There are 12 (2 copies each of , , , and ; 1 copy each of the rest), 5 copies of each half of each split pile (pairs of cards separated by a slash), and 10 copies each of the rest.
The English releases use metal tokens; some foreign releases provide cardboard tokens instead.
Like the increasingly complex sets that came before it, Empires broke new ground in terms of card effects and properties, such as a few new costs (including a and a ), a Duration that stays out for three turns, a card that returns you to your Action phase from your Buy phase, a handsize attack that makes you discard down to 2 cards in hand, an Attack that changes how your opponents' cards work, a way to prevent yourself from being able to buy anything for the rest of the game, a way to bid, sources of negative other than , and the first Action-Treasure in the game.
The Debt mechanic allows players to buy certain cards and Events earlier than usual, while spreading the cost across future turns. This can shake up openings, though most of the Debt cards are not particularly useful early in the game. They are, however, almost all quite powerful in the mid- to late-game, and players ignore them at their peril.
While the idea of more than one different card in a pile is not new, having been used in Dark Ages, the Knights and Ruins piles were each essentially variations on a single theme. Split piles, with two completely different cards in a pile, adds a new dynamic to the game. Having only 5 copies of a potentially key card adds competition, particularly in games with more than 2 players, and having to get through half the pile before being able to access the typically more powerful bottom cards also livens things up.
Where Adventures added Events, buyable effects not tied to cards in your deck, Empires adds Landmarks, allowing new scoring rules to be added to the game. While some can be innocuous, simply adding a few here and there, others, in particular the penalizing Landmarks, can drastically affect gameplay, and how players choose to go about their strategies.
However, Empires also has a couple Landmarks that actively penalize Big Money strategies:
Donald X. stated a couple weeks before release that Empires has a Roman flavor in terms of theme. It was the first set to be released in the second edition layout style.
There are currently no plans to release Empires in French, despite there being French translations for every previous set.
A couple days before the teaser (which itself would come a couple days before actual previews), Donald X. dropped some news on changes in layout of cards.
One evening on a vacation, I paced around, the only one awake, thinking about what the future could possibly hold for Dominion. Was there anything great left to do? I jotted down some notes, then typed it all up when I got home.
Of the stuff I came up with, a few things went together, to make a kind of Prosperity sequel. It would have more tokens, those seemed like they had a lot more life in them than just those 3 Prosperity cards. Some "bonus" cards of some sort would award at the end of the game, like Kingdom Builder scoring methods. There would be giant expensive cards that you could pay for later. There would be cards that effectively didn't cost a Buy to buy. Special treasures could be a focus again. And there were three or so other ideas that did not actually make it. I like to tell the whole story, but who knows, I might need that stuff someday. Anyway you can only fit so much stuff in an expansion.
Initially the big thing I wanted out of tokens was, cards you trash for based on the game state. So, they would count things that conventional Victory cards can't, like how many Actions you managed to get into play at once. So I tried several of those and well in the end there's Emporium (which just checks a threshold) and Triumph (an Event). The original concepts didn't work out, but there are a zillion ways to make in this set so it was not much of a loss. A key thing was to try to avoid "golden decks" - where you just make points every turn without pushing the game towards ending. So most of the token stuff is tied to gaining cards, or trashing cards, or will run out some other way.
I didn't try the "bonus" cards for a while. When I finally got to them, they initially didn't matter enough, but it was easy to make them matter more and that all worked out. I made more and more of them and in the end there are 21. It could have been 20 Landmarks, 12 Events, 2 blanks, but I had the extra cards so in they went.
I had Debt from the start (and it had been in the ideas file for years). The first version though was a word on cards, "Debt," that meant you didn't need the cost. With Debt a significant concern was that you could just buy the card turn one, and if that was good it seemed like the game could be too scripted. So the big Debt cards always tried to not be good turn one, although it took a while to really get there. Originally the cards could all be bought with , and in the end some have costs too.
to buy the card, but went into Debt. The Debt tokens worked the same way as they do now. One day I thought of using a symbol, and the cards changed to things like "When you gain this during your turn, take [red coin with a 10 on it]." They were like that for a while, before finally I put the symbol into the
And cards that gave you +1 Buy when bought, I made a couple and then it seemed like, that was plenty.
One day Jeff Boschen complained that one of the Debt cards (an earlier version of City Quarter) was dominating games, that in particular you could always get all the copies you needed, even in a 2-player game. And I thought, hmmm, I could have piles that were only 5 cards. And then from there went immediately to, wait, 5 cards, then 5 of another card. And I tried some cards like that and it seemed pretty cool. You get to tie together the cards somehow. A big issue was making sure you would get through the top 5 often enough; not necessarily every game, but you know, not as some rare thing. So three are cheap cantrips, and Gladiator eats its own pile for you.
I had no plans to have any Duration cards in this set, then somehow tried one, and then a couple more. The original one didn't make it but there are two Duration cards. The objection all these years was the amount of rulebook space Duration cards took in Seaside, but in Adventures that rulebook space was small enough to not seem so bad to repeat.
