I recently sold my Dominion collection to make way for something new (as yet unidentified — I like Dominion very much, but I rarely got the chance to use that specific set).
The question: can we build an interesting 2-3 player deck-building card game using the 45-card Decktet? I hope so! As I wrote this, I ended up feeling like it’s a bit seven wonders, too. Go figure.
The Decktet is much tighter than a standard Dominion game’s cards — 45 cards against dominion’s starting 100 kingdom + 36 victory + 130 coins, a few curses, whatever else. A fifth of the cards, more or less. So we gotta be tight.
Dominion’s mechanism is that you trade velocity for position — building an engine which can slide into the finish line as your deck slowly cripples itself with useless victory points. This one will be based on being able to decide the locations to which cards will go, choosing between the ability to dictate the fates of each card versus actual holding positions for each card.
Start with the deck: separate the pawns, courts and the Excuse. Shuffle and deal each player 3 cards; omit the Excuse if two players. Discard any remainder to the box; they won’t be used.
(The Excuse is read as a one-symbol wildcard during play, and aids scoring).
Make a deck of the two-suited 2-5 (Stage I) and 6-9 (Stage II) cards, and the single-suited aces and crowns (Stage III).
Order of Play
Each stage is a standalone shared deck from which the active player will reveal three cards (“The Market”) and select one to bid upon (“The Prize”). A round of bidding will ensue to the left; the ultimate winner takes The Prize to their personal discards and discards the remaining Market to the shared discard. If there is no winner, the entire Market is discarded. The winner then passes play to the left.
After Stage III is played, there is a final stage where the whole of the Market’s discards are shuffled and comprise a final Stage IV deck, which, when unable to deal a Market of 3 cards, ends the game immediately.
After each Stage, all players discard their hand and draw a new one of 3 cards from their personal deck (which begins with 0 cards), as well as whenever they pass. Recreate a personal deck as needed by shuffling personal discards.
A bid is played against the Treasure, and whatever Standing Bid is currently winning. Cards played to bid remain in front of their owner until the Treasure is taken, at which point they move to their owner’s personal Discard pile.
A card is read as having each symbol appearing on it (the types are called “a suit”, even though that includes the rank; the count of how many are present called “pips”) separately; The Sun/Moon/9 has 3 pips of 3 suits, “Sun”, “Moon” and “9” (and, as noted above, The Excuse is a one-pip wildcard of any suit, so could be any of those values or others besides). Aces and crowns are read as having 1 pip of the indicated suit (no suit for rank).
The Treasure sets which suits are trump; S/M/9 would make those 3 suits trump, while the Ace of Waves would set only Waves trump. A bid must have at least 3 pips of any suit, and at least as many pips as any currently winning bid (regardless of suit). A bid must also equal or exceed the number of pips of any of the trump suits in any preceding bid. Otherwise, the last-played tying bid is currently winning, and will resolve when the turn returns to its bidder with all other players having passed, at which point it resolves as per the turn order above.
Announce bids as “three pips, two trump”, for instance, if playing S/M/3 on a treasure of S /M/9.
Passing on a bid excludes the player from participating further in the current bid, instead causing them to discard their hand and draw a new one of 3 cards and await the conclusion of the bid.
Reveal the remaining cards from The Market and the Shared Discard.
For each such card, each player counts the number of aces and crowns they have of its suit(s) anywhere in their control (deck, hand, discard etc).
They score that many points, squared (so 1 point for a single ace or crown, through 16 points for all 4 matching aces and crowns). This number might need tweaking.
The Excuse may be used during this scoring, for a single card, to increase the number of trumps held by one (potentially scoring 25 points).
As a side note, I suspect you could stretch this game to more players by using two decktets. If you do, consider the “squigglies” that mark the separate instances to bind to all suit symbols; all cards from the “other” deck would be automatic notrumps, to prevent a single-suited blitzkrieg from becoming unstoppable.
Each Treasure seized aids bidding on future cards of its type, improving the odds of winning bids on the score-determining aces and crowns. However, it also “gunks up the works”, since it cements one into those suits, and in being removed from the shared Deck, won’t score at the end!
Winning multiple aces and crowns in common suits, then, is a strong signal to other players to remove the cards of those suits from the Deck to avoid multiplication of your end-game advantage, while restricting your ability to do anything other than bid on those suits.
Each Stage I-III is 12 cards, 4 bidding rounds, thus 4 treasures and 8 discards (mostly: some noise from no-win bids). Stage IV is the sum of the previous 3 discards, 24 cards (ish), 8 rounds, thus 8 more treasures and 16 discards (thus 20 rounds ’till game ends).
One could theoretically drive the game to a stage V with those discards, 5 rounds, 5 more treasures, 11 more discards, and even a VI with those, for 3 rounds, 3 treasures, and 8 discards, and even…!
I worry that the more trips through the Deck, the more “overfit” things become: Stage V might be worth it, but Stage VI and onwards just feel forced to my eyes. But playtesting will tell!
By the same token, I’m worried that the way biding and drawing works will do something weird like forcing play into “each player always just discards their hands to win a bid on their turn and then passes”, at which point we’re just taking turns drawing cards. There’s a little wrinkle in that the active player selects the Treasure before placing a bid, so getting to be active player with an empty hand is still a “turn”, but still. Geeze. My hope is that optimal play prefers to hold a card or two in reserve to avoid passing, but I might need to tweak things to arrange that.