The Secret History of Dominion: Nocturne
Original Article by Donald X.
While working on Empires, I tried out Boons. They were in the set for a while, but there was only so much space in the set, and something had to go. Boons were a nice chunk to remove and out they went. In July 2015, I put them in a file for some hypothetical future expansion, referred to as Boonies. A couple other cards went with them.
In August 2015 I invited Bryan L. Doughty to help playtest Dominion: Empires and the 2nd editions. That all worked out.
In August 2016, Bryan had some time on his hands, and decided to get in some games with the cards in the Boons file. And he posted a report on those games and what he thought of the cards.
Well if someone was going to be playing them, maybe I could work on them a little, make sure the testing was accomplishing something. And I worked on them a little. I tweaked the Boons and the cards that used them. I thought about what else I could do and tried some of that out. Bryan showed up a week later and was surprised at how much had happened. And then he was gone; people sometimes find other things to do with their time besides playtest my stuff. His name is not even in the credits, and the prominent names in the rest of our story are Matt Engel and Billy Martin. But Bryan got the ball rolling and then the damage had been done; I was working on a Dominion expansion. It accumulated mechanics and cards and before I knew it I was writing a Secret History for it.
Dave Goldthorpe is another name not in the credits, so let’s give him his moment. He did not playtest. He did suggest names for things though, including a few cards plus the name Nocturne. He will also show up in the story for Fool.
Gradually the set acquired two themes: “spooky” and Celtic mythology. It seemed okay to go for both at once; they overlap a little. Mechanically the set tries to be more for typical Dominion players, rather than experts; the previous set, Empires, is heavily aimed at experts, and well I like the sets to be different.
* The Five Main Mechanics *
The set has five main mechanics, let’s check ’em out.
Boons: The first thing in the set, leftover from Empires. It was an old idea waiting for its day, and then it got its day and then I cut it. The Boons required 24 extra cards at the time, and Empires as published only managed to fit in 24 kingdom cards, what with having Landmarks and Events. It would have been 22. And Empires wanted to do plenty of things with its other mechanics too. Something had to go, and the Boons felt the least like the rest of the set, and required extra space.
The idea was to have 12 different ones, and there were always 12. At first there were two copies of each, in the end there’s one. Some Boons went the distance while others were tweaked or replaced; I’ll get to that. What you can do with a mechanic varies with the rest of the set; in Empires one Boon gave +1 VP, and here one gives you a Will-o’-Wisp.
Originally the top Boon was revealed; you’d know what was coming up. One day Matt Engel suggested having a choice of 3, and initially I liked that, and for a while it worked like that. One day I tried a card that gave you a random one, and I liked it a lot better, and in the end I switched it back to random only you don’t even get to know what’s coming. It’s much faster; there’s no first player advantage; it takes less table space.
A big issue with Boons was making sure they didn’t make the game too slow. There were cards that gave +Cards and gave you a Boon; they did not work out. The cantrip that gave you a Boon is gone. Even the Treasure only gives you a Boon half the time (in multiples).
Night: The second mechanic in the set. It was an old idea to try adding a phase. I put it after the Buy phase because that sounded more interesting than the other options. I let you play any number of Night cards because I couldn’t really have Night villages; you’d need the Night village to show up with the other Night card. It endlessly would not. It could still have been that you could just play one Night card, but letting you play multiples meant you could load up on those cards if you wanted, and played into part of what’s special about them, that you don’t draw them dead.
At first it wasn’t clear what I’d get out of Night, and the first couple cards didn’t do anything fancy with the idea. Then I hit on having them care about what happened in the turn. This lets you do really novel things that would otherwise be a lot more complicated; Horn of Plenty is an example among older cards. Later on Billy Martin suggested doing Night cards that went straight to your hand when you gained them; you could immediately play them. This was similar to a few cards already in the set, but sleeker and more worth doing more of. And then a bunch of Night cards ended up being Duration cards; that wasn’t intended as a theme, but you are limited as to what’s useful to get in the Night phase, and Night-Duration cards get around that.
For a while Night cards all said “(Night is after the Buy phase)” on them. You were going to have to look in the rulebook anyway to figure out Night cards, so in the end I dropped it.
Extra Cards: The intention was always to do a set with no tokens; a 500-card set with non-supply cards, like Dark Ages. It gradually got more and more of these, and the set was squeezed down to 33 kingdom cards to make room for them.
Heirlooms: Matt suggested having a card that caused a starting Copper to be replaced by some non-supply card (that’s my memory anyway; Matt thinks I just saw it in his homemade cards). He had tried it where the two cards interacted in some way. It sounded good. I thought I would try one, maybe have two or three if it worked out, possibly interacting or possibly not. In the end there are the full seven. There were times when I only had six good ones, but how do you just do six. And while only a couple of the cards directly interact with the heirlooms they are paired with, some of them interact in a more subtle way.
