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Donald X.

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The Secret History of the Dominion 2nd Editions
« on: October 03, 2016, 05:43:40 pm »
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Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire!
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!


I can't trace exactly how it happened, but over time, I gradually built up an interest in revising the main set and Intrigue. The reasons piled up.

- It would be nice to have the prettier Base Cards in the main set.
- We could have a playmat for the trash.
- I could improve the rulebooks.
- I could improve card wordings.
- Hey I could actually replace some cards with better ones.

We couldn't replace cards without providing them separately. We could do that though, we could provide them separately. A small box with just the new cards. Two mini-expansions (that would go out of print when demand for them fell off).

In June 2015 I decided to go for it. I started thinking about it and talking about it with playtesters; I didn't actually test any new cards until July. Empires was still going on but that was fine, I would test Empires cards and slip in the new main set / Intrigue cards. Later of course it got to be the focus. Initially I was going to replace five cards and add one (there's space due to taking out the randomizer-backed base cards). I eventually came around to replacing six (and adding one) instead.

My goal with the replacements was to increase the number of decks to build, the number of things to do, while keeping things simple. Simplicity is tough with so many expansions but man I am pretty pleased with the complexity level of the new main set cards. The Intrigue cards are more complex but still pretty reasonable. There was the additional goal of just fixing any other problems I could fix, whatever problems there were, but the main goal was to have more things you could do.

Normally these posts just talk about new stuff, but today I also get to talk about the old stuff. Why did I replace cards? Right, to make the sets better. The main set and Intrigue have the most duds - the most cards that experienced players rarely buy, that usually aren't worth considering. Or, in the case of some main set cards, that just didn't add much to the game, didn't give you things to do. Seaside is 3rd but much better by this metric; after Seaside there just aren't many duds to speak of in any one expansion. I have big plans to fix wordings in every pre-Empires set, but only Dominion and Intrigue are getting new cards.

If I redid the main set from scratch, more things would change. For example I might do a draw-first Cellar like Warehouse because that's simpler. There are rules things: for example I might change how Reactions work. But I was just replacing six cards, adding one, and keeping the game compatible with all the expansions.

Actually, there's one rules change: the exact way it tells you to deal with shuffling is different. It now says, when you have to do something with more cards than are left, shuffle your discard pile, put it under your deck, then do the thing (or, put the remaining cards on top of the shuffled cards, same difference). This has no functional difference though (except with the promo Stash, which will get a wording to fix this when reprinted), and was already how some people did it. I changed that (from "do the thing with the remaining cards, then shuffle to get the rest") to clarify tricky situations like, what if I trash Overgrown Estate with Lookout - is the card I draw one of the ones I'm looking at, or what? "Do the thing with the remaining cards" worked a lot better when the thing was always "draw." The rulings haven't changed but now it's easier to see what happens. It's also easier to remember how many cards you have left to draw after playing your Smithy and shuffling (though I personally was already putting the 1-2 cards on the Smithy while shuffling so I'd remember).

In the end it seemed reasonable to also change three cards functionally in a very mild way. Moneylender, Mine, and Throne Room all should say "you may." It keeps you honest. You play Moneylender for some exotic reason (like making Peddler cheaper) but don't want to trash a Copper (that you do have in hand). You can get away with cheating. The card should either make you reveal that you have no Copper, or be optional so that it's legal to not trash the Copper (and being optional is simpler/shorter and so preferred). This essentially never comes up for Moneylender and Mine. It does come up with Throne Room once in a while though. It was a question, should the mini-expansions include these changes. In the end it seemed like, that's such a poor product - buying Moneylender etc. again just for "you may." I didn't want to be selling that to people extra, that didn't seem like an option. The options were not making the changes, or including the changes in the set but not the mini-expansion. I went with the latter and well I hope everyone is okay with that.

