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Donald X.

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The Secret History of Dominion: Allies
« on: March 11, 2022, 01:57:54 pm »
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The year was 2020. Menagerie was coming out soon, and I had a lot of non-Dominion projects in motion. I was playing games with friends two nights a week. Eating in restaurants. Walking past strangers on the sidewalk without a care in the world.

When the pandemic hit, at first I just didn't work on games. I wrote some stories and novellas. Eventually my daughter Natalie started playing games with me. At the same time I typed up a few Dominion cards, in case external playtesters could somehow playtest them. One day in May I set up Dominion, which Natalie'd been resisting trying, and we played it and nothing bad happened. So after that, we played it a bunch. So I worked on an expansion! That's how they get you.

At first it was just some random cards. Ideas that we could totally test. I tried a few new VP token cards, maybe I'd revisit those (spoilers: those cards all left). I tried several new Victory cards; maybe I'd revisit that theme (I did not). And you know, just tried whatever cards I thought of. In June I tried out Favors: tokens that varied from game to game. I also tried some new Reserve cards, but Reserve cards overlapped heavily with Favors. And in July I tried a split pile with 4 different cards in it and away we go. There was also another new kind of landscape; I liked it but can only fit so much into one expansion.

The Favors / Liaisons always worked the same way. Initially nothing cost more than one Favor per use, and there wasn't anything that cared how many Favors you'd stacked up, or put them on piles. I gradually made more Liaisons and more Allies, and looked for less straightforward things they could do.

The split piles originally had a variety of mechanics to ensure that you could somehow get through the pile to the cards you wanted. Some piles had every card able to upgrade to a card from the pile, just like how Acolyte does. Two piles tried having the top card gain a card from the pile; two piles, including one of those, tried having the top card able to trash cards from its Supply pile. One pile had no trick but was all villages. In the end we have rotation. It gets you through the pile, provided that someone gets the top card. The upgrading and Lurker-ing meant we didn't get to play with cards from the piles as much, and the gaining was crazy. The first version of rotation just moved one card; then it got the word "rotate" and did what it does.

I had tons of cards. I took out a lot of cards, based mainly on what fit the set best; they are waiting around in case they get to be real boys someday. I ended up with two minor themes: choose ones and recursion. Late in the going I scrapped two split piles, which let me fit in three regular piles (which all ended up being cards from split piles), plus an ally.

Natalie only tested with me for so long. Matt Engel pushed playtesting on Tabletop Simulator, and we did some of that. Eventually dominion.games started adding cards in a secret version, so some people got some playtesting in there. And one day I knew enough vaccinated people that game nights resumed, hooray. And we went back to restaurants, but I still walk into the street to avoid people on the sidewalk. That part had a certain charm, I don't know what to tell you.

* On to the cards! *

Augurs: The first split pile. It sold the concept; the pile was fun. Herb Gatherer was very briefly a choose-two. Acolyte was briefly a Lookout variant where you draw the cards, ala an Adventures outtake; then for a long time it was the final card but with the upgrading removed, when I removed it everywhere else. Sorceress had its wording messed with but stayed basically the same. There was a big choose-two where Sibyl is, but it almost immediately became the final Sibyl.

Barbarian: An outtake from Dark Ages! Some guys from dominionstrategy.com briefly playtested Dark Ages (theory, rrenaud, and Captain Frisk, hey guys), and were aghast at how easy it was to lose a Duchy. I decided to scale back the quantity of Duchy-trashing, and took this card out. It was the same except it gave out a Ruins instead of a Curse. Well, I always liked it, and here it is at last. It also tried out for the Clashes pile, but I preferred it as its own pile.

Bauble: Didn't change, but did try out for being the top card of a split pile.

Broker: An old idea, finally realized with help from Favors. It seemed like it could get a wording that just explained the "once per $1 the trashed card costs" bit once and then listed the bonuses, "+1 Action; +1 Card; +$1; +1 Favor." But after confusing people, in the end it got a fully spelled out list of options.

Capital City: Originally you played a card, and got +1 Card per +$1 it gave you, and +$1 per +1 Card it gave you. There are some tricky things here, but also some combos where it goes nuts. Letting you pay $ for Cards and Cards for $ is kind of similar without those combos and without being a Throne Room. I had other Throne Rooms. It was "up to 3" before I locked it in at "2."