Originally they had the setup spelled out, then they had “Heirloom: Lucky Coin,” then Billy suggested having it on its own banner. The yellow banner helps you spot these cards in time to do the setup before people are playing.
Hexes: I did not just leap to having a negative version of Boons. It was an obvious thing to try but in no way felt essential. I finally tried it many months into work on the set, after a particular card kind of wanted them. We enjoyed the craziness of them and there they are. They were tweaked a bunch but over a much shorter time span than the Boons. There is a lot of variance to a typical normal attack like Militia (maybe I have two Estates in hand while someone else goes from $8 to $6); there is more variance when the attack itself is random. They try to limit the amount of variance somewhat, but of course some hurt more than others.
Speed was still an issue here, but also oppression, just how much the attacks could hurt you. So the cards use various tricks to try to limit the damage.
* 33 Kingdom Cards and Their Close Friends *
Heirlooms are paired with the cards that provide them below, in case the stories go together at all, and a few other cards are paired with what they go with, while some cards used by multiple things are in another section. Just keep calm and keep looking for your card.
Bard: The simplest Fate card. I didn’t have it immediately, but one day it was time to get simple. Some versions had an heirloom paired with it, since they glommed onto simple cards, but in the end it doesn’t have one.
Blessed Village: A late card. Empires had had a Woodcutter that gave you a Boon when you gained it or trashed it. We all liked it a lot. It came under fire in Nocturne when you no longer knew what the Boon would be. One day it was one of the cards least able to cling to existence, and went. Then later still a village slot was freed up, see Ghost Town for details. I needed a new village. I tried a lot of crazy scaling villages, seeing if I could find something cool but fair. There were some cool things but not so much fair things. Finally I tried this, the most obvious idea but because I’d killed the Woodcutter I didn’t go straight to it. It was great though. It’s okay that you don’t know what the Boon is; it’s something, and you probably wanted a village anyway. You had not so much wanted the Woodcutter.
Cemetery / Haunted Mirror: Hinterlands tried and failed to get a when-gain trasher. Guilds managed it via having the card’s ability also be trashing. Cemetery manages it by not doing anything else, it’s just VP. I was pretty thrilled with this when I thought of it, and then it played great, hooray.
For a while a card called Doomed Miner provided another way to get Ghost. The Miner would die in a cave-in, was the idea. The card itself didn’t work out though. It was +$2, gain 2 Silvers, reveal top, if it’s Silver this turns into Ghost. Matt complained that his group didn’t like how hard it was to get Ghost (then for a bit it put the Ghost into your hand). And I realized I rarely bought it. So the Doomed Miner died, and it seemed like it would be nice if some other card got you a Ghost. I tried a few things, and one problem was, there weren’t very many Ghosts. You didn’t get very many with Exorcist, so there weren’t very many; space was limited, even with 500 cards. So the new thing had to not make very many Ghosts. And well an Heirloom was perfect, it caps out at one per player. There were a couple quick versions of it and then it locked in. And got paired with Cemetery because of the Ghost angle and wanting to be on a trasher.
Changeling: For a while this was just the top, a sleek simple classic card. We liked it but Matt’s group not so much. I tried putting the gained card on your deck, but I like to go light on that as it’s easy to forget and a more complex concept. Then I thought of the bottom as a way to hit the flavor harder; your Skulk is swapped at birth for a Changeling.
Cobbler: The initial idea was for Tracker. Instead of putting cards on your deck, it could set them aside to go into your next hand. It sounded cool and it was, but it was also nuts. So then it just worked on one card per turn. That’s way simpler if you just gain a card and do that with it. So, Tracker went back to being Tracker, and another Workshop in the set took this concept. Its other concept was more complex and it seemed like it could be shaved off. So now it was a Workshop that set aside a card for next turn. Matt suggested that it could just gain you a card next turn, even simpler, and mostly better, as you know what your hand is then. And then it needed a buff and became a Night card. The final card does not look much like the premise, but there’s a thread stretching back to it.
Conclave: I liked the idea so much on Imp that I tried it out on a village too. There was a version that did the “you may play a card you don’t have a copy of in play” thing twice, then the version that made it out, which lets the second card be a repeat.
Crypt: A late card, though the set had a history of Night cards that imitated Scheme. There was a card that put all copies of one card onto your deck, then one that put any two cards on your deck. Then I tried saving a treasure for next turn as resources on a Night card with other stuff going on, then made it its own card. Finally I hit on letting you go nuts with it.
