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Author Topic: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor  (Read 5389 times)

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Taco Lobster

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Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« on: June 19, 2011, 11:12:30 pm »
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Don't get me wrong - I love playing dominion.  It's a great game.  But, I've never really grokked the flavor that much, and more or less play it in spite of, rather than because of, the match between the general theme of the game and the cards.
 
I think this is a problem at the macro and micro level.  At the macro level, the fantasy-esque setting is plan, vanilla, and boring.  I can see how having a more distinct fantasy feeling might have made been as much a liability as an asset given that it could easily narrow the appeal of the game.  But, at the same time, using a fantasy motiff itself seems limiting.  Dominion doesn't really bring anything new to its fantasy elements, and they strike me as an afterthought, added in more to appeal to the typical board game players (which, to be fair, is probably the anticipated audience) than strongly incorporated into the mechanics themselves.  In particular, I find that the fantasy flavor inhibits teaching the game to non-gamer geeks.  Dominion is a game that I have gotten many non-gamer geek friends to play/like, but I always have to convince them that the underlying game and its mechanics justifies them trying a game in a genre that is often overplayed.  I wish it had a more abstract and/or non-fantasy flavor that highlighted its clever mechanics.
 
At the micro level, there are the cards.  There are some themes that are obvious/easy to perceive (villages being the obvious...but then there's University and Festival).  Here are some cards that I just don't get:
 
Baron: Nobles is a victory card; Duke is a victory card; why not Baron?
 
Library:  Library lets you set aside action cards, which often leaves you with a handful of victory cards and coins.  Why does a library get you those?  Shouldn't it get you actions?  My guess with this particular card is that it originally did get you only actions, but was probably overpowered in that version.
 
Chapel:  What does trashing cards have to do with chapels?  Is there a theme with religious figures/buildings/rooms and trashing (e.g., bishop)?  Why? 
 
Those a few off the top of my head, but I know there are others that come up (are all attacks themed as people?  What is the mechanical difference between a card representing a person and one representing a building?  Why only use verbs on the trash for a new card effects (remodel, upgrade, etc.)
 
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point to some cards where I think the function and flavor are a terrific match.  Forge feels like it is forging together multiple cards into something new.  Caravans give the sense of stringing together wagons to bring you resources.  Thief is obviously intuitive; moat's defensive ability fits its flavor perfectly, but why does it draw cards?
 
What do y'all think?  Do you like the flavor?  Dislike it?  Are indifferent to it because the mechanics are so awesome?
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play2draw

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2011, 11:52:29 pm »
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I am the sort of person who likes abstract strategy games and finds things like economics & database structures fascinating. Dominion appeals to me for many reasons :D

I'm not so much dissuaded by the lack of thematic consistency as I am amused when the cards do make sense... like Golem, where the beast (card) trudges through the kingdom (deck) blindly following orders (playing actions). I'm perfectly satisfied seeing Dominion as a gaming system rather than a Kingdom.
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Axe Knight

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2011, 12:07:07 am »
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The person who has to answer some of your questions is Donald X, but I've considered the exact same thing---how does the theme fit in with the mechanics?  I posed this to my game group, and we went around and come up with some interesting differences in opinion.  Some people thought that having only five cards in your hand was an interesting way of simulating that you always couldn't handle everything in your kingdom at the same time.    Surely, the Baron must go out for lunch some time (gets discarded), your money is going to be tied up elsewhere when you need it, trashing something means that it simply doesn't exist anymore in your kingdom, while discarding something means you're turning your attention elsewhere.  And the Chancellor must be seriously good at politics if he can shuffle all the components of your kingdom around.  Drawing a hand of all Estates?  Well, you bought too many Estates you planned to be on holiday in, so you obviously can't be tending to your kingdom. 

It's a fun exercise, but not everything can logically tie together.  If a card that allows you to draw more cards means that it allows you to do more with your kingdom at once...an Envoy I see, but why a Torturer and Smithy of all things?  Is the Torturer getting you juicy information that there's a Harem for hire?  And what, thematically is the difference between putting a card on top of your deck or in your discard pile?  Is the Sea Hag starved for attention and needs you to be reminded that you got cursed right away, whereas the Witch doesn't care when you see it?  We won't even speculate about the Torturer.