Carpenter: An outtake from Empires, sans the +1 Action. The +1 Action helps! Started out here in a split pile.

Clashes: Battle Plan and Territory started out like they ended, though I tried Territory counting Attack cards too (it's just not as interesting). Archer and Warlord swapped places some (with their resources changing), and Warlord tried different ways of punishing repetition. For a while it made you trash cards you gained that were copies of cards you had in play, but this is problematic and also didn't do much. And originally it gave +$3 next turn.

Contract: Originally you could play an Action from your hand. Saving it for next turn was more interesting, and something I could do with a Treasure-Duration. A Treasure-Duration! At one point the set had five of them.

Courier: Originally you discarded 3 cards, then played something from your discard pile. This was nuts. You just desperately want all of the Couriers. Kevin White demonstrated this, and I scaled it back.

Emissary: Initially this had no +Favors on it. It got +1 Favor because it spiced up the card a little; a while later that bumped up to +2 Favors because some Allies cost more than one Favor and they were sure hard to make do anything with Emissary.

Forts: Tent started as its own pile. Actually it goes back to Hinterlands, where it seemed strong. With the wisdom of my years I felt like probably it wasn't really. Then it went into a split pile because well you sure don't need ten of these. Before Garrison, versions of Royal Galley were here, plus a reaction you could play when an Action gave you +$2 or more. Garrison started out as its own pile, making +$2 and +1 Buy this turn (for $5). Then it made +$ next turn instead of +Cards, and after a while left due to having too many +Buy cards. It tried again as a treasure and then here it is. It removes the tokens so that it doesn't multiply if you have two of them. The third slot tried a few Remodels before getting to Hill Fort. The first version of Hill Fort gave +3 Cards at end of turn when trashed; a fine ability for something, but not too relevant here. And there was a Moat, because, aren't Forts things that keep attacks out? But the pile didn't have an attack. Stronghold started out dividing tokens between this turn and next, with them giving +$ this turn and +Cards next turn. You did not tend to finagle this so much, and it was way simpler to just offer up +$4 this turn or +4 Cards next turn. I mean +$3 this turn or +3 Cards next turn. This one also tried giving +Cards at end of turn when gained/trashed, before just getting 2 VP. It's nice to have VP on some of the bottom cards for the split piles, since sometimes you don't see them for a while.

Galleria: Matt thought this could also work on $2's, but that always sounded scary and there was always something else I needed to test more. So, went unchanged.

Guildmaster: One of the later Liaisons; just trying to get in another way to get Favors. Printed like it started, though I considered limiting it to e.g. "when you gain a card costing $3 or more."

Highwayman: I messed with the language, but this is what it always did. Playing into the recursion theme by being Duration draw you can play every turn.

Hunter: An idea Matt suggested for Intrigue 2E. There it seemed strong. Here I tried an even stronger version - a village - but quickly scaled it back.

Importer: This started in the Odyssey pile. It could gain an Odyssey card (crazy), or next turn gain a $5, or discard a Silver for a this-turn $5. I cut the Silver part and the crazy part, and messed around with it, then wanted it as its own pile. Matt suggested the setup, which is of course the focus of the card now. Initially that version had a cantrip option on top, then a "+1 Action +1 Favor" option. You only picked it when you couldn't otherwise play the Importer, and it's so much cleaner to not have the extra option.

Innkeeper: Initially the choice was just between cantrip or Warehouse. It wasn't phrased as a choose-one either, it was cantrip, "You may: +2 Cards, then discard 3 cards." I turned it into a choose-one to work with Elder, then added the draw 5 / discard 6 option to spice it up. It was a concern, was that too generous, was it too slow.

Marquis: Started out in a split pile. It was too hard to get to, we just weren't seeing it much. It wasn't great to only have 4 of either. The premise was a card where you discard down to a hand size; it felt like I could get away with Madman here. For a bit it tried also doubling Buys.

Merchant Camp: The first of the new batch of cards that survived into the set. It's an old premise, having tried out for ancient sets in other shapes. Here it is working fine. I strongly considered giving it a type and a color, to help you remember that it does something when you discard it from play. In the end, I felt like it was a great move, except that all those earlier cards (Treasury etc.) wouldn't have the new color for most people, even if future printings added it.

Modify: Multiple Remodels tried out for the set. I hit on this one to play into the choose-one sub-theme, then was enamored with it and made Hill Fort as another "do a thing, then choose something that relates" card.