Dominion is a medieval game; ancient Rome is not medieval. I remained wishy-washy on that issue, not quite wanting to go full-on ancient Rome. In the end the set is called Empires and has a bunch of Roman things. Roman empires were around for a while in various forms, extending into medieval times, so there.
Late in the going, Scott Colcord took it upon himself to get all of the recommended sets played. The recommended sets don't always get much attention and well these ones did make it to a table or two.
Empires started out as a kind of Prosperity sequel. And ended up as one; it has super-spendy cards (though you can pay for them later), more Treasures than other non-Prosperity sets, tokens, even a Treasure that makes and an Event that gets you 15 . One of Prosperity's less-obvious themes is player interaction; it ups the non-attack interaction to cope with having fewer attacks (which in turn was to make sure was reachable in enough games). Empires has that too. There are again only three attacks, but the 3 Gathering cards are all interactive, plus Chariot Race and Gladiator, plus Castles in that way piles can be; the split piles cause more competition for cards; and then some of the Events are interactive and many Landmarks are, and those don't even take up space in the usual 10 Kingdom cards.
I used every good Event idea that I had in Adventures. Still, why not try to make more? tokens helped a lot, and I ended up with 13 new Events.
Originally the Landmarks were all "when scoring" except it took a while for me to add the actual words "when scoring" to them. The first "6 VP per player" cards started with 12 VP, and I tried a few at "4 VP per player."
This time around I'm putting the outtakes in list form instead of paragraph form. I'm skipping some stuff mentioned above, and a few things that seem like I could maybe fix them up if I have to make more cards someday.
Regular card outtakes:
- The first card in the file is a variant that gives you +1 VP if the s have run out. That sounded nifty enough that it hung around for most of testing, though later versions triggered on buying a card. If you somehow got +1 Buy and then played it and bought two things, yeeha. Eventually the trigger started to seem bad, and then the whole card fell apart. And I replaced it with , hooray, a happy ending.
- , you may trash this for +1 per 2 Actions in play;
- and +2 Cards, you may trash this for +1 per 2 cards in your hand. I liked the idea of cards you cashed in for , but well, you would generally like to hold onto the card until the last minute, and we've already had that experience with . They seemed like a good direction and then I fiddled with them and then they died.
- Right and a third one, a treasure worth . That one you cashed in of course, since you didn't want the big . There were a
couple versions; they were dominating and didn't seem worth pursuing.
, may trash it to pay any amount of for +
- I tried several cards that cost a lot but let you go into
, that tried to look impressive and in the end were too impressive. First up, a new extra-turn card. I also had double your in Fortune, and I felt like, double your , with +1 Buy, was like an extra turn but way way faster to resolve.
- One of the most significant outtakes was a treasure that gave +1 Buy and produced , but gives you the up front to divide how you want, instead of assigning per purchase. It turns out that's strong. For a long time the card seemed on the edge of acceptable; gradually I got sick of it. I put it in the slot and then killed it.
per Buy you had. So by default it made and a Buy. But with other sources of +Buys it made more . You could just play multiple copies of it and build up. If you think about it, it's like
- There was a Witch that gave everyone else a and +1 . It seemed cute; it's like giving them a , but they end up ahead a if they trash the . So do you still even want to give them these s? Yes, you still do, but not as much as usual. I still like the idea but well it wasn't popular. Tower can give you that "s are just blank" feeling.
- A -like attack trashed from the Supply if it missed. I decided was enough of that. Yes and .
- A couple attacks played around with playing cards you bought that turn; then I had a village that let you play a card from your hand when you gained it, and then I figured out how to do .
- I tried a Reaction that gave you +VP when attacked. Man. You load up on them and then hope they attack you. Even at once per round I wasn't happy with it.
- I tried giving other players VP as a penalty. It's not pretty-looking but was around for a while.
- +1 Action, get the s and another card from the top 4. Also you got +1 per in play when you gained it (then, +1 per 2 s, then no ). The top was crazy. I thought the bottom would survive somewhere in some form but it did not.
- Here's a variant, discard N cards to play the treasures from your top N cards. I have a very vague memory of trying this.
- There was a card that made each card you bought come with a . For a while I thought there would be a sub-theme of cards doing things when you bought other cards. Also I thought there would be a sub-theme of making more exciting.
- Treasure, name a card, worth ; if you name it's a treasure, but you can name something else instead. It looked classic and got a lot of chances.
per copy of it you have in play (cost ). A super-
- Treasure version of , with . A dud.
- A cantrip super- (up to + ) that had you take equal to the amount you 'd up. and s are a poor combination, but I tried it multiple
- 3 times, with a cost. Then, trash a treasure to gain a treasure to hand - the same if you went to , but usually weaker. It thought it had a shot, and spent some time in split piles.
- 3 times, with a cost. Debt? That's okay, I'm not going to be buying any more cards.
- In the same vein as , I tried a . You draw N cards then discard N, N being the number of tokens on the pile. And could optionally trash it to take the VP. made the concept work.