A similar thing came up for one Intrigue card, Masquerade. You can potentially lock your opponent out of cards (in a 2-player game) with certain combinations - for example, King's Court, Masquerade, Militia. Every turn you play out the rest of your deck, Militia them, King's Court a Masquerade, and they pass you three cards that you trash, while you don't pass them any. It is not an especially common situation, and most players who don't read up on these things in forums probably don't know about it. Still it has a fix - having Masquerade not include players with no cards in hand - and here was my chance to do it. I went for it. Again this is not part of the mini-expansion.

The plan was to update the base cards in both sets, but Jay started thinking, why not shift Intrigue to a regular expansion? Since Base Cards is a product now, you can just buy Base Cards and whatever expansion; it doesn't have to be Intrigue. People who want 5-6 player support can buy Base Cards; people who don't want it don't have to pay extra to have it included in Intrigue.

So all together the changes are:
- Six cards dropped
- Seven cards added
- Three cards changed very mildly ("you may") / one card changed mildly
- Base cards improved with art / base cards dropped
- Other cards changed to have better phrasings (that are functionally the same).
- Rulebooks improved
- A trash playmat in the main set

The base cards are actually better than the Base Cards product ones (which will be updated to match); they have art but reinstate the big symbol (but smaller). In some cases the art had to be nudged down to fit the symbol nicely. Platinum (in Prosperity) will actually get new art; there was no nice way to put the coin on or above the pyramid.

Card text will change for all sets prior to Empires (which already has these changes, so you can go see how you like them there right now). The different kinds of changes:
- Some wordings are improved to be clearer / simpler.
- We now use "they" instead of "he."
- A bigger font is used on cards that can use it.
- +Cards etc. in the body of the text are in bold.
- Layout will be more consistent and have better text centering etc.

A very small number of other cards may have changes. I don't have a complete list (and won't until all the work is done); the idea is to only do this when the wording gets a lot better and the change almost never comes up. It's not all the stuff I would change if only; it's really confined to nice improvements that only matter in exotic corner cases.

And Possession will change to also give you tokens, but that's already errata to handle Debt tokens. And Pirate Ship will have a wording that makes it clear it doesn't interact with Guilds coin tokens.

* Dominion Drop-outs *

Adventurer: This was the 6th card cut. My playtesters were pretty sure they didn't need to see more of it, and then I played some games with it, and man, it was not good. For casual players, it costs $6, Gold costs $6, if you want Adventurer you often want Gold first, maybe you never get around to Adventurer. Expert players will instead cite, it draws two cards and only gets Treasures, Smithy is cheaper, draws three, and can get Actions too.

Chancellor: This is both confusing and weak. The ability is totally worth having, if you can spare an action to play it; but the odds are that something else is a better use of your action and so much for that. One trick is, a $3 terminal action is actually competing with $5 terminal actions. I mean they both use up an action. So being cheaper isn't enough; you'd rather get Silver now and wait and get the $5. There is still room for terminal actions that cost $3, but Chancellor, not so much.

Feast: Feast is fine but really dull. It just adds nothing to the game; you consider buying it, but whether you do or not, your deck ends up whatever it was going to be anyway. Feast just doesn't change anything. I always point out, if I open Silver/Silver and you open Silver/Feast, and on turn three I draw 3 Coppers and Silver and buy a $5, and on turn three you draw 3 Coppers and Feast, trash Feast for that $5 and buy Silver, at that point our decks are the same. Okay so you can Workshop them and you can Throne Room them. The Workshop thing is fine but not enough to feel like I have to have the card. The Throne Room / Feast combo is the number one rules question in Dominion. Man let's just get rid of that.

Spy: This is both weak and slow. Make one decision per player; now play another Spy and make another decision per player. These days I prefer Spies to look more like Rabble and Fortune Teller: no +1 Action, no decision. I thought I would replace Spy with something like Rabble, but as you can see I didn't. Dominion itself is joining the ranks of the later expansions, that go lighter on attacks and heavier on non-attack interaction.