Odysseys: The first card was initially Importer (called Provisioner). Then it was a duration version of Old Map - cantrip, next turn draw/discard (with an option to trash Odyssey cards from the Supply). Matt suggested having this be the multicolor pile - each card a different color. So I tried some blue Old Maps, but the one I liked ending up being a straight Action. The second card started as a cool thing that became its own pile and then left the set, bound for the future. Then briefly it was Fugitive with a recursion clause, and then it got Voyage from the Wizards pile. Cade suggested the "from your hand" wording, which was crucial for e.g. not stranding cards that Golem hits. The third card was initially a Remodel with +2 Cards in front of it and "discard 2 cards" after it. An old concept, tried years ago. You know this time it didn't exactly fail, it just didn't want to be in the pile and then there was no home for it. I folowed it with a treasure that cared how many types you had in play, then "gain an Action card from a pile that isn't full," then the final card. And then the last card in the pile started out as a token-based variation on Stronghold - 4 tokens, remove some this turn for +$, the rest next turn for +Cards. The tokens weren't necessary, I could just fix the amounts. But you know, did that elsewhere. Here I was looking for a green card for that multicolor theme. I tried Miller with VP based on how many treasures you had, then a thing that gave $ based on the cost of a discarded card, and finally the final card. Hooray, we made it there.

Royal Galley: This card started out in Seaside. It didn't have +1 Card then, which makes all the difference. I tried a version here which gave +$2 next turn, then Matt suggested making it +1 Card this turn instead. Originally it looked for the card being discarded from play, the classic trick to catch Durations and one-shots and things; Stef suggested setting the card aside immediately, with "non-Duration" to rule those out.

Sentinel: It trashes from your next hand. Showed up midway through work on the set, when I needed more trashing; didn't change.

Skirmisher: Didn't change.

Specialist: Another card cashing in on the Modify premise. Didn't change.

Swap: Initially I tried "exchange" on it, and also trashing the card rather than returning it. I also tried not having the cost limit. It quickly settled into the card we know and love.

Sycophant: Initially this had no when-gain/trash; "+1 Action, +$3, discard 3 cards." A little bit of Vaulting, with an extra reward if you had ditched your other cards. It quickly got the when-gain/trash and for a while seemed fine. One day online tester JNails noticed that it could be nuts with a few of the Allies - League of Shopkeepers especially. You just buy nothing but Sycophants and Provinces. So I had to scale it back to requiring at least one card discarded.

Town: This was a Menagerie outtake. The original idea was to make a village pile that was 20 cards, but with no mechanic that pushed it being 20 cards; just, in multiplayer games, yeeha, there are plenty of villages. This was a stand-out for that, and was a fine card, but each set only has so much space. Here it fits in with the mild choose-one theme. And there are just ten because well, just put out two village piles for multiplayer if you want.

Townsfolk: For a bit the pile had a Mafia theme - it was Vigilante, Miller, Town Doctor, Elder. The Vigilante trashed a Townsfolk from the supply, only they were called Townies. The first version though had a Town Crier, without the cantrip option and with "gain a Townie" instead. Blacksmith never changed (but at first was called Miller). A few cards tried out for the 3rd slot. There was a Silversmith that gave bonuses for Silvers in hand; there was a Town Doctor that triggered on trashing cards, to get them back. There were cards that gave you +Cards or +$ based on how many cards you had in play, or how many differently named cards. There was a cantrip that drew other Townsfolk from your top 4 cards. Miller is an old old card, a version of it predates there being expansions. This shape seemed the right one and worked out. Elder initially gave +1 Action and affected the rest of the turn; this was too much.

Underling: The first card to give Favors. It never changed (except, it was called Poet).

Wizards: Student originally either trashed or drew your top card. Then it got the topdecking, but initially only triggered on Copper. That changed just to give you a little leeway if you really wanted more Favors. The Conjurer slot was another kind of Workshop, then Voyage, then the surviving card (though with an upgrading bit for a while still). Sorcerer went back and forth on being cumulative or not (via having them discard the card). In the end, not cumulative. Lich started out as a way to get all these upgrading split pile cards. It was played to gain cards from the trash, then that moved to a when-trash ability, and the top got "draw your deck, skip your next turn." Would you believe, that was overpowered. But someone has to try these things, and it might as well be me. The bottom was also broken, it put Lich into your hand when trashed and you could go nuts with various trash-for-benefit cards. The scaled back beast still looks scary.