Cursed Village: For a while there was another Library+Village thing that seemed okay. I guess it wasn’t quite there. When I wanted to try a card that hexed you when you got it, I thought of this Library+Village thing, and liked it better than the other one. There was the question of, is it okay that discard Hexes miss or mostly miss. We tried Cursed Village setting aside the Hex for your next hand, but it was too easy to forget; people are better at remembering things they actually want to happen. It could have been that Hexes had categories so that Cursed Village always hit one that mattered, but there’s no space for that on the little diagonal bar, it would have to be in the text box or something. In the end I decided it was okay if the Hex missed sometimes; it makes the card a little less scary to buy.
Den of Sin: I tried a few forms of scaling next-turn card-drawing Night cards. One that was in the set for a while was a Coppersmith variant, as I liked to think of it – name a card, per copy of it you have in play you set aside a card from your deck, next turn you get the cards. Early on you pick Copper mostly. Eventually you might pick the card itself, or something else. Sometimes we liked this and sometimes we didn’t. It would seem fair and then seem crazy. As crazy started seeming to be the winner, the card got less attractive. I made a few versions of it but did not hit on a great version. Then I scrapped it for this. It feels like the other card is part of the story though. The fix was to always give you +2 Cards, not a scaling number. And it goes to your hand, which one of the versions of the other one tried.
Devil’s Workshop: One of the first Night cards, somehow going the distance with no changes. It was a poster child for Night all through work on the set.
Druid: One of the original Fate cards was gain a Silver, receive a Boon but don’t discard it unless your top card is Silver; when it was the only Fate card, the Boon might stay the same all game. When the Boons switched to being choice-of-3, this card switched to being choice-of-3. When the Boons switched to being random, this card got setup to stay a choice of 3. And it sat on the list of cards that might get cut for a while, and then I replaced “gain a Silver” with “+1 Buy” and suddenly I liked it a lot more.
Exorcist: An early Night card, but pared down. It sounded cool to do a Remodel that gained one of three non-supply cards. This set could have the cards, and could give them other uses too. I had the idea before I had any of the cards; then I slotted Ghost (tweaked from an Empires outtake) into the $4 slot, and made Will-o’-Wisp to be a card a Boon gave you. Imp came last and then I could try Exorcist. At first it could trash cards from play too. It could only trash non-Duration cards because of tracking issues, but then we had trouble remembering that so then it could only trash Treasures from play. It was too powerful and cutting that part was key. And simplified it, hooray. It ended up a Night card that doesn’t need to be a Night card, but I decided I preferred that to switching it to an Action.
Faithful Hound: A late card. There had been an heirloom that you set aside for your next hand when you discarded it. It was not obvious that it worked in clean-up. I fiddled with it and then replaced it. And then brought back the concept, sans the clean-up part, on this card. It has been some years since Tunnel, we are ready for something else to care about discarding it.
Fool / Lucky Coin / Lost in the Woods: One of the first cards in the set, just after starting work on it as its own set. At first it gave you the next three Boons in any order. Then when it was a choice of three, it gave you all three. Then it was back to three random ones. But this basic functionality, get three Boons, was there for a while and did not really change much.
But wait. One game I was in was so very slow, because it was all casual players who bought up Fools, and we had a Throne and they Throned it and turns took forever. And I vowed that day to stop Fool from being Throned. I tried various things, including bonuses if you Throned it but which weren’t getting Boons. In the end though I decided maybe I could pair it with Lucky Coin and the Silvers you gained would slow down how often you played Fool enough to avoid problems.
But wait. While testing recommended sets, Matt had a game that was awful, that had Fool and Golem. And I remembered, man, didn’t I vow something here? I sprang into action trying a pile of different versions of Fool, various ways to stop it from being Throned. One version had a card the Fools went on, and Lucky Coin brought them back. This was a funny thing because anyone told how this worked would immediately say “oh that doesn’t work, you’ll lose track of which Fools are yours.” It always worked perfectly; you just have yours face you. Everyone has their own chair you see. Anyway that was one of the versions. And Dave Goldthorpe suggested, instead there could be one card that moved around, he called it Foolish, and that card stopped you from playing Fools. And Destry Miller said, what if that card gave you a benefit while you had it? And I made it Lost in the Woods, with a discard clause so that you could discard a dead Fool to it, and a Boon because that’s what you came here for right, you bought Fool to get Boons. And they all lived happily ever after.
Lucky Coin was one of the first Heirlooms, bopping around from card to card. It ended up here to slow down the Boonage and then maybe didn’t have to stay but I didn’t want to keep testing late changes so here it is still on Fool. It uh gains you Silvers, it was a simple idea and didn’t need tweaking.
Ghost Town: Early on the set had a village that went into your next hand. It was pretty sweet. And, separately, I had a Night card that was a village for your next turn. That was cool too; at first it had a Duchess-like rider that let you get it when you trashed an Action, but that didn’t come up enough so I slimmed it down to the sleek basic effect. And then Billy suggested combining the two cards and here we are. It was a better way to implement the village – no setting it aside – and spiced up the Night card.
