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Author Topic: The Secret History of the Alchemy Cards  (Read 20870 times)

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The Secret History of the Alchemy Cards
« on: June 20, 2011, 03:40:55 pm »

At first there were just a bunch of cards. One day I decided, okay, these are the main set, these are the first expansion, these are the second expansion. I divided everything up based on mechanical themes. This much, you know.

Then I made some other games. My friends just wanted to play Dominion though. Okay; I could make some more expansions. I made a 3rd, then a 4th, then a 5th. That's where things stood when I showed the game to Jay at Origins. During development of the main set I made some more cards, and reconfigured everything I had into 8 smaller sets. Then I rereconfigured them into 6 large sets. The original 2nd set ended up as two full sets (it had two themes and I split them up). The original 5th set ended up 6th.

After we finished working on Seaside, we moved on to the 3rd set. We finished that up, or so we thought, and were soon to begin work on the 4th set.

Meanwhile, people were clamoring for smaller sets. And when I say people I don't mean players, although maybe they were too; I mean, some of the publishers of the game wanted smaller sets. They talked to Jay and Jay talked to me; maybe we should do some small sets here too. Not that we wouldn't keep doing the large ones. But you know. Give the people something that's not the full price of the main game. And the ideal timing would be, next. It would squeeze ahead of the now-misnumbered 3rd expansion.

Since we had just finished the set that was due, shortly before it was due, there wasn't much time. In order to have something that was as polished as possible, as soon as possible, it had to be a subset of one of the existing large sets. Only the 6th set leant itself to this. It had a theme that was just the right size and could stand by itself, and a sub-theme that could be expanded for another small set. And the set was missing some cards, due to stealing them for earlier sets, so it didn't feel like I was breaking up something finished.

So I broke up the 6th set. The Potions part went into this set, Alchemy. I did actually get some advance warning, and started working on it before Essen; then at Essen we worked out that it was in fact going to happen, and that I could have it ready about when they wanted it, although not quite that fast. I demanded an extra month, and then when the time came I got 10 more days, although that last stretch was just spent working on the rulebook and deciding which Herbalist to use.

In its original 5th-set form, Alchemy was 20 cards (7 with potion in the cost). It went down to 16 when everything did, and up to 25 (but unfinished) when I went to 6 sets. When I broke it up, at first it was 10 cards plus Potion, but the number of printed cards was going to be 100 or 150, so it went up to 12 cards plus Potion, since going up was way better than going down.

Two cards in the set do not have Potion in the cost (besides Potion itself). In games using lots of cards from Alchemy, you will not always have a card at any particular cost. The most important cost is $5. So the set has a $5. Then it has a $2 because it's nice to have one of those. At $3 and $4 you have Silver and Potion, and if there are a lot of Alchemy cards then people will be pulled in that direction anyway (though obviously sometimes some other start will be better).

"Has a potion in its cost" is not actually a huge connection functionally, so I supplemented the main theme with a "cares about actions" sub-theme.

When I came up with Dominion, I figured it would have multiple resources. When I actually made it, I went with one resource, because it was simpler. I could always add another resource in an expansion. With Alchemy I finally got around to doing that. Originally I was thinking it would be Reagents or Mandrake or something. I didn't find a good enough picture to use for such a card, so I went with Potions. That's how these decisions get made.

The second copy of Dominion was Kelly Bailey's (cheepicus on these forums). He renamed some of the cards, redid all the graphics, changed a few cards, and added some of his own. He took most of the cards from all of the expansions I had, but did not take the cards with Potion in the cost from Alchemy. He figured, he was shuffling everything together, and some games he would just turn over one card with Potion in the cost. Do you buy Potion just to get that one card? He thought not.

So I always knew this was an issue. The cards had to be worth buying multiple copies of. They had to be compelling. With just one out, you had to still consider buying Potion to get it. So that's why the set has so many +1 action cards, and then a victory card and a treasure; it's all stuff you want as much of as you can get.

And what, if you want you can just guarantee that you always have a few of them at once - say, once you've dealt out 8 cards from your randomizer deck, if you have any Alchemy cards, make sure the next two are also from Alchemy (by digging for them), and if you don't, make sure the next two also aren't Alchemy cards. Put the cards you skip over back on top of the randomizer deck. This way you see everything just as often as you would have (in the long run), but the Alchemy cards end up clumped together. Or if, like me, you don't manage to carry every expansion to the place you're playing, you can just specifically play with 3 cards from Alchemy on the nights that you bring it. Or whatever. There are lots of ways to manage this. I realize some BGG people are hung up on this point and well it's not hard. If you don't want to just see one card with potion in the cost out, and also want to see Alchemy cards as often as everything else, determined randomly, you can do it.

