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Author Topic: The Secret History of the Cornucopia Cards  (Read 5772 times)

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The Secret History of the Cornucopia Cards
« on: June 20, 2011, 03:44:28 pm »

Alchemy was originally a large set, which when I made it meant it was 20 cards. I didn't count Potion. When Dominion itself was finalized, it stole whatever cards it wanted from future sets, including Gardens and Library and Festival from Alchemy. And some cards got stolen for other sets too, as I worked on them, turning former 20-card sets into 25-card sets and getting rid of dud cards. Whatever; Alchemy was last, I would get around to fixing it up eventually. It still had the Potions stuff, and I penciled in a "hand" theme for what the rest of the set would do. Cards that involved your hand. This fit with some cards that had been pushed back to be fixed up and some other homeless cards that I liked.

Around the time Prosperity was wrapping up and Seaside was getting printed, it turned out the publishers wanted small sets, could I make one please, and also, could it come out next (pushing Prosperity back). The way to get something fastest was to have it already done. Alchemy was ideal, as it had a hunk of the right size to break off of it, and it was in tatters anyway from me never getting around to working on it. I took the Potions stuff and tweaked it into a small expansion. So now there was a list of existing cards, plus untested ideas, waiting to turn into a hand-themed small set for a year after Alchemy.

When I got around to working on Cornucopia, I went with the hand theme, adding more cards that fit it, polishing up what I had, and adding cards that didn't fit it too, because what, they can't all be on-theme. And we started playtesting it.

It turned out that the "hand" theme was invisible. It made the cards play well together, but no-one recognized that it was the theme of the set. It was just not distinct enough.

The set at the time had Fairgrounds and Menagerie in it, and people would incorrectly guess that that was the theme, and that there just wasn't much of it. "Variety" sounded like a good theme, so I ran with it. Some of the hand stuff that wasn't also variety-related left, and I added more variety stuff. This theme was recognizable and worked out and well there it is.

In the end the set has only two cards that are mutated versions of cards originally in the large Alchemy set - Jester and Diadem. Some of the other cards started in other sets, and some are original to Cornucopia.

Those publishers that wanted small expansions presumably wanted them so that people who didn't want to pay the same for an expansion as for the main game could get them. And if such people exist then they don't have the large expansions. Well Alchemy is not ideal as the only expansion you have. I mean it's just so exotic. I felt like these publishers would have preferred something less exotic. Alchemy was all they could have in the time frame it was wanted, but I had plenty of time here, so this expansion tries to be more reasonable as an expansion for someone who doesn't have many expansions.

On to the cards!

Fairgrounds: I wanted a victory card in the set, because I always do. My ideas list had two cards that seemed especially promising, and the other one fit the hand theme, but it didn't work out. So I put this one in, with no idea that it would end up defining the set. The first version cost $6 and was worth 1 VP per 3 differently named cards in your deck. Then it cost $5. Briefly there was, cost $6, worth $1 for every 2 differently named cards in your deck, other than Copper and Estate. John Vogel suggested the formula it actually has. There was some debate about what formula was perfect (especially with Tom Lehmann and Wei-Hwa Huang), but the important thing was, that you had sufficient incentive to collect everything.

Farming Village: I had previously tried a card that drew you an action or treasure but did nothing else (just +1 Action), for $2 in another set. It was fine but there was no room for it there in the end. I moved it here as a Village.

Fortune Teller: The first version also dug for an action for the top of your own deck. That was too strong. Also it had a dash in the title. And it didn't stop on Curses, but obv. a Fortune Teller should be able to predict that you'll be Cursed.

Hamlet: A simple card from the hand theme days that survived unchanged.

Harvest: Once I had the variety theme, I had to make some cards that really highlighted it. I tried drawing cards until you hit a duplicate, and then I tried getting all the non-duplicates from your top 5 cards. Giving you $ instead of the cards was what worked out.

Horn of Plenty: Long ago, Intrigue had a card that read, "+$1 per Action card you've played this turn." It cost $4. This was popular with a certain kind of player. But many games it was useless - you needed a bunch of pieces to put together this puzzle - and then some games it was unbeatable. You would get staggering amounts of coins out of it, with +buys from something to make them count. Some people defended it, but I killed it. I could always try to fix it up later; there was no reason to give Intrigue a broken/useless card. Intrigue got Conspirator instead, which has a hint of the original premise.