Guardian: Early on the set had a village that went into your next hand. I just told you about that. It was great so I thought I should try a second card like that, and the obvious concept was a Moat. At first it was a pure Reaction that was set aside for your next hand when you got it, and came with a Gold; then the Gold idea went on Skulk, and Guardian changed to be a Night card that gave you a Boon next turn, and went to your hand when gained. The Boon was too slow (since playing Guardian doesn’t use up an Action), so now it just gives you +$1.
Idol: I wanted a Treasure that gave Boons, but didn’t want to slow the game down too much. So it gives you one every other time, and Curses the other times. It also does the nice trick of being a Cursing attack that doesn’t always run out the Curses.
Leprechaun: The initial idea here was a card that gave you a Boon someone else picked. Then it was a random Boon, and then became the impetus for changing the Boons to be random. You can blame it all on the Leprechaun. Originally it cost $5, and gave you a Gold and a warped Boon and had the Wish clause. There was talk of the random Boon somehow being mandatory, so that a few of them could end up hurting you. But you know what would really hurt? Something that always hurt. So Leprechaun also was the impetus behind the Hexes. And it gave you a Hex and well. Good times. At first it always hexed you, but I liked it better exempting you if you got the Wish.
Monastery: One of the first Night cards was a trasher. It wasn’t very interesting. Then I thought of this one and it went the distance. It calls out Copper like that because I need to avoid hitting Duration cards in play (or Thrones that played them), and “Treasures” does the trick; but really, while in some situations you’d trash another Treasure, mostly you want to trash Copper, and it’s simpler to just stop there. You can trash that other Treasure from your hand if you must.
Necromancer / Zombies: This card came from the name. I had a list of names that fit the flavor of the set, and in some conversation thought, hey Necromancer could play cards from the trash. For a while it was a Band of Misfits, it became the card. You played it as something in the trash. That was way more confusing but seemed the only way to do it. And it had this looming problem of how best to stop infinite loops, plus sometimes a tracking issue (how many of these did I play as Markets?). Matt suggested turning the cards in the trash face down for the turn to both track what you’d done and stop infinite loops; this solved those problems, but also turned out to open the door to changing it to play the cards outright, rather than being Band of Misfits. This fixes some poor rules situations and also has better flavor; it plays the Zombies, it doesn’t become a Zombie. Not working on Duration cards was a late change; there’s no tracking there, which is awful.
There were always three Zombies. At first they were Night cards, and Necromancer could also play Night cards, but that was more confusing than it was worth. For the first test they were Woodcutter, Smithy, Remodel. It was clear that one wanted to be a cantrip, so you could play Necromancer as that if you couldn’t do better, and one wanted to provide a way to get things into the trash, a way that wasn’t too generous and yet might get good cards there. In the end two do that: Zombie Mason may randomly hit a good Action, and Zombie Apprentice just flat out does it, but doesn’t get people to immediately trash their good Actions – though, if you have a bunch of Necromancers…
Night Watchman: Messing with the top of your deck was one of the things Night cards could do, so here was one doing it. At first it said “when you gain or play this,” then it switched to being gained to your hand after Billy suggested that.
Pixie: One of the early Fate cards was an attack. Eventually it got “Receive the same Boon twice.” That part was fun and kept the card around for too long. It was also problematic; what if there’s no trashing this game, and I get The Flame’s Gift twice and you don’t? When I got sick of having the attack endlessly played (a Militia-family attack), I changed it to non-attack interaction, where you got the Boon 3 times once any Provinces had been gained. People had liked the doubled Boon more when you could pick the Boon, and some versions messed with getting some choice into the mix. It seemed like playtesters would never be happy with it now, and I killed it, then brought it back as Pixie (after it first only gave you the Boon once). You get a choice of Boons in that you can just let the revealed Boon slide and keep the Pixie. And that’s all it does, I mean it’s a cantrip but there’s no attack.
And then, aha, pairing Pixie with Goat means that The Flame’s Gift is never as big of a prize; we all have a trasher. Goat was not an early Heirloom, but was an obvious one to try once it turned out I would be stuck making seven of them. It of course worked fine. It cost $4 for a while, but dropped to $2 to dodge War and Knight-family attacks.
Pooka / Cursed Gold: The +Cards version of Moneylender was an idea that had been sitting around. It was in Empires for a while, first as +3 Cards with another ability, and then +3 Cards and a Boon. While those didn’t make the cut, the basic idea seemed worth keeping in mind, and went into the Boonies file when I made it. It appears here at +4 Cards, with an Heirloom that it can’t trash. It’s a simple but subtle card.
