The “Secret Histories” are a series of articles by Donald X. Vaccarino, detailing the evolution and development of a particular expansion. This one covers the entire game. Previous “Secret Histories” can be found here; the forum discussion topic for this is here.
W. Eric Martin interviewed me for his website, BoardGameNews, some years ago. He mostly wanted to know about the game itself, so I decided to write a companion article about the cards, which is how the Secret History series got started, with The Secret History of the Dominion Cards. BoardGameNews is long dead, and, while I’ve told this story to various lengths many times, it seems like, what, let’s have it in a convenient place I can link to. Plus I can talk about everything that wasn’t out, because man, it’s out. So here goes.
SPIRIT WARRIORS II
In 2003 I made a game called Spirit Warriors. The idea was to make a game that my friends were sure to like. I guess I had made a few duds in 2002, it’s kind of hazy. Anyway in Spirit Warriors you built up fantasy heroes while going on quests and fighting monsters. It was good times but I am unlikely to ever try to get it published. It had 500 unique cards, so just making a presentable prototype would be too much work, let alone balancing everything. And a game lasts four hours. So the audience would be somewhat narrow.
A couple years later I decided to do a sequel. This game would still involve building up fantasy heroes while going on quests and fighting monsters, but would be as different as possible otherwise. Spirit Warriors gave you a single hero, so Spirit Warriors II would give you a party of four. Spirit Warriors involved rolling tons of dice, so Spirit Warriors II would have card-based combat.
My initial idea was that you would draft four heroes, and then get a packet of 8-12 cards per hero, shuffle them together, and draw cards from the resulting deck. When you drew one of your Ranger’s cards, that would be something your Ranger could do. Each hero would have two skills and you could build them up as you gained experience. A card might be, deal 3 damage per level of bow skill.
While working on this game I realized that the math was too hard. You look at the first card in your hand. Deal 3 damage per level of bow skill. You look down at your Ranger. Bow level: 2. You multiply, that’s 6. Now remember that number and move on to the next card, a sword card for your Paladin. Figure out its total and add it and then move onto the next card. You’re looking back and forth and back and forth and remembering numbers. I made a sample situation to test on my friends. People took forever and then got the wrong answer.
What I needed was cards that just said “deal 3 damage.” Bam, end of story. But I wanted you to build up your heroes, that was a key fun part. The obvious solution was to gain cards as you levelled up. You’d start with say 2-3 cards per hero, and when your Ranger gained a level of Bow, that would just mean you took the next Bow card and added it to your deck.
Once I had that idea I realized I could make a game out of just that concept – building a deck – with none of the rest of it, no quests and monsters and things. I jotted down some notes on what that game might look like, then went back to work on Spirit Warriors II.
Spirit Warriors II was going to be another 500-unique-cards monster. It was slow going. One weekend in October of 2006, I was desperate for a new game to play that Monday night, and decided, hey, I could whip out the simpler pure deckbuilding thing. It didn’t need 500 unique cards; most of the work would be googling for art and cutting and sleeving. So I whipped it out.
THE INITIAL DESIGN
The concept was a game where you built a deck. I decided to take this to extremes: everything would be in the deck. Resources, actions, victory points, all in the deck. I didn’t do this for any special virtues it had, beyond sounding cool. Obviously having victory points in your deck meant that your deck would get worse as you got points, and that was nice, but I didn’t do it because of that, I did it just for the aesthetic joy of putting everything in the deck.
In my initial notes, I had thought I would have multiple resources. But when I actually made it, it seemed like, wouldn’t I draw a poor mix of resources sometimes and be sad? I went with just one resource, that seemed better. I made multiple values of it so you could build up.
How should money work? There are a bunch of options. A key thing was that I wanted money in your deck, but didn’t want you to trivially get a tiny deck by playing all of your money. So money is really income; you play a treasure and get some coins and then at end of turn it’s in your discard pile ready to be reshuffled back in.
