in April and mentioned that my dream theme would be a restaurant setting, with players spending hours to purchase kitchen implements like sifters, ladles and mixers in order to obtain valuable recipes and build the most prestigious cookbook, Oh, and the cards would be all plastic. I think I was also playing the game while living in a hovering mansion. Enough about my dreams…

The Game

So what’s the final set-up for Dominion? How do you play, and what’s the goal? Each player starts with a shuffled deck of seven Copper cards (worth 1 coin each) and three Estate cards (worth 1 VP each), drawing a hand of five cards from that deck. On a turn you can:
Take one Action. You start the game with no Action cards in your deck, so you skip this step the first few turns, but once you do have Actions, you play one of them, granting you additional cards in hand, virtual money to spend later the same turn, the ability to take additional Actions, or all sorts of other special activities. If you’ve played a CCG, you can surely imagine the wide range of Actions possible.
Make one Buy. In addition to Coppers and Estates, the base game of Dominion includes two other Treasure cards (Silver, worth 2 coins, and Gold, worth 3), other Victory cards (Duchies, worth 3 VP, and Provinces, worth 6 VP), and a bunch of Kingdom cards. Most of the Kingdom cards are Actions – some of which bear a subtype of Reaction or Attack – but the Kingdom cards can also be Treasure and Victory cards.
For each game, you’ll choose ten types of Kingdom cards (either randomly, purposefully or by using the suggested sets in the rules); for each type of Kingdom card chosen, you set out a stack of those cards on the table. Each card has a cost on it ranging from 0 to 8, and during your Buy phase, you can purchase one card, adding it to your discard pile. (As mentioned earlier, money spent isn’t removed from your deck, but rather placed in your discard pile. Think of it as spending interest on your holdings.) Depending on the Action(s) you played earlier in the turn, you might be able to make additional Buys or have extra money to spend.

Discard your hand, and draw five cards. This last bit is key to the game’s appeal for me. In Magic, to use the granddaddy of all CCGs as an example, you typically draw one card each turn. Yes, you can sometimes draw more, but your hand changes slowly and if you desperately need to draw a particular card, the chances of seeing it are low.
In Dominion, no matter what you start with in your hand, you know that it’s all going away and you’ll see five new cards next time. Sometimes that hand flushing is bad because you can play only one Action a turn (barring bonus Actions), which means that drawing two or more Actions puts dead weight in your hand.

After you play a few games, you learn how to build a deck that makes good use of the constant hand churning. Each hand becomes a mini-puzzle: What do I want to play first? What do I want to discard or transform if I have the opportunity? Which card(s) do I want to buy, and is it possible to do so? You build your deck throughout the game, giving you the opportunity to tweak it turn by turn. Not drawing enough Treasure? Buy more! Don’t have enough cards to work with on a turn? Buy Kingdom cards that give you more cards when you play them! Too many Action cards to play at once? Buy Kingdom cards that let you play additional Actions! Drawing too many Victory cards, giving you dead cards in hand? Find ways to shuffle them away or transform them into something else!

When the Province cards run out or any three piles of cards are exhausted, the game ends. At that point players tally all the Victory cards in their deck to see who has the most points.
Game review, by W. Eric Martin

Version played: Prototype
Times played: 100+

As a former Magic player, I love the combo-licious appeal of Dominion. Not only are you looking at each hand to see what to make of it, but just as you make control, aggressive or combo decks in Magic, you can create a deck in Dominion that has a particular playing style. For the first few games, you’ll be buying willy-nilly, trying things out to see what happens when you draw card X, Y or Z, but with experience you get a sense for which cards work well together, which cards to buy when, what percentage of your deck should be Treasure and which kinds, when to transition into buying Victory cards, and so on. Cards that initially seem stupid, weak or useless become must buys in later games once you realize how powerful they can be in the right circumstances – a term which is shorthand for you being on the wrong end of a thrashing.

Admittedly the decisions are never hard; you’re not going to stew for minutes trying to decide which Action card should be played first or which Kingdom card to buy. (At least it shouldn’t take minutes, but in a few games I’ve wanted to give certain players a kick in the shins to hustle them along.) With experienced players, we completed four-player games in 15-20 minutes – then we typically swapped one or two Kingdom cards and went at it again. The joy of the game comes from trying a strategy and seeing whether it works. Even when you don’t win, you’ve built a little kingdom of cards all your own and put it to use to increase your holdings.

With each player building her own deck, the game does have a solitaire feel to it, and if you’ve ever complained about multi-player solitaire in a game, then you’re likely to do so when talking about Dominion, especially when learning the game on the suggested set of ten Kingdom cards. Notes Vaccarino, “Those cards are light on interaction in order to speed up that first game. Maybe that was the wrong move, I dunno, but that’s how it is. So after one game you may think there’s not so much interaction, but you will quickly find out otherwise.”

Depending on the Kingdom cards that you use, the game will have more or less direct interaction. Some cards let you play in your own sandbox, seeing who can build the best structure, while others allow you to mess with players’ hands and decks. Even including only one Attack card – a card that appears in ten copies, mind you – among the array of Kingdom cards can give the game a completely different feel. Once you start attacking someone’s Treasure, for example, they’re likely to shift their strategy to try to make themselves immune to such attacks in future turns. “Players do better when they take into account what the other players are doing,” says Vaccarino. “If someone buys Witch, for example, I will warp my deck to be better against it. A beginning player might think the only option is Moat, which blatantly stops attacks, but actually about half of the Kingdom cards do something helpful vs. Witch.”

One element of interaction that was deliberately excluded was politics, due to Vaccarino’s taste in games. “I don’t like ganging up on the leader or kingmaking or whining about who’s winning and so on, so Dominion doesn’t have cards that let you pick a player to hose; the cards that hose other players hose all of the other players. You might pick to buy one card thinking of a particular player that it especially hurts, but that’s much less painful than full-on politics in my book.”

“I know this issue isn’t going away,” adds Vaccarino, “as a bunch of people have brought up this multiplayer solitaire business. The tentative first expansion has some meaner attacks, and maybe in the future I will up the number of interactive cards slightly. Ultimately though I think the game will stay about as interactive as it is, and I’m happy with that amount of interaction. If one of your friends is all, ‘Where’s the interaction?’ you should be able to crush them with attacks.”

Even without the Attack cards, though, Dominion has a racing element in that the stacks of Kingdom and Victory cards are limited. If you’re trying to carry out a particular strategy and one type of Action card runs out, you better have a Plan B to fall back on. That said, no single type of Action card dominates the game. Some cards seem better than others – with the particulars of which card varying depending on the ten being used – but the interaction between Actions and Treasures is what’s important. You need to taking relevant actions during both the Action and Buy phase to get your deck chugging along toward the finish line, a line that seems closer or farther away depending on how quickly players are emptying out the card stacks.

With more than a hundred playings in six months, I obviously like Dominion a lot. Not all of my opponents have been set on fire by the game, but those who have been want to play it several times in a row, just like me. Even those who are lukewarm about the game play admire the cleverness of its design; deck-building as a game unto itself is a cool idea, and one that in retrospect seems obvious. Kudos to Donald X. for creating this design. Hope you all like it as much as I do – I did make a crazy prediction, after all, so my cred is on the line!

Full disclosure: I was a playtester for Dominion and will receive a copy of the game in compensation. Rio Grande Games purchases advertising on Boardgame News, but Jay Tummelson has never made any comments or suggestions about what I cover or don’t cover on BGN. I’d be all over this game no matter who published it because it pushes my gaming buttons in all the right ways, as should be evident by the number of times I’ve played despite having 1,000+ other games at my disposal.

Posted by W. Eric Martin on Oct 17, 2008 at 01:30 AM in Previews,  Reviews,  Game Reviews / 1306

I put a comment in the comments section for it so let's have that too.

I wrote up big blocks of text in answer to questions from W. Eric, and he turned it into narration interspersed with quotes, and well as long as he’s having fun I don’t mind. In some places the exact meaning is blurred somewhat, but there’s only one thing that I feel really compelled to correct.

He says, about Spirit Warriors II: “A drawback to the game, though, was that it still consisted of 500 cards, which led to slow development work due to the low probability of ever seeing such a game in print.”

In fact I had no idea that having 500 cards would make your game less publishable. For all I knew it was the opposite - yeeha, lots of cards! And if I’d known that, it wouldn’t have changed much; I was not focused on getting anything published. If I had been I would have been working on making my older games more presentable, which is what I did when I actually had a meeting set up with Jay.

No, development was slow because, man, 500 unique cards, those take forever to make. They weren’t easy cards either - lots of them had stats for multiple monsters, and that stuff had to be churned through some vague math for making the game maybe work. It doesn’t help when for all you know you’ve blown it and after a couple plays you’ll have to go back and tweak hundreds of cards. Which happened twice with the first Spirit Warriors.

So I slogged away at the 500 cards over several weeks, eventually realized that the combat was too complicated, figured out a fix, wrote up some notes for a potential deckbuilding game based on that fix, then went back to churning out cards for Spirit Warriors II. Then, as the romantic genesis myth goes, one weekend I was desperate for a new game to play that Monday, so I whipped out Dominion.

Posted by Donald X. Vaccarino on Oct 18, 2008 at 06:24 PM | #

The Bible of Donald X. / The Secret History of the Hinterlands Cards
« on: November 02, 2011, 04:04:30 pm »
Originally, there were just some cards. One day I split up the cards into a main set and two expansions. I divided the expansion cards by themes; the first expansion got one-shots, decision cards, and cards with two types, while the second expansion got cards that did something on your next turn and cards that did something when you gained them.

When I showed the game to RGG, I had five expansions. During development of the main game, I briefly tried out the expansions in 16-card versions. As part of doing this, I split up the second expansion into two expansions - one for the next turn theme, another for the right now theme. Both themes seemed good enough to support an expansion. Later, when I turned everything back into 20-card expansions (which became 25 during work on Intrigue), I kept those two themes separated. The next turn theme came out as the actual second expansion, Seaside, and now finally we have come to the when-you-gain-this expansion.

A few of these cards date back to 2006, and the original expansion with both themes. More are from when I split up the themes, then more got added to get back up to 25, and of course some cards are more recent, due to the usual process of getting rid of duds and trying new things.

For most of its life, this has been an ordinary expansion. For a while there though, I was thinking maybe it would be good to do another standalone. There are various virtures to standalones; someone else can talk them up, as I know there are other people who will argue against them. Anyway it seemed good to me. And so for a bit I focused on trying to make sure the set wasn't as complex as the couple sets before it. It gets some simplicity from the when-gain theme, although some of those cards still look complicated because they need text for both the normal and when-gain abilities. This focus helped protect a few of the simpler cards, and then late in the going Jay decided it would be a normal expansion after all. So the set is 300 cards, with no tokens or anything, and had that extra push towards simplicity, which is nice. And for those of you who were wondering, this is also why the rulebook has an unprecedented number of recommended sets of 10.

Some of you are thinking, simplicity lol. No really; whatever strategic complexity the set has, it does have some simple, easy-to-play cards; it's simpler than Prosperity but more complex than Seaside. You can sit a new player down with Nomad Camp and Crossroads and so forth and while they may not know what they're doing, they won't be confused by their cards.

The when-gain theme was always the focus of the set. A few of the cards are when-buy instead; this was necessary, as I will explain for those cards. I have a few cards that latch onto when-gain from different angles, rather than just doing something when you gain them. And then, when-gain abilities are good fits for victory cards and treasure cards, so the set got three of each. Some of the victory cards died and were replaced by other ones without when-gain abilities, but there are three, see for yourself. With three victory cards and three treasures it seemed cool to have three reactions, and towards the end I managed to squeeze in a third one.

Some of you who are word people or have internet access may note that one meaning of "hinterlands" is, the land behind the coast. So even the flavor is a complement to Seaside.

The cards:

Border Village: From when Hinterlands was first its own set. Originally it cost $5. I made it better by charging more. There's a trick you can't usually do.

Cache: One of the oldest cards in the set, dating back to the 2006 version, and I never changed it.