Cursed Gold was an early star of the Heirlooms. It never changed. It can cost $4 because you are happy to lose it to Knights.
Raider: One of the early cards that led the charge of “look what a Night card can do.” For maybe a day it hit players with 4 or more cards in hand; then it stayed unchanged until very late, when it went from $5 to $6.
Sacred Grove: At first this gave +3 Cards, I had not learned that lesson yet. And the other players could opt for a Silver instead of the Boon if they wanted; concern over, hey aren’t a couple of the Boons useless when it’s not your turn? There were a few variants trying to deal well with that situation, before I decided, man it’s fine, sometimes the Sacred Grove is piggy. It’s explicitly piggy so people don’t wonder what happens with those Boons.
Secret Cave / Magic Lamp: Secret Cave came from testing cards out for the Sauna / Avanto promo. You’re doing less this turn because you’re in the Sauna; that was the angle. We liked it and I put it in the file when something else became Sauna. Here it is in Nocturne. As a Sauna it said “if you don’t buy anything this turn,” and I changed it to discarding 3 cards.
Matt suggested having an heirloom that turned into something if you had 6 different Action cards in play. I tweaked it to requiring uniques but allowing other cards; pairing it with Secret Cave meant it would almost always be possible to do it (Secret Cave draws you a 6th card; Copper Silver Gold, Magic Lamp itself, and some other Action or Treasure card). At first it was a Treasure Chest that made an Artifact (Harem but twice as big, an Empires split pile outtake); then it made a Genie that gave you stuff, then it made three Wishes. For a while it was a Night card and double-Heirloomed – you replaced two Coppers with a Silver and a Magic Lamp (so as to still make $7 over your first two turns, although you could get a $6/$1 opening). In the end it’s a Treasure so that they’re all Treasures and there are seven and all that. It used to not let you play more Coppers after it and now it lets you and I decided I could live with that.
Shepherd / Pasture: This idea had been messed with in different forms over the years. This version always had the same ability text, but gained the Heirloom and then went from $5 to $4.
I think the only change to Pasture was that once it cost $4. Some of the Heirlooms dropped below $3 to dodge War and some Knight-family attacks.
Skulk: The idea of a weak card that comes with Gold came from Guardian. I very briefly tried it on a Night card that Hexed, but that was too strong. So it’s an Action that gives you +1 Buy. And you get a Gold with it! How could that be, someone out there is still wondering. Well uh. Like, what if the Hex is Poverty. That’s a good Hex. Then Skulk was Militia, but instead of +$2 you got +1 Buy. Sometimes you really need the +1 Buy, I see that, but when you don’t, man, +$2 is a lot more than +$0. Skulk is at its best when you have a way to Remodel it or something.
Tormentor: When I made the Hexes, I made a card that just gave +$2 and handed out a Hex, to test them out. This card seemed fine, but space was tight, and did we really need both Bard and it, and other Hex-giving cards quickly crowded it out. I briefly tried a version that tried to do the Tracker trick of being a combo with Hexes, but it wasn’t much of a combo with them. Then later on I was considering, are there ways to get a little more use out of the Spirits, and made this, a card that only gives you an Imp if it’s alone. It could have been first play or only card in play; the latter is simpler but is messed up by Duration cards. The Imp is good, it felt like not playing nice with Duration cards was okay. The “no other cards” mechanic had been on another card earlier with a less sexy bonus. And then one late change to the set was having Tormentor not Hex them if you got the Imp; previously you got both, yeeha. The idea behind the change was just to get the order of effects better on the card; you want to reach for the Imp right away, while the other players want to reach for the Hex. It can’t delay the Imp, but if the Imp is first then it’s more awkward to phrase if you get both. But you know, once you are getting an Imp, you are happy, you don’t need to Hex people too. And they’re happy not to get Hexed; it’s win-win.
Tracker: One day I had the idea of having Fate cards that were combos with Boons. Looking through the Boons at the time, there were three areas the Fate card could potentially interact with: gaining cards, discarding cards, and the top of your deck. I tried gaining cards first, and we liked it so I tried the other two too; the discarding cards one survives as Faithful Hound, while the top of your deck one died. The gaining cards combo was Royal Seal’s ability to put gained cards on your deck; you get The Swamp’s Gift for example, and can put the Wisp on your deck. Briefly it tried being a twist on Royal Seal, where you also got a copy of the card from your discard pile onto your deck, but that didn’t come up enough to be worth the text. And I tried letting you put the card anywhere in your deck; that didn’t come up often enough either.
Tracker started out giving +2 Cards +1 Buy and a Boon on top, for $5. We had many long games with it. Eventually I came to my senses; it was simply not reasonable to put card-drawing on Fate cards. I tried out not always giving you the Boon, then dropped it down to +$1 for $2. Then I tried some variations that twisted the Royal Seal part again, to set aside cards for next turn instead of putting them on your deck, but in the end it was back to Royal Seal and +$1 for $2.