You draw 5 cards a turn. This was so that you’d see your whole deck during the game; it was a problem I’d already addressed in Spirit Warriors II. If you just drew one card a turn you wouldn’t so much be playing the deck you were building, unless the game lasted forever. So, draw 5 each turn, discard everything you didn’t play. Let’s churn through some cards. This meant lots of shuffling and well there was no-one to tell me how crazy that was.
It’s hard to shuffle a tiny deck. I felt the minimum I could ask was about 10 cards, and at the same time I liked getting two turns before the first shuffle, so 10 it is. I didn’t want your initial cards to really be your deck, to feel like they were key players; the cards you bought were supposed to do that. So you start with junk. Day one it was 5 Coppers, 5 Estates. The Estates could have been blank, but it seemed cute to have them be worth a VP, and it meant I didn’t need to make another card for that slot.
On your turn you can play an action card, then buy a card (including playing treasures). In my old notes I had considered just letting you play a card, and having buying cards be built in to some cards (including ones you started with obv.). I didn’t want it to be, this turn is dead because I didn’t draw one of those. So, you can buy a card without playing anything. Getting to play one action was just a classic simple thing. I’d done a similar thing in a trading card game I made that was trying to be the simplest possible trading card game – on your turn you drew a card, then played a card, then you were done. Of course some cards in that game let you play more cards, and I knew from the start I would want such things here. In some ways “you may play an action, then you may buy a card” is just an excuse to make cards that say “you can play more actions” and “you can buy more cards.” Which is good, you need there to be things your cards can do.
How are your options for what to buy determined? Initially I thought there would be like a line of cards, and when you bought one we’d deal a replacement from a deck. That sounded bad though – too much of the game would rest on having a good card get turned over when it was your turn to go next. And to avoid the game coming down to flipping over victory cards, they needed a separate scheme, or everything had to be worth points. I wanted victory cards to be their own thing and in your deck so this was no good. In the end I did not figure out a solution. For the first session I decided to just put everything on the table at once, and we’d buy whatever we wanted, and this would make it easy to spot overpowered cards and tweak them. And if the game otherwise worked then I would figure out a better way to determine what you could buy. Well as you may have guessed we liked having a big selection of cards and so I just went with that. I had 10 kingdom cards the first night and while I made more cards, I kept it at 10 out at once.
I decided you might be so screwed you needed to buy Copper, so it was a pile, along with Silver and Gold. Copper cost $0 so you’d always be able to buy it. There was no special logic behind Silver and Gold costing $3 and $6. You can argue that all other costs in the game were scaled to those costs.
Initially I thought I would have three sizes of VP cards and it would be possible to go for all three – to pursue an Estate or Duchy strategy. In the end when those things are possible the game is too short for people to have fun, so that stuff is really confined to particular cards being out, or special VP cards like Gardens. Estate and Duchy are the cards you know, but Province was originally 5 VP (for $8).
The VP and treasure cards had no names at the start, they just had giant numbers and icons. I gave them names later because I needed to refer to them for cards like Moneylender.
The victory condition was going to be most VP in deck, but I needed an end-of-game condition. I also needed to answer the question, what if a pile runs out? I addressed both by having the game end when a pile ran out. That remained the end condition until after RGG had the game. Each kingdom card pile had 12 cards in it, just chosen as an amount that would ensure we could all get a couple. I had whatever random amounts of the treasures and Curses, and gradually added more as we ran them out.
I don’t quite remember exactly what 10 kingdom cards were first. I know Mine was there, in close to its final form – it traded Copper for Silver or Silver for Gold and cost $5. I had two attacks, probably Knight (trash the top card of each other players deck) and Witch (in its first form, cost $3, each other player gains a Curse). I had Village for $5 with just +2 Actions, and Market for $5 with just +1 Buy. I had Remodel. There was +1 Card +1 Action +$1 (all written out, there were no +’s). I had Moat and possibly Chapel.
The first version of the game was black-and-white, printed on colored paper. Victory cards are green because I had a bunch of green paper. I made attack cards pink, then later relented due to “attack” not really meaning anything to the rules.
