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Author Topic: The Secret History of Dominion: Menagerie  (Read 2218 times)

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Donald X.

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The Secret History of Dominion: Menagerie
« on: April 01, 2020, 01:00:24 am »

I took a break after Renaissance, and worked on other games. One night there was just me and Kevin. What's good with two? I dunno, Dominion? It happened again a week or two later. And then that was that, I was making an expansion. A lesson for us all.

There were two ideas waiting to be used, from when working on Renaissance. First, the Jail mat. This was a mat cards could put cards onto, and then it had a built-in rule that let you get the cards back when gaining another copy of whichever card. This mat and the associated cards had been good, but I didn't want more mats in Renaissance. At one point it had four mats; in the end it has one that does double duty. So I saved this for next time, and well, it was next time. So this went right into the set and had good cards right away. Eventually I renamed it to Exile, because I wasn't looking to make a wild west expansion, which is what "jail plus horses" sure suggested. "Exile" was nice because you can use it as a verb too, and it made at least some sense for a medieval game.

The other idea was for a particular way to do "+1 Card tokens." I considered them for Renaissance, but it didn't sound great to have a pile of tokens you could constantly consider cashing in for cards. What I ended up doing for Renaissance was Sinister Plot, which just happens at the start of a turn. But another approach was to have a pile of one-use Labs you could gain. It was like a +1 Card token, except different in all the ways it's different - you can only use it when drawing it, you can Remodel it, and so on. There wasn't room for a big pile of those in Renaissance, though it got Experiment. So this was another thing to try right away, and right away I liked it. Horse itself started and ended costing $3, but I tried having it cost $2, to make it weaker with trash-for-benefit. I preferred it being stronger there.

The first two cards using Horses were "Gain 3 Horses" and "+1 Action, discard any number of cards for that many Horses." They both immediately showcased the beauty of Horses. "Gain 3 Horses" is like Smithy... but it doesn't draw dead cards, and doesn't draw at all the first time you play it, and well more differences, Remodel and stuff. It was a pretty neat variation on Smithy and still really simple. And then the Cellar variant was nothing like Cellar. It was pretty neat too. Well as you may have noticed, these cards aren't in the set. They both just produced too many Horses. Another way "Gain 3 Horses" is different from Smithy is, it takes longer to resolve - not just playing it, but playing it and playing the three Horses. So in the end there are "Gain 2 Horses" cards, but no 3, and only Livery gets to really go nuts gaining Horses.

I tried several new kinds of landscape cards for the set. The one that stuck was Ways, which let any Action be played for a particular effect. I liked the vanilla ones right away. I also planned to add Events to the set. The set was going to have to be 400 cards, to include 30 Horses and some landscapes and not have fewer Kingdom cards than usual. So, it had space. It took me a while to get around to trying some Events, but when I did that all worked out, there were new things to do, not all of them involving Exile and Horses.

I considered having another card like Horse, a pile that some cards could give you. I didn't get around to trying one for a while, and meanwhile two minor themes crept into the set. So I never tried one, I had plenty of stuff going on. The minor themes are Reactions and uh weird costs. It seemed cool to have a bunch of Reactions, and I had this good trick to do to get some, which was letting you play the card. Caravan Guard had done that, but it had +1 Action, which severely reduced how exciting that was. And then the weird costs, I added Wayfarer and Animal Fair and they were just immediately highlights of the set, so I looked for a couple more.

* Kingdom Cards *

Animal Fair: The premise was the alternate cost; the first version had +2 Cards +2 Actions on top. It was just too important to madly try to acquire them. Then for a long time it was +$4 +1 Buy. This seemed to work out fine. But late in the going I was worried about player interaction and tried out +1 Buy per empty pile here. It worked great, it makes it less important early and well does have a little interaction.

Barge: A late card, trying to get more use out of "now or later" after I had it on Village Green. It started out without the +Buy; I gave it that to make it compare more favorably to Merchant Ship (just a joke for you people who read all the Secret Histories). Since your intention is to use it right away most of the time, it seemed like it needed more than just +3 Cards, and we weren't buying it enough without the +Buy.

Black Cat: The second reaction in the set. I wanted a black cat! Probably it would curse people? Could it be blue? I got all those things. At first it triggered on their gain and you discarded it to Curse them. It wasn't good enough. Shifting it to being played also let it be an Attack; Moat couldn't stop the discarded version.