Pouch initially was the Heirloom worth $0. Just +1 Buy. That seemed like a nice change of pace to sometimes have, and some of us did like it, so there. Matt’s group did not enjoy the slower games so much, and eventually I gave in and made it make $1. When Pouch made $0, it was important that it went on a card costing $2. It was on another one that didn’t work out, then on the $2 Tracker. Which is a nice fit because +1 Buy is also a combo with Tracker’s Royal Seal ability.
Tragic Hero: I tried several cards as ways to get another use for Ghost into the set (with Haunted Mirror being the one that stuck). One of them looked like this with no +Buy and Ghost instead of a Treasure. It was fun but you got too many Ghosts. You get a Ghost and it hits another Tragic Hero and that turns it into another Ghost. I played around with wordings that made that not happen but then Haunted Mirror took over. Late in the going I had a card I wasn’t confident in, and I looked for what could replace it. I tried this, only gaining Gold, and it immediately worked out. Matt suggested that it could gain any Treasure and that worked out too.
Vampire / Bat: The idea was to have a vampire that turned into a bat. There were some other flavor things to maybe hit on, but that was the starting point. There were several versions of each card. Vampire always hexed, but played around with different resources, before landing on “gain an Action.” In the end that failed for the reason that it usually does – being crazy with expensive Actions. So it became “gain a $5” and then “other than Vampire” after a game with Matt’s group where Alex went crazy for Vampires. The order of abilities shifted some, as everything wants to be first.
Bat started out an Action, but people demanded that it be a Night card too. For a while it was a Duration card, that drew you a card if it didn’t turn back. That made it not so bad to have late-game Bats stuck in your deck. Mostly Bat could trash a card, and whether or not you got your Vampire back depended on what you trashed. Later it could trash two cards and cared about how many, settling on “at least one.” It didn’t want to automatically turn back, but didn’t want that to be difficult either.
Werewolf: When Night debuted, I figured there would be a bunch of Action – Night cards. I had one early on but it turned into a pure Night card and then died. When it stopped being Action – Night, there was a vacancy, and why not have a Werewolf? I mean there’s your Action – Night card. At first it was phrased like Crown, then it was tweaked to what it is, which is maybe slightly simpler. I realized it would be neat to have it interact with Silver, but did not manage it.
* Other Cards Plus Boons & Hexes *
Ghost: This started out in Empires, costing $10 minus $2 per Silver you had in play. Space for villages is often tight, and it left with the Boons. I changed it to a Night card, which has a certain something and also drops the need to say “other than a Ghost.” And you can’t buy it so there’s no special cost. The Night version went the distance. That is going to be the story of the Spirits.
Imp: The same as the first version, except for how many copies there are, which I fiddled with as the set ran out of space.
Will-o’-wisp: The same as the first version tried. This was designed specifically to work well as something a Boon gave you, but knowing that Exorcist would also give it to you. And Exorcist was behind Ghost getting that slot and then the design of Imp. And the costs of the three cards were picked to give Exorcist a simpler wording. It was all about Exorcist and well Exorcist came through for me.
Wish: Magic Lamp gave out an Artifact first ($4 and 4 VP), then a Genie who could make $6’s for you, then three Wishes which naturally make $6’s. It’s what the Genie had done and it sounded good for the card name. Then Leprechaun got Wish to give Wish more to do.
Boons: The goal was always to have 12 Boons that were reasonably close in power level. Obv. they vary with the circumstance. They also wanted to be simple, you do not want to spend a while poring over them. Because of Idol, it seemed bad if any were just dead in the Buy phase. It would have been nice to have them all work for the other players for Sacred Grove, but that was too much to ask. Too much I say.
Empires had had +1 VP; this set got a Will-o’-Wisp. There were several versions of Sky, trying to be hard enough but not too hard. The Moon’s Gift started out also letting you flip your deck; it lost that when you got to choose your Boon, then didn’t get it back somehow. I tried different versions of the basic +’s, trying to get the best mix and then to also keep Idol happy.
There was a Remodel, it was too good. There was discard X cards, gain a card for X+$2, also strong. There was “each other player gains a Copper”; it wasn’t great to have an Attack in there. I tried out a Bridge and a twist on Bridge. I tried “+$2, put a card from your hand on your deck” and a Haven. I tried “draw up to 6.” In Empires some tried gaining a copy of a card.
At one point when you could choose your Boon from 3, it started to seem bad that Boons people didn’t want would pile up. A few Boons tried to fix that, refresh Boons somehow. One replaced the Boons and then gave you a random one.