I had to pick flavor. I had been meaning to make a kingdom-building game, and this seemed like a good fit, so I went with that. I had made no kingdom-building games, and had no real picture for how common different themes were in published games. The initial cards though ended up concentrated around castles. So I called the game Castle Builder. There’s no point putting great amounts of effort into names for prototypes; for all I know the prototype won’t work out. If the game turns out to be good though then it tends to keep the name it started with as we continue to playtest it, because we’re used to that name.
THE EARLY DAYS
The game went over great that first night. The cards were all wildly imbalanced, but we would put dice by the piles to indicate new costs to test. So there were only 10 kingdom cards, but the game was different each time due to cards changing in cost.
Over the first couple evenings, I played around with the starting decks, finally settling on 7 coppers 3 estates. I liked the variety of openings that gave you, and you started out with enough money to do something, given how much Silver cost.
The first night there were 10 cards. I made 10 more for the next night, but kept just 10 on the table at once. We liked having 10 cards to choose from, but I am big on variety, and switching out cards between games seemed like a fine way to get it for this game. It seemed like 20 cards might be a good total number of cards, but I kept making cards.
Dominion took over my game night, and also my Magic night. We got in some games on the side too. Clearly this was the game, at long last. When Dominion won the SdJ, I got interviewed a lot, and sometimes people would say, did you expect it to be so successful? And, like the most egotistical person who ever lived, I would say, yes. Yes I did. I had seen what Dominion could do to a group of gamers. I didn’t know if I could get it published, but if I could, my guess was, that at game stores there would be a shelf just for Dominion stuff. I did not anticipate that the shelf below it would be full of clones.
When I had 50 or so cards, I split them up. I decided a particular group of simpler cards would be the main set, and then I had two expansions. The first had a one-shots theme, plus choose-one cards and VP cards that did things; the second had cards that did stuff next turn and cards that did stuff when you gained them. I considered doing event cards for the first expansion (you flip over events periodically and they do things), but it seemed like a poor fit; event cards are something you do to get variety, and the game already had plenty of variety. And the other players attacking you (or helping you sometimes) is like an event. So, none of that. I did initially refer to the first expansion as Events though, after the one-shot theme, before switching to Intrigue. And the second expansion was Abroad, because we had left the castle. There were only so many rooms in a castle.
The main set had 25 kingdom cards, and the expansions each had 15. So 55 cards made it, not counting Copper etc. And that’s that, a job well done; while we continued to play it, I got to work on new games. No-one would try the new games though, they were just time not being spent on Dominion. We’ve had a hard day at work, we’ve been looking forward to our Dominion, how can you expect us to play anything else, you ogre. So those games went nowhere for the moment, and I decided, okay, I can make some more expansions.
I asked Molly if there was a theme she wanted to see, and she said “spendy.” So I made a spendy-themed set, Prosperity. It too was initially 15 cards. Then I decided maybe that was too small, and upped the expansions all to 20 cards. I didn’t count Platinum and Colony; Prosperity got a full 20 kingdom cards. Then I made a player-interaction-themed set, called War, and finally a set with a new resource, Potions, which I called Alchemy. And those sets were 20 cards too.
The cards changed as they proved too weak or powerful or no fun, but the rules barely changed from day one to when I showed the game to RGG. The starting hands changed from 5 estates / 5 coppers to 3 estates / 7 coppers; the number of cards in the copper etc. piles changed; and finally, the play area showed up. Initially we were putting played cards straight in the discard pile. That has issues that are solved by putting them into a play area instead.
DONALD X. GOES TO ORIGINS
It seemed like, if any of my games were publishable, this one was. I had made several trips to Wizards of the Coast to show off games, but they hadn’t been interested in submissions for a while (focusing on trading card games instead), and it turned out Richard Garfield no longer worked there. I don’t enjoy travelling and a trip to Seattle was not sounding as good as I had been hoping. So I looked at the published games I owned, to see who made them. Box after box said Rio Grande Games. So I looked up their website and emailed them, offering to submit games. Jay replied within 20 minutes to say, I only look at games at cons, here are some I’m going to this year. I looked up the cons, and man they were all in the summer, with Origins first. I said how about Origins. He said see you there.
