Secret History of the Intrigue Cards
Note that the text may no longer be a perfectly verbatim quote from DXV, as it inlines later clarifications. Emphasized Text indicates places where additional clarification may be possible now that all the cards are out.
Intrigue has existed in many forms over the years. It came into being as 12 cards in 2006, immediately became 15 cards, got expanded to 20 cards not too long afterwards, stayed at 20 for a long time, although cards paraded through it, got tried at 16 briefly, went back to 20, then made the leap to 25. Originally the set had three sub-themes; one of them (one-shots) gradually left, and another (decision-making cards) got expanded. The other theme (victory cards that do something) stayed as is but got cards to supplement it. Flavor-wise it always had Intrigue as a tentative theme, but it got much more Intrigue-like during development.
From the start, Intrigue was groomed to be the first expansion. To me that meant making it the most true to the main set. If the first expansion was especially exotic, then when only the main set and that expansion were out, half the game would consist of this exotic stuff. If the second expansion is the first exotic one, then it's down to a third of your cards (if you have the first expansion too) (of course it's even less if not all of the second expansion is exotic). That seems more reasonable. The mechanics in the first expansion are things that to me are just a basic part of the game; later expansions may not have as many victory cards that do things or cards that say "choose one," but they'll have those things when they're wanted. The main set didn't have those things in part to keep it simple for new players and in part because you can only fit so much in 25 cards.
Here are some stories about the cards that made it into the box and the cards that didn't.
 Intrigue Cards
Baron: Going into development, the set had 20 kingdom cards. One day Jay said it would be better for him if it had 25. You know, stuff is cheaper at larger volumes. Having 25 kingdom cards was fine by me, so 25 it was. So I had to add five cards.
This is one of them! I looked through the ideas file for stuff that fit the themes, and picked this as a supplement to the victory-cards-that-do-something-else theme.
Bridge: I tried something like this in the murky past for the main set, and decided it was too strong. I had a weaker version that I later tried on Woodcutter (it only made the 2nd copy of a card that you bought in the same turn cheaper), but decided that was too confusing for the main set. A while later I had just stolen a card from Alchemy for the main set, and needed a replacement. This idea sounded like it might not be trouble after all, and in fact it wasn't. I then stole this from that set for this one when I needed another +Buy card.
Bridge makes all cards cheaper, not just ones in the supply. This was to prevent problems in weird situations. I am not sure the kind of thing you'd need to get those problems will ever happen, but I knew that this way of doing it meant I was safe. This also allows some unusual combos to work.
Conspirator: This was the last card added to the set, replacing a horribly broken card.
The broken card had its admirers. Two of Valerie & Dale's playtesters wrote essays defending the card. But the card was often unplayable and then sometimes dominated. So some games it made worse by being a dead card, and some games it made worse by making other cards dead. Now what it did was cool, and it's fun to sometimes get turns where you make 50+ coins, which is how it got defended. It's fun to do something you don't often get to do. But it just didn't make sense to put out such a messed up card. I'll try to fix it up for a later set and well that's why I'm not telling you what it did. There was no time to fix it up when I came to my senses though. So instead it got replaced. With this card. I like it.
Coppersmith: One of the times when I took something out and needed to replace it, I tried specifically to think of a new way to build up your money. This was the result. Double your Coppers! There are several directions to go with Coppersmith, but it's one of the trickier cards in the set. Those Coppersmith decks don't just build themselves.
Courtyard: Almost all of the Dominion cards, from the main set and all of the hypothetical expansions, were designed by me. Which is just the way I like it. This one was not though. In the early days of Dominion, one of my friends printed/cut/sleeved his own copy, and along the way he added like a dozen cards. I played with them and liked a few that I hadn't thought of yet, and well this is one of them. I had previously tried "+1 Action, +2 Cards, put two cards from your hand on top of your deck," but nixed that for causing too much AP. This card does cause a little AP, but is much better.
That friend by the way is Kelly Bailey, and he posts on these boards as cheepicus. Hi cheepicus.
This card started its life in another set as a victory card worth one point per copy of it you had. That just varied way too much. You have to charge enough for it to be fair when you get a lot of them, and then it's horrible when you don't. The fix was to have it count another card. The other card had to be one that was always out, and Duchy was the obvious choice.