Cartographer: This started in a later set. I moved it here because I wanted another $5 that was conceptually simple. It never changed.

Crossroads: The first version was +1 Action, +1 Card per Victory card in hand. It looked crazy but wasn't very good. Then for a long time it was, +1 Card per Victory card in hand, +1 Action per Action card in hand (you revealed a second time, so ones you drew counted). People were sad to see this go, but I could not justify having a card that meant you sometimes had no clue how many Actions you had and no way to figure it out either. Then it gave +2 Actions, but that version was too strong. Giving you +3 Actions just the first time is cute, and means you can't go too nuts without other cards helping.

Develop: A card from late in the going. I had had other Remodels not work out, and didn't think Farmland was completely filling that slot. This seemed cute and worked immediately.

Duchess: Free with any regularly priced Duchy! There was a card that gave you +1 Buy when you bought it, because, why not try that. You could buy out the pile if you lowered the cost enough. Some people thought this was hilarious but some people hated it, and it wasn't hilarious enough to justify being hated. Then I thought, well, what about a card that you can just take? "In games using this, at the start of your buy phase, you may gain a copy of this." But you don't want to have to make that decision every turn. So I went with, a card that was just free with a particular other card, one that was always out of course, and picked Duchy.

It had to be a cheap terminal action, to not get taken automatically. I had been wanting to get a friendly Spy into the set, because I wanted to add that small amount of additional interaction. So, +$2, friendly Spy. As a terminal Action costing $2, it's no hot ticket, but it's an interesting option on turn one with $2, and then when you buy a Duchy, well hey, have I got a deal for you.

Embassy: I had had "draw five discard three" in Prosperity a long time ago. It had been too strong, but it didn't seem like it needed much to make it acceptable, so a when-gain penalty was a good fit. Giving the other players a Silver doesn't matter much in the long run, but on turn one it's significant.

Farmland: Another very old card, from before I split Seaside and Hinterlands. Originally it triggered on gaining it. This can cause some confusing chaining - buy Farmland, trash a card costing $4, gain a Farmland, trash another card costing $4, gain a Farmland. I might have left it as when-gain anyway, just to have everything be when-gain (possibly also limiting what you could gain to non-Farmland), but Noble Brigand had to be when-buy, so there wasn't a sufficient benefit to having this be when-gain. So the less confusing when-buy prevailed.

Fool's Gold: The top started out as worth $1 per copy you had, on a version of Ill-Gotten Gains. It needed a tortured wording to have it be that if you played three you got $3 for each, since you play them one at a time. Bill Barksdale suggested having it be $1 and then $4, which was much simpler. It's stronger when you have just two, and weaker when you have more than three, but that all worked out. Meanwhile the bottom started on a card in a later set, and bopped around a little before ending up here. At one point the Gold didn't go on top of your deck, but it's so late, it has to go there.

Haggler: From when Hinterlands was first its own set. Originally it could gain you Victory cards. Buy Province, gain Duchy, you don't need to see that too many times. And hey you can still have that experience with Border Village as an intermediary. Also originally it triggered on gaining cards (other than via Hagglers), not just buying them. So you would sometimes get what we called "Haggler explosions." Play Haggler, buy Border Village, gain a Lab via Haggler, gain a Lab for Border Village, gain a Silver for Haggler for that. Woosh, four cards. Combined with the original Farmland, you could go further. I enjoyed Haggler explosions, but they were too confusing, and the simpler version still gives you plenty of bang.

Highway: There was a point working on the set when I wanted another $5 that you could chain. It had to be simple and compelling. Bridge and Princess are old news, but Highway plays a lot differently. All those tricks that you come up with for Bridge that you never actually pull off, you can pull off with Highway.

Ill-Gotten Gains: The very first when-gain Curser was a weird action card that gave out two Confusions (blank cards, like Curses without the -1 VP, that were in the main set originally but did not survive). It didn't work out, and I changed it to a treasure worth $1, for $3, that gave out a Curse when gained. It was like that for a while, before I became convinced that it was dominating games too much. I tried it at $4, and as a Silver for $5. That version again lasted a while, but was too good. Briefly it made $1 per copy you had in play, which I moved to Fool's Gold and fixed up. Now you get $1 or $2 out of it, depending on whether or not you want to water your deck down a little. There were two versions that gave you +$1 and had you gain a Copper to your discard pile, rather than having you gain a Copper to your hand (one failed when the Coppers ran out and one didn't). Gaining Copper to your hand ultimately seemed simpler.

Inn: Long ago, there were two similar simple cards for $4 in different sets. The first was +2 Cards, +1 Action, discard a card; the second was +2 Cards, +2 Actions, discard 2 cards. For a while they both seemed fine, but eventually I decided the first one was too strong, and it is no longer with us. The second one was Inn. It was fine, it was never changing. But one day I came up with the bottom part, and needed a card to graft it onto. Inn fit and was simple enough and there it is. I briefly tried it for $6 without the discarding.

Jack of All Trades: This started out in Cornucopia. The premise, which some of you may have been wondering about, was to make an after-the-fact Moat. Did they make you discard? Draw up to five. Are they giving you Curses? Trash one. Did they muck with the top of your deck? Let's just fix that. Are they trashing your cards? Well, here's a Silver. That's how they all fit together. The original version could trash any card, but that was too strong. Also it put your deck into your discard pile rather than letting you discard the top card; again, too strong. The order of abilities also changed.

Mandarin: The top was an obvious simple thing I just hadn't done yet. I tried several different bottoms before settling on this one. One version around for a while put a card from play on top of your deck when you gained it. That has issues that Scheme cleverly resolved but I didn't want to propagate that wordiness.

Margrave: A later set for a long time had an attack that made everyone else discard down to two, then draw a card. Mathematically it seems equivalent to Militia: you discard down to three, then you discard the worst card, which on average is average for your deck, being the middle card out of five; then you draw a card, which on average is average for your deck. That math is tricky but run through it a couple times if you have to. It's the same as Militia. Well in practice it hurts way more than Militia, like you might have thought. Militia lets you keep three cards that could be a fine hand. This only let you keep two, which is rarely enough to have a good plan, and then you draw a random card, which could work out but often does not. Anyway it was around for a long time but eventually died and everyone rejoiced. Vinay Baliga suggested flipping it - they draw one then discard down to three. Sounded good, I tried it, it worked out, there it is.

Noble Brigand: First the set had a Thief variant that gave you coins instead of the Treasures. It only gave you coins for one of the Treasures, to keep it from going nuts with multiple players. So if the best Treasure you trashed was Silver, you got +$2. Well this has wording problems. Some Treasures make variable amounts or do weird things. At the same time, it was weak. So it died.

I replaced it with a card I stole from a later set. "A later set." There are only two sets after this one, and one of them is a latecomer with its own special thing going on. When I say "a later set," I mean the 8th set, which was originally the 4th set, back before I showed Dominion to RGG, when there were only five expansions (then Hinterland and Seaside were split up, and Alchemy and Cornucopia were split up, and that accounts for seven). You might think, with all the cards I stole from "a later set," that it would be hurting for cards, but man, it is not. Anyway. I stole this from "a later set."

The premise is of course Robin Hood. Steals from the rich (those with Silver and Gold), gives to the poor (those with no Treasures at all). Ignores the middle-class (those showing Copper or special Treasures) (yes the middle class includes those with Platinum, Robin Hood does not realize how valuable Platinum is okay, he lives in a forest, they don't even have Platinum there). By not trashing Coppers, it avoids being horrible, and it can even give out Coppers, although don't expect that to be too common except you know against decks that trash their Coppers.

Noble Brigand comes right out of the gates attacking. This was a fun thing that I wanted on more attacks but it only survived here and on Ill-Gotten Gains (technically not an attack, but we all know a Witch when we see one). Maybe it's for the best that you'll never experience the joy of a when-gain discard-based attack just sitting there, promising that any hand you draw might be taken away, even if no-one has even bought the card yet.

Noble Brigand triggers on buying, not gaining. This was because you could get situations that forced you to play all further attacks in slow-mo. Jester is a good example. I play Jester, I hit your Noble Brigand, oh I want one of those. Only, everyone else has already revealed their card for Jester, no-one is wasting time. I know some of the cards Brigand will hit. Maybe normally I wouldn't take Brigand, I'd make you take another one, only, there's a Gold showing over there. Okay we have to play Jester in slow-mo this game to get rid of this situation. And well that's no fun. So, it triggers on buying.

Nomad Camp: In its earliest days the set had a Woodcutter that gave you +1 Buy when you bought it. Then it gave you +$1 and +1 Buy on the turn after you bought it, and then I just put it on your deck. Duchess is what happened from taking this the other direction.

Oasis: An old card from when Hinterlands was first its own set. Never changed. Some of them have to be simple you know.

Oracle: Originally there was a card that had you look at your top two, trash them or discard them or leave them, then draw two. It was too strong, so I axed the trashing and made it a Spy-like attack. At first that had you always pick one for them to discard, putting the other back, but I found it less oppressive when they had to leave both or discard both. I tried a few when-gain triggers on this card - there was one that trashed a card from your hand when you gained it, one that Navigator'd once, and one that Chancellor'd. The Chancellor thing was cute, but made the card too attractive just for the when-gain - meaning, people bought it for that, then happened to be attacking you. The attack was just too annoying to have people buying it when they didn't really mean it.

Scheme: An old card. The premise was always the same, but the exact mechanism has varied a little. The important thing was not to have any weirdness with one-shots or duration cards or Throne Rooms played on duration cards. That's why it only works on cards that are discarded. Sometimes Scheme could work on itself, sometimes it couldn't, depending on what phrasing seemed simpler. It ended up working on itself; you can just be planning that Scheme for a while.

Silk Road: In the early days of Hinterlands being its own set, it kind of had a Victory cards sub-theme. It had four Victory cards - they were just a cute vehicle for when-gain abilities. And it had a few things that interacted with Victory cards. So naturally it got the Victory card that counts Victory cards. It never changed.

Spice Merchant: Originally this gave +1 Action +1 Buy, choose between +2 Cards and +$2. That was too strong. Then for a while it was like it is now, and then I tried it without the +$2 +1 Buy option. There had been some worries about power level, but if it was over the top it wasn't very far over, and we were picking the Lab a lot more than the Woodcutter anyway. And remember I wanted simple cards, to make the set a standalone. Well some people were very sad to see the +$2 +1 Buy option go, and it did not appear to make the card too strong after all, so there it is.

Stables: Originally you drew the cards, then discarded a Treasure. If you had no Treasure to discard, yeeha. That version was too strong.

Trader: This is two cards welded together. The bottom part was originally its own card, in the original 4th expansion. It went through many versions that tried to be good enough. It had +2 Cards on top; it was a Treasure worth $1; it was a pure Reaction with a when-gain trigger (similar to Secret Chamber's reaction). In the end it could not carry a card by itself and so I stuck it on another card that it fit well with. That other card, the top part, I made specifically to replace Apprentice. When it turned out Alchemy would be a small set, I wanted something slam-dunk awesome for it that cost $5 and had some useful interaction with Potion, and chose Apprentice, which was in this set. Obviously Apprentice does all sorts of cool things with Hinterlands cards. So when I took it out, I wanted to replace it with something else in the Salvager family that I hadn't done yet. Gain a pile of Silvers, there you go.

Tunnel: At one point the main set had a card that had you draw a card if you discarded it. It was too wonky of an ability for the main set, and the card was bad anyway, so I cut it. When Hinterlands became its own set, I made a new card with that ability, this time a Witch variant. I ended up cutting that one because I didn't want two ways to get Curses in the set, and preferred Ill-Gotten Gains.

Late in the going, I wanted something else in the set that was exotic, and decided to try another do-something-when-discarded card. This time I had you gain Gold rather than draw cards, which slightly reduced possible confusion. It was immediately popular, but there was the question of what the top should be. It had to be simple. It couldn't be say +$2 because then this would be flat-out worse than Silver in most games that had no combo. It was +2 Cards for a bit, which seemed okay.