Thief: This is one of the weakest cards in the game. I mean you knew going into this that some of these cards were going to have to be some of the weakest cards, that was a reason for replacing them, but well Thief is way down there. New players are scared of it, maybe it will eat all of their Treasures and shut them out. Then you realize you aren't choosing to gain the Coppers and in fact are happy to lose them. Then you stop buying Thief. It ends up sometimes useful in games where you actually want Copper (e.g. multiplayer Gardens games), or games where your opponent is relying on Treasure but trashed their Coppers, or sometimes with special Treasures in expansions. But uh, most games it just sits there. I could do better. You can argue that Thief provides a certain learning experience, that there's real gameplay in learning that the card is weak the hard way; but other cards can provide learning experiences that leave the cards contributing more once they're figured out.

Woodcutter: Woodcutter is fine, it's totally fine. It's just, the main set had six vanilla cards, and did it need six? Cards that do things are more interesting. I felt like five would be enough. The card to take out wanted to be one of the +Buy cards, since I thought having three of those was better than having four (even if all three cost $5, which is what happened). Market is way more beloved so Woodcutter was the card to cut.

* Dominion New Arrivals *

Artisan: For a while this was, cost $5, discard down to 2 cards in hand, gain a card costing up to $5. The idea was that the ability was strong enough that it was worth jumping through hoops for. But in games without combos, it wasn't very good, and when you did have the combos, Library was better. I gave it +$1 and still wasn't impressed. Meanwhile I had had a card in Empires (gain a Gold to your hand, put a card from your hand on your deck, each other player gets +1 VP) that hadn't worked out but had seemed promising, and I tried versions of it with different penalties. Finally one day I realized that costing $6 would be more fun than having a (second) penalty. Which means the set still has a card for $6, hooray.

Bandit: This of course replaces Thief. You gain a Gold so that it's always doing something useful. It doesn't trash Coppers, so it both doesn't have that huge penalty, and can't threaten new players with eating all of their Treasures.

Harbinger: One day I thought, do I have any published cards that are really different from everything else in the set, that I could make new very simple versions of? I found two good candidates: Scavenger (from Dark Ages) and Herald (from Guilds). The Scavenger part I liked was getting a card from your discard pile; so Harbinger does that, with +1 Card +1 Action instead of +$2, and without the Chancellor part (phew). This was called Courier for a while, but people complained about there being both Courier and Courtier.

Merchant: A card that rewards you for having some Silvers. I tried something that gave the +$1 on having an Action in play (and another version that wanted an Action in hand), and that was nice, but I didn't want something too much like Conspirator. So, Silver. Then for a long time it said "the next time" instead of "the first time." "First" is simpler except with Black Market, Storyteller, and Villa. Simpler is better and people with just the main set do not have those cards (a promo, a card from the 9th expansion, a card from the 10th expansion).

Poacher: This is in a player interaction slot, vacated by Spy. I thought of having some vanilla bonuses with the penalty of discarding a card per empty pile. The vanilla bonuses had to be essentially fair at the price of the card, since you might never empty a pile until the game was over. So really it required a vanilla card I hadn't made yet. Well there was one of those, and it was +1 Card +1 Action +$1 for $4. So there it is. Avoiding making that card all these years finally paid off.

Sentry: One goal was to have another trasher in the main set; another was to have a cantrip $5. This card just came from combining those things. It's a mini-Cartographer that can also trash.

Vassal: This is the new Herald. Herald is +1 Card +1 Action, so Vassal is +$2; a mirror image of what I did for Harbinger. Originally it left the card on top, but discarding it is usually better and made the text simpler.

* Intrigue Drop-outs *

Coppersmith: The 6th card dropped. I wanted to drop the same number of cards as with Dominion, and had only picked five. My playtesters leaned towards Coppersmith. I had a new Coppersmith-like concept to try - which didn't work out. Coppersmith is an interesting dud, there are games where it's useful. They aren't common though. I used to use it as an example of how a not-so-good card would still be better than a main set dud; I could improve the main set by replacing say Feast with Coppersmith. But when the time came, Coppersmith didn't make it either. It's fun to win with a card that you can only rarely win with, but very few Dominion cards should be trying to fill that role (and enough still are).

