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The Secret History of the Dominion Promos

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Donald X.:
Sometimes, the publishers want promos. A magazine wants one, or a convention does, or something, and so the word comes down to me, could we have one please. And I like to be friendly. They have been given away various ways, depending on the language, but the BGG store has had them all (in English) in the long run.

Here is what I have to say about the promos so far. There may be more!

Envoy: This started in Intrigue. It fit with the decisions theme; you give your opponent a decision. Often that amounts to just "discard the best card," and having your opponent pick just keeps you honest. Sometimes it's a real decision though. The mechanic seemed fine, but what the card did was, it was a terminal action that drew you cards. There was enough of that already between the main set and Intrigue. And the new part to Envoy was interesting, but didn't like give you a new deck to build or anything. In your deck, it was like a Smithy. So I took Envoy out, to perhaps try in a later expansion.

Then one day Jay said, he needed a promo, could I have it say by tomorrow. I didn't want to steal a card from a future set, and also, I wanted something with as much playtesting as possible. That basically meant an outtake from the main set or Intrigue. Envoy was easily the best option.

Black Market: This started in Seaside. Seaside involves your next turn; Black Market reaches into the next game. It was adored by some players - a star of the set - and seemed harmless to everyone else. It left the set though, due to the combination of rules wackiness, and the cumbersome set-up. I have never had to do that set-up - I don't have separate randomizer cards, because why print 11 cards each time I change something when 10 will do. I use one card from each pile for the randomizer, putting it into the pile to play and returning one to the randomizer after the game. So Black Market had no set-up at all for me - I already had a pile of unused cards with the proper back right there. But we included a separate randomizer deck in the main set. So there was this set-up. So, wackiness, set-up, it left the set.

Then we needed a promo, Dale said why not Black Market, and I was eager to have it exist after all. Ultimately it's not a great choice for a promo. It still has the set-up and still has the wackiness, only now you don't have a rulebook telling you how it works, you have a slip of paper you lose and then the internet. I'm still glad it exists though, it's a fun card.

Stash: This is a Seaside outtake, though it started in a later small set that dissolved, from when I rearranged everything into 16-card expansions. It seemed like a good fit for Seaside's next-turn theme. There was a victory card with a similar mechanic, which did not seem worth preserving. Obv. you put that one on the bottom.

Stash had two issues. First, I didn't have the different-back mechanic yet. So like you set them aside, or dug through your discard pile for them. It was not going to be pretty rules-wise, since by default you can't look through your discard pile. And second, it was not that interesting. There are some cute interactions, but on the whole, it didn't seem necessarily worth a slot in the set. So it left.

Later I realized I could have a different card back, solving the rules issues. I immediately put it on a list of potential promos, with an eye towards putting it in an expansion if it wasn't needed as a promo. It was though, and there it is. To me this is the ideal promo: exotic-looking, but not actually complex; interesting when you read about it, but not something I'm sad didn't make an expansion.

Walled Village: This is an outtake from the 7th expansion. I replaced it with an on-theme card. A few people were sad to see it go, but all of the Village slots in the other sets were full, so it was dead.

Then Jay wanted a Carcassonne-related promo card. First I looked at designing a card specifically to fit with Carcassonne, and well Carcassonne does not have a lot of ground in common with Dominion. Then I remembered this card, and it seemed plausible to call it Walled Village. Jay went for it and there it is. These stories can't all be interesting.

Donald X.:
Governor: So Jay wanted a Carcassonne-related promo for its anniversary and got Walled Village. Then he wanted another promo. The idea behind this promo was, that Stash had gone up at the BGG store paired with blanks, and well let's not do that again. So we needed another promo so it could be paired with Walled Village.

Jay initially thought, well, Power Grid was coming on its 10th anniversary too, or at least the original German version was (Funkenschlag), so how about something that tied in with Power Grid. He wanted it to be a green card of course. And we sat down and talked with Friedemann Friese about what could possibly be done. It wasn't sounding great. The flavor for Power Grid is not medieval, and then there wasn't an obvious mechanical thing to do that connected the games.

I said, are there any other games with anniversaries coming up? And Jay said, as a matter of fact. Puerto Rico was also having an anniversary. And well simulating Puerto Rico on a Dominion card was easy; the only issue was making the text fit, which I cleverly managed via "you get the version in parentheses." So while the previous promos were expansion outtakes, this one is a new card.

The first version of the card had +1 Card +1 Action, with the first option only giving you +2 Cards, i.e. it worked out the same as now if you wanted the cards, but gave you an extra card if you picked one of the other two things. The idea had been, that the bonus the other players get does not involve them spending a card or using an action, so it would be easier to balance the card if it also didn't cost you a card or an action. But the three options were not sufficiently balanced; the Remodel was especially crazy. So now you still get the same total number of cards if you pick cards, but you don't get a free card with your Gold or Remodel.