Great Hall: One of the oldest cards in the set. Originally it cost 3. One day I realized the Upgrade / Great Hall deck was just too ridiculous, and upped the price of both cards. Later on I realized that Upgrade had been the problem by itself, and returned Great Hall to its original cost. It's interesting how interesting it is for a card that does nothing.
Harem: Another of the oldest cards. Originally there were just some cards. One day I decided, okay, these ones are the main set, these are the first expansion, these are the second expansion. Great Hall / Harem / Nobles date back to then. They could have been in the main set, but they seemed like a cool simple thing to save for the first expansion, and have been there since 2006.
I tried a few different mixes of victory points and coins before settling on two of each as the best version.
My version of Harem had no art - just a big 2 crown 2 coin. I used a crown for the victory point symbol you see. Anyway I liked that way of doing it and it seemed funny that Harem had no art. Just the card you want art for! I fully expected that the card name would get changed during development. Wouldn't someone complain that it was sexist, or un-European, or wait a minute, why does this make money? No-one complained though. Harem, there it is. We didn't specifically ask for cartoony art btw, that's just what came in.
Ironworks: A somewhat late card, although still from prior to development. I designed it specifically to interact with the cards with two types. As it happens it only interacts with one such card in this set. But the card is cool anyway. Kelly was the one who suggested the template used to squeeze the text from this and Tribute onto the cards in a readable fashion.
Masquerade: This card debuted in Prosperity, moved to the 5th set, and finally ended up here. I wanted another interactive card and Dale wanted another card that cost 3. This was both so in it went. The premise of the card is the pass-left ability, and the rest of the card struggles to make that part good enough. You draw two cards first so that you're more likely to have a bad card to pass; you can trash a card afterwards so you can cope with getting passed a bad card. This card can hurt you, but isn't an attack. It would just be too confusing figuring out what Moat did to it if it were an attack.
Mining Village: Originally the first expansion had a one-shot theme. One-shots (cards that say "trash this," like Feast) were one of the most obvious things to do and I did several right away. The problem is, some people just don't like one-shots. Some people just don't like cards with penalties (although I do some here and there anyway, because some people like them fine and there are cool things you can't otherwise do); other people don't like the fact that the card doesn't end up in your deck. You know, you bought Feast, but you aren't playing a Feast deck, you won't even have any Feasts at all in the end. I don't know why, but that just rubs some folks the wrong way. Anyway the one-shot theme gradually eroded. Some went into the outtakes file, a few moved to other sets, some morphed into something without the one-shot part. Feast moved to the main set. The only surviving one-shot in this set is this card, and it isn't even a true one-shot, since trashing it is optional.
For much of its life, the abilities on Mining Village were flipped. It was "+2 coins; you may trash this for +1 card +2 actions." When I added Conspirator, I thought they were too similar, and so changed Mining Village to what it is now. Everyone liked the new one better and so much for that.
Minion: The original version of this was a "choose one" card with three messy abilities. It was too messy and also too narrow, and so left. Later on I was looking for an attack to replace another attack that hadn't worked out, and thought of this. Originally the "discard, draw 4" ability only worked on yourself, but it seemed like it would make a cute attack if it hit everybody. The problem was that it was still too narrow - you would not always have a combo that made that exciting enough. The solution, proposed by Chris West, was to have the card be a combo with itself. You can play a couple copies for + , and then play one to get a fresh hand. For simplicity there is no 3rd ability.
During development I had some games where it was clear that this card was too annoying. The "discard, draw 4" ability had no "5 or more cards" clause. So you would sometimes draw your whole deck... and also make everyone else draw their whole deck. So you'd make everyone else shuffle on each of your turns. As an attack it gets no worse if it just hits everyone else once, and it's way less annoying. We tested both and went with the less annoying version.
Nobles: One of the oldest cards in the set. Originally it was "+2 actions or +2 cards." It just didn't get any love when Harem was out. I tried "+3 actions or +3 cards" and it stayed like that for a long time. It was clearly too good though - now Harem was getting left out. You can see how it ended up. +3 Actions seems worth putting on a card someday, but it's much more interesting on a card that you buy specifically to get lots of Actions, rather than on a card that's just gravy eight ways from Sunday.
Pawn: A very early card that never changed (except the name - it was originally called Spare Room). It was considered for the main set for a while, but left because it slowed down new players too much. You play Pawn, stare at the card for forever, trying to make sure you've considered all of the possibilities, then finally pick +1 card +1 action. The card you draw is another Pawn and somehow you have to reconsider everything. It's one of my personal favorites, but really had to wait for an expansion, so that most players will have played a bunch already.