Then it turned out Hinterlands wouldn't be a standalone after all, which gave me space for 9 more cards. A standalone only has room for 291 kingdom cards and randomizers; a normal large set can hold 300. I was already using 290 cards. So I couldn't quite fit another kingdom card, but an existing card could turn into a victory card. And I had been wanting to have a victory-reaction in the set. So I changed Tunnel to be worth 2 VP. It seemed like that might be crazy at $3, but what, why not try it? As you can see, it worked out.

Puzzles and Challenges / Threesies
« on: August 06, 2011, 04:01:57 am »
Here are some threesies puzzles. What do the three cards have in common? It won't be something most or many Dominion cards share - #2 isn't "they all cost $4" - but will not necessarily be unique to those three cards.

1. Apothecary, Followers, Tournament
2. Coppersmith, Mining Village, Smithy
3. Bureaucrat, Harem, Navigator
4. Bridge, Curse, Horn of Plenty
5. Ambassador, Bag of Gold, Young Witch
6. City, Followers, Walled Village
7. Black Market, Possession, Watchtower
8. Curse, Followers, Harem
9. Ambassador, Fairgrounds, Mountebank
10. Counting House, Goons, Nobles

The Bible of Donald X. / The Secret History of the Dominion Promos
« on: June 23, 2011, 03:18:36 am »
Sometimes, the publishers want promos. A magazine wants one, or a convention does, or something, and so the word comes down to me, could we have one please. And I like to be friendly. They have been given away various ways, depending on the language, but the BGG store has had them all (in English) in the long run.

Here is what I have to say about the promos so far. There may be more!

Envoy: This started in Intrigue. It fit with the decisions theme; you give your opponent a decision. Often that amounts to just "discard the best card," and having your opponent pick just keeps you honest. Sometimes it's a real decision though. The mechanic seemed fine, but what the card did was, it was a terminal action that drew you cards. There was enough of that already between the main set and Intrigue. And the new part to Envoy was interesting, but didn't like give you a new deck to build or anything. In your deck, it was like a Smithy. So I took Envoy out, to perhaps try in a later expansion.

Then one day Jay said, he needed a promo, could I have it say by tomorrow. I didn't want to steal a card from a future set, and also, I wanted something with as much playtesting as possible. That basically meant an outtake from the main set or Intrigue. Envoy was easily the best option.

Black Market: This started in Seaside. Seaside involves your next turn; Black Market reaches into the next game. It was adored by some players - a star of the set - and seemed harmless to everyone else. It left the set though, due to the combination of rules wackiness, and the cumbersome set-up. I have never had to do that set-up - I don't have separate randomizer cards, because why print 11 cards each time I change something when 10 will do. I use one card from each pile for the randomizer, putting it into the pile to play and returning one to the randomizer after the game. So Black Market had no set-up at all for me - I already had a pile of unused cards with the proper back right there. But we included a separate randomizer deck in the main set. So there was this set-up. So, wackiness, set-up, it left the set.

Then we needed a promo, Dale said why not Black Market, and I was eager to have it exist after all. Ultimately it's not a great choice for a promo. It still has the set-up and still has the wackiness, only now you don't have a rulebook telling you how it works, you have a slip of paper you lose and then the internet. I'm still glad it exists though, it's a fun card.

Stash: This is a Seaside outtake, though it started in a later small set that dissolved, from when I rearranged everything into 16-card expansions. It seemed like a good fit for Seaside's next-turn theme. There was a victory card with a similar mechanic, which did not seem worth preserving. Obv. you put that one on the bottom.

Stash had two issues. First, I didn't have the different-back mechanic yet. So like you set them aside, or dug through your discard pile for them. It was not going to be pretty rules-wise, since by default you can't look through your discard pile. And second, it was not that interesting. There are some cute interactions, but on the whole, it didn't seem necessarily worth a slot in the set. So it left.

Later I realized I could have a different card back, solving the rules issues. I immediately put it on a list of potential promos, with an eye towards putting it in an expansion if it wasn't needed as a promo. It was though, and there it is. To me this is the ideal promo: exotic-looking, but not actually complex; interesting when you read about it, but not something I'm sad didn't make an expansion.

Walled Village: This is an outtake from the 7th expansion. I replaced it with an on-theme card. A few people were sad to see it go, but all of the Village slots in the other sets were full, so it was dead.

Then Jay wanted a Carcassonne-related promo card. First I looked at designing a card specifically to fit with Carcassonne, and well Carcassonne does not have a lot of ground in common with Dominion. Then I remembered this card, and it seemed plausible to call it Walled Village. Jay went for it and there it is. These stories can't all be interesting.

The Bible of Donald X. / Dominion: Intrigue Preview
« on: June 20, 2011, 04:45:29 pm »
When W. Eric Martin asked me to write a Dominion: Intrigue preview, it seemed like a daunting task, since I'd already written a "Secret History of the Intrigue Cards" thing for posting at BoardGameGeek around the time the set came out. I didn't want to just repeat myself, so what did that leave? Then someone spoiled all of the Intrigue cards. A preview became impossible; at best I could write a view. Then I waited and waited and now the set is out some places and the only option left is a postview.

And I've written one! I'm just assuming that as I type this, but you in the future reading this know it to be true, because why would W. Eric Martin just post these two paragraphs? No, there must be a postview coming.

You might as well go look at the spoiler. I've got the links handy and everything. The first three show eight cards each, with the 25th card by itself in French in the last one. Someone has handily translated it back into English; just scroll down.

So there are the cards, and now I will say some stuff about them, that isn't just stuff about how they changed over the years, since that's covered in that other article, which I would link to only I haven't posted it yet. I see this postview as falling into say four sections. I can talk about What You Get in the expansion - an overview of the set, for people who haven't run any statistics on those images yet. Then there's Anatomy of an Expansion, explaining the way in which different kinds of cards contribute to making a Dominion expansion work. And then, naturally, The Throne Room Variations. But wait, first:

Do You Even Know What Dominion Is?

You probably do, to be reading this, but I might as well make sure. Dominion is uh this game I made. You build a deck while playing it. It being the deck. Dominion's been previewed already on this site, so let's just have that link:

Dominion: Intrigue is just like that only with different cards. If you haven't played Dominion before, I recommend starting with the main set. It's simpler and not in a bad way. If you've played Dominion with friends but don't own it, you can start with Intrigue, because hey, you can play it by itself, and when you get together with those friends you can mix the two sets. Or you can still start with the main set. I don't mind. If you already own the main set then at this point I recommend getting Intrigue. Two copies of the main set, that's just silly.

What You Get

Physically, Dominion: Intrigue is the same as Dominion except that the 25 kingdom cards have been replaced with 25 new ones (at 10-12 copies each, as with the main set). Intrigue includes Copper, Estate, Curse, etc., just as Dominion does. This means it stands alone; you can play Dominion with just Intrigue, or you can combine the main set and Intrigue. Of course the rulebook is also different, since it needs to explain the new cards instead of the old ones. Also the placeholder cards for Copper etc. are gone, because people didn't tend to use them, and you can use blanks there anyway. There are still placeholder cards for the kingdom cards, although now we refer to them as randomizers, since that's what they are really.

Because Intrigue comes with Copper etc., you have enough components for playing with 5-6 players, and we provide rules for doing so. Alternatively, if you have both the main set and Intrigue, you can split into two groups of up to 4 each and still have everything you need to play with both sets in both games. You won't be able to have the same kingdom card in both games at once, but that will be fine.

Anyway: 25 new cards. What that means is variety. The number of card interactions shoots up; it should take way longer to feel like you've seen everything than with just the main set.

The main set doesn't really have a functional theme. It had the game itself to offer up; it didn't need to go further. The closest thing the main set has to a functional theme is "simplicity." For example the main set has six cards that just have some +'s on them - no additional text. Intrigue only has two. With Intrigue we are assuming you've played already and are ready for some more complex cards. Not that they get too complex. They are a good amount of complex. Man, these articles are tricky.

Intrigue has two main functional themes: 1) victory cards that do something, and 2) decision-making.

In the main set, victory cards are useless until it's time to score. That is still mostly true with Intrigue; you still have those starting Estates and those eventual Provinces. However Intrigue adds three new victory cards that actually do something useful. Great Hall just replaces itself, but that means it effectively doesn't take up space in your deck. Harem doubles as a Silver. And then Nobles is a card-drawing engine by itself.

The main set was purposely low on decision-making on cards, in order to keep the game faster for new players. There's plenty of decision-making just in picking what to buy. The main set does have decision-making cards, but you know, not a ton of them. Intrigue has a ton of them. More than half of the cards in the set involve a decision. Sometimes you make the decision, and sometimes your opponents do. Decisions all around! You might be thinking, uh-oh, that means it will play slowly. It doesn't play slowly. Okay there's one slow card, Pawn, but that's it. The main set plays really fast with experienced players; there's room to slow it down a little with Intrigue and still be shuffling when your turn comes around.

The victory-cards-that-do-something theme is supported by a pair of cards that care what types a card is (Ironworks and Tribute), and another card that specifically looks for victory cards (Scout). And it's joined by two cards that get more use out of the base victory cards - Baron likes Estates and Duke likes Duchies.

Another thing of note is the ways to trash opposing things. The main set provided just one way to trash cards from an opponent's deck - Thief. Intrigue contains three cards in that vein, and they don't stop at Treasures. Saboteur can trash anything costing three coins or more; Swindler can replace anything with something else with the same cost (not too effective on Provinces, but pretty good vs. Coppers); Masquerade makes players pass a card left, which early on just makes Estates dance around, but later on can be painful.

The cards have a variety of costs, to ensure that dealing out ten at random probably gives you a good mix. Of particular note here is that the set has two cards that cost six coins, further reducing the number of situations in which you might automatically reach for Gold with six.

Flavorwise the expansion is, well, Intrigue themed. This came about due to the functional themes, including one that isn't in the set. Originally, the set also had a one-shot theme. Cards that do something just once and then are trashed, like Feast. It turns out this isn't a good theme. One-shots are a sometimes food. Some people just don't like the idea - if you build a Feast deck, in the end it has no Feasts, and that bugs them. Other people don't like penalties, and only getting to use a card once sounds like a penalty. Anyway it didn't work as a theme and it's gone. There is only one one-shot left in the set, Mining Village, and even that one's optional.

But once, there were many one-shots, and what is a one-shot flavorwise? It's an event; a one-time occurrence. Like a Feast, which was originally in this set.

At the same time the set had a lot of "choose one" cards, and those often got named after underlings. People who might scurry about doing different tasks for you. Put underlings and events together and there it is: Intrigue. Then the events left but well what can you do. That was what I had for a theme so I stuck with it.

One final thing about "what you get." What you get, really, is more Dominion. Intrigue doesn't try to veer things off in an unusual direction. It doesn't try to change the game. It's true to the main set, with new mechanics that any expansion might dabble in, rather than exotic things. I felt this was important for the first expansion. Suppose instead that the first expansion took the game off in a radical new direction. Well for a while all there is is the main set and the first expansion. So half the cards would be the radical new thing. It seems much better to me to have a solid base of game before veering off. So that's what we've done!

Anatomy of an Expansion

From the start, I knew the expansions had to work by themselves (I mean once you add Coppers and Estates and so forth; they don't all need to include those). There are two reasons for this. First, I knew that many people would want to play sets by themselves, when they first bought them. Let's see nothing but new cards! Second, if you have multiple expansions, you aren't necessarily playing all of them; and whatever combination you have, that combination has to work. If a set needs 2-3 ways to get +2 Actions to work by itself, then every set needs that in order for the game to still work when you combine sets. Making expansions work by themselves is necessary for making expansions work when you mix all the ones you have together.

So what makes an expansion work by itself? The big thing is, when you deal out 10 random kingdom cards, there should be a variety of strategies possible. The more basic to the game a particular type of strategy is, the more cards that have to support it.