Governor will show up in the BGG store someday. I don't know if it will be paired with Walled Village, but as you may know, Walled Village has already been available for a while by itself, so it seems unlikely. There's a lesson there for all of us.

Donald X.:
Prince: Jay wanted a Dominion promo sometime. No rush. I eventually got around to it. I wanted something that felt like a promo; something exotic. I tried out a few ideas I had in the file; the one that played a card every turn was easily the highlight. So I worked on that one. It was an old idea, predating the original game being published. Back then I had decided maybe I would someday do it as a unique card, to get around the issue of using Prince on Prince; then I made unique cards for Tournament but didn't do it there. There were other ways to solve the problems though; as usual it just took lots of tiny text.

The first modern version cost $6 and set aside a cheaper card. And there were whatever issues with one-shots and duration cards and Throne Room. Gradually I weakened it until it cost $8 and only got cards costing $4 or less (barring Bridge etc.). That was just how good playing the same card every turn turned out to be. And you can't get two cards set aside via Throne Room and you don't get to go nuts with one-shots; we had those experiences and they were worth excising, even if it took a weird wording. Setting aside a duration card was too confusing, and anyway I needed one wording that handled every bad case, including Thrones on duration cards and Scheme'd cards. The key thing is looking for cards being discarded from play; those are the normal cards.

Some versions of Prince were duration cards, because hey, it keeps doing stuff, right? But that didn't make sense because Prince wasn't in play, and what "duration" really means is, leave this in play until it stops doing stuff (and it was better to have Prince not be in play).

As always I expect you will be able to get Prince if you want it, probably from BGG though I don't know for sure. Today Origins, tomorrow the world.

Donald X.:
Summon: Altenburger, the German publisher, wanted a promo. I said, how about an Event? They said great. The Event actually promotes Adventures, the set with Events. A first for our promos.

Playtester Matt Engel, aka LastFootnote, is a big designer of homemade cards. I said, do you want to make this promo? He said meh. A bad day. He did end up making it and trying to sell me on its virtues. It all worked out.

His initial premise was, "+1 Buy. Set aside the next Action card you buy this turn. At the start of your next turn, play it." I moved the buy into the functionality - "You may buy an Action card..." I initially was more interested in immediately playing the card, rather than next turn, but that turned out to be a dud.

Playtester Stef Meijer determined that "buy an action, play it next turn" was broken at $2. It turns out you should just do it every turn. I fixed that by changing it to "Gain an Action card costing up to $4." Or if you prefer, that direction meant the card didn't need a prohibitive price. It still conservatively cost $6 at first, but we weren't buying it all that much and Matt pushed for it to go down to $5. It seemed fine at $5 and there it is. It's even better than the original on $4's, but you probably want some cards costing $5 at some point.

It has an unusual wording to deal with some of the weird things that can happen in Dominion. There are various ways for the card to vanish (e.g. Watchtower), so to make sure you have the physical card around to tell you what to do next turn, it gets set aside and then makes sure it was.

Donald X.:
Sauna / Avanto: The Finnish publisher wanted a promo, to celebrate a company anniversary I think. We like to be friendly. They wanted something that somehow involved Finland. They suggested Sampo, a magical thing from the Kalevala. No-one would know what that was, and also no-one knows what it is; descriptions of it vary significantly. It could be an axis mundi, a mill, a compass, etc. So what more concrete thing could actually remind people of Finland? I think jsh357 suggested saunas. And the word "sauna" is actually a loanword from Finnish. They are super Finnish. And they had medieval ones.

I tried a couple different concepts, mostly trying to key off of Baths, the Empires Landmark. You know, so stuff where if you didn't do anything you got something. The final concept was instead based on the idea of them being therapeutic.

It seemed nice to try to promote the most recent expansion, something only previously done with Summon. We talked about potential Landmarks, e.g. Northern Lights. I felt like it would be better to have a full pile this time, and it was hard coming up with more Landmarks. A split pile was perfect; it's novel to Empires, it doesn't require anything else, you can just play with it like a regular pile. And there's this thing, where they go back and forth from the sauna to the avanto. That sounded cool to simulate and I mean there it is.

Avanto started as printed but I did try other versions at some point. There were a few versions of the trashing Sauna, trying to be fair and exciting. Towards the end the big thing was, should it trigger multiple times. It will be very slow early on, and then there will be a turn where you can trash a bunch of cards, due to multiple triggers. I felt like it was better to have that.

The card was done in May, but it took a while for the Finns to get the artist going. It was for them so we didn't rush them. It looks like it's coming out at Essen.


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