Bounty Hunter: This started in Renaissance. That version gave +$1 always, and +$2 if you jailed a unique. There was just that version and the final version; it's more fun to have a bigger reward for the unique, and it didn't want to be as good otherwise. An early poster child for Exile.

Camel Train: Originally it had no below-the-line part. Some people liked it but for me it wasn't quite good enough. I tried letting you play it when you gained it, but it ran out piles too fast. So now it exiles a Gold when you gain it.

Cardinal: A card that started in Renaissance. It was an obvious thing to try with the Exile mat, and mirrored Old Witch's temporary Cursing. That version dug for a card to exile; this one just looked at the top 2, and then dropped down to costing $4.

Cavalry: Sometimes I try to make a new version of a favorite card. This is the new Villa. Villa saves you when what you needed was more Actions; this saves you when what you needed was more cards. It didn't change, though there was some noise about, should you get +1 Buy if you gain it in your Action phase, since that's easy to forget. Good luck remembering that. For years I wanted to make a when-gain that drew you cards, and tried some that died; all it took was returning you to your Action phase so you could play them.

Coven: Somehow this never changed.

Destrier: Trying to get one more weird cost into the set. Changed from counting all gains to just your own, suggested by Matt.

Displace: The first version gained a card costing "exactly $2 more," now it's "differently named" with "up to $2 more." I think Ben King suggested that. It's nicer as an exiler while still stopping you from using Province to gain Province.

Falconer: This started as a Smithy you could play when someone gained a particular thing - first a card they had a copy of in play, then when they gained either this or a 3rd card on their turn. I found it just too hard to pay attention to when they got a 3rd card. At the same time the set was packed with card-drawing, it didn't need more. Some people were sad to see it go, but I switched it to gaining a cheaper card to hand, Matt's suggestion, and then found a better reaction condition for it.

Fisherman: The first version gave you +$1 conditionally if your right-hand opponent had an empty discard pile (and cost $2). It was trying to be interactive, but that's not a great thing to have to pay attention to, as sometimes they're shuffling, and sometimes they're pre-shuffling. I switched it to caring about your own discard, but also tried it being a full-time Peddler that only costs $2 if your discard pile is empty. It was buy-phase only like Peddler, but we misplayed that some, so now it's full-time.

Gatekeeper: The premise remained constant. Some versions always exiled the card; you'd get back the previous one, so once you had e.g. Silver in exile, gaining Silver would work, you would just technically put one Silver into exile and discard the other one. I never liked that much, plus the card felt too oppressive, so it changed to just not working every other time. Some versions cost $4, but man you don't want to be under this right away.

Goatherd: I tried to make an interactive trasher that cared about the trash. At first it counted copies of itself in the trash, to determine how many times you could trash a card or gain a Silver. Then it counted Actions in the trash, and divided the count by 2. A bunch of versions followed, trying to zero in on the good parts of the card. Some versions gained a card that varied in cost with the trash; at first it could get Province. Some had a threshold rather than scaling with the trash. And well then I tried to think of what other way a trasher could be interactive, and came up with Goatherd and hooray, it was better. At first it counted all trashes, then it shifted to only ones you personally trashed, at Matt's suggestion.

Groom: An early card. The only change was the precise wording, "Action card" rather than "Action."

Hostelry: This didn't change. I did however compare "when you gain this, gain a Horse." We liked this better. I also tried letting you discard non-Treasures too; it was too generous.

Hunting Lodge: The first version of this was a duration card that let you get a new hand once during your next turn's Action phase. It never had a good wording, saying "...when nothing is happening..." Some players liked it, but I felt like it was too strong when it was good, and awful the rest of the time. Plus it did have this wording problem. So it changed to working immediately, with +$2, and then into the village that made the set.

Kiln: The only change here was adding "first," as people want to reach right over and take their card.

Livery: Another early card. Originally it triggered on gaining cards from the Supply; in the end if cares if the card costs $4 or more. Somehow or other it had to rule out Horse itself triggering it, and also Silver (due to Trader).

Mastermind: The initial idea was to use Exile to make a new King's Court that could somehow cost $5. It exiled both itself and the card it played. I was not thrilled with it, and making it a duration was the first new direction I thought of.