I got to work making pretty prototypes of, in the end, nine games. I was going to stop at eight but I had more time and more games. I brought ten games so it would be an even number, but the last game had an older uglier prototype.
I gave Jay a whirlwind tour of the ten games. Initially it sounded like he was interested in two, and tentatively interested in two more, depending on what some game-reviewer-type people he knew thought of them. Later he decided to have the game reviewers look at just the first two. I was not expecting him to take ten games; two would be fine. As it happened the reviewers liked those games, which we will call Dominion and Monster Factory. Jay still wanted a month to consider whether or not he wanted them, but ended up wanting them. There will be no big twist alternate universe to this story.
One of those game reviewers, who we will call Valerie, wanted to “develop” the game. Jay thought the game should have someone making sure I wasn’t crazy, and brought her on. She in turn asked her friend, who we will call Dale, to help her. I will sometimes refer to them collectively as “Valerie,” since Dale wasn’t official for a while, and I don’t really know what all he personally suggested.
The game was 500 cards. One significant issue was, could it be smaller? Would people even buy a 500-card game that was “just cards?” I worked out various ways we could potentially reduce the number of cards. In the end it’s 500. It got everything it wanted.
I worked a lot on the specific card mix. I stole cards from expansions to improve the main set – Library, Gardens, and Festival were all from Alchemy; Council Room was from War; Chancellor and Feast were from Intrigue. I made a new batch of cards and scattered them to the various expansions, then took Spy and Adventurer for the main set. And I gradually solved the discard-attack problem. I had tried things like “each other player discards 2 cards,” and they would end up both awful and broken. Militia solves the problem with “down to 3,” while Bureaucrat does by both only hitting a certain category of cards, and by giving the player of Bureaucrat a Silver, thus reducing their ability to play lots of Bureaucrats every turn. I also worked on the trashing-attack problem – the original card had been “each other player trashes the top card of their deck,” which was weak, very random, and could potentially lock you out of the game. I did not solve the problem in time, so the main set just got Thief.
Valerie and Dale playtested, but card power levels weren’t so much their thing. They focused on wordings and which cards they liked or didn’t. One card in the main set is functionally different due to them – Thief originally put the untrashed cards back on top. They didn’t like that if you played Thief and it missed, the next Thief in the same round of turns would also miss.
Originally there were two dead cards, Curse and Confusion. Confusion was blank. The card image was a hypnotic spiral, and when people were confused by the card, I would hold one in front of them and rotate it. Anyway Confusion wasn’t worth the 30 cards it required; in the long run I rescued the concept of not-as-bad-as-Curse with the Ruins in Dark Ages.
Originally if you had to draw three cards and had only two left, you shuffled first – shuffling in those two cards. Valerie wanted the more conventional, draw those two and shuffle to get the last one. I was worried it would reduce luck too much, but tried it out and of course it was fine. Valerie also didn’t like that Curses could come out of the trash, which is how it had worked.
The most important change was the end condition. In the original game, if two other people went for Duchies, you had to go for Duchies too; I knew this but it didn’t seem like an issue, because all you could do was make the game boring, it didn’t just win for you. It turns out that being able to make the game boring is not great. I had already changed the end condition from “any empty pile” to “any empty victory pile,” to save on cards. Instead of 12 cards per pile there were 10, except for victory piles; but it played the same as it previously had, because to stop the game from ending you used to have to leave two cards in a pile (if you just left one then whoever was ahead would buy it to lock in the win). Anyway I further modified this to “Provinces empty or 3 piles empty,” to make sure that rushing Duchies didn’t just end the game without help from something. It was fine if sometimes it was a thing, as long as normally you got to build up your deck. I also raised Province from 5 VP to 6 VP.
