The Herald Bulletin

September 11, 2012

Dark Ages portent of Dominion's conclusion?

Genre-creating game still very strong

By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin

— As Dominion reaches its final stages, at least in terms of new releases, the final full expansion for the game, Dark Ages, carries a most appropriate name.

Everything is falling into Ruins and the cards reflect the calamity and the dire circumstances of the world as you know as a Dominion player.

There has never been an expansion for this great game that was as large or that changed the landscape of Dominion as much as Dark Ages.  But the fact that this is the final planned large expansion for the game had nothing to do with the size and scope of the set.

“It got to be large because Seaside and Prosperity had tokens and the main set and Intrigue had the basic cards,” said dominion creator Donald Vaccarino. “I wasn't sure that a large set could get away with just being 300 cards and slightly cheaper. So I made Hinterlands as a standalone and made Dark Ages a full 500 cards. Then Hinterlands didn't end up being a standalone because of the Base Cards product, but that didn't mean I had to make Dark Ages smaller, so I kept it big.”

Let’s start with what’s new.

The Shelter cards and the Ruins cards are big changes. The Shelter cards, Hovel, Necropolis and Overgrown Estate start the game in the deck, replacing the three Estates that had been the standard since the game was released. Each does something different and while it isn’t much, it is more than the Estates provided.

There are five different ruins, Abandoned Mine, Ruined Village, Ruined Market, Ruined Library and Survivors. They featured altered artwork from each of the iconic cards of which they are ruined versions. Ruins are part of the supply, though most won’t want to buy them. They are all shuffled into one pile of 50 cards. Count out 10 for two players and 10 more for each player more than two in the game. So a four-player game would have 30. These cards aren’t as bad as Curses, but you won’t welcome them into the deck either. If any Kingdom card has Looter as a card type, Ruins will be added to the supply.

There’s no doubt the gameplay central theme is trashing cards. Many cards allowing trashing, some give benefits to the player whose card gets trashed and there’s even an opportunity to go into the trash pile to retrieve something, even if it never belonged to you in the first place.

There are more new things as well. An Urchin will turn into a Mercenary. A Hermit will turn into a Madman. There are 20 Rats cards in a Kingdom pile instead of 10 and they will overrun your deck if you don’t plan carefully. Knights have come to Dominion and they pile of 10 that come in as a Kingdom pile all carry different names and abilities. Just like the Ruins, only one is available and can be viewed at any given time.

There are 15 Spoils cards, a new Treasure card that only come into play through use of the Bandit Camp, Marauder or Pillage cards from the Kingdom piles. They can be used for +3 coin, but once used, they return to the Spoils pile.

Dark Ages is a bit set and there’s a lot to absorb. There’s 500 cards in the set. It is an expansion so either the base game, Intrigue or the box of base cards are needed to play. There has been strong reaction to this set and most of it has been positive. But many think this is a more combative set than the other expansions.

“I don't see the set as attack-heavy myself,” said Vaccarino. “Of 35 kingdom cards, 6 are attacks. The main set and Seaside have 5 attacks in 25 cards, and Cornucopia has 3 in 13. Hinterlands does only have 4 in 26 (counting Ill-Gotten Gains), so it's slightly more than the last set had.



“People initially underrate and overrate cards, but I'm used to that. I guess I knew Band of Misfits would have rules questions, but didn't anticipate the particular one that came up that the rulebook didn't address (Throne Room a Band of Misfits as a Feast).”

 

Dark Ages and Prosperity are my favorite Dominion expansions. Both offered more gameplay changes than their brethren. All of them are clearly worth adding to the Dominion collections of all players. The challenges to existing strategies alone make this new expansion worth the purchase cost.

As each expansion has been released, there have become even more ways to mix sets and more programs created to randomly choose Kingdom card sets. So how does the game creator do it?

“IRL (in real life), I either play 10 of the set I'm playtesting, or 5 of that set and 5 of another set,” said Vaccarino. “Online, I play random cards, possibly forcing a few cards from what I'm testing, or a specific card. I've played a fair amount of Dominion online recently, playtesting the online implementation, but I haven't played IRL in a while. I would have to lug the boxes to game night, and then that would be time I wasn't spending playtesting a Kingdom Builder expansion or new game.”

So now there is just one expansion remaining. “It's 150 cards, called Guilds, and currently I expect it in the spring,” said Vaccarino. “It's the only expansion that didn't exist in any form prior to me showing Dominion to RGG (Rio Grande Games), but I finished it before Dark Ages.”

But there may not be life without any new Dominion of any kind.

“I continue to expect to make spin-offs afterwards - standalone games that start out like Dominion but change/add things,” he said. “There will probably be a sixth promo, maybe more. I can't rule out a future expansion but I have no plans to make one, and have put no work into one. All of the reasons I've previously given for switching to spin-offs still apply - in brief, 1) you get diminishing returns, more things to do but not really more variety once you have endless variety; 2) they get more complex, and I don't think the typical player wants the sets to get more complex; 3) time I spend on expansions is time I'm not spending on spin-offs or new games.”

It should be an interesting future in the world of Dominion and beyond.