Hexes: I was trying for a variety of effects, while keeping power level as close as I could given that. Which is not so close but you know. Sometimes a Hex missed a lot and I tried to fix those; sometimes a Hex was devastating and there’s less of that. And some Hexes tried to be novel, by handing out cards that track effects, or tracking an effect via a revealed hand. One tried revealing your top card to track the effect, but various takes on that did not work out.
Greed started out just giving out Copper, while Plague gave out Curse and +1 Card. The bonus on Plague was too relevant, and they got closer by putting the Copper on your deck and the Curse into your hand with no +1 Card.
There were multiple versions of the discard attacks, with Poverty leaving and then coming back. One tried to have you discard a copy of your top card, which missed too much. At one point I tried “discard an Action” and “discard a Treasure,” at Billy’s suggestion. They take way way more words than that and were not great. Billy suggested putting Minion in but I didn’t enjoy it and so in the end there’s Fear, also Billy’s suggestion. Haunting started out having them choose to put a card on their deck or discard down to 3; then it didn’t have the “if they have 4 or more cards in hand” clause and I thought I could get away with that but decided in the end that I could not.
Famine started out discarding the $3-$6 cards. “Action” is simpler. Originally the other cards went back on top, but letting you order the top ends up helping you too often. Bad Omens started out like Fortune Teller.
One trashing attack dug for a Treasure other than Copper and trashed it. Locusts started out as “reveal top, trash if <= $6, gain Curse if <= $2." Then it trashed the top, gave you a cheaper card sharing a type with it, and gave you a Curse if you couldn't gain anything. It hurt too much losing e.g. a Village to gain a Curse; the final version can eat Curses but that's a joyous moment for someone. War started out as a Knight attack, reveal top two and trash one for $3-$6. Now it misses less and hurts less.
Early versions of Delusion played around with limiting the order you could play cards. It sometimes ate your turn and usually did nothing. Then it was Contraband, but Matt's group complained about the time period in the game where you name Province. Envious made cards cost more (which has rules issues), then made you discard cards to buy cards. In place of Misery there was Confused, which made you discard a card after each Action card you played. And Confused and Envious both stuck around until you met a condition, they could last turn after turn. For the biggest hunk of that you could get rid of them by gaining a Treasure; sometimes you would spend your turn buying a Copper to end the madness. The Contraband Deluded was tracked by having your hand revealed; in the end Deluded and Envious are on the same card, so as to use a card.
* More Outtakes *
Dismantle was here for a while, moving over from Empires with the Boons. Now it is a promo. Adam Horton suggested it. I tried one of Matt’s cards that was a Throne Room that also Schemed the card. I liked it on paper but it couldn’t compete with other $5’s. Destry suggested a card that didn’t work out but which I may try to fix up someday, so it will remain a mystery, as will a few of my own outtakes.
One of the original Fate cards had other players either discard down to 3 or put a card from their hand on their deck, their choice. I’d tried that in Adventures and it hadn’t made the cut, and it didn’t here either. It was around for a while though, and got paired with “receive a Boon twice” so that it was constantly played. Another trashed a card and gave you the same Boon once per $1 the card cost; that one died in Empires.
A bunch of cards tried to be a good Night Remodel. I tried ones that cared about other cards gained or trashed that turn – e.g., trash a card from your hand, then for each card you trashed this turn, gain a card costing up to $2 more than it. If your guess is that Billy would gain 6 Provinces in one turn with that, you’d be right. Then I tried one that cared about the number of cards in your hand, and some more that just had you discard cards. For a long time the set had “trash a card from your hand, discard X cards, gain a card costing up to $X more than the trashed card.” It looked innocent at $3, people liked it and it didn’t make waves. Then it was $5, now it is gone. I also tried one that could Remodel cards in your discard pile.
The first Night trasher just trashed a card from your hand and a card from play, with a Scheme clause to handle Durations. There were more interesting things to do, so it did not last.
An old old card had you discard a card to draw a card per $1 it cost. Apprentice without the trashing. It continued to not work out here. Another old card, from Cornucopia, drew the uniques from your top 5. That also did not magically turn out to have been fine all along. Another old idea was a card that gave you card selection based on how many cards you had in play.
One of the combo cards for Boons was +1 Card +1 Action, receive a Boon, name a type, reveal the top card of your deck, get it if it matches. It’s poor to put the naming after the Boon; you forget about it, the Boon is too exciting. What killed it though was just being a cantrip that gave out Boons; even at $6, it slowed down games too much. I switched the type-naming to just hitting Treasure and Night cards, no choice, but that wasn’t enough.
I tried a Night card that let you buy a card for half price. It looks pretty but is dull. I tried a few variations on it, including a Treasure that gave you half as much $ as you had – half a Fortune. That looked pretty too.
