Heart of Dominion: a Heart of Crown & Dominion variant

During Anime Expo 2017, I got my hands on a copy of Heart of Crown, and I’ve been enamored with it since. I usually try not to spend too much time in the tabletop room during (non-board game) conventions but I found myself doing it anyway, even entering a tournament for the game. For the two weeks after the convention, a friend and I played the hell out of the game, and then we kinda got bored of it since there just wasn’t a lot of content for it due to the lack of expansions (and there still kind of isn’t, even with two of them out) but it turned out there was an easy fix: just combine it with the much more replayable Dominion. Here’s how.

Before I get into it, I’d like to say that I’m not going to bother explaining how either of these games work since it’s effort and also I can probably assume that you’re bothering to read this at all because you’re familiar with both of these games (and also that you have them). If not, there are plenty of resources online to help get you up to speed. Also, play both of these games. They’re very good and worth your time.

The first thing you need to do is mark up some of those blank cards that came with your copy of Dominion (and its expansions). Hopefully you didn’t throw those away. You’ll want to make 3 copies of Apprentice Maid per player. They’ll be 2-cost Victory cards that provide -2VP. You’ll also want 12 copies of Royal Maid, which will be 3-cost Victory cards that provide 2VP. Make sure you’re marking up the correct type of card because some of them are randomizers with blue-bordered backs; you want to mark the cards that have gold-bordered backs.

Do this

Next, you’ll need to set up Dominion in a way that makes it resemble Heart of Crown. Each player gets a starting deck consisting of 7 Coppers and 3 of the Apprentice Maids that you just marked up in the previous step. Then for each player designate some space in front of them to be their Domain. Set up the supply for Copper, Silver, Gold, and Curse as usual. Victory cards are going to be set up differently: 12 Royal Maid, 12 Duchy, and 12 Province, regardless of the number of players (I’m also assuming you’ll only be playing with 2-4 players). Do not set up Estates.

Then set up the Kingdom the way you would in Heart of Crown. 5 copies of 10 card types shuffled into a single main deck, then draw from the top one by one, grouping duplicates into the same pile, until you have 8 distinct piles. You know the drill. Finally, lay out the Princess cards from your copy of Heart of Crown. Also setup any extra piles (Ruins, Potion, Hex, etc.) the way you normally would, as necessary.

You should have something like this

Gameplay works mostly the same as it does in Dominion, with a few changes to make the Heart of Crown stuff work:

  1. The Kingdom gets refilled during cleanup when any of the 8 piles are emptied. Draw cards from the top of the main deck, one by one, grouping duplicates, until there are 8 distinct piles.
  2. Coppers give -2VP, like Farming Villages in HOC. Curses do not give negative VP but Miserable and Twice Miserable do.
  3. Substitute the following Heart of Crown terms on the Princess cards with their Dominion counterparts (they’re fairly intuitive if you’ve played both games so they shouldn’t be hard to remember):
    • Territory -> Treasure
    • Succession -> Victory
    • Main Phase -> Action Phase
    • Draw Pile -> Deck
    • Market -> Supply
    • Acquire -> Gain
    • Banish -> Trash
    • Calamity-type Curse Card -> Curse
    • Farming Village -> Copper
  4. Instead of conducting a normal Buy Phase players can back a Princess or, if they have a Princess, play as many Victory cards as they want from their hand to their Domain. Players can still play Treasures as they would during a normal Buy Phase.
    • When a player opts to not conduct a normal Buy Phase, they are not allowed to purchase any cards.
    • When a player chooses to back a Princess, they spend 6 coins and set aside their 3 highest cost Treasure cards used to pay for a Princess to their Domain. Naturally, they immediately gain access to that Princess’s power and can not back any more Princesses.
  5. Players can move Action cards from their hand to Treasures in their Domain and vice-versa during their Action Phase. You can decide whether or not this can be done with Night cards as well.
  6. Do not end the game when three piles are emptied, but when the Royal Maid, Duchy, and Province piles are all emptied, the game ends immediately and whoever has the most VPs in their Domain at that point wins.
  7. When a player has 20VP worth of Victory Cards in their Domain, Coronation is triggered, where each other player has another turn to get up to 20VP. If no one else succeeds, that player triggers game end and wins. Otherwise, Overtime is triggered, after which whoever gets up to 30VP immediately triggers game end and wins.