I was confident that the expansions would come out, so the total number of starting treasures had to handle the expansions. It may seem like a bunch more Silver than you need, but I knew cards would eventually show up that ate up that pile, and the same for Copper and Gold. Then too it was no good just getting close to 500; it was going to be 500, and any extra space could go to extra treasures. In the end you do get some blanks.
You don’t necessarily need a separate randomizer deck. I’ve never had one – I use one card from each of the piles, and return it to the randomizer deck after the game – but I knew a publisher might want one, and I guess they did. Valerie also wanted randomizer cards for the non-randomized piles, Copper etc., I guess to mark empty piles. People did not end up interested in those, so Intrigue doesn’t have them.
I had a list of 10 cards to play with for your first game. This came from my experience with making many games that are different each time. Inevitably someone’s first game will have the worst set of things. I try to make that worst set still good, but another thing you can sometimes do is, just dictate what they play with for game one. So I had a set of 10 and of course when I showed the game off at Origins the rules sheet with that list was out of reach and I just stuck out 10 piles that looked reasonable. But it certainly made sense to have a first game 10 cards in the rulebook, and this was something Valerie and I worked on tweaking. Valerie also wanted more of these lists of 10, in case people didn’t want to jump straight into random 10. I said okay and made four lists, and I think Valerie played them once each and in they went. But the first game 10, some work went into that.
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS AN EXPANSION DESIGNER
Jay knew that, if the game was popular, people would want an expansion immediately. And hey I had expansions. Intrigue was finalized right when the game came out, in order to get it out in a timely manner.
When I found out that 500 cards was possibly too many, I looked at ways to do smaller expansions. I made new cards, and reconfigured the original five 20-card expansions into eight 15-card expansions. They were: Intrigue, Seaside, Prosperity, War, Alchemy, Abroad, Prophecy, Dark Ages. They wouldn’t have necessarily come out in that order, this was just a temporary thing. The original second set, I split up into Seaside for the next-turn stuff and Abroad for the when-gain stuff. I added Prophecy, which was “top of your deck” themed, and then Dark Ages was some random leftover stuff, including Confusion and also some “weird stuff involving costs,” like Peddler. The Dark Ages you know is a descendant of War, not this Dark Ages, although the Dark Ages you know does have Ruins and also some random leftover stuff. I guess that’s just how the Dark Ages go.
In the process of stealing cards for the main set, I worked out that War just couldn’t keep its “player interaction” theme. Attack cards are interactive and slow down the game; non-attack interactive cards like Council Room and Trade Route are interactive but do not necessarily slow down the game, and may even speed it up. Every set needed some of those cards. So War lost that theme and was in shambles for a bit, though I figured I would beef up an attack subtheme there.
I didn’t stick with the 15-card size. I played those sets but it was clear that 20 was better. So Intrigue was going to be 20 cards. Then Jay said that 25 would be better. So I added 5 cards to Intrigue, and then that meant I would be adding 5 cards to every set.
I re-reconfigured everything into six expansions: Intrigue, Seaside, Prosperity, War, Abroad, Alchemy. Splitting up Abroad had worked out well so I kept that change. Confusion still didn’t seem worth doing and the weird-cost-related stuff didn’t want to all be in one expansion. And the top-of-deck theme was invisible, you just saw ordinary Dominion cards randomly grouped together. Anyway I needed some of those cards to beef up the other sets. This order seemed like it would be how things went; Intrigue I groomed to be the first expansion, and Prosperity wanted to be third so that you got some time without Platinum and Colony before they showed up. Alchemy wanted to be last since not everyone would like Potions. The other three were pretty flexible, but I decided on that order. One thing was that I wanted to reuse mechanics in later sets, and doing Seaside second meant I could do duration cards in the later sets. As you know that did not work out, due to the rulebook space duration cards eat up.
