Good news: Dominion Dark Ages is a lot of fun.
The design is excellent. My first impression was that Donald X. Vaccarino created Dark Ages set with a mechanic first – printing a lot of “When you trash this card” abilities – realized that theme worked well with a “Dark Ages” concept, created a list of cards that would work well in The Dark Ages, and designed excellent top down Dominion cards around that. It sure does look like the expansion formed itself from nothingness with a few strokes of genius. Reality, though, is not that simple.
In “The Secret History of the Dark Ages”, Mr. Vaccarino mentions that many ideas in the expansion were warped from early Dominion design. Vaccarino had a good understanding that Dominion would have a long shelf life, and planned multiple expansions from the start. Dark Ages wasn’t a great idea that came together with ease; it was an idea for an expansion by the name of “War” which was slated to come out much earlier. But “War” was shelved because it’s original theme, tons of attack cards, proved too overbearing.
Over the years, “War” dispersed cards into other sets, and absorbed loose cards until it gelled into Dark Ages. Seen from this angle, with many mechanics in Dark Ages pushing on five years old, it’s a piece of amazing that the expansion can feel fresh and modern. There’s also a certain inevitability, too, that Dark Ages would have this effect, since each expansion taught Dominion’s design and playtest what clicked in their game, and what squawked. Dark Ages encapsulates the feeling of experimentation that Dominion provided on release four years ago without trailing into embarrassing mechanics that look more fun than they play. There are attack options, but nothing as egregious as the ‘feel bad for having played it’ card ‘Saboteur’. There’s some goofiness, but nothing as infuriating as watching a player take fifteen minutes to resolve all of their ‘Possession’ cards. And while I haven’t played Dark Ages enough to know there aren’t any broken cards in it, at least nothing jumped out at me like Shanty Town did in Intrigue (Though, the value of Shanty Town in Intrigue may have more to do with a low number of cards that provide +2 actions. A lot of cards in Dark Ages seem to grant plenty enough actions. Again, this is first impression stuff. I could be wrong).
What’s really nice about Dark Ages is how it handles many themes, while providing interesting toys to play with. Here’s a quick rundown of some individual features: Read more…