Every time a new Dominion set is scheduled to be released, Donald X. , the creator of Dominion has a previews week where he shows off some of the new cards and new mechanics of the set. This week is the previews week for Dominion: Nocturne. Each day I’m going to try to post my reactions to and thoughts about the new cards, if for nothing else, so I can look back and laugh in a couple years.
Today’s previews are a doozy. The focus is on boons, a new mechanic. Boons are a non-supply pile of landscape cards that are in a randomized order and face-down. Certain cards will tell you to take and receive a Boon from its pile. We don’t have complete clarification on this yet, but it seems like taking a Boon is flipping up the top Boon in the pile and putting it in front of you. A Boon does not have to be received immediately (receiving the Boon gives you its effect) — some cards have you wait until a later time before receiving it. Presumably after you receive it, the Boon goes to a Boon discard pile that is shuffled when additional Boons are required. So to start off, here are the Boons, first those that Donald previewed and then the remaining Boons.
So all of these bonuses are good, and the power level of each is roughly similar. Which one is best will strongly depend on the board. Some of these say “Keep this until Clean-up” — I would guess that these are too strong if you get them multiple times per turn, so this prevents a turn from being too swingy (except for The River’s Gift, which seems to be for tracking issues). Most of them are also mandatory, so for example, you could get The Wind’s Gift right after stacking the top of your deck for your Vassals to hit. The Swamp’s Gift refers to Will-o’-Wisp, which is a new non-kingdom card that should play like a Wishing Well or an improved Vagrant:
I’m sure the big thing that most people will complain about with Boons is the potential for swinginess. There is definitely a certain subset of Dominion players who dislike any card that isn’t completely symmetric for the different players, such as Black Market, Knights, or Tournament. Now if I just happen to keep getting The Flame’s Gift in a game with no trashing, that’s a big benefit for me, but it’s also pretty unlikely. It seems possible to design these asymmetric cards in such a way that swinginess is largely mitigated. For example, by changing Black Market to use a 60-card deck in Dominion Online, the majority of the unbalanced outcomes disappeared. It is now almost never the case that the black market contains only a single village, or a single trasher, or a single curser. Both players can eventually find what they need. I expect Boons will play similarly. The Boon deck is too large to plan your strategy around a single Boon, but it’s small enough that whatever the most important Boon on a particular board is, it will often show up more than once.
So how do you build a deck that uses Boons? Most of them will be decent on any given board, but you can’t rely on being able to get whatever the best Boon is. With the Fate cards that we’ve seen (or will be below), Druid seems like the only one that you can plan a strategy around. If reliability is important for your deck (as it is for almost any engine), the Boons can never be more than a nice bonus. Think about it like this: you wouldn’t choose to work at a company simply because they give out lottery scratch-offs near Christmas, but if you already have another good reason to work there, you might as well scratch the tickets and see what you get.
Now money decks might be a different story. In a money deck, you’re already relying on luck somewhat to hit your price points each turn. The additional uncertainty from the Fate cards won’t necessarily break what you’re doing, and almost all of them are likely to help Big Money.
The first Fate card is Blessed Village. It’s hard to see this playing any differently than a regular Village that costs $4. It gives you a random benefit when you buy it, but the benefit is small and unpredictable. The only time I can imagine the Boon part changing your decision on whether or not to buy it is if you’ve been tracking the Boon deck and know that the next Boon is likely to be especially good/bad.
The second Fate card is Idol. This card seems a lot more interesting. If you’re only getting two coins and the Boon, that’s okay, but not very strong. A non-terminal curser for $5 that also gives economy — that’s really good. This card should play a lot different than most other cursers. You generally want to get a curser as earlier as possible, because early Curses have an outsized impact on a deck’s tempo. It won’t really be until the midgame that Idol starts giving curses with any sort of reliability. And by the midgame, it’s a lot easier to deal with Curses. A number of the Boons are also not as useful in the buy phase, so the Boons will be less beneficial for Idol than for the average Fate card. Because of the difficulty in cursing early, I expect Idol will end up as a lower tier curser, but a low-to-mid-tier card overall.
Crown should combo nicely with Idol, since you can double the second Idol, having an even number of Idols in play both times. Venture should also combo nicely with Idol. And Idol really misses Adventurer following the release of the second editions.
Druid will be a different card every game. Depending on your semantics, this is the either the first or the second card in Dominion (after Black Market) that gives different effects from game to game. Temporum: Alternate Realities actually had a few cards that are similar to this (Robotic Utopia and Underground Haven), but in practice I expect Druid will probably play similarly to other “choose one” cards. There will be one option that you usually get, one option that you sometimes get, and one that you almost never get. The +Buy alone should see Druid getting some use in engines, and at least one of the Boons will probably be useful to an engine as well. In money-ish games, Druid will probably be pretty weak.
Finally we have Fool. Fool is so different from anything else we have in Dominion that all I really have are wild speculations. To start off Fool does nothing if you have Lost in the Woods, so it already seems really strong to just allow your opponent to be the only player to buy a Fool and give them a dead card by doing so. Now how strong is Lost in the Woods? You have to discard a card to power it, but it’s not mandatory. In most hands, it would probably be worth doing (especially if you’re lost with your Faithful Hound), but it’s not that strong, definitely not strong enough to cause me to buy a Fool. And how strong are the three Boons from playing Fool? Most combinations of Boons on a card would probably cost between $5 and $8, so it’s decent, but it’s hard to see Fool as ever being worth it. If both players go for Fools, it’s great, but I think the Nash equilibrium should settle on neither player getting one. For some reason, I have this feeling that there will be a kingdom at Elestan’s tournament where Lost in the Woods is the only way to enable Diplomat.
Lucky Coin, at least, I feel like I can say something intelligent about. The Silver gaining will be really good early in almost any deck, but will become annoying as you start trying get an engine to draw itself. I expect Lucky Coin will actually push you toward building money-based strategies when the potential engine is not as strong. Like Cursed Gold, you’ll want to look out for trash-for-benefit with Lucky Coin, since it has a cost of $4.
There should still be a number of Fate cards we haven’t seen yet. I am hoping that there will be a card like “+1 Card, +1 Action, Receive a Boon,” which should be useful in a lot of decks. Maybe another card that gives Boons when trashed? Who knows? But I’m excited to find out.