* Allies *

Architects' Guild: There were multiple gainers besides Crafters' Guild, some of them Remodels. Some were in the file for a while, some just briefly tested. I eventually settled on two, with the name Architects' Guild on this one. Originally it didn't say non-Victory; it always seems worth trying, but.

Band of Nomads: Originally it gave Buys at the start of the Buy phase. It's friendlier to let you use them mid-Buy-phase, but wait, needs to not loop with Guildmaster. It was always clearly the dud but clearly going to survive; it was such a basic thing, +Buy tokens, they'd gotten a whole mat in Renaissance at one point. It's just that some games there was another +Buy and well that card could often out-compete the Liaison. Then I was messing with what Woodworkers' Guild would be and had this idea for it, only it was basically the +Buy token thing I already had only better. And that was good so here it is. And then the cost limit stops Guildmaster shenanigans.

Cave Dwellers: Originally you did all the discarding at once, then all the drawing; now you get to discard/draw, then see if you want to do it again.

Circle of Witches: How about adding abilities to Liaisons? Well a lot of that has been done already via Adventures tokens, but here's turning them into Witches. Unchanged.

City-state: Originally just one Favor, which was nuts. Also it had the wording where you set aside the card, and check if you did. That went away with a rules change: now you can't play a card you can't find (though you can replay it, meaning Thrones on Horses still work).

Coastal Haven: The wording changed a lot while the functionality stayed basically the same. You were setting aside cards and getting them back; now they just stay in your hand.

Crafters' Guild: This drew a lot of worry and tweaking. The first version was one Favor for a $2, two Favors for a $4. That quickly shifted to just two Favors for a $4. For a while it was there, looking reasonable to me. It drew complaints, and I considered lots of different versions, that messed with the timing to try to make it more exciting. Like, triggering when drawing a card - you draw the card you're gaining. That was tricky, and for simplicity I scaled it back to just the original Workshop, but now onto your deck.

Desert Guides: Unchanged, though at one point attention focused on it.

Family of Inventors: How about putting tokens on piles? It's non-Victory both due to how it would play without that, and due to Trade Route, which puts tokens on Victory piles. Crazy but unchanged.

Fellowship of Scribes: Unchanged. The Allies tried to get in Villagers/Coffers/Horses in tweaked forms, as basic things to do with tokens. This is the Horse.

Forest Dwellers: Briefly I had Scout - look at the top 4, take the Victory cards. I switched it to this, which went the distance.

Gang of Pickpockets: I tested this early on, as "if you have 5+ cards in hand, discard one unless you spend a Favor." I wasn't thrilled in its one or so games and cut it. Later I thought of it again and tweaked it to "discard down to 4." This time I liked it, go figure.

Island Folk: Unchanged. The cost is hemmed in by Importer; to cost 6 Favors, Importer would have had to make +5.

League of Bankers: Why make you spend the tokens? Unchanged.

League of Shopkeepers: Cashing in on the "why spend tokens" of League of Bankers, and the "make the Liaisons do things" idea of Circle of Witches. Unchanged.

Market Towns: Unchanged.

Mountain Folk: Unchanged. Early on I thought, just use one Favor token at a time, but once I gave up on that, why not have some really expensive ones.

Order of Astrologers: Unchanged, although the rules changed to support it better. Now we let you look at the cards you're about to draw while deciding, which some people felt was absolutely essential, to the cores of their beings. And the same for Star Chart of course.

Order of Masons: This started out as a Reserve card. Reserve cards overlapped too much with Favors, so it turned into an Ally. Mostly it had you set aside exactly two cards per Favor, but my heart softened, and now it's "up to" two per.

Peaceful Cult: Originally it trashed at start of turn. The change was mostly to make it a little more different, but of course also makes it stronger.

Plateau Shepherds: Unchanged. The Landmark Ally.

Trappers' Lodge: Unchanged. That's at least a dozen unchanged Allies.

Woodworkers' Guild: The other slot that many Workshops/Remodels tried out for. This one, directly playing off of Advance, just did more in the games we played with it than the others did.

* Outtakes *

More than usual, there were cards that seemed good but which I just didn't have space for. Those stories will wait for another day, when they either make it into a set, or demonstrate that they really aren't making it.