One way to categorize strategies is, how do you deal with the one-action-per-turn rule? It looms large over how you build your deck. There are four main ways to address it, plus a way not to:

- Only play with 2-3 actions. Then you probably don't draw them together too often. To do this you need "end" actions with big effects; those 2-3 actions have to count. Saboteur, Torturer, Trading Post, Tribute, and Nobles can fill this role, and to a lesser degree some cheaper cards - Baron, Bridge, Coppersmith.
- Play with "free" actions - actions that give you +1 Card and +1 Action. You can play as many of these as you draw. Intrigue has a lot of these. Wishing Well, Mining Village, and Upgrade are all straight free actions. Pawn and Great Hall are free but don't do anything when they are. Scout and Minion are basically free. Shanty Town and Nobles are free in combinations. Conspirator and Tribute are sometimes free. Those of you that like to play a line of cards will get a lot of ways to do it.
- Play with ways to discard or trash actions usefully - things like Cellar and Remodel. If you draw an action you can't play, there's still something you can do with it. Intrigue provides Secret Chamber in the Cellar role and Upgrade in the Remodel role. Also Courtyard and Secret Chamber can hold an extra action for next turn.
- Play with cards that give you +2 Actions, like Village. These directly let you play more actions. Intrigue has Shanty Town, Mining Village, and one of the functions of Nobles.
- You can just live with drawing actions you can't play. This usually isn't the move, but certain strategies make this okay. I don't specifically feel the need to support drawing too many actions and just living with it, but Ironworks can let you build that kind of deck.

Another way to look at your strategy is, how do you score points?

- Estate. For people who want the cheapest of Victory cards, Intrigue offers up Baron explicitly and Bridge less so.
- Duchy. Duke provides a reason for Duchies to be your thing.
- Province. The most common strategy, needing no specific support.
- Curse. Torturer and Swindler provide new ways to dole out Curses.
- Special victory cards. The main set just has Gardens; Intrigue has Duke, Great Hall, Harem, and Nobles. Great Hall provides another way to go for fast victory points; Harem and Nobles are stepping stones to Provinces that give you victory points on the way.

And finally: How do you make your deck/turns better, relative to those of your opponents?

- Add good cards. Gaining more than the usual one card per turn helps you drown out your weaker cards. Intrigue has three +1 Buy cards - Bridge, Baron, and one of the tricks Pawn does - plus Ironworks as a Workshop variant.
- Take out bad cards. Those initial Coppers and Estates aren't so hot, and it's usually great to get rid of them. Steward and Masquerade both let you trash cards.
- Improve your cards. Taking out a bad one and adding a good one at the same time. Trading Post and Upgrade do this.
- Draw more cards. You can make do with weaker cards if you draw lots of them. Minion can put you up as many as +4 Cards; Torturer and Nobles give you +3 Cards; Masquerade and Steward give +2 Cards; Courtyard effectively gives +2 Cards; Shanty Town sometimes gives +2 Cards; Wishing Well is sometimes a Laboratory; and Scout and Tribute, who knows.
- Muck with your draw. Skip past the weaker cards to the better ones. Scout can be one way to do this. Courtyard and Secret Chamber let you improve how your cards show up between this turn and next turn.
- Attack! Attacks slow down your opponents. Intrigue has Swindler, Minion, Saboteur, and Torturer, letting you trash opposing cards, put bad cards into opposing decks, and make the other players discard. Masquerade can also sometimes hurt.
- Defend! Avoiding being slowed down is almost like speeding up. There are lots of ways to defend from attacks, but Secret Chamber is a blatant one.
- End the game. At the end of the game, only victory cards matter. While your opponents are building up spiffy engines, you can scrounge up some points and then try to cut the game short. Baron and Coppersmith are examples of cards that let you quickly get some victory cards, while Ironworks, Bridge, and Upgrade are examples of ways to quickly empty stacks.

At this point you might be thinking, what cards in Intrigue don't fall into any of these categories? And the answer is: none of them! Everything is doing its part to make different strategies possible.

The Throne Room Variations

Finally, some Throne Room combos. I wanted to actually talk about some of the specific fun to be had with the cards. At the same time I didn't really want to spoil anything. It's fun to find the combos for yourself. I've compromised by only looking at combos with the card Throne Room. Throne Room gives you some of the most obvious combos, and in some cases some of the most confusing combos. So let's just see what you can get.

Baron: With two Estates in hand, that's $8 right there. Baron can offer you the chance to buy Provinces at earlier points in the game than you're used to - as soon as turn three, off of a Baron / Silver start. Do you actually want a turn three Province? Well, sometimes...

Bridge: This is one of the ones you really want to Throne Room. One of my playtesters had a turn that went, Throne Throne, first Throning Bridge, then Throning Bridge... buy 5 Minions. Minion costs $5. Maybe it's a better story if you know what all these cards do. Anyway Throne Room / Bridge, that's one people really go for.

Conspirator: Throne gets you all the way there. You played Throne Room, that's one action; you play Conspirator, that's a 2nd action; Throne makes you play Conspirator a 2nd time, that's your 3rd action, so you get your +1 Card +1 Action from Conspirator.

Coppersmith: Coppers worth $3 each! Not shabby.

Great Hall: The beauty of this combo is just that it's insurance. You don't want to draw Throne and have nothing to Throne with it. Great Hall helps you reduce the risk of drawing a dead Throne.

Masquerade: The second time Masquerade goes off, everyone just passes the card they got passed the first time. It's certainly fine to be drawing four cards and trashing two things and passing two things, but it doesn't hurt the other players any extra the second time.

Mining Village: This is a confusing one. Mining Village says, you may trash Mining Village, "if you do..." If you Throne a Mining Village, and trash it the first time you play it, you won't manage to trash it the second time. It's trashed already. The "if you do" test fails; you did not. You can Throne it and trash it once, but you can't get $4 from one Mining Village this way.

Minion: Probably you take +$2 for the first one, then get a new hand with the second one and take it from there. There are other options though. Minion is a combo with itself, so Throne / Minion is a fine path to be on. [I corrected this in a reply to the BGN article; obv. you take the new hand first.]

Nobles: This is a strong one. Typically you take +3 Cards the first time, then pick Actions or Cards based on whether or not you have more actions to play.

Pawn: Throning Pawn lets you pick one of everything, and get Market the hard way. I don't really recommend that. Throne the most expensive card you can, that's my advice. Still, you work with what you've got.

Saboteur: Expensive attacks are usually some of the more exciting things to Throne Room. If you can get enough Saboteurs played, you can stop the other players from getting anywhere. Of course that doesn't just happen easily, because, well what fun would that be.

Torturer: No-one wants to get Tortured twice, but when it happens, at least you can gain a Curse the first time, then discard the Curse with something else the second time.

Tribute: This could get you anything from nothing (hitting four Curses), to +8 Cards +4 Coins +4 Actions (Nobles / Harem twice). You may get unlucky and hit duplicates, or hit actions when you can't use them, but this turn is probably going to be pretty impressive.

Throne Room is certainly fine with Courtyard, Ironworks, Shanty Town, Steward, Swindler, Upgrade, and Wishing Well; it's not so hot with Secret Chamber or Trading Post, and can't be used at all on Duke or Harem. It's sometimes good with Scout but often not. That's everything!

So there you go: there's a Dominion expansion out, it has 25 new kingdom cards, they support a variety of strategies, and hey you can Throne Room most of them. I hope this has been informative!

The Bible of Donald X. / Dominion: Seaside Preview
« on: June 20, 2011, 04:41:11 pm »
It's time once again for me to tell you about a Dominion expansion. I totally wrote this in time for it to be a preview, but Jay wanted to wait on articles about the game until it actually came out at Essen, so what we have here is just a view. It has three prominent features.

First, there's What You Get. Probably images of all of the cards will have appeared at BGG by the time you can read this, but still, I will go over what-all is in the box, pointing out some stuff and showing off some cards.

Second, I offer you Anatomy of an Attack. It's just an essay about making Dominion attack cards. I dunno, I felt like an essay about a random Dominion-related game design issue would be a way to fill up space. And it was! I nailed that one.

Third, there's The Throne Room Variations. As usual most of the questions people have are about Throne Room. I have no regrets. I do have answers though. Where there's no confusion, I will just marvel at what you get out of Throning the different cards.

What You Get

Dominion: Seaside has 300 cards, divided into 26 new kingdom cards times 10 or so copies each, their 26 randomizer cards, and some blanks. It does not have Copper, Estate, Curse, etc.; you will need either Dominion or Dominion: Intrigue in order to play with these cards. It also includes playmats used by three of the cards, and counters used by two of the cards. I do not actually know how many counters it is. It's enough counters.

That's 26 cards, where Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue only had 25. There was space, so the set got an extra card. There was actually space to go to 27, but we included a set of blanks instead, so you can make your own card. There had been one extra card that hadn't quite made the set but was well-liked, so it all worked out. There wasn't space for 28, phew.

Seaside has one large functional theme: your next turn. It's the set of the future! A watery future.

The most blatant way the theme occurs is with Duration cards. These are orange-framed cards that do something on your next turn. They sit out in front of you until the end of the last turn they do something. It's not too hard. Most of them, like Wharf, do something on both your current turn and your next turn. Tactician is one that only does something on your next turn. Lighthouse does something over the time interval between the two turns (as well as on both of those turns). Here are some pretty pictures!

[Wharf] [Tactician] [Lighthouse]

There are other ways to break out of the bounds of a single turn. The top of someone's deck is often what they'll draw on their next turn, so several cards involve deck tops, including Treasure Map. Treasury is a card you can replay turn after turn, until you finally need some points. Smugglers reaches into another player's turn and pulls out something tasty.

[Treasure Map] [Treasury] [Smugglers]

Some cards have an effect over time using those tokens and playmats I mentioned. Island sends a card to the far future - the very end of the game! Pirate Ship accumulates its own pile of treasure over multiple uses. Native Village repeatedly builds up piles of cards for you. The three cards have playmats that go together, as you can somewhat tell from the card art.

[Island] [Pirate Ship] [Native Village]

The next-turn theme looms large in the set, but there are cards that don't have anything to do with it. Here are examples of those.

[Salvager] [Cutpurse] [Explorer]

So Seaside has cards, and there are some of them! It has other cards too.

Seaside requires Copper etc., like I said, but if you do have those things, you can play it by itself. I mean you can play with just kingdom cards from Seaside. There are 26, so there's plenty of variety. And the cards take care of all of the basic game functions that you need to make things run smoothly. Of course you can also mix it in with Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue. It's up to you. We won't judge you.

Anatomy of an Attack

There are basically six kinds of attacks in Dominion. And I've only done four of them! Mostly there are four.

The way to see the kinds of attacks is to look at, well, what there is to attack. What is there? There are decks. You can attack those three ways. There are hands. There's really just one way to hurt them. There's what you can do on your turn. And there are scores, separate from cards. So:

1. Give them a card they don't want.
2. Make them lose a card they do want.
3. Put their deck in an order they will not be fond of.
4. Make them discard.
5. Make their turn worse.
6. Lower their score.

All of the attacks so far fall into one or more of the first four categories. Witch is #1, Bureaucrat is #3 and #4, and so on. You can also do things to other players that they do want to happen, but man, that's not attacking.

Let's look at these in more detail.

1. Give them a card they don't want.

For example, Witch and Swindler.

The beauty of Cursing is its simplicity. It takes very little space to say "each other player gains a Curse," leaving lots of room for more stuff that the card can do. You can also potentially give players other cards they don't want, such as Coppers or even Estates, often just as simply.

2. Make them lose a card they do want.

For example, Thief and Saboteur.

This is the hardest kind of attack to make. It has to be that there isn't too much variance in how it hits the other players - no making one player lose a Province while another loses a Copper. It has to be good enough to play - trashing Coppers and Estates is usually not what you're after. It can't generate a ridiculous game state too easily - some of the early cards in this category would by themselves lead to a game where everyone had just 5 cards and could not get ahead. And finally it has to be that the text actually fits on the card. With all of those other conditions to meet, it's tricky.

Ultimately, there usually isn't much room to define these attacks by the extra stuff they do; they often end up defined by how they handle the problems above. And then some people don't like them. My stuff, my precious stuff! So I do these less often than the other attacks.

3. Put their deck in an order they will not be fond of.

For example, Spy and Bureaucrat.