Paddock: The first version was +$2, gain 2 Horses. A variant on "+$2, +2 Cards," an ancient card that never seemed worth doing. For a while it filled its slot, looking like I might add a dividing line and some other ability, but being simple and inoffensive. Finally in the later days I was worried about having enough player interaction, and tried out the +1 Action per empty pile here.

Sanctuary: The initial premise was to have a way to exile cards that could also get cards out of exile. There were multiple versions and well. You don't want to exile good cards. If you can exile junk you will sure do that instead. It never really gave me a good "I'm saving a card for later" feeling. Some versions rewarded you for taking a card back by being a village; some players complained about these ones being disjointed messes. Plus it's not great that it hoses the exiling attacks. I stripped it down to a pure exiler, then gave it +1 Buy, and well there it is.

Scrap: This was a very old idea I just never got around to trying before. At first it cost $2.

Sheepdog: This has two origins. One is a treasure from Empires that had +1 Buy and gave you +$1 per Buy you had. I thought there was something there, and tried a new version, an action that gave you +$1 per card you gained that turn. Some people liked it but man the math was too much to ask of people. No really, it was bad. I tried multiple versions trying to fix it up and make it fair, some of which could also count trashes. I tried versions that triggered at one point in the turn. I switched to reactions and card-drawing (no math there) and was making progress. Now it resembled an outtake from Renaissance, that gave you +1 Card +1 Action when gaining a card, and some versions of this did just that. I got a version that seemed promising but had a bad wording - it wasn't trivial to communicate that you could reveal a copy for each gain, but not multiple copies for one gain. I tried it as draw-to-6 - now I didn't need to limit you to one use because it was naturally limited. Again I thought maybe this would do the trick, but more testing suggested it wasn't there. I came up with a few directions and one of them was Sheepdog. It's sleek and pretty and a delight. Sometimes it takes a while to get there.

Sleigh: Initially you just revealed it, but that was too much, so now you discard it. That had rules issues - wait you just lost track of the card you gained, you can't move it. A few different versions of the card tried to address this satisfyingly. Finally I bent time and space and fixed the rules.

Snowy Village: This started life as a joke card, in a Christmas kingdom I made (with help from Matt). Hey that idea wasn't bad. I made it more exciting by giving it +4 Actions and +1 Buy. Eventually it dropped from $4 to $3. The original:

Stockpile: Renaissance had tried out a one-shot Smithy that went to your Jail. When the Jail left, it turned into Experiment. I knew Smithy wasn't great due to tracking, and after a game with it as a gold-gainer, went with +$3 +1 Buy. Those of you who have really been paying attention remember that Feast was originally a one-shot +$3 for $4; wasn't that too good or something? Apparently not!

Supplies: One of the first cards in the set. At first it just gained a Horse; it looked nice to me but people were dissatisfied. So now the Horse goes on top.

Village Green: With a Reaction theme having appeared, I thought, how about a Tunnel. I came up with the now-or-later concept and was instantly enamored with it. It was a good fit for the Tunnel too. I needed a village so I made this a village and well there it is. At first it only worked in an Action phase, but people misplayed that, so now it matches Tunnel.

Wayfarer: The original idea predates Dominion being published; you can see a picture in the outtakes article (, the last section). Like always, at some point I thought, are there any old ideas I haven't tried to fix up yet, and there it was. That one was a one-shot Gold, which I already had; this one started as a Smithy. Since some games that would just be Smithy, it got an optional Silver.

* Ways *

Well most of these did not change. Let's just look at the few that did.

Way of the Butterfly: At first you trashed the card. That's no good with Fortress and Adventures tokens. Also I gave it an anti-Throne wording.

Way of the Chameleon: At first you could mix up the four basic +'s any which way. It's too hard to communicate what happens with +2 of something - can you split it up or not - in the space available, plus it was too many options. I fixed both things by having it just exchange cards and $. Then I added "this turn" so you didn't have tracking on durations.

Way of the Frog: Originally it just put itself right on your deck. This can cause a loop, those Adventures tokens again. Pointed out by werothegreat. So now it has a way wordier wording but there is no loop.