To reiterate, playing and buying cards works just like in Dominion otherwise. Treasures don’t require actions to play, players don’t have unlimited buys, etc.

A few notes on selecting cards for play:

  • Some Alt-VP cards like Gardens give a variable amount of VP. They were designed with the assumption that you’ll count up all your VP at the end of the game, so including these can significantly slow down the game. I recommend not playing with them.
  • On that note, it’s probably best to avoid playing with Landmarks at all.
  • Some cards like Baron assume that Estates are in play. Don’t use them. Alternatively, use Estates.
  • Knights should be in one pile in the supply as usual.
  • Cards and card-shaped things that give VP tokens like Monument are balanced with the assumption that VPs are relatively easy to get (easier than it is in HOC). Including them raises the question of how to balance them for this variant because letting players just get a VP upon every Monument activation would be pretty bad when it’s so much more work to get VPs normally. It’s hard to come up with a satisfactory solution so I prefer to avoid playing with them to avoid the hassle.
  • Split piles. You’re playing with 5 copies of each card. Do you count them as one card type or two? How many copies of each do you play with? Is it okay for people to be able to grab Fortune without working through Gladiators first? I leave the answer up to you and your group but again I prefer to avoid the hassle.
  • Travellers like Page return themselves to the supply. You can decide if it’s okay to have situations where you have more than 8 piles. Otherwise, there’s always the option of not using them.
  • If you choose to play with Events, some cards like Pathfinding ask players to place tokens on supply piles. Since piles are always in flux in this variant, you can set aside some space to line up randomizer cards corresponding to the cards in use and have players place tokens on those. Also do this if you play with Teacher.
  • Some may feel that playing with Shelters are against the spirit of the game/variant. Personally, I’m fine with using them.
  • I prefer not to play with Colony and Platinum since I feel they make it too easy to hit 20VP and end games prematurely (big money with double Witch/Smithy/etc into 1 Colony then back Laolily for a fast win; otherwise 2 copies gets you to 20VP). I know HOC has rare cards but they were designed with the assumption that on average the highest amount of coin you can generate per card is 3, not 5.
  • Young Witch introduces a Bane pile. You can choose to shuffle it into the main deck or have it exist as a separate pile. Alternatively, don’t use it at all.
  • Some cards will randomly be stronger in this variant, in particular cards that require them to collide with combo pieces (since you can store cards on treasures), like Treasure Map, and of course terminal actions in general. A few more examples: Patrol is absurdly powerful since you want to draw into your VP in the late game. Messenger mildly increases in power since you can easily select a pile with only one card so that your opponents don’t get a copy too. Death Cart trashing itself ends up being a good thing because you don’t necessarily care about generating coin late game but you do care about thinning your deck to draw your VPs faster.
  • Conversely, some cards will be weaker. Examples: Overlord will have fewer viable targets since there are 8 cards on display as opposed to 10, and the good ones sell out quickly since there are only 5 copies of them, so a good portion of the time you’re looking at the 8 weakest cards in the game, potentially even less. Explorer will come off as pointless since when you get to the point where you have Provinces, you probably don’t want Gold clogging up your deck.