At the end of the day though, you said it best, the mechanics are awesome...so why worry?  Donald X could just have well have designed a game with colors and numbers and shapes instead of thematic elements and the mechanics would still be the same.  It may also spare me the, "Oh!  So is that like Dungeons and Dragons?" I get all the time, but, then it wouldn't be the Dominion we all know and love. 
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Donald X.

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #3 on: June 20, 2011, 12:38:03 am »
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added in more to appeal to the typical board game players (which, to be fair, is probably the anticipated audience) than strongly incorporated into the mechanics themselves.
No, some people like to think that RGG made a marketing-based decision on the flavor, but really, I didn't have any medieval-themed games at the time, had been meaning to do a kingdom-building game, and thought this was a reasonable fit. In the main set, Circus was renamed to Festival, Militia and Bureaucrat switched at one point (see Secret History), and everything else has the original playtest name.
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Dominion is a simple game. That means the game isn't adding rules just for the flavor. The cards themselves do support flavor to varying degrees, but the best flavor requires the most text. Thief was easy, but nothing was ever going to be great flavor for "+3 Cards."
 
At the micro level, there are the cards.  There are some themes that are obvious/easy to perceive (villages being the obvious...but then there's University and Festival).  Here are some cards that I just don't get:
The idea is that +2 Actions is a group of people doing things for you. Most of them are Villages, but this is how University and Nobles fit in.
 
Baron: Nobles is a victory card; Duke is a victory card; why not Baron?
It's not like that. Why aren't Nobles and Duke tracts of land, that's the question. And the answer is, well Duke is named that because it involves Duchies, and Nobles uh well maybe they're attracted by the tracts.
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Baron involves Estates, that's how it got that name. He's a real Estate Baron.
 
Library:  Library lets you set aside action cards, which often leaves you with a handful of victory cards and coins.  Why does a library get you those?  Shouldn't it get you actions?  My guess with this particular card is that it originally did get you only actions, but was probably overpowered in that version.
No, it didn't change except for the precise wording. Library was the kind of name I wanted in Alchemy, where the card started, and well I guess I've been influenced all these years by MtG equating card-drawing with knowledge. There is no such equating in Dominion; I decided early on that "+Cards" would have no flavor, because a card like Torturer wants to be named for the relevant new part of the card, not for the +3 Cards.
 
Chapel:  What does trashing cards have to do with chapels?  Is there a theme with religious figures/buildings/rooms and trashing (e.g., bishop)?  Why? 
Well this one is easy. When you trash Coppers and Estates, you're giving them to charity, and when you trash Curses, that's an exorcism.
 
Those a few off the top of my head, but I know there are others that come up (are all attacks themed as people?  What is the mechanical difference between a card representing a person and one representing a building?  Why only use verbs on the trash for a new card effects (remodel, upgrade, etc.)
There's no specific reason for person vs. building, just whichever sounds better on the card, except yes, attacks are usually people. Remodel was a verb and then the rest just imitated it. One-shots were events, back when there were more of them.

moat's defensive ability fits its flavor perfectly, but why does it draw cards?
Because it would be too awful if it didn't! And really that sums it up. You are not gonna do better on naming Moat; you really have to just ignore the +2 Cards when naming, except when that's all the card does. And then, do you drop the +2 Cards so the card has better flavor? No, you do not do that, it doesn't matter how good the flavor is on a card no-one is ever buying.

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PetterTB

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2011, 05:03:09 am »
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I think it was a game in the pirate ship thread where someone won with bishops and wonderfully tells how the bishop redeemed his pirates xD
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Teproc

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2011, 09:27:32 am »
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Yes, the theme is not believable (except for City which really is  a growing Village, and other exceptions), you basically have to accept it. The game is awesome enough that I do. Also, most people I play with couldn't care less about the theme of any game (and although I do like a good theme, a lack thereof doesn't bother me too much).