Great Hall: For new players, maybe Great Hall is reasonable; it does nothing, but it can be interesting considering Upgrading Estates into them, or getting them for Conspirators or something, and then uh well later on they are better than Estates at least. There are more good things to Upgrade Estates into now though, or power up Conspirators with; Great Hall was not competing there. A card that did something would be more interesting.

Saboteur: Long ago my pick for worst card relative to its cost. It's got three huge problems: some people hate that it's an attack that doesn't otherwise help you; it's weak; and it's crazy wordy. On top of that some people just don't like trashing attacks, and the set already has Swindler. Some people do like them, but did I mention that the set has Swindler?

Scout: People often cite this as the weakest card in the game. I dunno, there are different metrics. There's "how often do I get it," there's "how sad am I when you give me one with Ambassador." You know. I'd rather your Ambassador gave me a Scout than a Thief. In all-Intrigue games, Scout gets to draw you some Harems and Nobles and Great Halls. New players like it; it's all upside, right? It is pretty weak though. And I could preserve the premise on its replacement.

Secret Chamber: People don't cite this one anywhere near as often as Scout or Thief, but I actually get it even less often. The reaction is confusing and rarely useful; the top part is a fine ability but very weak, it wants to come with more stuff.

Tribute: This isn't that good, but is better than most of these cards. It's not popular though. Hosing Nobles / Harem / Great Hall is not great. Some people feel like it's attacking them, since it can flip over good cards; I think it tends to help as much as hurt, but so what, I don't need people to feel bad over a non-attack. I'll say it for everyone: it wasn't the greatest card in the world; it was just Tribute.

* Intrigue New Arrivals *

Courtier: I wanted yet another card that was good with Nobles / Harem / Mill. Counting types was a way to trigger off of those cards, but would also work with Attacks, Reactions, Durations, and other things. In a few cases you can get to three, and one card takes you to four (Dame Josephine). To stop it from going crazy when it gets to three, there are two strong options and two weaker ones. All four get used though.

Diplomat: I needed a new Reaction. As with Secret Chamber it sounded nice to have the top deal with some Attacks while the bottom dealt with others (though it didn't end up like that). The top originally only gave +1 Action as the bonus for a small hand; that was still a nice bonus, but one day I thought of giving you +2 Actions and that seemed fun. Some games that's your Village, and you go for combos that will make it work, or else hope they attack you. The bottom originally gave a Silver when you gained or trashed a card. You had to discard it, so you couldn't gain the pile instantly (a once-per-turn approach was another option). I realized that discarding Reactions was not great, due to issues with early versions of Charm in Empires. Once-per-turn would have been okay but it got me thinking about, could I do better than this Silver thing. I had always wanted a Reaction that gave you a new hand when attacked, and tried a version of that, then tweaked it into what you see. When they attack, you use the ability (unless your hand is too good), and while you end up with just 4 cards in hand, on your turn you play Diplomat and are back to 5, with the +2 Actions.

Lurker: I needed a new $2, since my new Reaction was going to cost $4. I also needed an interactive card to replace Tribute. Somehow I hit on this half-Workshop. Trashing from the Supply never worked before (except on Salt the Earth and Gladiator, from around the same time period), but this time it did. The card originally didn't have +1 Action but needed that; one nice thing is, now you can just play two Lurkers to get whatever you want. The player interaction is great. Some people will put good stuff in the trash despite the risk that you'll get to it first; some will refuse, but still get a Lurker to try to leech off of you. Good cards find their way into the trash other ways for you too - Intrigue itself has Swindler, Upgrade, Replace, and Mining Village.