Basic cards from Heart of Crown and Dominion

Addendum: Basically what allows these two games to be combined is that most of the basic cards are the same as their counterparts in Dominion. City is basically Silver, Duke is basically Province, etc. The starting decks are functionally the same and Heart of Crown’s Common card costs are basically balanced in a way similar to Dominion’s Kingdom card costs (2-5, with the odd 6) and they have very similar effects, with some Heart of Crown cards being straight up copies of Dominion cards (eg: Cellar -> Wishing Well). It’d be a bit more awkward to inject Heart of Crown mechanics into, say, Thunderstone: Advance, where cards cost and generate twice as much money (makes it trivial to back Princesses), there are no generic VP/coin card types (makes domain stuff and scoring awkward), has no generic class of “action” cards (makes Bergamotte weird), and every game involves playing with four split piles that feature 3-4 tiers of cards (no idea how to even begin to deal with that), among other things. It’s doable, since all you have to do is define how things will work, but it won’t be as clean and the end result probably won’t be as fun or feel remotely close to playing Heart of Crown, which is kind of the point of this exercise.

This variant does feel very close to playing Heart of Crown, but that’s it. Ultimately, Dominion’s cards were meant to be played with Dominion, not Heart of Crown, so you miss out on cards that were designed specifically for the latter, like Kunoichi which copies action cards kept in Domains, or cards that are fine-tuned for it even if they’re otherwise copied from Dominion, like Post Horse which is basically a Village that costs 2 instead of 3. Mostly, though, you miss out on cards that interact with Domains. We played a few sessions with this variant (for a total of I think about 10 games) but we’ve since reverted to playing both games normally, especially now that Heart of Crown has two expansions (which is still not enough content by the way but w/e).

If you see any mistakes or loose ends or anything that you need clarified, feel free to drop a comment below. Also I realize that all the Heart of Crown card related links are in Japanese, and they’ll be replaced once I see an English language site with reliable permalinks to individual cards.

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Separable Games

A few months ago, a club that I’m associated with¬†at my university wanted to host an event that involved setting board games out for visitors to play while hanging out.¬†Problem is the club itself had no board games and a very limited budget for acquiring board games and were expecting a fair number of people. As I am known as that person that plays board games a lot I was asked for advice on how to resolve this situation, so I gave some advice on which games can be bought for cheap and are easy to learn and teach. Then they forgot to buy the board games because they weren’t all that important to the event and opted to focus on other stuff that was probably more important, like the fact that like a third of the people involved in organizing the event “suddenly” couldn’t make it to said event, but they still kind of wanted board games there anyway so I offered to lend some of mine.

I looked through my games library to find some cheap stuff that I feel okay with letting random strangers molest, and pulled out Spot It. Then I realized that this game was actually perfect for accommodating multiple groups of people. You could divide the deck into two and effectively have two decks, as the actual game only requires that you use a small subset of the cards. In fact, you could divide it into more than two decks. I found another game that you can effectively do this with, Timeline, and brought them over and explained my findings to the group before the event, and, in that way, just as how our lord and savior Jesus Christ split 7 fish into like 5000 loaves of bread, I split 2 board games into more than 2 board games.

The event went I don’t know. I wasn’t there because I was busy with classes or something but I was excited about having another thing to let my autism obsess over. What other separable games do I have? What else is out there? What third question can I put here for dramatic effect?

Here’s a list of what I found, but first I should probably explain what criteria I’m using to classify a game as a separable game. Simply put, it’s a game that can be played with more people and groups than intended without compromising the quality of gameplay. Typically, this happens when a game uses a very small subset of the components that are responsible for causing the game to be replayable and mostly revolves around using those components and little else. I’m also choosing to exclude stuff like splitting up Dominion, which has enough for 4 people, into two 2-player games.

– Spot It/Dobble

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Spot It uses cards that each depict eight different objects in a way that, given any two cards, both cards have exactly one of those objects in common with each other. It’s presented as a sort of game system that you can play several games with but they all involve just finding the common object the quickest and yelling out the name or a description of the object, so it’s pretty rubbish as a game system but the lack of strict rules helps us achieve what we want to do with it.

