The “Secret Histories” are a series of articles by Donald X. Vaccarino, detailing the evolution and development of a particular expansion. Previous “Secret Histories” can be found here; the forum discussion topic for this is here.
Right around when Prosperity was due, the powers-that-be decided that they wanted small expansions too. Products that seemed more expansion-like than these giant game-sized expansions I was doing. The ideal time to do one would be next, and so Prosperity got pushed back, and Alchemy came out in its stead. I got Alchemy by breaking off a thematic chunk from a large set, and eventually reshaped the remains of that large set into Cornucopia.
I had two large expansions left after Prosperity, so this left me one small expansion short. I had to make one more small expansion to go in between Hinterlands and the last large expansion. Well I didn’t have to, but you know. It was expected. So I made one. Guilds is thus the only expansion with no roots in Dominion as it existed prior to the main game being published. As it happens, the Base Cards product came out instead of Guilds, and then Dark Ages came out so we’d have a large expansion that year, so now the last expansion to be made is also the last to come out.
On my list of possible future mechanical themes, “tokens” was the easiest-sounding, so I went with that. There are a bunch of things you can do with tokens. My initial idea was to use them as money you could hang onto for later. This was simple and meant that any one card that used the tokens was useful by itself; there was no reason for anyone to insist on more than one token-involving card in the game at once, thus avoiding an issue that Alchemy had. The initial idea worked out and so there it is.
To supplement the tokens, I added the overpay cards. Overpay was a natural extension of the when-gain cards in Hinterlands, and was a good match for the tokens, since you could save up tokens for a big overpay. Two sub-themes is plenty for a small expansion, but I also flirted with a “name a card” sub-theme. In the end there’s just a hint of it.
Before picking the tokens and overpay themes, I considered revisiting duration cards. I asked Jay what he thought, and he said that something new would be better than more of an old thing. Some of you are reading this and wishing I’d gone with the duration cards, but man, I have no regrets there, I am pleased with what Guilds offers up instead.
When I first made cards for this set, I hadn’t picked out flavor for the set. So I gave some cards silly names, including Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker. It turned out people really liked those names, so that ended up determining the set theme. There’s a lesson there for all of us.
On to the cards!
Advisor: Envoy was an Intrigue outtake. If it hadn’t been used as a promo, I would have eventually fixed it up. One day I decided, what’s stopping me? The key thing was to give it +1 Action, so that you didn’t just say, lol here are some actions you can’t play. I originally made Advisor for Dark Ages, but moved it here because it seemed to fit with the emphasis on decisions this set has.
Baker: Originally it didn’t have the setup part. It was just a very basic coin token card. When I thought of the setup thing, I realized that whatever card I put it on might sometimes not be bought, such that that starting coin token was all the card did. I decided that was okay though, and to just put the ability on something simple and likely to be bought.
Butcher: I wanted some other way to use coin tokens if I could get one. Butcher lets you spend them as part of a Remodel. It also gives you coin tokens, so it won’t be sad when there are no other coin tokens around. For a while I considered making a simpler version of this, but ended up going with the full-on tricky version. The wording is convuluted, and not even technically correct – it says “plus the number of coin tokens,” which never confuses anyone, but it should convert the units – “plus $1 per coin token.” It ended up with this phrasing because a phrasing that said “per coin token” got read by some people as gaining you a card per coin token spent, rather than adding them to the cost.
Candlestick Maker: For Alchemy I wanted a single $2, with a +Buy, and tried “+1 Action +1 Buy +$1.” Some people preferred this to Herbalist, but some people felt like, hey what does this have to do with Potions. And I could make that card later. So I put Herbalist in Alchemy. I next tried the card out in Hinterlands, with “when you gain this, +1 Buy.” As recounted in that secret history, some people though it was hilarious that two Highways let you just buy out the pile, but some people abhorred it. I couldn’t tell you why, I thought it was hilarious. But the card was just not sufficiently hilarious to live with the hate. I bumped the card out again. Then it seemed like a great fit for Guilds, where the +$1 could become a more exciting “take a Coin token.” And here it is.
Doctor: Again as recounted in the Hinterlands secret history, I tried several “when gain” trashers for that set, and was not happy with any of them. The main problem was that you would buy the card just for the trashing, and end up with whatever other effect in your deck randomly. The solution was to make that other effect also trashing. Doctor gives you three options per card you see on the overpay in order to make sure you’re as happy as possible with the outcome. The when-play part gets in the name-a-card thing I mentioned.
Herald: The top is an old card, a less-crazy relative of Scrying Pool that I tried out long ago. The bottom was just something else I could do with overpay that would feel different. I tried it first on Duchess’s top, then moved it to this card.