I tried a new version in a later set: "+2 Actions +1 Buy. While this is in play, when you play another Action card, +$1." For $5. The idea was to provide some of what you needed with the original card, so that it was playable in more games, while weakening it in the games where it was good. You've got extra actions and a +buy up front... but it doesn't count Actions already played, only ones played after it. You can't draw your whole deck and finally draw it and play it and yeeha. Anyway this too was broken. I tried several things, including a version that only counted differently named cards. Eventually I gave up on it.

The solution in the end was to make it a Workshop variant. You don't get to combine the money with your other money. It doesn't use up your buy though. To be good enough and not fluctuate too much, it had to count your treasures too. At first it was an action with an effect delayed until the end of your buy phase, but I turned it into a treasure worth $0. Some people just liked that there was a treasure worth $0, I don't know what to tell you. So it doesn't use an action, and works with treasures naturally. This version was still sometimes too strong, so it got the "trash it if gained VP" clause.

I had called the treasure version Produce, which was a cute pun which would be lost in foreign versions. Cornucopia seemed like a good name for it, so I took that name off of a Prosperity card (Royal Seal). Then Jay preferred that name for the expansion, which I'd been calling Harvest Festival, so I had to rename this again. I called it Horn of Plenty, which is not only a synonym for Cornucopia, it's a literal translation of it. Once again creating trouble for translators.

Horse Traders: Seaside originally had a reaction that drew you a card when attacked. It died because it needed a messy phrasing to stop you from drawing your deck with it on one attack, after reactions changed to staying in your hand. But I had big plans to one day revive it with that messy phrasing.

I first tried it out in this set on a Village. I changed it to the money/discard thing in order to better fit the expansion theme. When I changed the theme I still liked the card so I kept it.

Prior to making $3, it made $1 per 2 cards in your hand (no discarding), fitting the dead theme even better. That was too scary with card-drawing combos and lackluster without them.

There was significant debate over whether or not it should be cumulative - should it work against multiple attacks per round. For me there was no question. Originally it was cumulative. There would be games where somebody just randomly bought lots of attacks anyway, and the person with the most Horse Traders won. It's plenty of bonus without being cumulative.

Hunting Party: I stole this from a later set once I had the variety theme. The first version drew you two cards you didn't have in your hand; that of course changed to drawing one random card, plus one card not in your hand. This makes it faster to resolve and fairer.

Jester: Back when, there were cards like "trash the top card of each other player's deck." They died due to 1) being weak (hitting Copper all the time), 2) being swingy (hitting your Copper and someone else's Province), and 3) possibly reducing everyone's deck to 5 cards with no escape. In those days, Alchemy had the opposite card - "Each other player reveals the top card of his deck. Gain a copy of one of those cards." This was also weak and swingy, and died around the same time.

I always had plans to fix it up though, and with Cornucopia got around to doing it. Jester lets you give them the card, so you don't mind hitting Copper as much, and it gives out Curses for VP cards, so as not to be so swingy. Of course you can gain multiple cards, which makes it swingy again. Jester gets crazy with five players and well if a card's going to get crazy with five players, it might as well be a fun one.

Menagerie: This came from Prosperity. The first version gave you $1 per differently named card in your hand. I tried a few versions of that, but it needed to be a threshold instead to work out. It ended up like the printed card, only with +2 cards instead of +3 cards. Then it got squeezed out of Prosperity due to Prosperity's particular requirements for cheap cards. I slotted it right into Cornucopia, and fixed it up by making it twice as good. It helped create the variety theme despite being in the set to support the hand theme.

Remake: This never changed. It was just a cute Remodel variant, but ended up supporting the variety theme, by helping you get that variety.

Tournament: Long ago, when working on what at the time was going to be the 4th expansion, with a player interaction theme, I hit on the idea of caring about whether or not people had bought Provinces. I made two cards with this concept. The first turned into Trade Route, and migrated into Prosperity when I split up the player interaction cards (every set needed those cards). The second soon became $4, "Each player may reveal a Province from his hand. If you do, +3 Cards. If no-one else does, +3 Cards." So you got 0, 3, or 6 cards, depending. I moved it into Alchemy, then moved it from there to Prosperity, where revealing a Province was an extra-cute condition.

