The year was 2020. Menagerie was coming out soon, and I had a lot of non-Dominion projects in motion. I was playing games with friends two nights a week. Eating in restaurants. Walking past strangers on the sidewalk without a care in the world.
When the pandemic hit, at first I just didn't work on games. I wrote some stories and novellas. Eventually my daughter Natalie started playing games with me. At the same time I typed up a few Dominion cards, in case external playtesters could somehow playtest them. One day in May I set up Dominion, which Natalie'd been resisting trying, and we played it and nothing bad happened. So after that, we played it a bunch. So I worked on an expansion! That's how they get you.
At first it was just some random cards. Ideas that we could totally test. I tried a few new VP token cards, maybe I'd revisit those (spoilers: those cards all left). I tried several new Victory cards; maybe I'd revisit that theme (I did not). And you know, just tried whatever cards I thought of. In June I tried out Favors: tokens that varied from game to game. I also tried some new Reserve cards, but Reserve cards overlapped heavily with Favors. And in July I tried a split pile with 4 different cards in it and away we go. There was also another new kind of landscape; I liked it but can only fit so much into one expansion.
The Favors / Liaisons always worked the same way. Initially nothing cost more than one Favor per use, and there wasn't anything that cared how many Favors you'd stacked up, or put them on piles. I gradually made more Liaisons and more Allies, and looked for less straightforward things they could do.
The split piles originally had a variety of mechanics to ensure that you could somehow get through the pile to the cards you wanted. Some piles had every card able to upgrade to a card from the pile, just like how Acolyte does. Two piles tried having the top card gain a card from the pile; two piles, including one of those, tried having the top card able to trash cards from its Supply pile. One pile had no trick but was all villages. In the end we have rotation. It gets you through the pile, provided that someone gets the top card. The upgrading and Lurker-ing meant we didn't get to play with cards from the piles as much, and the gaining was crazy. The first version of rotation just moved one card; then it got the word "rotate" and did what it does.
I had tons of cards. I took out a lot of cards, based mainly on what fit the set best; they are waiting around in case they get to be real boys someday. I ended up with two minor themes: choose ones and recursion. Late in the going I scrapped two split piles, which let me fit in three regular piles (which all ended up being cards from split piles), plus an ally.
Natalie only tested with me for so long. Matt Engel pushed playtesting on Tabletop Simulator, and we did some of that. Eventually dominion.games started adding cards in a secret version, so some people got some playtesting in there. And one day I knew enough vaccinated people that game nights resumed, hooray. And we went back to restaurants, but I still walk into the street to avoid people on the sidewalk. That part had a certain charm, I don't know what to tell you.
* Outtakes *
More than usual, there were cards that seemed good but which I just didn't have space for. Those stories will wait for another day, when they either make it into a set, or demonstrate that they really aren't making it.
There were a few more split piles. One pile split up into separate cards, then some got saved for the future. One pile was all treasures, and at one point all treasure-durations. It kept being impossible to make it through the pile; we liked the first card but it didn't rotate often enough. Then the first pile tried to be its own pile and turned out to be broken. It was a treasure that made $1 this turn or $2 next turn or $3 the turn after that, and so on. Man it seemed fine and fun and then it turned out, just buy them and a Woodcutter or something and let them pile up to 8 tokens. Some of the treasures that tried out for the pile may still make it out in the future, with more work. There was a villages pile; the first card was conditional which wasn't great, and then I split the pile up and worked on the cards and it doesn't feel like any survived, though Capital City is a relative of one. And there was the Crafts pile, which I dropped just because I was dropping the treasures pile and had to drop two split piles to make the numbers work out well. Plus it wasn't so clear that having 8 split piles was so great; in an all Allies game you'd frequently have 3, which is so many cards to read. But hooray, two of the cards from that pile are in the set, Carpenter and Marquis, and another is hoping to make it out someday.
Early on I tried doing more VP token cards. Some of those gave VP tokens when you gained them, and let you spend the tokens somehow. Others came with VP tokens via a formula; the effect was kind of like Triumph.
Also early, a Victory cards theme. There was a Treasure-Victory card worth VP per 5 Treasures you had. Natalie endlessly beat me up with that, as I weakened it and finally gave up on it. I also tried VP per copy of an Action card you choose, and VP per 3 Action cards you have from non-empty piles. The experience this gave was not really so fun. To go with the Victory cards, there was a card that drew all the non-Action non-Treasure cards from the top of your deck, plus one more card. There was also a new Goons, sans attack and triggering on gains.
When I tried revisiting Reserve cards, I had: call to gain to hand a copy of a Treasure you played; call when a pile empties to gain a Gold and Duchy to hand (there's a novel one); call when shuffling to not shuffle in 4 cards (turned into Order of Masons); call for +1 Card per Copper in hand (I also tried a Duration version of that one); and gain a $4 onto your mat, call to put a card from your mat into your hand (cool if Reserve cards manage to be a theme again).
The first card in the file is "Gain an Action card from a pile that isn't full." It was fun and then seemed too generous. The closest the set comes now is Sunken Treasure. Conjurer at one point was gain a $4, or a $5 if there's an empty pile. Another early card, ancient idea, was reveal your hand, +$ per type there. The set ended up generous on the types, and this card was just always nothing or crazy.
I though it would be cool to do a trasher that returned cards, but wasn't also an attack like Ambassador. Since sometimes Ambassador is interesting for the bit where it stops a pile from being empty. You know it just didn't come up enough to be worth the words. I also had an Expand that required the gained card to share a type with the trashed card. It only cost $4 and still wasn't exciting most games.
I revisited the one-card Ghost Ship. It did not have some twist to it that made it fun. I tried "reveal the top card of your deck, you may have each other player gain a copy of it." I was briefly a fan, but really you so quickly move to never attacking with it.
More random things. A Warehouse with the Merchant Camp bottom. Cantrip, with +$1 if you've gained or trashed this turn. +$2 +1 Favor, with +1 Action if it was your first play. There's still a certain mild charm there. +1 Action +$1, play up to 3 treasures, may buy a card to hand. A 2006 concept trying its luck again. One of the Town Doctors tried out for its own pile: a Salvager with +1 Action, that you could discard when trashing an action or treasure to gain it back. For the recursion theme, I tried a Smithy that you put into your hand next turn if you could reveal a Gold. Then it was a Smithy that went into your hand or onto your deck when you gained a Treasure.
Allies that did not make it included: versions of Pearl Diver and Scout; that Expand limited by type thing; when you gain a card, exchange it for one costing $1 more (popular but confusing, then I tried lots of wordings to preserve the concept); spend X favors to gain a card to your hand costing $X (Matt's suggestion); when you get +1 of something, get another +1 of it; when playing an Action, get +$3 instead of following its instructions (it's Way of the Sheep only bigger, and well, we already have Way of the Sheep); Scheme for cards with just one type (it had to be weaker than Scheme somehow, so that Underling wasn't just better than Scheme); and play an Action a 2nd time then trash it (crazy, would you believe).