Saboteur: This is one end result in the quest for a working version of "each other player trashes the top card of their deck." That concept, as I have previously mentioned, has three problems: 1) it's often weak, trashing Coppers and Estates; 2) it's too random, sometimes trashing one player's Copper and another's Province; 3) it can lead to a weird game state in which everyone only has 5 cards left and can't get anywhere, which is cool if it just happens once ever, but bad if it happens every time a particular card is on the table.
Saboteur solves all of those problems. It can't hit Coppers or Estates; it has a much more even effect on your opponents; and the weird game state is much harder to achieve. And all it took was lots of tiny text!
Scout: One of the cards added when going to 25 cards. It was another previously untried idea from the files. I picked it out as it interacted with the victory-cards-that-do-something. It does a few other tricks too.
Secret Chamber: The set had a reaction early on, but had lost it by the time development started. Dale wanted another reaction, and the set had space, due to going up to 25 cards. I didn't want to just stop attacks flat-out again, so this card instead does something odd that's useful against lots of attacks. You'll have to consider the individual cases for yourself, but really, it does show a lot of attacks what for. The non-reaction part had been a card in the main set in the murky past, which had left due to being too weak. It seemed good enough here with the reaction tacked onto it, and cute because it helps vs. Curses, which the reaction part doesn't. As with the similar nixed card described in the Courtyard entry, this can cause some AP, but it's not as bad because the attack gives you some direction and it isn't your turn.
Shanty Town: I took this from the ruins of Prophecy. Prophecy didn't have a strong mechanical theme to make me leave its cards alone. It had a theme, but you know, just not the kind of thing that meant there was a pile of cards that had to wait in order to do the theme all at once. Plus it had a lot of good cards and well there were earlier expansions that wanted them. So it lost card after card, until eventually it dissolved completely; the theme itself was taken as a sub-theme for another expansion. This particular card made it here because I wanted another Village and this was a cool one.
Steward: The first version of this gave you a choice between +2 Actions/Buys/Cards/coins. It wasn't interesting enough, so I traded in the Actions and Buys for trashing two cards.
I changed a few card names late in the process, to synch things up better with the Intrigue theme, and confuse the playtesters. This card had been named Butler. As it happens, a medieval butler was a wine guy. A steward was the guy who ran your castle. Anyway when the art came in for Steward, it showed a guy with some serving dishes. Like a steward on an airplane. Also Pawn came in showing someone being forced to sign something. As you can see, we got replacement art. As of Seaside we are providing notes on what the card names mean for the artists. These aren't always just your everyday words here.
Swindler: A cursing attack that cost didn't make the grade, and I needed a replacement. This card from the 4th set fit the bill. Originally it was "Each other player trashes the top card of their deck and gains a card costing 2 less that you choose." Hitting Copper all the time made it very weak. I changed it to "a card with the same cost" and that made it a lot better - now Coppers turn into Curses. That's the version that got added to Intrigue, and it was tested a bit like that but was still pretty weak. I made it good enough by adding the +2 coins. The attack part is nice but needs that much help.
Torturer: One of the cards added when going up to 25. I had a "decisions" theme, and wanted a card that gave your opponents a decision. This is a pretty basic implementation of that concept. The set had had another such card in Envoy, but that left for being too redundant with Smithy. This card also gives you +3 Cards like Smithy, but adds something to the game in a way that Envoy didn't.
I am avoiding giving strategy advice in general, but I am going to have to give some here. I had a game in which one of my friends stood up, enraged, and went into the other room to calm down. This card was the reason. Don't let it happen to you! The secret to happiness is, do not simply refuse to take a Curse no matter what. Sometimes, you have to take that Curse. Discarding five cards and passing is not the path to greatness. You've been warned!
Trading Post: This was originally in the main set, from way back when. When the main set went from 25 cards down to 20 cards, I cut this as being somewhat redundant with Mine. When we went back up to 25, I didn't add this back in; I wanted more variety. It does not seem nearly as redundant here. It's not the Smithy / Envoy problem; Trading Post and Mine are plenty different, they're just both ways to improve your money. It's more of a Smithy / Library / Council Room deal. But you know there was only so much space in the main set.
This card started out as "trash a card from your hand; gain another card with the same cost." That's incredibly weak, which was immediately obvious. After a few quick iterations I ended up with Trading Post as it exists today.