This is kind of like making them discard in advance. It ends up hurting them either next turn or this turn, depending on whether or not they draw some extra cards this turn. As you can see, there are two main ways to do it: either look at what's on top and muck with it, or put something specifically on top.

Spy-type cards tend to be wordy, and reminiscent of Spy. There is more flexibility to the Bureaucrat style of hurtful deck ordering, but still not a lot.

4. Make them discard.

For example, Militia and Bureaucrat.

Just making another player discard a card doesn't work. Discard one card and you don't even feel it. You tend to feel it at two. At discard three cards, so much for your turn. But you can get up to "discard three" if you ever do "discard one" - by playing it three times (or having three people play it once). So the simplest kind of discarding just doesn't work.

Which is why Militia says "discard down to 3." That keeps it right around the magical "feel it" level of pain. Bureaucrat manages a different approach; you can only discard (or in this case, put on your deck) so many victory cards. Sometimes it misses. Bureaucrat would still be scary if it didn't also gain you Silver; that Silver helps keep you from just building a deck that plays Bureaucrat three times every turn, so that the other players are stuck drawing their Estates constantly.

Discard-based attacks don't take much text, so there is a fair amount of variety possible with them, with the non-discarding part. The discarding part itself can't vary so much, but there are a few things you can do there.

5. Make their turn worse.

How can you even do this? The answer lies in Duration cards. Duration cards can do stuff like "until your next turn, each other player can't..." and so forth.

Seaside originally had some attacks like that. In the end it didn't get any. They make Duration cards in general a little harder to understand. Those attacks were turned into similar things that didn't require this trick. I could still do this kind of thing someday, but I wouldn't expect it for a while.

6. Lower their score.

Making each other player lose one point is just like gaining one point yourself. Score-lowering only makes sense if it keys off of something specific to your opponents - for example, each other player loses one point per action card in their deck. That one would be a mess to add up at the end.

Cards like this may be possible, but all of the ones I've tried out so far have died. They fluctuated between being too weak, too strong, and too much work to deal with.

There you have it! Six kinds of attacks, you heard it here. Seaside has the first four:

Ambassador - #1 - Cursing
Cutpurse - #4 - Discarding
Ghost Ship - #3 and #4 - Deck ordering and discarding
Pirate Ship - #2 - Trashing
Sea Hag - #1 and #3 - Cursing and deck ordering

Deck ordering made it into two attacks, as this is after all the next turn expansion.

Embargo is an honorary attack, falling into the fabled category #5, but it punishes you too, at least if you didn't pick carefully.

The Throne Room Variations

Ah, Throne Room. King of cards, or card of kings? It's a card of kings. That was an easy one. Here's what happens when you Throne Room these cards.

Ambassador: You don't have to reveal the same card both times, but why wouldn't you. You also don't need to give up the card you reveal the first (or either) time, which comes up. Reveal the one Curse in your hand. Decline to put it back in the supply, but each other player takes one. Then put it back, and each other player takes one.

Cutpurse: This can be nasty. You get $4 and everyone else discards two Coppers. Anyone who actually has two Coppers is hurting.

Embargo: You can only trash Embargo once, but you get $4 and place two tokens. They don't have to go on the same pile. Throning this can mean you run out of tokens. Just use something else as tokens if that happens. You get your token, that's a guarantee.

Explorer: You can reveal the same Province both times. Surely no-one was going to ask that. Throning Explorer revealing Province, that is getting some groans.

Ghost Ship: The second time, they already have 3 cards in hand (or less), so you just draw 2 more cards.

Island: You set aside the Island and a card from your hand, then set aside another card from your hand. You don't set aside the Throne Room. And you don't want to. So, hooray!

Lighthouse: The defensive part of this can't be doubled, but wouldn't mean anything if it could be. Throning this gets you +2 Actions, +$2 this turn and next, and one round free of attacks.

Outpost: Throning this explicitly doesn't work! It's right on the card. I played a game without that clause and got infinite turns immediately. The clause is there to stop infinite turns, not specifically to stop Throne, but the best way to stop the infinite turns also happened to stop Throne. What can you do.

Native Village: You do the card twice in sequence. Remember you can look at the cards on the mat at any time. So you might first draw the cards, then put another on it; or put another one on it, and after seeing it, either draw them all or put yet another on it. Or you might pick draw them all twice, even though the second time you get nothing. Maybe the first time too, if that's your game.

Navigator: If you liked the cards the first time, they'll still be there the second time. If you didn't though, you get another chance to reject a hand.

Pearl Diver: If you put the bottom card on top the first time, then you draw it the second time, before making a new choice. If you didn't, then it's still there the second time, taunting you.

Pirate Ship: You can mix and match your choices, and don't pick the second time until resolving the first time. So you could steal the first time, then get money; steal both times; well you can work out the rest of the possibilities for yourself.

Sea Hag: This doesn't have an anti-Throne clause, so much as an anti-abuse clause. The first thing they do is, they each discard the top card of their deck. That may seem like part of the attack, but really it's there so that they don't end up with three Curses on top if three people in a row play Sea Hags. So anyway, if you Throne it, they toss the top card, put Curse on top, toss that Curse, and put another Curse on top. They may still end up with more than one Curse on top, but that won't be this turn's Sea Hag's fault.

Smugglers: This is just cool because you get more of it than they did. They buy Gold, you Throne Smugglers and get two Golds!

Tactician: This is another one that you just can't (usefully) Throne. In this case it was specifically to stop you from Throning it! Throning Tactician was just ridiculous. That had to go away to keep the card, which is good times otherwise.

Treasure Map: Throning this does not work like you want. If you have another Treasure Map in hand, you trash them both and get the money (like you would have if you didn't play the Throne). Then if you have yet another Treasure Map in hand, you trash that one but get nothing. You never trash the Throne. It's not a Treasure Map. If you just have one Treasure Map and Throne it, you trash that Treasure Map and get nothing whatsoever. It's a two-piece map, there's no getting around it.

Treasury: Throning this gets you +2 of each of those things. The put-it-on-your-deck part isn't doubled; it's not something the card does when played. Throne doesn't go on your deck either.

There is really nothing to be said about Throning Bazaar. If you Throne a Haven, Lookout, Salvager, or Warehouse, you just do the card, then do it again. It's not tricky. If you Throne a Duration card, leave out the Throne with the Duration card; it's tracking the fact that you doubled the Duration card. Other than that, there's nothing much to say about Throning Caravan, Fishing Village, Merchant Ship, or Wharf. They're certainly fine to Throne.

That's all we have time for! Join me next expansion, when I will say a bunch of stuff and then have to figure out an ending paragraph.

The Bible of Donald X. / Seaside Flavor Paragraph in Progress
« on: June 20, 2011, 04:37:26 pm »
[For no good reason, here are my notes as I wrote the flavor paragraph for Seaside.]

You finally got some of those rivers you'd wanted, and they led to the sea. These are dangerous, pirate-infested waters, and you cautiously send rat-infested ships across them, to establish lucrative trade at far-off merchant-infested ports. Then you will conquer those ports, and have their rivers too, for that is your way. The sea is a harsh mistress, but a good cook, at least if you like lots of salt.

You finally got some of those rivers you'd wanted, and they led to the sea. The sea is a harsh mistress, but a good cook, at least if you like everything really salty. These are dangerous, pirate-infested waters, and you cautiously send rat-infested ships across them, to establish lucrative trade at far-off merchant-infested ports. Then you will conquer those ports, and have their rivers too, for that is your way. There will be the usual competition of course - other monarchs who have followed rivers of their own, probably the wrong direction. Why can't they go conquer some tundras or something - why do they always want the good stuff? Well you will be ready for them.

You can probably buy out some of these pirates, not to mention the merchants. And your food? You like it extra salty.

something something you will conquer them all hooray

usual enemies, why can't they be bothering another expansion

All you ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by. And someone who knows how to steer ships using stars. Probably a whole crew, come to think of it. You've got room for them, vertically anyway.

Salty, like the salty tears of your enemies.

You will stay in these waters until your skin is wrinkled, like the wrinkled skin of your enemies.

You've got your sea-legs, and are working on your sea-arms. When you have them, you will sea-conquer the region, and build a sea-palace on a conquering-infested island.

No man is an island (they're women).

The sea is your friend. It will carry you until you drown. Islands start out friendly, but eventually turn on you, especially atolls.

There are cannibals on these islands - or there will be, after they find out how delicious your homemade brain pie is.

You've rounded up some old salty dogs, plus a sourpuss and a bitter goldfish.

They say a haunted ship prowls these waters - and sometimes it lands, and there's a haunted beach party.

There's treasure on these islands. You're sure of it. You already have an old treasure map, which is bound to be worth something to a treasure map collector.

The natives seem friendly enough, crying their peace cries, and giving you spears and poison darts before you are even close enough to accept them properly.

All you ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by. And someone who knows how to steer ships using stars. For you finally got some of those rivers you'd wanted, and they led to the sea. The sea is a harsh mistress, but a good cook, at least if you like everything really salty. These are dangerous, pirate-infested waters, and you cautiously send rat-infested ships across them, to establish lucrative trade at far-off merchant-infested ports. Then you will conquer those ports, and have their rivers too, for that is your way. There will be the usual competition, of course - other monarchs who have followed rivers of their own, probably the wrong direction. Well, you will be ready for them. You've got your sea-legs, and are working on your sea-arms. When you have them, you will sea-conquer the region, and build a sea-palace on a conquering-infested island.

All you ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by. And someone who knows how to steer ships using stars. You finally got some of those rivers you'd wanted, and they led to the sea. The sea is a harsh mistress, but a good cook, at least if you like everything really salty. These are dangerous, pirate-infested waters, and you cautiously send rat-infested ships across them, to establish lucrative trade at far-off merchant-infested ports. First you will take over some islands, as a foothold. The natives seem friendly enough, crying their peace cries, and giving you spears and poison darts before you are even close enough to accept them properly. Then you will conquer those ports, and from there you will look for more rivers. For that is your way.

There will be the usual competition, of course - other monarchs who have followed rivers of their own, probably the wrong direction. Well, you will be ready for them. You've got your sea-legs, and are working on your sea-arms. When you have them, you will sea-conquer the region, and build a sea-palace on a conquering-infested island.

for what is the sea, but a really wide river?

All you ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by. And someone who knows how to steer ships using stars. You finally got some of those rivers you'd wanted, and they led to the sea. These are dangerous, pirate-infested waters, and you cautiously send rat-infested ships across them, to establish lucrative trade at far-off merchant-infested ports. First you will take over some islands, as a foothold. The natives seem friendly enough, crying their peace cries, and giving you spears and poison darts before you are even close enough to accept them properly. Then you will conquer those ports, and from there you will look for more rivers. For that is your way.

The Bible of Donald X. / Dominion: Prosperity Preview
« on: June 20, 2011, 04:25:09 pm »
Well some people have the set from GenCon but not everyone can get it yet, so it's time once again for a Dominion expansion preview.

What You Get

Dominion: Prosperity has 300 cards: 12 Colonies and 12 Platinum, 10 copies each of 25 Kingdom cards, 25 randomizers, and one blank. It also has some VP tokens and Coin tokens, with corresponding mats. There are several prominent themes. Let's see now...

Colony and Platinum are new basic cards. You use them at the same rate you use Prosperity cards - if half of your cards are from Prosperity, you use Colony and Platinum in half of your games. They don't take up any of the 10 Kingdom cards slots - they are additional piles sitting next to Province and Gold. They change the end condition - the game also ends if the Colonies run out (plus if Provinces run out or 3 piles are empty, as normal).

[Colony, Platinum]

Backing up Colony and Platinum are some expensive actions. There are three $6's and four $7's in the set (plus an $8, but that's a trick, you usually will pay less for it). So you don't just build up your money past Gold, you also build up your actions past their normal level.

[Expand, Forge]
[King's Court, Peddler]

There are eight special treasures in the set (not counting Platinum). Eight! Some of them do something when you play them; others do something while they're in play.