The rules for most of the games included with Spot It involve flipping cards off of a central deck until it runs out, so all that needs to be done is to modify the rules a bit so that the games use fewer cards. For example, in The Tower, each player is dealt one card while the rest of the deck is placed in the center of the table face up, and each player will look at the top card of the deck and find the object it has in common with their dealt card and yell out the name/description of the common object. The player that completes this task the fastest takes the top card, and the process starts anew. This continues until the deck runs out of cards and whoever has the most cards wins. This ruleset can be modified so that players play up to x amount of points (ie: whoever has x points wins the game) so with n players the game can be played with just x*n+1 cards in the deck.

– Timeline

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In Timeline, each card depicts an event or invention or work of art on the front side, while the back side features the same but with the date said event/invention/art occurred. Each player is dealt some number of cards with the front side face up and another card is dealt to the center of the table with the back side face up on an imaginary linear track. Players take turns placing a card at some point on this track and flipping it over. If the number on the card placed is equal to or higher than the number on the card on the left and equal to or lower than the number of the card on the right, it stays and nothing happens. If these conditions are not fulfilled, the card is discarded and the player who placed the card draws another card. The player that plays their last card successfully without being forced to draw another card wins the game. Fairly straightforward to split up. Depending on the amount of players, you typically only play with like a third or half the cards. If you run out of cards after splitting the deck, simply have someone walk up to another group and them swap their discard pile with your group’s and then reshuffle that into a new draw deck.

– Sushi Go

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Sushi Go is a card drafting game in the same vein as 7 Wonders. Everyone gets a hand of cards and simultaneously pick a card from their hand and pass the rest clockwise, repeating this until all the cards are taken. The procedure for separating this is basically the same as Timeline, with one change. The rules demand players to score their cards and discard them every round, which helps in making the game separable, with the exception of Pudding, which everyone keeps until the end of the game. Of course, having players keep their Pudding cards messes with the balance of the game, since if another table uses your table’s discard pile as their draw deck they won’t draw any pudding cards. The solution to this is simple. Just keep track of them separately, using counters or pen and paper or something. The game demands that you keep track of points on pen and paper anyway, so it shouldn’t hurt that much to just use that to keep track, but I do recommend representing Pudding with some kind of physical objects so that players can keep track of how of them each player has.

– Codenames

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I don’t really feel like explaining the rules to this one since I’m too lazy and a short summary of the rules won’t do it justice. Also, admittedly I’ve only done it for all the previous ones to achieve a higher word to picture ratio because posts with more words than pictures are more aesthetically pleasing. Each game of Codenames uses 25 word cards (out of 200) and 1 grid card (out of 40), which can easily be separated, but one session holds up all of its tiles. Basically all you need to do for the other sessions is provide additional sets of markers, using poker chips, colored scraps of paper, or whatever else.

– Apples to Apples and its several clones

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So when I say clones, I mean any other party game that has a deck of “question” cards and a deck of “answer” cards that function more or less the way Apples to Apples cards do. This includes blatant ripoffs like Cards Against Humanity and games that iterate on the idea like Snake Oil and Channel A. Separating this game works just like Timeline, but with two decks. So you might be wondering why you’d want to split off games of [Apples to Apples style game] when it works so well with large groups. Basically, it’s just to spend less time playing the game.

Let’s say you’re playing a 14-player game Cards Against Humanity, and everyone agrees to play until someone has 5 points. Worst case scenario, you’re playing 57 rounds of CAH, with 13 responses read in each of those rounds, meaning you could be sitting through everyone reading 741 cards, whereas in a 7-player game the worst case scenario involves playing 29 games, with 174 responses read. Basically, with n players playing up to x points, the worst case scenario is n(x-1)+1 rounds played per game and (n(x-1)+1)(n-1) responses in those rounds. This is particularly relevant in storytelling games, like Channel A, where responses take a lot more time, which can wear you out, even if the game is, unlike CAH, actually fun.

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