Way of the Mole: This fought it out with another Way that first gave +1 Action, +2 Cards, discard 2 cards, then switched the order of drawing and discarding. My feeling was, we used that one so much, was that really the best gameplay. This one is harder to use but has its moments.

Way of the Mouse: At first it tried to single out the cheapest supply Action to play. This doesn't work due to debt and potions, oops. So it sets aside a card in setup. There was a late question, should it be just $2's, or $2's and $3's.

Way of the Rat: This didn't change, but we did try a version with no discard for comparison.

Way of the Seal: At first it was like an Artifact - you claimed the Royal Seal ability until someone else used an Action as a Seal. Then it just Royal Seal'd, then it died, then I brought it back with +$1. Arf!

* Events *

Alliance: Matt wanted some expensive Events. Okay, how about, gain a lot of cards? I tried two of them and liked them both. This one was always like this. I considered putting Curse on it but man you already don't want all of what you're getting.

Banish: An early Event, stayed just like this.

Bargain: A late Event, stayed just like this. I guess ahead of it I tried another $4 that gained $5's; that one only worked if there was an empty pile.

Commerce: A late one. At first it was "gain a Horse, gain a Gold per card you've gained this turn." It seemed too generous and lost the Horse. It was too strong with Horse-gainers, too expensive (at $8) otherwise; so, it counts differently named cards, Matt's suggestion.

Delay: Didn't change. There was some talk of dropping it due to also having Way of the Turtle, but I liked the effect enough to want to do two of them, and man they're different.

Demand: At first it gained a $4 onto your deck, plus put a card you'd discard from play this turn onto your deck. It was oppressive with Coven and probably had other bad scenarios, as had an endless Scheming Project in Renaissance. I tried getting a card from your discard pile, but ended up with just pairing the $4 with a Horse.

Desperation: At first it wasn't limited to once per turn. You don't need to have the experience of "okay I take 15 Curses and buy 6 Provinces" twice.

Enclave: Didn't change. It's a bigger Harem!

Enhance: At first it said "Action or Treasure," now it says "non-Victory."

Gamble: The wording changed late to get rid of a poor Village Green interaction (that Vassal has).

Invest: Originally you just drew one card. It was cool when we tried it in the first game with it, then we never bought it. I upped it to 2 (and fiddled with the wording), and then we played it a bunch, trying to see just how good this experience was.

March: The initial idea was to let you play all copies of one action from your deck/discard (a descendant of a very old card that played all of your attacks). It was usually weak and sometimes nuts. I fixed it up by having it only play one copy and charging less for it.

Populate: Didn't change. Foosh!

Pursue: Didn't change.

Reap: At first it gained two Silvers for next turn, for $5. I won a game just doing that, so I changed it to a Gold for $7.

Ride: Didn't change, though I briefly tried adding +1 Buy to it.

Seize the Day: Originally you took an extra turn in which you couldn't draw cards. This seemed neat and then weak but maybe okay, but then Ben and Steveie played a game with it and Scrying Pool, oops. Not all card-drawing is "drawing." We talked about wordings to fix that, then I tried a version that limited your cards in play to 5; that was not remotely restrictive enough, you could do plenty. Maybe there was a good version of one of those, but it was late, and I tried a straight "once per game, an extra turn" and was happy with it.

Stampede: The initial idea was to reward you for not having very many cards in play; it started as "if you have 3 or fewer cards in play, gain 5 Horses." It wasn't getting used much; so, it's more generous on the situationalness and puts the Horses onto your deck.

Toil: Didn't change. This led the charge of new Events, showing that there were in fact more good things to do.

Transport: Didn't change.

* Outtakes *

As I mentioned above, the first two cards were the Smithy of Horses and the Cellar of Horses. They were great except for how slow they made games. I tried a smaller Cellar before killing it.

Already there's a card I don't want to share. This card was fine, it just wasn't great with the other things in this set. Well let's move along.

One direction I looked in for new cards was "this turn" abilities. It sounded good to trigger on treasures, effectively giving them an ability, and I tried "when you play a Gold, gain a Horse" and "when you play a Copper, +1 Buy." I had big plans to try "When you play a Silver, +$1" again too, but that didn't happen and those cards didn't work out.