These new 25-card sets weren’t all finished or anything. They were going to need more work and new cards and playtesting. In a few cases there were holes left that I wouldn’t get around to filling for a while. I had time, the expansions were not all coming out at once. So Intrigue, Seaside, and Prosperity were full sets pretty quickly, but War and Abroad took more time for me to have a full 25 cards for testing, and Alchemy sat around unfinished.
Originally I playtested with the same friends who had originally played the game, and anyone else who came over. I also wrote a computer version and playtested with some old online friends, who were key playtesters. Later I playtested some at Cornell. Seaside had celebrity guest playtester Richard Garfield; Tom Lehmann and Wei-Hwa Huang started playtesting as of Alchemy, and stayed with it to the end. Valerie also had playtesters, but they never really had an effect on card power level or anything, they just reported what they liked and didn’t.
So. Intrigue was done when Dominion came out, in October 2008. And Dominion went over well and while it wasn’t a surprise it’s still nice when things go like you expect, especially when you expect good things. And I moved on to polishing up Seaside.
Then Dominion was nominated for the SdJ. This was a surprise; I was sure it was too complex. It was nominated though, and I was going to have to fly to Germany for the press conference. I missed my flight and as a result some people decided I probably didn’t exist. There are geekbadges that let you pick your side on this crucial issue. I guess some people must still be skeptical, but usually I can convince someone if I rub my stomach and pat my head at the same time.
Dominion won, which was again a surprise; even though the nomination meant it wasn’t too complex, I still thought it was too complex. Dominion is pretty simple ruleswise – play an action, play treasures, buy a card, discard, draw five. Which some people abbreviate as ABC. But it’s a trick: there are rules on the cards. You have to count those. When you count those it’s a lot more complex. It’s turn one of your first game: read ten cards. Anyway it won, I don’t know what to tell you. I always imagine that they decided later that oops, it was too complex after all, and then the next few years some very simple games won, as if that proves anything. Anyway I thought and hoped that the award would make it easier to get games published, and while it did, it wasn’t so extreme as I had been hoping. It really takes two of them before people think, man, let’s just publish something from this guy, see what happens.
Anyway I missed that flight but now I was going to have to go to Essen. I went to Essen. I hung out at the Hans im Gluck booth mostly, drinking “still” water and Coke. Schmidt arranged a bunch of interviews for me and I did them. The first question in the first interview was, “what question are you asked the most often in interviews.” I chatted for a while with Friese and Seyfarth; I shook hands with Knizia but didn’t manage to chat with him. I met a European friend who I only knew from online. Rajive of Queen Games asked me to submit something to him; I had already given out the prototypes I’d brought with me, but said I’d keep him in mind. And I went to a gaming event that the SdJ people have, and I got the DSP and made funny faces for the press, also if you are ever in that situation I recommend looking down at the most extreme angle possible, they are all underneath you and so are going to be taking lots of photos of your chin otherwise.
Seaside came out at that Essen, and there was business to talk about with the various companies involved with Dominion. The Germans wanted small expansions. As fast as possible. I had been warned about this and had looked at what I could do quickly. The answer was to make a small expansion out of Alchemy. The potion part was half the set and well there you go, a half-sized set. I think what the Germans actually wanted was even smaller expansions, but they settled for what they could get. And so Prosperity was already done, but got pushed back 6 months, while I was expected to instantly whip out Alchemy. I demanded another month and got it. I had to submit the card names in advance though, so the art could be done.
This delay meant that I had six months to polish Prosperity a little more, so I did. And then I was going to need another small set, since now the idea seemed to be to alternate. I reworked the rest of Alchemy plus a “hand theme” concept into Cornucopia, then abandoned the “hand theme” in favor of “variety,” since the hand theme, like top-of-your-deck, was invisible, and variety was visible enough that people already thought that was the theme. Valerie was gradually less involved over the years, and left during Cornucopia.
isotropic, which some of you old-timers may remember, started out as a secret site, that had a Dominion program we were offered for playtesting. This was around Prosperity. Doug, the programmer, had made something way better than the crude thing I’d made that we were using, so we switched over and never looked back. I am sure we got a lot more online playtesting done because the program was so much better. Then he wanted to go public and we said sure. There were already public online versions of Dominion, that various people had made, including an official version at BSW. They all eventually went away to make way for the commercial version that Goko makes, which you can all talk about on videogamegeek, I am just being complete okay.