It had a certain charm, but was a dud for some people. The problem was, a lot of the time, it was Smithy. It just didn't play differently enough from Smithy to be interesting. So it left Prosperity and was consigned to the limbo of promising ideas to work on later.

When I started working on Cornucopia, I tried it again, as something that fit the hand theme. The dull part was the card-drawing, so I had to replace that. The version I tried cost $5, and was, "Each player may reveal a Province card from his hand. If you do, gain a Treasure. If no-one else does, gain an Action card." It's fun to just say "gain an Action card," no qualifiers, but it doesn't work. We played one game with this and Possession. I got six Possessions and lost. Possession was typically not as good as Workshop, as everyone crammed their decks full of VP cards. Another insane thing was using it to gain copies of itself and Golems, then using the Golems to dig it up and do this more. You would have turns where you gained a pile of cards and then played them all. Anyway these games are fun once, but that's that. I killed the card again.

So a while later, I was working on the set, and realized I could push variety by actually adding more cards to the game. I had cards that cared if you had variety, and some cards helped you get that variety, but nothing increased the total amount of variety possible.

The first thing to try was a Black Market variant. Black Market came up a lot as a card that was cool with this expansion. Why not make a new one? And I could fix all of the problems Black Market had. Instead of buying a card in your Action phase, it would gain you a card directly. Instead of having to build a Black Market Deck, it would just come with one pre-built. Then that deck could be new cards, which was nice too, especially for a small expansion, although it could only be five cards, because that's how much space there was.

Tournament's province-revealing mechanic was perfect for this. And so it came to pass. I made a Black Market variant, that came with the cards you gained from it, that gained you the cards directly, via revealing a Province. There were still some things to work out though.

You got your Prize for revealing Province yourself, so that it wouldn't happen right away, and it went on your deck, so you'd draw it before the game was over. What did you get if they didn't stop you? At first it was a Silver, which was obviously bad. Steve Wampler suggested that it be something involving drawing a card, so that you'd get your Prize that turn if you had Province and no-one else did. I went with Peddler - +1 Action +1 Card +$1. That had the problem though of, if someone revealed Province, you didn't get +1 Action, and couldn't play another card. You'd have turns where you stared at your hand, deciding whether or not to risk playing Tournament. That was no fun, so, you always get the +1 Action.

Another thing was the booby prize. Originally it was Silver. That was unimpressive, but was there for a bit before turning into Duchy.

Originally you didn't discard the Province you revealed, but winning multiple Tournaments in a turn was too much. It's still possible of course, just harder.

And finally there are the Prizes themselves. There were always five; that's just how much space was left, and was a fine number anyway. I was not going to take out a card so I could have sixteen Prizes. They always cost $0. They need a cost because some cards care about card costs. There are various arguments for why they should have what cost, but I think a crucial one in favor of $0* is, that it makes it extra clear that you cannot actually buy them. I also like that you don't think, "oh man the correct play is to Remodel my prize."

The Prizes wanted to be cards that I wasn't "wasting" as Prizes. Cards that I couldn't do normally, because they were too hard to price well, or were too powerful in multiples, or too narrow. You don't always have extra actions for Diadem, but you can just take another Prize instead; it's not a whole unused pile.

The first set of Prizes was less exciting, and people complained and I excitified them. Bag of Gold originally did not give +1 Action. Princess only made VP cards cheaper. Trusty Steed gave you +2 Cards and +$2, no choice. Diadem went unchanged, look at that. And in place of Followers I had a VP-Action card. It didn't work out because, you know, you buy VP cards later in the game, for the points they're worth. I just couldn't make a VP prize exciting enough without making it too good. It couldn't be something you built your deck around, because you might not get it and at most got one. Something like Harem or Nobles just wasn't going to look pretty next to the other Prizes, because part of what you "paid for" was the 2 VP. Anyway Followers, who doesn't like Followers.

Diadem started in the large version of Alchemy long ago, as an Action: "+$2. Return this to your hand." It was a cute combo with Villages, but useless without them. I then tried some "choose one" versions, which solved the problem of it sometimes being dead, but didn't make the actions-to-money part any better. I eventually gave up on it, and well here it is at last.