One of the very old cards I dredged up was "Trash a card from your hand, discard a card, +3 Cards." It holds the distinction of being the first card in the oldest Dominion file, though I know it replaced something; I wasn't saving every image back then. In its day it was fine but then seemed redundant. I brought it back with exiling, and we tried it with the +3 Cards first and last, and then versions to try to iron out things I didn't like about it. I was never happy with it and then did a different trasher, which got me to Goatherd in the end.

Some attacks tried to cause discarding after each card play. Oh boy. Yes, "attacks," I tried more than one of these.

The cards that tried to save cards for later in Exile included one suggested by Matt, that seeded Exile with something and always made you swap. Initially it was Silver but that was nuts; then it was Copper and well, did I mention you don't really want to put your good cards into Exile for later? You just don't.

I tried some takes on cantrips that gained Horses. Conditionally; for discarding a card. It was always dangerous space; Horses are more interesting on terminals, but also I didn't want the game to get too slow, and the cantrips threatened that or did it.

Here's a cantrip that dug for an Action and put it onto your deck. Kind of a fixed Harbinger. It was unobjectionable but did not add much to the game. Another short-lived card was a cantrip that Exiled a Gold from the Supply.

I tried a card that added another VP card to the top of the Province deck. Well I never made the card, since it didn't matter for testing out the concept, but I made the VP card (it came with 2 Horses) and we played some games with one per player on top of the Provinces. You know, it has a mild charm, but did not add much.

There was a Smithy that Exiled a supply card for up to $6 when you gained it, and let other players get in on it by discarding a treasure. Then, a Smithy that let each other player play any Action card from their hand when you gained it. Sometimes it was very cool, but in practice they so often could not get use out of it. I replaced it with the first of the cards that led to Falconer.

One concept I trotted out briefly was to trash cards from low supply piles. There isn't much like that in the game and well the game doesn't need much of it.

For a while I liked the idea of a village with 20 cards in its pile, with no special connection to the pile being 20 cards. You know, it wouldn't gain copies of itself or anything, there would just be 20 of them. The idea was, for multiplayer, you put in this card and you are set for villages. So many multiplayer games, if there aren't two village piles, you have to build a deck that doesn't need very many villages. But uh surely the multiplayer players know about this already? They must be putting in those villages or living without them already, that's what I think. And it ate up a slot that stopped seeming so available, I could have a pretty 30 kingdom cards 20 events 20 ways. I came up with a lot of villages trying to be the good 20-card village; many were bad, some have potential but were no good for a 20-card pile, and some got tried out. In the end I did Village Green for this slot.

A couple cards tried to be some slightly novel way to discard cards for $.

I briefly tried a Haggler variant that had Treasures come with a cheaper card. It seemed promising and then had issues to fix and I grew weary of it.

There are Way outtakes. There were multiple versions of a Workshop. Multiple cards tried to give +$ with some formula, e.g. "per copy of this you have in play." None of those seemed as good as just plain old +$2. There was a Scheme for all copies of "this." A flip side to Butterfly, turning a card into a cheaper one but to your hand. I tested "play this twice then trash it," which had wording issues, was a lot of fun, and just messed up the game too much. A couple cards were one-shot +$ formula things. I tried Band of Misfits - all your cards do a zillion things! I tried Throne and Scepter that only worked on cheaper cards, and a Throne for Treasures. I tried Training - choose a card, the last one picked with the Way has +$1. There was an Embargo, man it didn't do much. Coppersmith seemed promising but oops it was way too mathy, you play lots of cards as Coppersmith and not all at once necessarily. There was a Bridge. There were a couple versions of Navigator, for a bit it seemed like one would make it. There was "gain 2 Horses" - what animal does that? It was an okay ability but not essential, and the name was trouble. It was called Way of the Mare, which I didn't like. I also tried a Way that gained Silver, and a "card from discard to hand."

And there are Event outtakes. An early one gave you a Gold and a Horse per Gold you had in play; man it's okay but I did better. Similarly there was, when drawing your hand this turn, +4 Cards then discard 4 cards. I tried a Witch variant that was no good. There were a couple versions of a trasher/exiler (it tried both) that looked through all your cards like Donate. There was a Harbinger. I had a free Event that gave you +$1 or a Silver; it let you turn extra Buys into $. It was a runner-up for making the set; I did better.
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