Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dominion Defies Decryption

Fiendish Forces At Work And Play!

This is not a good thing! So with that in mind I will preface this post by saying that reading on may spoil your enjoyment of Dominion. If you want to live in blissful ignorance, stop reading now. If you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, read on.

I mentioned in a recent post of my plans to created a home brewed deck-construction game based loosely upon Dominion but, with a Dungeon Keeper theme.

Initially I planned to simply "re-skin" a few Dominion cards that seemed to fit the theme of their Dungeon Keeper counterparts (for example I would have used the Torturer as the Mistress) to see how the idea would actually look on the table and play out within the limitations of the theme.

Before taking the plunge however, I figured that I would have a little dig into the mechanics behind Dominion to see what made it tick and, to give me some idea of the thought processes of the designer. You might say that I was planning to go method on this one.

That's when the problems began.

I was working from the assumption that if I looked deep enough, there would be some underlying mathematical relation between the cost of a card and the effects that it brings into play.

There isn't! At least not one that I could find.

There are patterns that can be found amongst certain groups of card that would lead you to think there is but, this soon falls through when you try to apply those constants to the make-up of another card.

As an example, I compared the Bazaar, the Market and, the Festival to try and find some relation between card costs, compared to the effects of the card. They were perfectly suited to the task as all three had a cost of 5 to bring into your deck and, between them, they shared all the major values that I needed and wanted to work out (Actions, Buys, Cards and, Coinage).

Through an algebraic process of elimination I was able to determine that when costing a card, Actions, Buys and Coinage shared a common value that I labeled 1, while a Card would cost you twice as much.

So, A=B=2C=$, where A=Actions, B=Buys, C=Cards and, $=Coinage.

This was at least true of these three cards but as soon as I tried to apply these rules to other cards such as Village, Laboratory and, Smithy, it soon fell through. So, as the rule couldn't be applied to any card it was no good at all.

Carrying on with my experimentation I have not been able to find any formula to tie it all up, which leads me to believe that there very well may not be one. This is both good news and bad news, with a sprinkling of interesting.

The good news, from my point of view at least is that I can completely scrap Dominion as a model for my project. I can take away the ideas sure but, I have no interest in designing a game that is unbalanced... Which brings me nicely on to the bad news.

I had thought Dominion to be a relatively well designed game but, now looking over my results and some of the more glaring mistakes that I had previously not given any thought to, I have to accept that this is not the case and, well, it's kinda ruined the game for me. Not in the sense that I will never play it again but, more that when I do, I won't feel like I am playing a fair game and fairness is very important to me at the gaming table. This lack of fairness though is to say the least a little intriguing.

Knowing what I know, I will now not only be able to build a better game myself but also some more interesting preset combinations for Dominion itself. I can search through the cards, find the cards that are balanced and put them together!

So, inversely as much as I have ruined my game, I have also taken it up a notch! You gotta love maths!!

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