[Quarry, Royal Seal]
[Hoard, Bank]

Three cards involve VP tokens. These give you ways to score points without victory cards. Well you will still buy victory cards. But you know. Monument is a vanilla card that gives you +$2 and a VP token; Bishop lets you trash cards for VP tokens; Goons gives you a VP token with each card you buy.

[Bishop, Goons]

The game needs interactive cards to uh keep it interactive. Attacks slow the game down though, and make it harder to get Colonies. There are still attacks in the set, but only three; they are supplemented by five cards that create interaction without attacking (plus one reaction, but I don't count those). Bishop and Vault let the other players do something; Trade Route and City care about which piles have been bought from or are empty, which is something everyone contributes to; Contraband gives a decision to another player.

[Trade Route, City]
[Contraband, Vault]

Some cards in the set care about treasures, special or not. Counting House makes you want Copper, Grand Market makes you not want it, and Mountebank hands out Copper. Hoard gets you Gold with your victory cards. Mint copies a treasure; Venture digs for one to play, while Loan digs for one to trash.

[Counting House, Grand Market]
[Mint, Venture]

Your Guide to Beating Attacks

Now as usual I have an essay on a random Dominion-related topic. This one is about how to beat attacks. It's a strategy essay! There are probably more design issues to write essays about, but someone at BGG was just asking how to fight Saboteur, and man, sounds like an easy way to fill some space. So here goes.

Some people play with Moat in every game. Gotta have some defense! Is what they're thinking. Otherwise, what do you do about attacks? Well there's a ton you can do. Moat usually isn't even the best option. It's an option though. I better mention it. You can Moat attacks! And Lighthouse them. And sometimes Secret Chamber them or Watchtower them.

Now let's consider every attack.

1. Attacks that make you discard

Militia, Goons, Cutpurse, and Minion all put you down cards in hand. Your turn ends up not playing out as well as you thought it was going to.

The first thing is, a few cards draw you up to a particular hand size - Library to seven, Watchtower to six. These can make you actually happy that the attack was played against you - you tossed your worst cards and got well perhaps better ones.

These attacks make you need to have good hands consisting of not many cards. One approach is to have good cards and weak cards but not cards that are in-between. A hand of five silvers turns into a hand of three silvers when they play Militia, but a hand of two Golds a Silver and two Duchies keeps the cash and still buys Province. Well it's easier said than done to get those Golds in the face of Militias beating down on you, but it's a plan.

Getting the good cards may be work, but it's easy getting the bad ones. Strategies that involve having lots of junk in your deck, i.e. Gardens, are fine vs. Militias.

Another thing is, sometimes playing a single action can be enough to have a decent turn. Workshop a Gardens, buy a Copper, that's good enough. Expand is another good example, for the late game at least.

Minion is a special case in that it's essentially a random discard. You're just as likely to toss good cards as bad ones. Secret Chamber can send cards down the line for you, though you have to guess which way they'll use the Minion. Cutpurse is also special, since it only hits Copper. You can fight it by trashing your Coppers.

What you don't want vs. these attacks is well cards that get worse with a smaller hand. You probably just discard that Cellar when they Militia you; it's not doing much. Cards that require a combo, like Remodel, are worse early on - a turn of "Remodel an Estate, buy Silver" becomes "Remodel Estate, done." Even Chapel gets weaker vs. Militia.

2. Attacks that trash your cards

Thief, Pirate Ship, and Saboteur all trash your cards. Your precious cards!

The first thing you can do is, you can gain cards - Ironworks, Talisman, etc. You break even vs. just one other player; with multiple people trashing your cards, it may not be enough. When multiple people are trashing cards though, they are sometimes trashing the cards that trash cards, so gaining extra cards can still be good. +Buys are another way to gain extra cards, but since you also have to have that extra money, they don't typically work fast enough.

Thief and Pirate Ship only trash treasures, so the easy out there is to do without 'em. There will often be an action out that makes money, and that will do. If Thief isn't being played too often, you can sometimes just ignore it. It will steal some good cards from you eventually; oh well, they are down money in hand the turn they play Thief and you have no such burden. It's not so bad. If lots of Thieves are being played though, you can just run out of cash. In the unusual situations where you can't make up the difference in actions, you'll want to fall back on gaining extra cards, even with +Buys. Also, end the game before they can get the upper hand this way.

Now when Thief hits Copper, you're glad and they aren't and that's that. When Pirate Ship hits Copper though, everyone's happy. You don't want the Copper and they want the token. You don't want them to get the token. In a two player game, trashing your Coppers first can help here. With more players, you probably can't get everyone to slow down the Pirate Ship enough. Instead, just coast to victory by building your own efficient Copper-free deck, courtesy of them stealing those Coppers for you. Pirate Ship can cause some groups problems, I think because it's an answer to itself - Pirate Ship makes you want an action that makes money, and hey Pirate Ship is one of those. So everyone plays Pirate Ships and Pirate Ship seems unbeatable. It is so beatable though. Trashing your Coppers is normally something you give up several turns to do; having it done for you leaves you in fine shape. And you don't even have to do without money - eventually the Pirate Ships will stop attacking. You can even feed Pirate Ships by gaining Silver - say, with Explorer - and it can all work out.

Saboteur is the anti-Remodel - it turns a card into a worse one. One general approach to fighting it is to spend all of your money each turn. Normally when you have $6, it may be a decision as to whether to buy Gold or some strong action for $5. Get the Gold! And when you have $8, get that Province, don't wait. You want the more expensive cards because they devolve into better cards. It takes multiple hits to wipe expensive cards clean out of your deck, so it's no trouble staying ahead with card-gainers. You can even fight it with Remodel. When they do trash a Province late in the game, take a Duchy, you'll be sorry if you don't. Peddler provides a unique defense against Saboteur; you probably paid from $0-$4 for it, but you get something for $6 when it gets hit. Cards that are mostly just good in the early game, like Moneylender, are nice in that Saboteur will clear them away for you.

Deck-thinning cards get worse when your stuff is being trashed. You only have so much stuff. How much you care really depends on how much attacking is going on though. Deck-thinning is of course fine vs. Saboteur, since it was just skipping past those Coppers and Estates anyway.

3. Attacks that give you junk

Witch, Ambassador, Familiar, and Mountebank all directly give you Curses or other junk. Your turns become bad and you sit there trying to claw your way up to Duchies.

The first thing you think is, how about trashing those Curses? This is almost a sucker bet. It can be okay, depending on what it's costing you on those turns. Ambassador is a great way to get rid of a Curse. Steward, for example, not so great. You spend your turn just trashing junk, and they spend their turn giving you more junk and also buying something. I mean if you bought Steward for some other reason and then draw it with two Curses, man, why not trash them. Just don't make it your game plan.

Some cards let you just deal with having a bad deck. Vault lets you toss those Curses for $1 each; in fact a hand with Vault and four random cards will get you at least $6.

A few cards reward you for having junk. A Gardens deck wants as much junk as it can get, and is already expecting lots of cash-poor hands; it's not like you want to buy Curses for it, but it's not so bad getting handed them. Counting House puts any Coppers you got from Mountebank or Ambassador to good use.

And of course you want to set your sights lower. You may simply not be able to get to Province this game (let alone Colony). And hey that Witch is already running out the Curse pile; run out the Duchies and there's just one more empty pile needed to end the game.

Since Curses are limited, you can fight fire with fire. Every Curse I give you is a Curse you aren't giving me. This is more relevant when fewer people buy the Witches.

And finally, Witches are the attacks that most reward you for actually going for Moats. The attack is pretty significant in how much it hurts you, and if you are actually leaving the Curse in the pile (rather than trashing it with Watchtower), that's a Curse someone else may end up getting.

Card-drawing gets a lot worse in the land of Witches. Except for things that skip past those Curses, like Adventurer. Villages also get worse, since you don't draw your actions and Villages together as often. What, all combos get worse.

4. Attacks that muck with your deck order

Man these don't sound too scary. Spy, Scrying Pool, Rabble, and Bureaucrat do this.

The main effect of a Spy is to make your top card weak. It also may make your good cards go by. That's annoying but people tend to overrate how much that hurts them. Anyway there's not much you can do about that. You can get through your deck faster, such as with Chancellor.

The basic defense is to change the top of your deck yourself, without drawing that top card. Spy doesn't fight Spy, because you draw that weak card they left for you. Well you might see their Spy and make them discard it. But you know. However there are ways to just get rid of that top card. Venture, Loan, and Adventurer dig for treasures, meaning any victory card left on top just goes by. Chancellor flips your deck, getting rid of even a multiple-card pile-up, such as from Rabble or multiple Bureaucrats. Golem digs for actions. Scrying Pool has you Spy before drawing, so it does actually fight itself and Spy. Lookout trashes cards directly from the top of your deck, or flips them over. Scout draws the victory cards from the top four, although you need another piece to that combo to make that worthwhile.

Spies prey on the tendency of decks to have both weak cards and strong cards. If your deck is more medium, that's a defense of sorts. You are going to have victory cards in the long run, but in the short run you can trash your junk in order to weaken Spies, especially Rabble and Bureaucrat. You can also play one of those Gardens decks you hear so much about; they leave a Gardens on top and well whatever, your hand wasn't going to be good anyway.

Sometimes you will be able to draw your whole deck on most of your turns. In those cases you are not too hurt by the top card being a victory card, or by seeing your good cards get flipped over. You're drawing them anyway.

I included Bureaucrat in this category even though it's also discard-based. The discard part just isn't that relevant normally. Sure it makes Cellars worse. You can fight it with Library or Watchtower, although it's not like you're so thrilled to draw those victory cards again.

These attacks are on the weak side (the attack part I mean), so you won't always feel obligated to put up much of a fight. You'll just do whatever you were doing. Still, every little bit counts. Maybe you were eyeing that Venture already; now you definitely get it.

Chaining actions are especially hurt by Spies. That Village that was at least getting you the next card down, now gets you an Estate they left for you. You would have been better off with Silver.

5. Combination attacks

Fighting one attack is usually straightforward. Fighting multiple attacks is a lot harder. What if they're playing both Thief and Witch? Man. It's a tough spot. So naturally some attacks are packages of two different kinds of attacks. Let's see you get out of this one.

Swindler is a trasher and a junker. It turns a card into a worse one at the same cost. Some games there's only one card at a particular cost - especially, only Gold at $6 or only Province at $8 - so those cards become more desirable. Cards from Alchemy with potion in the cost often fall into this category. The junk you are getting isn't all cheap, so cards in the Remodel / Salvager families are good defenses. They turn your $5 into a Duchy; you Bishop it away. Peddler is a ridiculous defense if the Peddler pile sells out; they have to give you a Province.

Sea Hag is a junker and a mucker. That Curse goes on your deck, ready to be drawn. Lookout is a special-case solution; otherwise, just use a mix of anti-Witch and anti-Spy tactics, heavy on the anti-Witch.

Torturer either makes you discard or gives you a Curse in hand. The fact that the Curse goes to your hand makes it easier than usual to fight with ways to trash Curses. With Trading Post in hand, you could actually be happy to get that Curse to trash. The big thing though is, since the choice is yours, you can fight the side of Torturer you'd rather fight. If Torturer gets played a lot then okay, you can't just discard to nothing, you're gonna have to fight the Curses. But you know, sometimes there's just one here and there.

Ghost Ship is a discard mucker. So was Bureaucrat, but again, that only made you discard stuff that's usually dead anyway. Ghost Ship gets rid of whatever. The fun way to fight Ghost Ship is with combos. Cards like Throne Room and Treasure Map are no good without a partner, but if you get Ghost Ship'd and don't have the combo, just save the combo card for next turn. If you do have the combo, keep it. Since you'll be putting bad cards on top a lot, anti-Spy cards are good here.

6. Attacks, any attacks at all

However you're getting attacked, you want to fight it from turn one. Sometimes there's that guy in your group who always attacks if it's at all possible; sometimes you just know, you are dealing with some Goons fans, or whatever it is. Sometimes you don't really know of course. But as soon as you can, get to beating that deck.

Attacks slow the game down, while also making 3-pile endings more common. Don't be the last one to sigh and go for Duchies. Get in there.