On to the cards!

Alchemist: This replaced another unrelated card late in the going. I tried a card that just increased your hand size for the rest of the game, but that would have required a playmat, and the set couldn't have any. This is the next best thing, and more interesting due to the Potion requirement. I tried a few variations that also attacked, but Scrying Pool ended up being the wordy extra attack I needed. As we shall see!

Apothecary: The original version of this had you discard the other cards, rather than put them on your deck. Some people really disliked that. Seeing their good cards go by. This version not only solved that problem, it's better all around.

Apprentice: This started out in another set, without the potion part. It seemed like a good fit for this set, so I moved it here, first at $3+P. At that cost it was slow to get going, and eventually I put it back at $5. The potion part makes it seem less sad when you are playing an Alchemy-heavy game, and also answers the question "what does it do with potion costs" right on the card.

Familiar: This started out at $4+P. It seemed like it would be fine at $3+P, so I lowered it. Then we tried a version where you picked a card and everyone else gained it. That would sometimes be political (as Wei-Hwa pointed out), where you picked a victory card to end the game and not everyone got one. So I changed it to "non-victory card." But then it was like, once the Curses ran out, you emptied however many piles you had to to end the game. It was not something the card needed. So, back to the original.

Golem: I tried several cards for this slot, but once I tried this one it didn't change. I considered having a Homunculus instead in this slot. Homunculi are specifically alchemy-related. But a Homunculus is a small guy, and I already had Familiar for that. I wanted a big guy, dumbly performing tasks.

Herbalist: This started out in Prosperity, in a slightly more complex form. This set needed a $2 with +1 buy, to help support potions, and it had one. Some people complained about it though, 1) for being boring, although man, you need some simple cards here and there, and 2) for being the only card in the set that had nothing to do with potions. So we tried out this one to replace it and it seemed fine. Some people preferred the old one though. People seemed about 50-50 on it. I was 50-50 on it. In the end I felt like this card would be more interesting in this set than in most sets, and the other card could just go anywhere.

Philosopher's Stone: This started out as an action, "+1 Buy, +$1 per 4 cards left in your deck." It was in the original Alchemy, but I considered it for the main set at one point (when Gardens moved there). Eventually I brought it back as a treasure. First it counted cards left in your deck. Some people don't like how huge the variance is on that though. I can make a card here and there like that, but not too many. I dropped it, then later brought it back with "put your deck into your discard pile" (and then it counted your discard pile). That still had high variance, a different way; you might draw it immediately after shuffling, which was a lot better than not drawing it immediately. Finally I changed it to how it is now. The random element is completely gone; it still isn't consistent, due to card-drawing and such, but that's your own problem.

Possession: Originally this had you take a turn in which you drew cards from another player's deck. It was much simpler rules-wise to have them take the turn, with you stealing the cards they gain. That may sound funny given that Possession has a longer FAQ than any other card will ever have (for those of you reading this who haven't seen the rulebook: it's over a page long). The FAQ is ridiculous, but it's still a FAQ; most of the time, you are covered just reading the card, and the most common thing you will want to know is, "what if I make someone play Possession while I'm Possessing them?" (they get to possess someone, not you). But it was an exotic card that required a lot of FAQ. There was some question as to whether or not it was worth it and well I always thought it was. One other thing changed about the card: originally you possessed to the left, then to the right, and now it's left again. Wei-Hwa pointed out that going left created a kingmaker situation with Masquerade in games with 3+ players - you can make someone pass a Province to someone else. There is no kingmaker situation to the right - you make them pass the Province to you. Going right is more weird though. When Jay got the file he said, really? The player to your right? The games where it matters aren't so common, so it ended up going left after all. Watch out in games with Possession and Masquerade (yes, and Ambassador).

Potion: This is the same card as ever. I put it at $4 because none of the cards that are always out cost $4. Originally the pile was 12 cards. There was room for 16 so there are 16. Twelve is probably enough, but it's nice to have a few extras just in case.