Followers meanwhile started out as a Goons in Prosperity. I tried a bunch of "choose one" cards in that slot, and then tried this attack-two-ways, profit-the-opposite-ways thing. It was the same except it cost $6 and gave you a VP token instead of an Estate. It was too strong. An Estate is obv. a lot worse than a VP token, and being a Prize means it doesn't get to hit you that often or early either.

At one point Trusty Steed also gave you +2 Buys when you picked +2 Actions, and at one point Princess gave you +1 Action too.

Young Witch: When I decided to do a Black Market, I also decided to make a card that added a pile. I had also been wanting to have a card that you could Moat with a particular random pile, and the easiest way to specify it was to combine the concepts. At first the extra pile had to cost $3 exactly; it can also cost $2 because that adds some variety there, especially when not playing with lots of sets. That change was jeffwolfe's suggestion. At first the Young Witch "grew up" - she got better once there was an empty pile. That was cute, and some people were sad to see it go, but that version wasn't good enough, and there's only so much space on these cards. She is just always young. Not as good at drawing cards as an adult Witch, and also scared of something - maybe Cellars, or Menageries. *shiver*

There was some debate as to how to indicate what the Bane pile was - did we need a mat or what. It was Jay who suggested using the randomizer card turned sideways.

[continued in next post]


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Re: The Secret History of the Cornucopia Cards
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2011, 03:45:00 pm »

Other outtakes:

- For a while, one of the stand-out cards in the set was $5, "Gain Silvers to your hand until you have 5 cards in hand." Only not with that exact wording. We argued a bunch about the wording before it died, which was a lesson in how not to use time. Anyway it looks exciting, right? But some games you can't get rid of cards from your hand easily enough (or at all), so it's just a poor man's Explorer. It initially dazzled people, but I don't think anyone missed it when it left. I do a very small number of narrow cards that are cool when you can pull them off, and this wasn't good enough to be one of those.

- Before Fairgrounds, I tried a VP card with an alternate cost. Instead of paying for it, you could trash two Action cards from your hand. You don't want to trash your Action cards though, so this didn't end up being very interesting.

- I had a Village/Warehouse that cared about variety. "+2 Actions. +1 Card per differently named card you have in play, then discard that many cards." It was fine? It just wasn't that exciting or different.

- I tried an attack that had you put a card from your hand on your deck unless you revealed a hand with no duplicates. It was a cute Moat condition but did not work out.

- Prior to Young Witch, I had an attack that made everyone else discard Silver unless they revealed a particular card, which was either the cheapest card out, or a specific randomly determined card. Like I said under Young Witch, it was simplest to combine the random-Moat idea with the add-a-pile idea.

- There was a card, +$2, name a type, dig for it, put it on your deck. It cost $3. You can almost always name a type that isn't in your deck if you want, so it's "strictly better" than Chancellor. This really bothers some people (Anthony Rubbo being one of them). It had to be worse in some way and I didn't want it to be worse.

- There was a card that had you play another card, replacing all +'s in its text with whatever +'s you wanted. Besides rules issues, it was weak and narrow.

- Another card gave you increased card selection for the rest of the turn. "+1 Card +1 Action. While this is in play, when you draw a card, first look at the top card of your deck, and you may discard it." It was slow and got crazy quickly.

- I tried a card that conditionally let the other players draw a card, as a penalty, based on how much variety they had in hand.

- There was another Prize that didn't work out. "+2 Actions +$2. When you discard this from play, you may put it on your deck." It was crazy.

- I tried both Remodel and Workshop in versions that put the card you gained into your hand. The Remodel was just broken. For a while the Workshop looked promising, but well here it is in the outtakes section.

- I tried five different versions of a card that had been too powerful in Prosperity. None of them worked out but I guess I still haven't quite given up on it.

- Herbalist was in this set briefly.

- There is only so much space in 13 cards. There was a popular card that I decided would be better in a later set, so I moved it there. There was an attack that didn't quite work out, so I took it out, then fixed it up but could not add it back in. It too is in a later set. There was another card that started in Intrigue, moved to Alchemy, was played a lot here, turned out to be too strong, left, and then got fixed up for a later set.

True story!
« Last Edit: June 20, 2011, 03:48:12 pm by theory »
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