Well, as the official storyline for the new Dominion: Dark Ages expansion game states, the good times are over (thematically, of course). For the context of this latest release in the wildly popular Dominion game series, you have moved out of your once-luxurious and now-pillaged castle and into your nice ravine. And, while you are now a beggar, you can at least dump trash anytime you please!
Ok, maybe things have taken a turn for the worst. And, that fits well with the themes of the new Dark Ages expansion. With cards like Rats, Pillage, and Graverobber, it is no wonder that this release focuses on the trash, trashing / upgrading, and obtaining cards by means of specific other cards. Even the nice, comfortable, humble Estates that each player began the game with in all previous games have now been replaced with the hybrid Shelter cards. And, since the new Shelter cards are present in every Dark Ages game, a discussion of how they compare to the previous bland Estates are in order.
But first, a review of the rules for each of the three Shelters is in order:
Hovel: Cost = 1 Coin. Card type = Reaction / Shelter. Rules = When you buy a Victory card, you may trash this from your hand.
Necropolis: Cost = 1 Coin. Card type = Action / Shelter. Rules = 2 Actions.
Overgrown Estate: Cost = 1 Coin. Card type = Victory / Shelter. Rules = 0 VP. When you trash this, +1 Card.
Before moving on, it should be noted that these cards are not in the Supply, and, although they have a cost, they can not be purchased. The cost is primarily there in order to facilitate the value calculations due to trashing / upgrading interactions. A Shelter, for example, can be Remodeled into a costing 3 Coin. Now, for a brief discussion of each of the new Estate-replacing cards.
First, let us examine Hovel. Thematically, this card goes well with the new set. Instead of starting in a nice Estate, you are stuck in a Hovel. What do you want to do if you live in a Hovel? Why, move out, of course! Hovel is not a Victory card, provides no benefit, and is basically a drag on your deck. Here, this card is even worse than a starting estate. But, the only scenario that is likely to warrant buying a victory card in order to trash it in the early game is if you open with a 5/2 split. If all 3 Shelters are in your hand with two Coppers, buying an Estate to trash the Hovel makes sense (if there are no good 2 Coin cards on the board). Otherwise, you will be trading purchasing power or engine components for a deck-clogging Victory card. As the old saying goes, it takes money to make money, and once you land in a Hovel, it can be hard to pull a Jeffersons and move on up.
Second, let us examine Overgrown Estate. This card also fits with the riches-to-rags theme. The once immaculate estate has now fallen into disrepair and is overgrown. Consequently, the 1 Victory Point (VP) that Estates award is lacking for the Overgrown Estate. Since it is a Victory card, however, it will still be of benefit for VP calculations with Silk Road. When you trash it, the +1 Card minimizes the impact of a Remodel on the current hand, and Upgrading it yields a 5-card hand. This Shelter will be a good target for early trashing, and is approximately equivalent to an estate, IF it gets trashed.
Third, let us examine Necropolis. This card is strictly better than a starting estate. Its +2 Actions function allows much more variable with openness. Indeed, more terminal action cards can be purchased initially without fear of drawing them dead. One of the primary ways this can influence a game is through the 3 Coin attacks (like Swindler and Ambassador). Drawing Necropolis with two Swindlers, playing them both, and swindling two of your opponent's Coppers into Curses would reasonably mean victory.
Of course, these are just the beginning of possibilities and strategic implementation that can be formed with the new Dominion Dark Ages cards. As more games are played with the cards, more unique interactions will be discovered and skill will increase. Be sure to get your own game as soon as possible!