The long-awaited fourth installment from the epic interview that never ends. If you have questions you’d like to ask Donald X., feel free to ask away!
Phil asks: Do you intentionally look for/design a “big splash” or two for your sets, or is it just a result of exploring the design space, or…?
Donald X.: I’m always trying to dramatically change the game, but not every card needs to do that. I don’t normally worry about having especially exciting cards, because I have them; I would worry about it if I didn’t.
GendoIkari asks: Did you decide that you shouldn’t be able to buy the same project twice for mechanics reasons, and then balance projects around that? Or did the no buying the same project twice rule come about due to needing to limit the power of some projects?
Donald X.: Originally they were states and each player got a copy. So there was no thought of letting you have two of one then; it would have been 6 more cards per state. When they turned into projects, I just kept them at one per player. But I immediately tried a card that let you place a second token on a project, and it was a dud.
In general I like to let people get multiple copies of an ability. It’s the same number of rules – people are used to games not letting them have two of the same ability, so you have to spell out that they can. It generates more extreme situations and I like that. It does sometimes limit what you can do – the card phrasings have to all make sense, and it’s bad if lots of abilities are now so strong with two copies that you have to cost them for that and then they suck at one copy. Here I didn’t really consider it beyond that card. I didn’t want to give you more cubes; sure you could have two cubes and be able to go up to two somewhere, but it would have felt like, wouldn’t it be more fun to have four cubes. I wanted simplicity; this way I dodged any explanations of “what if you have two of this” (Nefarious didn’t get “this twist copies the other twist” because the publisher didn’t like the rules questions and phrasing changes that created). But it was not much on my mind.
Greybirdofprey asks: About Patron – in most translations, ‘reveal’ hasn’t been consistently translated using the same word (probably because no one expected it to matter). Have you considered this when designing Patron?
Donald X.: I don’t know how consistent the translations are, but I knew it was a thing to worry about it, and we checked what we could, and as you can see I went for it.
If Renaissance gets published in e.g. Japanese and a particular card doesn’t match, people will play that one wrong… which is probably fine. If someone knows that the English version says “reveal,” they can speak up and verify this with a device they carry everywhere.
Ipofanes asks: Have you ever considered or tested a stackable Enchantress effect?
Donald X.: It’s intentionally not stackable. You can stop Enchantress from hurting you by playing with no fun Action cards. When Action cards are punished too heavily, casual players try that no-fun strategy and have no fun.
AJD asks: Is it a coincidence that no Potion-cost cards give +coin, or was that an intentional design decision?
Donald X.: I wasn’t avoiding +$. I was however trying to deal with “what if this is the only potion-coster,” which led to a bunch of cantrips, which led to making “likes actions” a sub-theme. So if there had been a +$ action odds are it would have had +1 action too.
Buckets asks: If you could play a game of giant Dominion where all the cards were like A4 sized would you? If you could invite 2-3 famous people to play giant dominion with you, would you invite those people or would you opt to play giant dominion with your usual crew? Assume you can only play giant dominion the one time.
Donald X.: I looked up what A4 is. Man it’s just slightly off from eight and a half by eleven. What’s up with that. If e.g. when I went to Essen they had said, here are these giant cards, I would have been a good sport and played a game with them. I have no special interest in them though. I can already invite famous people to play. The problem is getting them to come. Maybe the A4 size would do the trick, but man, it sounds like a long shot.
Greybirdofprey asks: I know there are quite some videogame-related charity events, but I have never seen boardgame-related charity events. Have you ever participated in boardgame-related charity events? Would you?
Donald X.: I was asked once, and I said sure, but they didn’t work out how to get the signed stuff from me and then I guess forgot about it.
Crj asks: A curious question a friend’s just asked, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen addressed: Is Dominion set on Earth?
Donald X.: Dominion is set on Earth, mostly in medieval times, though Empires has ancient Rome and Renaissance is the end of the period.
chipperMDW asks: Is magic real?
Tripwire follows up: This question got me thinking: what is a curse thematically? They seem to imply magic, but lots of non-magical stuff gives them out: Mountebanks, Jesters, Hideouts, etc.