There were a few more split piles. One pile split up into separate cards, then some got saved for the future. One pile was all treasures, and at one point all treasure-durations. It kept being impossible to make it through the pile; we liked the first card but it didn't rotate often enough. Then the first pile tried to be its own pile and turned out to be broken. It was a treasure that made $1 this turn or $2 next turn or $3 the turn after that, and so on. Man it seemed fine and fun and then it turned out, just buy them and a Woodcutter or something and let them pile up to 8 tokens. Some of the treasures that tried out for the pile may still make it out in the future, with more work. There was a villages pile; the first card was conditional which wasn't great, and then I split the pile up and worked on the cards and it doesn't feel like any survived, though Capital City is a relative of one. And there was the Crafts pile, which I dropped just because I was dropping the treasures pile and had to drop two split piles to make the numbers work out well. Plus it wasn't so clear that having 8 split piles was so great; in an all Allies game you'd frequently have 3, which is so many cards to read. But hooray, two of the cards from that pile are in the set, Carpenter and Marquis, and another is hoping to make it out someday.

Early on I tried doing more VP token cards. Some of those gave VP tokens when you gained them, and let you spend the tokens somehow. Others came with VP tokens via a formula; the effect was kind of like Triumph.

Also early, a Victory cards theme. There was a Treasure-Victory card worth VP per 5 Treasures you had. Natalie endlessly beat me up with that, as I weakened it and finally gave up on it. I also tried VP per copy of an Action card you choose, and VP per 3 Action cards you have from non-empty piles. The experience this gave was not really so fun. To go with the Victory cards, there was a card that drew all the non-Action non-Treasure cards from the top of your deck, plus one more card. There was also a new Goons, sans attack and triggering on gains.

When I tried revisiting Reserve cards, I had: call to gain to hand a copy of a Treasure you played; call when a pile empties to gain a Gold and Duchy to hand (there's a novel one); call when shuffling to not shuffle in 4 cards (turned into Order of Masons); call for +1 Card per Copper in hand (I also tried a Duration version of that one); and gain a $4 onto your mat, call to put a card from your mat into your hand (cool if Reserve cards manage to be a theme again).

The first card in the file is "Gain an Action card from a pile that isn't full." It was fun and then seemed too generous. The closest the set comes now is Sunken Treasure. Conjurer at one point was gain a $4, or a $5 if there's an empty pile. Another early card, ancient idea, was reveal your hand, +$ per type there. The set ended up generous on the types, and this card was just always nothing or crazy.

I though it would be cool to do a trasher that returned cards, but wasn't also an attack like Ambassador. Since sometimes Ambassador is interesting for the bit where it stops a pile from being empty. You know it just didn't come up enough to be worth the words. I also had an Expand that required the gained card to share a type with the trashed card. It only cost $4 and still wasn't exciting most games.

I revisited the one-card Ghost Ship. It did not have some twist to it that made it fun. I tried "reveal the top card of your deck, you may have each other player gain a copy of it." I was briefly a fan, but really you so quickly move to never attacking with it.

More random things. A Warehouse with the Merchant Camp bottom. Cantrip, with +$1 if you've gained or trashed this turn. +$2 +1 Favor, with +1 Action if it was your first play. There's still a certain mild charm there. +1 Action +$1, play up to 3 treasures, may buy a card to hand. A 2006 concept trying its luck again. One of the Town Doctors tried out for its own pile: a Salvager with +1 Action, that you could discard when trashing an action or treasure to gain it back. For the recursion theme, I tried a Smithy that you put into your hand next turn if you could reveal a Gold. Then it was a Smithy that went into your hand or onto your deck when you gained a Treasure.

Allies that did not make it included: versions of Pearl Diver and Scout; that Expand limited by type thing; when you gain a card, exchange it for one costing $1 more (popular but confusing, then I tried lots of wordings to preserve the concept); spend X favors to gain a card to your hand costing $X (Matt's suggestion); when you get +1 of something, get another +1 of it; when playing an Action, get +$3 instead of following its instructions (it's Way of the Sheep only bigger, and well, we already have Way of the Sheep); Scheme for cards with just one type (it had to be weaker than Scheme somehow, so that Underling wasn't just better than Scheme); and play an Action a 2nd time then trash it (crazy, would you believe).
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