- There were a bunch of treasures I tried briefly for split pile slots. A treasure version of . A treasure that gained you a copy of a treasure in play. A treasure that played the s from your 3 top cards. A treasure that made cards the previous player had gained cheaper. A treasure (worth ) you could put on your deck ala . A treasure worth per other differently named treasure you had in play. A treasure that let you trash a card when gaining or trashing it. A treasure you cashed in for two 's when you played it (that one goes back to Prosperity). A double - and 4 for . You know it wouldn't have been embarrassing, but when its pile died I didn't miss it.
- There was a bigger with cost - +3 Cards this turn and next.
- Here's a where you just need to get the type right, not the card name. Man I don't remember trying this. And next to it a version that could get 2 cards if they both matched.
- There were cards called Barbarian, don't think there weren't. Here's one where they name a card, then trash their top card if it costs
+ and isn't what they named. Then immediately a version where they revealed two cards; revealing one has worked on a few attacks but tends to be too random. My memory is this attack just never hits.
- I tried another permanent duration; +
each turn with the first Action card you play, with a cost. It was in the running for a big debt slot, it seemed potentially balanceable but was not as fun as the competition.
- I tried a few things in the slot, maybe not all in the file, but here's a 2-card .
- Each other player reveals 2 cards from their hand, trashes one you choose, gains a replacement to their hand with the same cost, also your choice. Attacks are hard.
- Ah yes, so many cards tried out for 's slot. Here's an with on-use that tried to dodge /Debt issues by doing something different if you had any . A + that had you draw 2 cards when you gained or trashed it; I still like the idea of a that does something when gained/trashed. A + Remodel that, when trashed, gave you a . Yowza. Another one of these, gaining you a copy of a card in play with some limits to try not to go nuts. Another one with different limits, man. Okay here are 3 that involve putting on the pile. One is just a that accumulates you can trash it to get; one counts down, it's reset to 5 when a copy is gained, and when played gains a card for the number of on the pile and then gives you a from the pile, that was fun to try; and a that adds or takes based on how much the card you gained cost. Finally, the one that held the slot for the longest out of these, a that turns into if a pile is empty. That seemed okay and like I could live with it if I couldn't do better, but I like better.
- 1 per card costing wasn't very interesting;
- ditto 1 per card costing +.
- 2 per Attack seemed okay for a while but didn't survive. I then tried 2 per card with 2+ types. It feels like covers "this random pile is worth points."
- 10 if you have at least 3 s; not the best way to use s.
- 5 if the game ended on your turn; that looks interesting but isn't really and could cause a stalemate.
- -1 per -2 per ; what is there to say.
- If the s are empty, 2 per ; that's a classic thing that didn't work out in Victory card form or here either.
- In a similar vein, 1 per empty Supply pile per you have.
- When "1 per " didn't work out I tried "take 2 from here when you gain ."
- There's one that gave you 2 for shuffling; it just doesn't make a difference.
- One gave +1 for starting your Buy phase with 6+ cards in hand.
- I tried a few versions of "At the start of your turn, you may gain a , to take 2 from here." It's kind of interesting, but some players just always take the , and sometimes you
forget to take the and are unhappy. I tried it with ; I tried it triggering on buying Treasures.
- When any player buys a Victory card, each player may discard a Victory card for +1 . Random and not so meaningful.
- When you buy a Victory card, reveal hand for +1 per Victory card. s everywhere.
- -1 per copy you have after the first of each card. Then, -1 per copy after the 2nd. Then non-Victory cards only. The card to do was but I wasn't there yet.
- Reveal a hand of no duplicates at turn start to take 2 . Very easy to forget.
- At start of buy phase, if more Actions in play than VP tokens, +2 . You want more and more Actions. Not bad, except wait, it's no good in a game with any other way to make tokens, and I was making a whole expansion of those.
- Pick your next hand. It turns out that's pretty good and also repetitive.
- A couple versions of, your top card.
- ! It always was hoping to be a promo but was in the set for a bit.
- A variant. It's tricky to make it useful and not automatic.
- A -in-advance. It's tricky to make it useful and not stop people from buying attacks.
- Various versions of, the player to your left gains an and you get +3 . I couldn't give everyone an and didn't want anything political.
- A few versions of a hot potato - you pay to give it to the player to your left, and it punishes whoever has it (the Event, sitting in front of them). Again politics was an issue, but also it just wasn't creating good
- A few variants that were too hard to get value out of.
- A few versions of, trash a card, get if the trash didn't have it yet (phrased to not be tricks).
- It seemed like I could do "make anything a /" and it would be reasonable. Pay , gain a card costing up to , get +2 . I could make it be worth doing, but
entertainment-wise it was a dud.
- I tried giving an ability. It had to be a buy phase ability but that was fine; I tried +1 Buy + (but +2 Buys because you bought the Event). Discard a , get that stuff, cost
. It sounded interesting and was supposed to make me consider getting a for the +Buy. It did sometimes, but didn't add enough to make the grade.
- Trying to make other giant Events like and , I briefly tried "gain all Actions from a pile" and "gain the trash."