Attacks can fight attacks. Muckers like Spy can flip over attacks, stopping you from getting hit by them as often. Card trashers like Saboteur and Swindler will sometimes get to trash attacks. Junkers like Mountebank slow down the pace of opposing attacks, as they have to wade through the Curses and Coppers to draw their attacks. And discard-based attacks can slow down the attacks that don't produce immediate resources - such as Sea Hag, Thief, and Saboteur - since if they hold onto the attack, they now only have two cards left to actually buy stuff with.

Sometimes, the guy with the attacks is just not going to beat you. You know. He went heavy into Thieves and it's a bad board for it; so much for him. If it's a two player game, that's that; if it isn't, there are still those other guys. Fighting the attacks better than they do may make all the difference.

The Bible of Donald X. / Dominion: Alchemy Preview
« on: June 20, 2011, 04:12:11 pm »
The Inevitable Dominion: Alchemy Preview

The new Dominion expansion, Alchemy, has been out for a few days now, which means it's high time for another one of my "previews." What's in Alchemy, anyway? What do the cards look like? What can you do with them? Are these rhetorical questions? All this and more, coming up!

What You Get

Alchemy has 150 cards. It's half the size of a "normal" Dominion expansion. Those 150 cards break down into 12 kingdom cards and one "basic" card.

The "basic" card is Potion! It's part of the supply in games using Alchemy cards. It's a new resource. It's a treasure, but instead of making money, it makes a potion symbol. Ten cards in the set have that symbol in their costs, and to buy one of them, you need a Potion, plus whatever money they cost. The rulebook covers cases like, how does Remodel work with these cards, etc. It all works pretty much like you'd expect. A Potion is like money, but doesn't combine with other money. It's worth a Potion.


Some cards in the set care about Potions. Alchemist comes back next turn if you have a Potion; Apothecary draws Potions (and Coppers) for you. Other cards don't mention Potions, but do useful things with them. Herbalist lets you reuse one of this turn's treasures next turn; Apprentice lets you trash a card to draw cards based on its cost, which is handy with a Potion you no longer want.

[Alchemist, Apothecary, Apprentice]

The set has a sub-theme of "cards that care about Action cards." Vineyard is a victory card that counts Action cards in your deck. Golem plays the next two Actions from your deck (other than Golems). University gains you an Action, and provides +2 Actions for playing all the Actions you end up with. Scrying Pool draws you all of the Actions from the top of your deck

[Vineyard, Golem, University]

If there's just one card out with Potion in the cost, is it worth buying a Potion in order to get that card? It oughta be. So, the cards with Potion in the cost are almost all useful in multiples. Apothecary, Scrying Pool, University, Alchemist, and Familiar all provide +1 Action or more. Golem plays other Actions from your deck, which can end up giving you +1 Action. Vineyard is a victory card, and Philosopher's Stone is a treasure - both useful in multiples. That just leaves Transmute, which can at least turn unplayable Action cards into Duchies, and Possession, which costs so much that you won't typically be able to buy more copies than you want.

[Scrying Pool, Familiar, Possession]

How to Play With this Expansion

As usual, the choice of kingdom cards to use is yours. You can use whatever method to pick out 10 cards, and whatever method to pick out that method. It's methods all the way down! And they're all yours.

However, since multiple cards in Alchemy cost this new resource, Potion, some people prefer to see more than one Alchemy card on the table at once. So that you have a choice of what to buy when you draw your Potion. And some of those people are used to just dealing out 10 random cards to play with.

For those people, here's a method you can use. Deal out 8 cards at random. Then, if any of those cards are from Alchemy, dig through the randomizer deck for two more cards from Alchemy. If none of those 8 are from Alchemy, dig for two cards that aren't from Alchemy. Either way, put the cards you went past back on top of the randomizer deck. This way, in the long run, you will see each card just as often as you would have otherwise. The Alchemy cards will just end up clumped together.

There are other ways to achieve this. Or you can just always deal out 3 cards from Alchemy when you're using it, and 7 from your normal randomizer. Or you can just deal out 10 random cards, and live with sometimes having just one card with a Potion in the cost. It's not so bad. But if you wanted a method for using a randomizer deck, there's one.

Your Guide to Costs in Dominion

To pad this sucker out some, here is a short essay about a random Dominion-related topic. I have chosen the cost system, since Alchemy mucks with it.

People sometimes try to make a tidy formula for calculating how much the +'s in Dominion are worth. They assign values to +1 Card etc., to try to get them to add up correctly for the existing cards. It doesn't work. The costs in Dominion aren't linear. The abilities aren't linear either! +1 Action is better if it comes with +1 Card; +2 Buys isn't twice as good as +1 Buy. And so on.

A big thing is, you start out with 7 Coppers and 3 Estates. That seriously distorts the low costs. Your deck can make $3 consistently right out of the gates, and it makes $4 plenty. Then, as you buy more cards for your deck, each card has less and less of an effect on your draws - since your deck is larger! At the same time you are buying better cards, but it isn't quite enough; building up from $7 to $8 is generally harder than building up from $4 to $5.

Here is a general guide to the base costs:

$2: Since your deck starts out already making more than $2, these cards struggle to be good enough. Often they really have to be worth $3. Otherwise you're just so rarely buying them. Mainly you buy a $2 when 1) you get $2 on turn one or two and the $2 at least isn't going to hurt your deck, 2) you get a victory-card heavy draw late in the game and the $2 is useful then, 3) you're choking on Curses, 4) you have an extra buy and can get the $2 with something else, and 5) the $2 is really worth $3. Often the main thing I go after with a $2 is, I at least want you to be able to buy it with a 5/2 opening without regretting it.

$3: These cards are squarely up against Silver. Silver is a good buy, and not a "terminal action" either. A terminal action is one that doesn't give you +1 Action. The problem with a terminal action for $3 is, you could be using up your action on something costing more instead, which would be more powerful. Sometimes your strategy doesn't involve an expensive terminal action, so you can go ahead and take a few cheap terminal actions. Other times you can live with having extra terminal actions, and other times you are just not buying a lot of $3's. Unless of course they aren't terminal! If they give you +1 Action then it's a whole different story. You may just snatch up some of those.

$4: These cards are also squarely up against Silver! $4 is just not that much more than $3. You most often start the game with either 3/4 or 4/3 hands; you are buying a $4 right away. A main distinction for $4's is, you can't buy two of them on turns 1 & 2. Some cards are too strong if you can buy two immediately, so those may end up at $4 rather than $3. Some simple cards are at $3 so that I can make variations at $4; if Village cost $4, Village-with-a-bonus would have to cost $5, and that's a lot more. But with Village at $3, I can make Village-with-a-bonus at $4 and it all works out.

$5: These tend to drive your strategy. They make the biggest difference between actions and treasure; you can get Silver at $3 and Gold at $6, and you can only afford to have so many terminal actions, so you probably buy Silver at $4 some too. At $5 then you have actions that really do stuff for you, with very little competition from Silver. $5's get to be a lot more powerful than $4's. And if you have a game that's missing a particular cost, this is the one you really don't want to be missing. Ideally there are multiple choices at $5.

$6: It's hard to compete with Gold, and you don't just get $6 immediately too often. People will snatch up a $6 if it's a good one, but still, I don't do that many cards at this cost. The main set had one, Intrigue had two, Seaside didn't have any. They don't do as much to promote different strategies as the other costs, and they get played in fewer games. The cost isn't a complete dud - it can be cool to have something at $6 sometimes. It's just not a significant factor in the game.

I haven't done cards costing less than $2, except for Copper and Curse. Originally this was because of things like Bridge - I didn't want it to be too easy to empty a pile. And if a card costs $0, you can just take it with any +Buy, so probably it's going to be pretty weak. But really, $2 itself is already pretty low-end. There's no point to having cheaper cards. Often a card costing $1 would actually be worse than the same card costing $2 - you wouldn't be paying $1 for it, and it's worse with Remodels. Anyway a card costing $0-$1 isn't out of the question, especially when you consider weird additional costs. It's not really on the menu though.

Some people think I should never do a card costing $7. They think that hole is doing so much for the game. When actually, if there's a card costing $7, then in almost all games there still is no card costing $7. Whatever that hole is doing for the game, it's still doing, almost always. And then whatever you get from having a $7, you get to have that too, in those games where that card is out. Anyway a $7 here and there is just not causing a hole-filling problem. Instead the problem with $7 is that this is an engine-building game, and that engine normally tops out at buying Provinces. Province costs $8. If you aren't building a deck designed to buy multiple Provinces in one turn, a $7 is going to usually be overkill. You would buy one if you got $7 early enough, but later on you'll look sadly at the expensive action and then buy your Duchy. Hence, no $7's. And no $8's either. To compete with Province - as Possession does - you have to offer up a Province plus extra.

Alchemy mucks with this arrangement by adding in Potions. It's tempting, like with those people trying to figure out what +1 Action is worth, to try to assign a $ value to having a Potion in a card's cost. You can't though. It's not linear! And this is especially obvious with Potions. Transmute and Apothecary are pretty close in cost, barring +Buys; Apothecary and Golem aren't. Gardens was originally in Alchemy, way back when, with Vineyard in the main set. When they were switched, Gardens cost a Potion - no $ - and Vineyard cost $4. But that doesn't mean that Golem is roughly worth $8. Potion doesn't really have a $ equivalent, but is worth more on cheaper cards.

Fun With Potions

Normally at this point I'd be talking about what Throne Room does with all of these cards. Man, everyone has figured Throne Room out by now, right? You do the thing twice. So instead I'm just going to say whatever nonsense pops into my head about some of the cards.

Alchemist: The obvious combo is Herbalist. Put your Alchemists on your deck via having a Potion; then put the Potion on your deck via Herbalist. Nothing puts the Herbalist on your deck though. I don't know what to tell you there. There are other ways to try to make sure you've got a Potion handy of course. You can look around in your Cellars for a Potion. You can trash things with an Apprentice, madly looking for Potions. And of course you can just buy a bunch of Potions.

Apothecary: There are a bunch of cute tricks you can do with Apothecaries, but one of the simplest combos is just another Apothecary. The first Apothecary gets some Coppers and maybe a Potion into your hand, and lets you reorder the other cards you looked at. Then the second Apothecary draws you the card you wanted that you put back (and who knows, maybe more Coppers).

Apprentice: I know what you're thinking. Not now, in a second. You're thinking, someday, I will trash a Province with that, and draw eight cards. You will, too. And if trashing a Province with it can be good, trashing anything can be good. They especially like to feed on each other.

Familiar: It's free (it gives you back the card and action it cost you), it hands out Curses, what's not to like. When the Curses run out, it essentially vanishes from your deck; move along, Familiar, your work here is done. Free attacks can be scary things and well it does cost a Potion.

Golem: Golem is insane. Fortunately it's expensive and you have to set it up. You worry more about what exactly is in your deck when any of it may leap out at you when you play a Golem. The fun thing of course is to have to play a card-trasher you may not want to, such as an Apprentice. Something's going down. Another thing about Golems is, you can get combos. Sometimes there's some combo between two action cards that you'd like to see. Only you need to draw a Village and both cards together and well it doesn't just happen. With Golem, it just happens.

Herbalist: To some eyes, this is the only card in the set having nothing to do with Potions. Ten cards have the potion symbol in the cost; Apprentice cares about potion symbols in costs; and Potion is potion. What's up with Herbalist? As it happens Herbalist is in the set specifically for how it interacts with Potions! A cheap +buy is a handy thing when you're trying to buy cards with the potion symbol in the cost. And then it puts a treasure back on your deck. A treasure like... Potion? That's right. Of course you already knew that from the bit about Alchemist.

Philosopher's Stone: This one is tricky. You want to draw through your deck in order to play it more often. But when you play out that line of Villages and Smithies, suddenly your cards aren't in your deck anymore, and Philosopher's Stone doesn't make you any money. You want ways to draw it more often that don't actually put cards into play or your hand. That sends you into the realm of underappreciated cards like Chancellor and Navigator. Or hey, Herbalist.