If you're looking for a Dominion-like with more theme, I guess Thunderstone is a good choice (never played it so no idea if the gameplay's actually good).
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DG

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2011, 10:40:43 am »
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I'll stand up for the theme. Gamers tend to accept a lot of fantasy twaddle without blinking an eye. "Orc Firewarden hits an extra adjacent target with burn damage once per game, only use when enraged", "Antilarrian battlecruiser warps 15 megaparsecs through wormholes without expending dirigium fuel". It's all meaningless. It could be anything that the game designer invents but because it is fantasy it isn't really questioned. On the other hand I can relate very well to a province, a baron, or a bank. I know what they do in reality and if the card mechanics even partially meet the card name I'm satisfied.

Let's face it, anything has to be better than archers who specialize in hitting creatures deep within cave systems in the darkness.
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rinkworks

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2011, 01:39:57 pm »
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It's interesting to hear Donald's rationale behind Chapel, because that card made total sense to me in a completely different way.  I thought the idea with Chapel is that you go to it and purify/sanctify yourself -- thus, shedding away all the junk in your deck.  When Bishop came along, it seemed like a natural continuation of that idea.

But I agree that the theme/flavor is just gravy.  It's really nice when a card's name lines up with its function, but who cares?  Dominion isn't like D&D, where the mechanics are just a framework for stories to be experienced.  With Dominion it is the mechanics themselves that make it an addicting game.  It's important that the names color up the gears and springs and levers of the machine, because otherwise it would be hard for the human mind to relate to it.  But it is, ultimately, the process that works and not the world or the characters or the places.
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Taco Lobster

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2011, 03:37:24 pm »
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Thanks Donald!  I appreciate the insight, and am glad that my comments weren't taken as an insult.  I forgot to mention one other card that I've always liked for the way it marries flavor and function: wishing well.  I started out playing it and wishing for what I thought I would get, rather than what I wanted.  I found the card to be a chore to play, and hated it because, even if it worked, I got a victory card or copper.  I switched to wishing for what I wanted, and now enjoy playing the card even though it's not the most powerful.
 
But I agree that the theme/flavor is just gravy.  It's really nice when a card's name lines up with its function, but who cares?  Dominion isn't like D&D, where the mechanics are just a framework for stories to be experienced.  With Dominion it is the mechanics themselves that make it an addicting game.  It's important that the names color up the gears and springs and levers of the machine, because otherwise it would be hard for the human mind to relate to it.  But it is, ultimately, the process that works and not the world or the characters or the places.

Generally, I agree.  I think some consistency is helpful (e.g., villages give +actions, holy places trash) because it makes learning new cards easier, but given the speed of play, the mechanics are much more important than the flavor.  Most of the cards could be a simpler, Uno-style, with just numbers and simple instructions, but there are some cards driven by flavor that would be lost. 
 
I've seen a few comments from Donald X about a spin-off game - hopefully we'll see something like that, and maybe it will have a different flavor or take on mechanics. 
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Lenoxus

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2011, 11:53:05 pm »
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When you think about it, three of the pieces in chess have movement abilities that don't make thematic sense. Why is the queen so insanely powerful? Why would a bishop move diagonally? And what exactly is a rook? A tower that moves on its own? Huh?

(To clarify, I happen to know the answers to those questions, but that's a side issue from my point. AFAIC, all that matters is the cards having simple, memorable names.)
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IamOBESE

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2011, 03:42:46 pm »
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Donald's post makes a ton of sense, and makes me like the game more. Magic is a game with a lot of flavor, but the flavor in that game isn't always obvious either. I would be interested in hearing about why more cards are named the way they are.
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Kimwipe

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #11 on: June 27, 2011, 02:51:13 pm »
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I've always wondered about Minion. I understand the $2...usually an employee card gives $2, but I don't understand what getting a new hand has to do with a Minion (name makes me think of those little yellow guys from Despicable Me). Maybe it's just a cool mechanic idea that's hard to think of a name for (maybe time-traveler?).
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Taco Lobster

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Re: Dominion: Awesome Mechanics; Meh Flavor
« Reply #12 on: June 27, 2011, 05:26:54 pm »
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(maybe time-traveler?).

I always think of haven as a time machine.  I'll even say when I put a card into it "I'll send this off into the future."
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