Journeyman: I took this from Dark Ages, when I thought I might push a mild “name a card” subtheme here. I didn’t end up pushing it enough to make it really visible. Journeyman and Doctor have you name a card, and then Taxman kind of does, and Advisor has you pick a card. Some playtesters called this card Bigot Parade, because you know, they don’t like some particular card. “No Estates!” they chant, marching through the streets.
Masterpiece: This was just the most basic possible overpay. Early on Ben bought one for $10 or so and said “achievement unlocked.” It turned out to be a fine play though.
Merchant Guild: This started out thinking it could cost $4, like Bridge. As it turned out, it could not.
Plaza: Originally this also let you trade a coin token for +1 Card. The card was plenty good without that, plus I wanted to cut complexity wherever I could.
Soothsayer: I had tried “gain a Gold, they gain a Curse” in Alchemy, but it was a poor fit for a card with potion in the cost. I tried it out again here with the Council Room penalty. It worked fine, but some people complained about how bad the card got when the Curses ran out. Wei-Hwa suggested having it not give them a card unless they got a Curse, and there you have it.
Stonemason: Some work went into this one. I tried the top with several Remodel-family overpay bottoms. The first one was, per $2 you overpay, Expand the top card of your deck. The most promising one was, per $2 you overpay, draw a card, then Remodel a card from your hand. In the end the crazy huge overpay turns were fun but too random. Meanwhile I tried the printed bottom with Develop on top and liked it. The bottom wanted to go on a super-cheap card, so I paired it with the printed top and moved Develop into Hinterlands.
Taxman: This started in Cornucopia, based on an idea that didn’t go far in Alchemy. For the Cornucopia version, the discarding was not limited to players with five+ cards in hand, and the treasure you gained didn’t go on your deck. It was painful and not good enough. In Hinterlands I tried a version that gained you two cards. Finally it moved here and I fixed it up. It’s a lot of words, that’s like a theme of this set. It does a fine job of feeling like a new attack though, and well that’s what that takes.
I tried overpay for coin tokens, that was pretty obvious. It was predictably crazy. Another overpay card was a VP card that was a twist on Island – shuffle all but 2 cards per $1 overpaid from discard to deck. That direction hadn’t worked out in Hinterlands and still didn’t here. I had a Village for $2 with a penalty, and per $2 you overpaid, you got another one. Foosh, a pile of Villages. It sounded good but was not exciting enough. Stonemason does a better job there.
What about granting overpay to other cards, so to speak? There was a Village with, while this is in play, when you buy an action card, you may pay $2 for another copy of that card. I liked it, but there was only so much space, and again, I had Stonemason.
I tried +$1, take a coin token per card the player to your right gained on their previous turn. Then I flipped it – take a coin token, get +$1 per card they gained. Both were too random in an unfun way. I also tried +$1, take two coin tokens, everyone else gets a coin token. As is sometimes the case with such cards, people just did not want to hand out presents to the other players. And I tried +1 buy, discard cards for coin tokens.
For the name-a-card sub-theme that I didn’t so much end up with, I had a Cellar version of Journeyman, also from Dark Ages. You named two cards, discarded two cards, and drew two you didn’t name, with +1 action. It was fine, it was totally fine. A little more memory-rewarding than some players like but whatever. But again, there’s only so much space, it did not make the cut.
There is a card with a long history that had its last stand trying to get into this set. Once, the main set had a card, look at your top four, put one in your hand, discard the rest. I dropped it from the main set for being too boring. It resurfaced in Prosperity with +1 Action, and well it was crazy powerful. It cost $4 and I thought it might work out kind of like Throne Room, but it was way better. It really wanted to cost $4, so I tried several versions of it with different tweaks before giving up on it. Then I brought it back in other sets a few times and tried to get a good one. The version in Guilds was +1 action, could only get actions, but played the action it got. Anyway I did Herald instead, hooray.
For a bit I kind of wanted a new action-victory card, and tried +1 Action, reveal a card from your hand for the corresponding Ironworks bonus, 2 VP, for $4. It was fine but I mostly just liked that it was an action-victory card.
Walled Village is an outtake from this set. As a village you can keep around until you need it, it sort of fits in with the coin tokens. I couldn’t actually give you something like action tokens because that would have been another kind of token to include. I also couldn’t put coin tokens on piles, because Trade Route ate up that space.
Two cards used Spoils, which I stole briefly from Dark Ages but then gave back to it. Wandering Minstrel got worked on some here before moving to Dark Ages.
I hope this has been informative!