Donald X.: Initially the idea was to have a hint of magic with no clear demonstration of it being real magic. I decided to make Alchemy anyway, it had pure fantasy things. Then when the main set was published, Witch was shown with magic despite me specifying otherwise, so so much for that. In the end the game is set in the medieval Europe of many stories, not just fairy tales but you know, Shakespeare plays and so on; it’s mostly the real world, but with some magical stuff. People believed in ghost ships and there’s a ghost ship, you know. Except Alchemy has some flat-out fantasy stuff, and then Nocturne has tons of it, it’s Celtic fairy tales.
With magic not being clearly real, Witch and Mountebank are the same kind of thing. With actual magic, well Curses I guess are both magical and non-magical things that are in your way.
Sir Bailey had the second copy of Dominion, and took the name Castle Builder to heart, changing Curse to Rubble and having those attacks be siege weapons. I considered Rubble but stuck with Curse.
Cave-o-sapien asks: I’ve noticed you spectating several high-level league matches. What is it like watching people play your creation competitively, in general? Is it amusing? Entertaining? Fulfilling? Do you find validation of design choices by watching some of these matches?
Donald X.: To me, I’m just me; when I post on the forums it feels a lot to me like it does when I post on forums where I’m no-one special. Now shift that over to watching games being played. For the most part I don’t think I’m specially affected. Sure there are things I can speak up on, oh in playtest that card was different. I’m aware that people might expect me to be a better player than I am, because I’m the guy. That’s a bummer, who needs that pressure.
That said, I do like seeing interesting games, cool lines of play; I don’t like seeing cards I blew it on make the game worse. It’s fun to see cards I blew it on by making them too weak end up doing something. For a typical game I am not thinking “look at all my mistakes,” but then the powerful cards gain some finesse from the high level of play in the matches I’m likely to click on, and taking out those 12 Dominion/Intrigue cards reduced the frequency of games with lots of duds. In that last championship there was a game with Pirate Ship, Counting House, and Noble Brigand, but there was a lot going on in the remaining cards.
Probably when an expansion is new I feel more like, this is my thing, please like it guys, I hope I didn’t blow it. But later that pressure is off.
I’m probably overstating this due to wanting to feel like I’m not stuck-up or something; some cognitive bias, we can work out which one later. Probably I’ve to some degree watched games just because I’m the guy. Maybe in a sideways sense of, like, this isn’t as much of a waste of time as it would be if it were some other game, because hey I’m the guy. Or the expected background idea of wanting to feel good about making a game that people are playing.
But then, I’ve watched a bunch of Super Mario Odyssey videos, and I’m clearly no-one there, just a guy who wants to see cool stuff in a game he likes.
Spectating Dominion is greatly enhanced by being able to chat with the other spectators. It’s way more fun than watching the videos. I do watch some of the videos, but tend to skip a lot, trying to just see, how did they open, how did things develop, how did it end, without seeing every decision being considered. But when you’re spectating, you can talk about the decisions, spot things they didn’t, listen to Stef spot things they didn’t, or you know, talk about something else even.
Silby asks: What’s the most fun you can have with a deck of traditional playing cards?
Donald X.: I’ll pretend that instead you asked, what’s the best game to play with a deck of playing cards.
Well I’m no expert. I imagine you can do an entertaining mini-version of Dominion; people don’t tend to research this stuff because you can just make a special deck can’t you. Some of the games I’ve played the most with one deck of playing cards are: Crazy Crazy 8’s (it’s Crazy 8’s but the winner of a hand makes up a new rule to add to the game; Pina Pirata is this only the rules are provided and the deck is different); Speed; FreeCell. I respect Deuces but have not played it much. The trick-taking games I’ve played any noticeable amount of did not use a regular deck. Well I made some just to play around and they did.
There’s a game idea I tested with playing cards, and it worked but I never made the game with its own deck. Maybe someday. Oh there are two of those, though the second needed chits too. I have another game that would totally work with playing cards, but has a special deck, and well maybe someday I will show it to publishers again. They like it but realize it won’t sell. I have an old old game that used playing cards but added another deck too; that’s how it goes. My Poker game had a special deck; I’ve barely played playing-card-deck Poker.
If you have questions you’d like to ask Donald X., feel free to ask away!