Mill: This of course replaces Great Hall. It's a Great Hall that does something. And that something also replaces Secret Chamber. Originally it was the same - discard X cards for +$X - but the tracking is simpler if the amount is always $0 or $2 (bump the card up from the line of played cards if it made the $2). I first tried it without the VP, before realizing it was a good candidate for the new Great Hall.

Patrol: This replaces Scout. Pretty directly really; it can also get Curses, and instead of +1 Action it's +3 Cards, and it costs $5 instead of $4. For a while it gave +1 Action and +$1 per different type in your top 3 cards, and only Scouted 3 deep; then it gave a fixed +1 Action +$2, but I didn't like having both that and Minion; then I tried giving you an Attack a Reaction and a Victory card, rather than all the Victory cards and Curses; then I tried looking at 4 cards and taking the Victory/Curse cards plus two more.

Replace: An attack, so ostensibly replacing Saboteur. A Remodel that gave bonuses based on what was trashed/gained was an old idea. Prior to that I had a bonus based on the types of the first card you bought; that was fun but the delay in-between playing it and it doing something was poor. Making it a Remodel fixed that. I tried different bonuses for the three types, but it was too wordy. I tried giving you a copy of the card if it was an Action or Treasure; that was too strong. The Cursing part stayed constant. It's cool that it's a Witch that doesn't hit for a while - unless they are willing to gain an Estate to hit you, or this is one of those games with Nobles or Harem or Mill.

Secret Passage: I had been thinking about trying to get in another Wishing Well combo, but it's tricky, because Wishing Well draws a card prior to the wish. Changing the top card just isn't enough. I thought of this and it was love at first sight. It does lots of neat little tricks. When it can't do those tricks, it's still useful, just for putting bad cards on the bottom of your deck (where you hope they miss a shuffle).

* Other Outtakes *

I tried to make a new Saboteur. There were several variations on "each other player trashes their top card, and gains a cheaper card they choose that shares a type with it." That attack preserves the ability to downgrade Provinces, and is much simpler. But it's just so very weak (whether looking at one or two cards). The main good outcome is turning Silver into Copper; that actually hurts. When you hit an Action, it's not meaningless but it just doesn't matter much. And then late in the game nothing matters but Victory cards. Anyway I still gave it a lot of chances in different forms.

I also tried to make a new Spy. Spies are just so weak. I tried it on Harbinger; man, so much text, messing up my classic simple card, and for nothing. I tried a Spy with "+1 Action +$3, discard 2 cards" as its resources. I also tried combining Saboteur and Spy - the non-trashed cards went back on top. It was even weaker than the other Saboteurs.

A couple similar cards tried to reward you for having more cards in hand than someone else. You play that Lab and then aha, play this and get a bonus. In practice it was too hard to get the bonus. I made the base good and the bonus large and still it was rarely worth getting.

A couple cards tried to be a better Coppersmith. I had a Treasure from Empires that seemed perfect - name a card, worth $1 per copy of it you have in play. If you name Copper, it's the Treasure version of Coppersmith; but if you have a bunch of Villages in play or something, okay, name that. And you never completely whiff, since you can name itself to just get $1. But uh. It has to cost at least $5 and was just never worth it. It looked classic but that wasn't enough.

In the Artisan slot, I tried a reusable Feast. It was Feast but you could either trash it or discard down to one card. You know, I kind of liked it, but "better Feast" wasn't such a claim to fame, and being strictly better than a dead card might still bug some people, and then I had a better idea.

* And That's That *

There are always people who don't like whatever change; sorry guys. To me this move does not feel risky. The main set and Intrigue are getting better. And if you just want the new cards, they're available separately.

Given that I've posted this, the new main set and Intrigue and the two Update Packs all must be in stores or on their way there. There's no precise schedule for changing the other sets; it will come up as they go out of print. The Big Box will also change, as will the Base Cards product. I don't know the schedules there either. Again other sets won't be getting new cards, just improved wordings and layout.
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