Tribute: I took this from Dark Ages, as a natural fit here due to the cards with two types. The original version had each adjacent player reveal their top card. I changed that to one player so it would work in 2-player games, and then changed it to discard when Thief changed to discard. Once it changed to discarding it could have gone back to hitting adjacent players and would have worked in 2-player games. I kept this version though, because it seemed a little more interesting, and because the player to your left is more likely to not be shuffling. Also the original didn't say "differently named," but that was essential to keep the card from being too strong early in a game.
Upgrade: A very old card. I explained how it once cost 4 in the entry for Great Hall. The "exactly" part actually makes the card better, as it lets you trash Curse and Copper without gaining anything.
Wishing Well: Taken from the original 3rd set. I don't remember why I moved this here, but I do like it here.
 Intrigue Outtakes
Any card that didn't make the set may still make a later set in a fixed-up form, depending on how many expansions actually come out and stuff. So I don't want to just tell you what all of the outtakes were. Probably I can tell you a bit about them though.
- Two cards went into the main set: Feast and Chancellor. In general you probably can't tell anything from the names of transplanted cards, which may have been changed anyway; but in this case they weren't and you can: feasting and chancellors fit right into this set.
- Envoy left the set and then became a promo. I am kind of embarrassed by it - it left this set because it didn't add enough to the game, and then it became a promo and well that's still an issue, right? It does at least have the merit there of not making people feel as much like they have to have it. But the thing is, we found out we needed the promo the same day it was needed. There was no time to test a new card, and Envoy was one of a small number of cards that had actually had some external playtesting (other than the cards in the set, which I didn't want to give up). And I do like the card; it totally could have made a later expansion, providing some card-drawing for that expansion and a new experience, if not new decks. They can't all be Gardens. It's just sad to have this early on because each card matters more now; with just the main set you only have 25 cards and this one does not carve out much new territory. Anyway I suggested it for the promo and it escaped to promo-land and so much for that. Over time it will matter less that it doesn't add so much.
- There was that broken card that Conspirator replaced. W. Eric Martin is the one who reported a friend of his getting over 50 coins in a turn with this. Well if I make a fixed-up version I will tell you all about it then.
- There was that reaction card that didn't make it. It tied into the one-shot theme and just wasn't useful enough without it.
- There was the attack that Swindler replaced. I tried three different versions of it, all one-shots, and well people don't like one-shots. It was considered for the promo but just hadn't had any fans.
- There was another one-shot attack. There was a one-shot card-drawer that moved to a later set. There was another card that was sometimes a one-shot. There was an exotic one-shot that became a non-one-shot and moved to a later set.
- There was a vanilla card. These are cards that just have some mix of +'s. I think they're worth doing at the rate of like one per expansion or so. They're really uninteresting to hear about but can still fill some important function in the set. There are six in the main set (Village Woodcutter Smithy Festival Laboratory Market) and people do like most of them. But they're not too exciting in expansions. Anyway there was one and it didn't stick around and that's why. The set already had Great Hall and Harem and that was plenty of vanilla. It could still show up later, if I ever need exactly what it offers.
- There was an attack that could steal any type of card, not just treasures. I had a version that I thought was fair, but it slowed the game down way too much. That concept could still come back someday.
- There was a 2-coin "choose one" card with three weak and complex abilities. Not a crowd-pleaser.
- There was a card in the Gardens family that was worth 1 VP per 4 cards in your deck costing up to 2, other than Curse and Confusion (a Curse-like card that just did nothing). Gardens is a better version of that concept; limiting it to cheap cards doesn't change much, since cheap cards are what you can most readily buy with Gardens. I mean it's different but not interestingly so. And counting Curses is better than not counting them. This card predated Gardens, which was originally designed for a later set.
- There were a couple different cards that had "trash the top card of your deck" as a penalty. Talk about crowd-pleasing.
- There was another attack that trashed cards; Saboteur replaced it. Prior to development of the main set, there were a bunch of cards in different expansions that were variations on "trash the top card of each other player's deck." Once it became apparent that that concept was flawed, all of those cards needed reworking, and some just died.
- There were two other cards that let you discard stuff for an effect, both of which could make it somewhere eventually in some form.
- There were two Workshop variants (at different times) that weren't interesting enough. Ironworks has that slot now.
And that's that.