It will not be long now until avid Dominion players across the globe will get what they have been waiting for: the official release of Dominion Dark Ages. This release, due out in late August of 2012, is a long-heralded mega-expansion. Where previous expansions consist of usually 300 cards (for the full expansions) or 150 cards (for the small expansions). Dark Ages is behemoth, comparatively. Consisting of 500 cards, the expansion does not even carry the common Treasure or Victory cards. That means all the cards are contributors to actual game play.
Indeed, numerous cards have already been previewed by Donald X. Vaccarino, the game's designer. The fifteen previewed consist of three that cost 0 Coin (Madman, Ruined Market, Spoils), four that cost 1 Coin (Hovel, Necropolis, Overgrown Estate, Poor House), two that cost 2 Coin (Hermit, Squire), one that costs 3 Coin (Sage), two that cost 4 Coin (Feodum, Rats), and three that cost 5 Coin (Cultist, Graverobber, Pillage).
But, the previewed card that really captures one's attention, both thematically and strategically, is the Rats card. In fact, Donald himself has named it his favorite card in the entire game. Before hitting some early strategy considerations, consider the thematic nature of the card.
Many cards have the elements elements to augment their play and highlight interactions among cards. This is particularly true within expansions. Take Dominion Seaside, for example. Most of the cards have a Nautical theme, and the interactions in the game mirror what would happen in real life (ie Ambassadors often bear "gifts"). Dark Ages is no exception to this Dominion rule. And, one of the most unique thematic cards is the Rats card.
The rules for Rats is as follows: +1 Card, +1 Action. Gain a Rats. Trash a card from your hand other than a Rats (or reveal a hand of all Rats). When you trash this, +1 Card.
Yikes! The rules play right into the theme. If you get a rat in real life, it is not long before you have an infestation. Let one little Rats card into your hand, and, before long, you could be overrun with them. To make matters worse, the Rats pile in Dominion Dark Ages breaks with convention to assist with this theme. A Rats pile has twenty cards in the Supply instead of just 10!
So, what are the strategy implications?
In order to keep from being overrun by Rats, you must have strong trashers. The Rats cards 4 Coin cost helps them use. So, Remake and Upgrade, if they are on the board, make taking that first Rats a viable option. Indeed, other strong trashers like Forge can also be of use. Forge two 4 Coin Rats cards into an 8 Coin Province! But, if your opponent has foolishly allowed a rat infestation in his deck, beware of playing a Bishop. That would serve as an exterminator for him, especially since Rats gives +1 Card upon trashing.
But, if you do not have strong trashing cards in the game with Rats, they could quickly be equal to Curses (or even worse since they can multiply themselves). So, take stock of the cards available on any board where Rats is present prior to buying a single Rats. If there are not a lot of good-to-great trashers on it, do not even buy one Rats. You might rue the day you do!