Hinterlands flirted with being a standalone. Intrigue was a standalone; Seaside had playmats and tokens; Prosperity had playmats and tokens. Hinterlands and Dark Ages had no playmats or tokens. Would they just be slightly cheaper? Would what the price would have to be look attractive? That had been an issue before. I figured hey, one of the sets could be a standalone, let’s say Hinterlands, and the other could be a full 500 cards – no playmats, not a standalone, just gigantic. I had two solutions that let the sets be 500 cards.
There were certain pros and cons to having Hinterlands be a standalone. In the end Jay decided against it. For a while I was trying to make the set simpler though, to make it function better as a standalone. Then after Hinterlands I was going to need another small expansion before Dark Ages. I turned to “coin tokens” as a theme that sounded good and likely to work, and made Guilds.
Hinterlands came out on schedule, and then Jay wanted to do the Base Cards product, and so pushed back Guilds. We had considered Copper etc. with art as of Intrigue. We didn’t think of it for the main set. When other people suggested coloring the big coins, we thought, oops, we should have done that. But there was the issue of making the cards match and in the end Intrigue was stuck with the original cards. But people sometimes mentioned wanting prettier base cards and well eventually Jay decided to go for it. That meant that that year would just have Guilds. It seemed better to me to have the only expansion for that year be gigantic instead of small, so I suggested switching Guilds and Dark Ages, and Jay switched them. So the expansion that only existed to go in-between two large sets is no longer in-between them.
Dark Ages was going to be the last set, and so anything that I hadn’t managed to get to work yet that still seemed promising, I gave another shot. And Dark Ages was big enough to squeeze in any of those things that worked out, and the crazy things wouldn’t sink the set as much for the people that didn’t like them, because man, plenty of other cards. Dark Ages was Dominion going out with a bang and well Guilds came out afterwards because that’s the way of the world. Guilds was the last set I started on though, the only one completely postdating the original five expansions, and Guilds kind of gives you an idea as to where things might go if I had to make more expansions.
You get better at these things as you go along. Looking back, me and my playtesters got a lot better as of Seaside; the main set and Intrigue have the most duds that I would improve or replace. Prosperity is better balanced then Seaside and then I don’t think things really changed much after that, balance-wise. Later on I focused too much on dredging every last ounce of playability out of each card, and Hinterlands has a few cards that I would make simpler if doing them today. They are slightly better than they might have been in terms of playability, but at a real cost in complexity. I learned from Saboteur and Sea Hag that people didn’t want to see pure attacks, and I also learned from the early sets that attacks in general were not the most popular cards. Later sets focus just a little more on non-attack player interaction instead. I learned from Alchemy that the amount of time it took to resolve a card was a real issue, that there shouldn’t be really slow-to-resolve cards or too many somewhat-slow cards, and later sets try to avoid those problems. Some people don’t like Alchemy because of the Potions, but I think the slowness issue looms larger.
MY MY, LOOK AT THE TIME
Time spent on Dominion expansions is time not spent on anything else. And the expansions necessarily get more complex over time, as all of the simple things get used up. I am not sure most Dominion players want to see really complex expansions. You also get less variety as you get more expansions – you get new things, but while the first few expansions were giving you a lot of variety, after eight you already have endless variety. So I have felt good about ending things at eight expansions for a few years now, and have never made a move towards a ninth. The light that burns twice as bright burns for eight expansions, as they say.
I continue to have big plans to make spin-off games. People have made a lot of spin-off games without me, and I don’t want to make one of those, but maybe I will find something worth doing. I have had a couple false starts so far, where I started with a new deckbuilding game premise, then ended up taking out the deckbuilding to make a better game; the first one turned into Kingdom Builder.