Scrying Pool: This started out costing $3, without the Spy part. That version was ridiculous. It seemed like it would work with potion in the cost though. And it did! Then an attack in the set didn't work out, and the card I wanted to replace it with wasn't an attack. The names had already been sent to the artists, due to the tight schedule; I had to pick something else in the set and graft an attack onto it, and it had to be something where the name made some sort of sense with that. Scrying Pool was that card. I grafted Spy onto it and well there it is. It's a decent fit, as the rest of the card cares about the top of your deck, and it's Spy with the spying before the drawing, which is something. It's pretty wordy though, and I didn't realize that some people would look at this and think "oh it's a Spy variant" rather than "oh it draws you lots of actions and I guess also spies." It's not just a Spy variant guys. There is a mistake in the FAQ for this card. There's the bit where it explains what happens if you run out of cards before finding your non-action, only it says "action" instead. The card itself has it right. The Korean translator found this mistake; you other translators could learn a lot from that guy. Actually I think the German translator also found something, but he found his thing in time for us to fix it. The Korean translator could learn a lot from him.

Transmute: This slot started out with a Remodel variant that was like the middle ground between two other Remodel variants that hope one day to come out. It seemed like it must be too close to one or the other, so I replaced it with this exotic Remodel. After that the only change to this one was dropping from $2+P to P. When the card images were made, the question came up, should this (and Vineyard) have a 0 coin on it or what? I had never had the 0. My feeling is, if there's no cost to a card at all, you need a 0 where the cost is, to make it clear that you mean for the card to be free. If there's a cost, you don't need that. Transmute has a cost: a potion. It didn't need a 0 too. Anyway we looked at it both ways and both Jay and I preferred it with no 0 and so no 0 it was.

University: I tried this in another set long ago, in a broken form. This was a later addition to this set, to supplement the "cares about actions" sub-theme. First it was "+2 Actions. Gain an Action card," which looks so pretty, but was nuts whenever a good expensive action was out, like say Possession. Then I tried "+2 Actions. You may reveal an Action card from your hand. If you do, gain a copy of it." While that can gain you Nobles or Possession on occasion, overall it was weaker than the final version.

Vineyard: This was originally in the main set! And Gardens was in Alchemy (with the costs switched). I moved Gardens into the main set because it was easier to go for. I moved Vineyard to another set, but when the time came I wanted it here after all.

Now, some outtakes. There were several cards (including three Golems, and the other Herbalist) that didn't work out but which I may be able to rescue for a future set. So those will have to remain a mystery.

- There was an attack, "Gain a Gold, each other player gains a Curse." I liked how simple and compelling it was. It tended to be either too weak or too strong though, depending on how quickly you got it. I also didn't like having two cursing attacks in the set. In games with Alchemy, there were just always Curses. And they work against all of the chaining actions in the set.
- There was an attack that didn't work out, which I changed and put in another set, where it also failed to work out. I still have hope!
- There was a card that added 2 to numbers in another card's text. It was a wacky thing that was too scary rules-wise to let out. I was especially worried that it might do different things in different languages. I tried a couple versions of it, but it never really had a chance.
- There was a treasure that I stole for an earlier set which will now be a later set. That'll learn me.
- There was the Remodel that Transmute replaced.
- There was a card that turned anything into a Potion, or a Potion into anything for $6 or less. At some point I realized I couldn't have anything so dependent on Potions (without Potion in its cost), since people just shuffling everything into one randomizer deck would turn over these cards with no Potion-costers.
- Similarly there was a card that let you discard a Potion card for an effect, or get a potion symbol to spend. What Potions produce. You know. And there was a Remodel that could add the potion symbol to a cost.
- There was a card that drew you cards equal to another card's cost, without trashing it. It had more to it than that, but still overlapped too much with Apprentice.

That leaves a residue of cards that I can't tell you about or that you already know about. There were a few cards that turned into cards I will tell you about in the Secret History of the next small set, which started out as the non-potion half of Alchemy but ended up much different. There were a few cards that aren't in sets but could still make it somewhere, so there's nothing much to say there. There were a couple cards that mutated into cards coming in other later sets. Then there are cards that are already out in other sets: Pearl Diver, Festival, Library, and Sea Hag all started in Alchemy; Bridge started in a later version of Alchemy, and Wishing Well was in Alchemy at some point; the "trash your hand" outtake from Seaside was in Alchemy, as were the card once called Militia that's not in the main set, and the Village with them discarding instead of you drawing that also isn't in the main set.

And that's that! I still have big plans to send BGN a semi-timely preview.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2011, 03:44:50 pm by theory »
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