Possession: The most common question is, if you Possess someone and make them play Possession, who controls that turn? They do. Possession isn't an attack, but can feel like one, and sometimes you'll try to defend against it. One obvious thing to do is to buy attacks. Not attacks that gain you cards - hurty attacks. If you Possess me and I've got Witch in my hand, do you play it? Either way, that hand was better for me (had I gotten to play it) than it was for you. You are not getting full value from that Possession. Another trick is to go for special victory cards like Gardens. In a typical Gardens deck, my hand is full of Coppers and victory cards. I'm just trying to get to $4. If you Possess me and I do have $4 this turn, the best you can do is take a Gardens away from me. You built a deck that can make $6 plus a potion; you're going for Provinces. Once again my hands are better for me than for you.

Scrying Pool: Here's another way to draw 8 cards. The massive card-drawing this can do for you does not just happen by itself. There are actions to acquire, Coppers to trash. If you look closely, you will see that the vision in the pool is of a Village.

Transmute: Yes, if you Transmute a Great Hall, you get both a Duchy and a Gold. And a Curse doesn't turn into anything. At least you get rid of it.

University: When your University is gaining you Markets, it's a business school! When it gets you Festivals, it's clown college! When it's getting you Torturers, that's one badass university. If you have other Alchemy cards out then it will often teach new Apprentices. Yes all I really have to comment on here is the flavor. Gain actions, then play them, what's not to like. It's important that University can't gain itself, or you would see piles empty so fast.

Vineyard: The obvious card to compare this to is Gardens. There are a lot of differences though. The cards that make each one good are completely different. Gardens wants Coppers, Estates, and other copies of Gardens. Vineyard doesn't like any of those, or even other Vineyards. It wants cheap actions and lots of them. This makes playing a Vineyard deck a lot different than playing a Gardens deck. Another thing is, when you're going for Gardens, other players will buy a few to stop you from going too nuts. They can't buy Vineyards without Potions though. Did they get Potions? They didn't always get them.

And That's That

They were rhetorical questions! In retrospect it was obvious.

The Bible of Donald X. / Complexity in Rules on Cards
« on: June 20, 2011, 04:03:01 pm »
[This is an essay I wrote for the Alchemy preview, then decided to save for a later set. Now that BGN is part of BGG I've talked myself out of doing that kind of preview, so here it is.]

Somehow I have fallen into the trap of writing essays about random Dominion-related topics and including them in these previews. And this preview was especially short, what with the set being a small one. Here then is a lengthy bunch of thoughts on the topic of card complexity.

Alchemy's cards are more complex than those in Dominion's main set. Dominion has six "vanilla" cards - just combinations of pluses. Alchemy has zero. Alchemy does have a couple fairly simple cards - Vineyard is a straightforward victory card; Familiar is a very simple attack; University is pretty simple. But it also has a couple very wordy cards - Scrying Pool and Possession are both thick with text. And then, the cards in-between are more involved than Dominion's non-vanilla cards. As you can see from the images!

So how did that happen? Weren't there more simple cards left that were worth doing?

The short answer is, not really! There were only so many simple cards worth making. I spread them out among the main set and six expansions that I had before the game was published. The main set got the lion's share, because simplicity was its theme. Some expansions managed to get new simple cards from their themes, such as the simpler Duration cards in Seaside. Alchemy didn't have anything like that; I could have had a card with "+1 potion symbol," but it would have been a dud when there were no other Alchemy cards out.

So, what's the deal? Why are there only so many simple cards worth doing? In fact there are several factors pushing cards to be more complex.

1. The Card Complexity Axiom

At the root of it all is this:

The number of cards you can make for a game is proportional to the product of the complexity of the game and the amount of space you allow yourself for card text.

That's pretty basic and obvious but still seems worth going on about for a paragraph. There are only so many possibilities within a certain amount of space. To get more possibilities you have to add more space. You can add that space in the rulebook, or on the cards themselves, but it has to be somewhere. Dominion has very few rules, so by default the burden is on the cards.

2. Little Computer Programs

Cards are little computer programs. They refer to data, and have operations and "program flow." There are only so many elements to combine, and getting more cards at some point requires combining more elements (or creating new elements).

Each game has its "atoms." These are the simplest ways that data in the game can change. In Dominion you can move cards between the places that they hang out, and can muck with the amount of actions/buys/coins/vp you have. Those are the atoms. There are also a few more exotic things, i.e. the turn sequence. I am probably never making "The turn order switches direction," but it would be simple.

The simplest cards just do the atomic things. +3 Cards! Simple. Courtyard from Intrigue is "+3 Cards, put a card from your hand on top of your deck." That's just two atoms, even though the second one doesn't have a shorthand for it.

You can spice these up with qualifiers. University doesn't just gain you cards; it only gains you Action cards, and only ones costing $5 or less. Adding qualifiers like that is a good next step towards getting fairly simple cards.

Then there are formulas. In general you can only do the simplest things. We can access data directly, with no math beyond counting; how many cards are in play? I also let myself divide by N; Philosopher's Stone and Vineyard both make you divide. Multiplication, I don't know if I will ever go that far. I don't know why division seems simpler. Anyway this can never account for very many cards.

Finally there's "program flow." This is the stuff in computer programs that determines what happens next. "If X then Y else Z." "Repeat X until Y." And also simple stuff like "Do X, then do Y." This is stuff you can do on cards to get more variety, and it's the bulk of what there is to do. There are only so many ways to use qualifiers on a basic concept that will be interesting enough. You can't do very many things with formulas at once. And there are only so many atoms.

So in the end it's all about using program flow to combine atoms involving qualified data. There are only so many atoms, so once you've made all of those cards, you're going to have to make more complex cards.

For Dominion specifically, we can go further. Some of the atoms have parameters, but not all simple combinations of atoms with parameters are worth doing. Most of them are either utter duds ("+1 Card"), too strong to cost low enough to get to buy them before the game's over ("+6 Cards"), or too close to an existing card ("+2 Actions +2 Buys +$2" is too close to Festival). A bunch are randomly different in a really uninteresting way ("+2 Cards +$1"). At one point I made a chart of all of the combinations of pluses to possibly consider, and figured out which ones I thought were good enough to actually do. There weren't many.

3. The Vanilla Card Problem

In some games, one card can just be better than another one. Medici has a 3 of spices and a 4 of spices and no-one is like "omg the 4 of spices is broken." You bid on those cards, that's what makes them fair. In other games, including Dominion, there's a cost system balancing the cards, and at a given cost the cards are expected to be about as good. Obviously there will always be cards better than other cards. Each game the cards vary in value based on what other cards are out, so hopefully every card gets its day in the sun. But still. In general, one card will be better than another at the same cost. And that's fine, and anyway unavoidable.

It's a problem though if two cards are very similar and one is clearly better. In particular, if one card does everything another card does plus a little more, for the same cost, that's bad. It makes some people unhappy. If both are in the same game, we don't buy the one until the other sells out. That's still not a complete loss, but it's not as good as having some other card there.

With only so many atoms, like I was saying above, there are inevitably going to be similar cards - a new Village, a new Remodel. And these cards help make the game work - you need some Villages here and there. I just need to try to keep them enough different that this issue doesn't come up.

Enter vanilla cards. Vanilla cards in Dominion are ones that just have pluses. More broadly it's all of the simplest versions of concepts; the vanilla card problem applies to some cards that aren't strictly vanilla. But it especially applies to vanilla cards. Whatever it is.

Okay the vanilla card problem is this: vanilla cards limit what other cards you can make, without having two similar cards such that one is too obviously better than the other.

For example, Dominion has Village: "+1 Card +2 Actions." It costs $3. Village means I can never make a card that's Village-with-a-bonus, without charging $4 or more for it. I make Village-with-a-bonus sometimes - Mining Village in Intrigue is one. And when I do it has to cost $4.

It's not so bad charging $4 for Village-with-a-bonus. In Dominion, $3 is secretly pretty close to $4. By putting Village at $3, I gave myself some room to make variations on it at $4.

I can do Village-with-a-bonus cards at $4 forever. As long as each bonus is different, the cards don't end up too close. Sure they're both Villages, but is the one bonus always better than the other?

Now consider Throne Room. It's not a vanilla card, but it's the simplest version of its concept. Suppose I wanted to make Throne Room with a bonus. That would have to cost $5. At $4 it would just be better than Throne Room. But in Dominion, $5 is a lot more than $4. That bonus would have to be pretty significant in order for that card to be worth buying. And in fact that came up. Originally Throne Room cost $3, and I had a variation for $4 in an expansion that was "Choose one: +1 Card +1 Action, or Throne Room." Once Throne Room went to $4, the variation had to go to $5, and it wasn't worth $5. So it died.

The solution to the vanilla card problem is not to do vanilla cards. If your basic version of a concept includes a bonus, you can vary the bonus and keep the cost the same. Only when you do the bonus-less version are you stuck with increasing the cost. But you can't just not do vanilla cards. You need them for how simple they are. So in the end you pick and choose. For example Dominion does not have a card that just says "+1 Card +1 Action +$1." If I made that card, it would limit what other cards I could make. So instead I just do variations on it.

I should note that the vanilla card problem only exists in games with a lot of granularity to their costs. Generally you want to keep numbers in games as low as possible. Dominion has small cost numbers and that's good. But it means that a difference of +$1 is sometimes very significant. With larger costs, you would have more room to tweak costs for similar cards.

4. Complexity: The Panacea

You've just playtested a card. It's too weak / too strong. How do you fix it? By making it more complex. If it's too weak, you add a bonus; if it's too strong, you add a penalty. Or, if it's too strong, you weaken it too much, then add a bonus, and if it's too weak, you power it up, then add a penalty. In fact normally you add bonuses, not penalties, one way or another. Bonuses are more fun.

Adding complexity isn't the only option. But there is a lot of pull in that direction. The granularity of the system is again the issue.

Let's say Militia is too weak. It's "+$2. Each other player discards down to 3 cards in hand." It's not too weak. But let's say it is.

I can't just change it to +$3 - that's vastly more powerful. I can't just make it "discards down to 2 cards in hand" - that's crippling. I can't just lower it to costing $3 - that's not going to make the difference, and then maybe it's too good at $2. I could try a mix of things - up it to costing $6, make it +$3. In general though, the granularity of the system is fighting me. There may simply be no fair version of the card that just tweaks the numbers.

But I can always tack on another ability. And if that other ability is too weak or strong, I can replace it with a different one. I can also just replace Militia, but that's not nearly as good of an option. Militia may be doing something I need, and may be the best version of it in some other way. It may be totally worth doing except for power level. It may be a card people adore.

So the normal progression is, a card starts out simple, and if it isn't perfect, it desperately tries to get more complex, as I struggle to rein it in.

This also happens when power level is fine. A card is filling an important role but is too boring. What could spice it up? How about another line of text?

5. Ideas vs. Text

In these many paragraphs on this exciting card complexity topic, I have really been talking about complexity of ideas. A card can also just have a lot of words. But that's not as bad.

Suppose the rulebook defined "dig" appropriately. Then Golem could have read, "Dig for two Action cards other than Golems. Play them in either order."

That's pretty simple. Golem doesn't do anything complex really. Once you have that definition of "dig." And digging is straightforward too. But there aren't enough cards that dig, so digging is always spelled out on the cards, and well it takes a bunch of words.

Contrast this with Scrying Pool. Scrying Pool does two things: first it lets you toss or keep each player's top card, and then it draws you all of the actions from the top of your deck, plus a card. That's how many words it took me to tell you what it does, as a non-precise summary. It's not just wordy, it's complex idea-wise.

In general it's the multiple-idea complexity that's really complex. And sometimes even those cards can be simplified by having a strong connection of some kind between the ideas. Having a bunch of words can be intimidating when you first see a card, but you learn it quickly if those words just add up to one idea.

6. Complexity Solved

So there it is. Rules end up in the rulebook or on the cards, but they're somewhere. There are only so many game elements to combine, so you end up combining multiple elements to get more cards. You can't even do all of the vanilla cards that are possible. And in any case you're pushed towards complexity just by trying to make the game work.

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