An early Night attack gained you a copy of a card/Action you had in play, and discarded Actions from their top 3 cards. It was interesting as a card you didn’t want right away. Once I had Changeling they felt like they were in competition. Changeling was sleek and perfect, so it won. Then I grafted another ability onto Changeling to make it more exciting and less sleek and perfect.
There was a card worth 2 VP that was also +1 Card +1 Action +$1 if you had no cards in play other than copies of it. There were a few variations; it stopped being an anti-combo with Duration cards, it gave you a little something instead of nothing. Player interest varied but it was not a star and also ate up 2 extra cards due to being a Victory card. I needed the space, something had to go. The concept is vaguely preserved on Tormentor.
I tried a terminal that got another copy of itself from your discard pile to your hand. But wait, you say. Yes well. It had no value without a village, and with a village you still didn’t just get the combo all the time. It seemed cute for a bit. Then there was a version that gave you something for getting a copy back, so it was a combo without a village.
There was an attack that tried to cash in on the joy of Chariot Race. If their card cost more than yours, they discarded it and gained a Curse. Then it just cared about their card to speed it up, and then I had better attacks.
In an interactive slot, I tried a card that cared about the number of empty piles, like City, but that just changed instead of getting better. It didn’t change often enough and just wasn’t very interesting. You didn’t have incentive to empty the piles for it. Then it was a Workshop too to get those piles empty, and then it died.
There was a Night card that had you look at the top 6 cards, discard one per card you had in play, and set the rest aside for next turn. It’s a relative of Tactician. It always seemed different enough from Tactician to me, and like an interesting option. But it’s a narrow card, and they face a harder journey to making it into a set. There were people who thought it was a dud, and eventually I took it out. Billy kept trying to get me to bring it back, and well here it is in the outtakes section.
For a long time there was a Night attack that Cursed the other players if you had exactly 3 of anything in play. Early on it would probably be 3 Coppers, but it could be something else. There were different resources on it, but the longest running version was an Armory – gain a card onto your deck costing up to $4. It seemed cool and for a while seemed reasonable. After some game where it seemed strong, I realized that we were endlessly seeing it in games with Heirlooms, and thus not 7 Coppers. We played some more games with no Heirlooms and it seemed obviously too strong. I tried a bunch of variations on it quickly and then killed it.
A couple cards tried to draw cards at Night. It’s fun if there’s another Night card, not too exciting if there isn’t. I don’t have the market research to tell me, but suspect that for a lot of players there would be a lot of games with no other Night card (due to mixing expansions together rather than playing them alone or in pairs).
Before Changeling, some other cards tried out for that name. One was a choose-one that could turn into a cheaper card in your hand; one revealed your top card and could turn into it and be played. It was never quite there, and the tangentially related Night version was way better.
The card that left for Cursed Village was draw up to 7, may discard 2 for +2 Actions. It was fine? Cursed Village was just similar and better.
After I had Hexes I thought, can I make a card that combos with them. I made a village that had other players put gains/discards on their decks – it turned Witches into Sea Hags, Militias into Ghost Ships. It didn’t actually attack by itself though. It wasn’t actually much of a combo with the hexes, and in regular games seemed to just so rarely mean anything.
There was a Workshop that could gain a copy of a card in the trash costing up to $6, and put a card costing up to $4 into the trash when you gained it. So at first it would be a Workshop for just that one thing, but if you got another copy, or someone else did, or something got trashed somehow, then it would upgrade. We had some fun with it. Maybe there is more to this concept; I can think about it again if and when. What happened was, it was strong, then I put Cobbler’s ability onto it to spice it up (while cutting +$2), then cut the rest to simplify it.
Relatively late, I had room for a village, and tried a bunch of villages. Most of them scaled in some way. You drew a card when you trashed a card; you drew a card for next turn when you gained a card. There were some fun games seeing those cards go nuts. One village didn’t fit this mold; it was trying to be good with Night cards, and gave +$1 per treasure in your next two plays, then just +$1 if either was a treasure. So, essentially if you didn’t get village value from it, it gave you $ instead. It just wasn’t very interesting.
There are only two Heirloom outtakes of note. Bribe could be given to another player to stop an attack. We had fun doing it, but I can’t have both an attack with a choice and a Moat with a cost, or you will have the situation where the choice gets made while someone’s shuffling and now it informs their decision about the cost. Or to avoid that you do things in slow-mo which is no good either. Attacks with a choice already exist – e.g. Minion – so I can’t do a Moat with a cost. So Bribe did not survive.
The other one turned into Faithful Hound. At first if you discarded it you set it aside for next turn, and this even worked if you discarded it in clean-up. I didn’t like that most players wouldn’t get that from reading the card. Then there were versions that didn’t work in clean-up, and then I had Haunted Mirror competing for that slot. And the ability ended up on Faithful Hound instead.