Splendor Strategy: Tactical Analysis (Overview)
As you should know by now, if you have read literally any other page on this blog to date (sorry if you are reading this after the date when I have posted more blogs), I took place in the Splendor National Tournament back in June 2017, and came in 6th place. Yep, definitely putting that on the CV.
What surprised me though was that, although I had played nearly 30 games of Splendor previously (all of which seemed different), there aren’t actually that many tactics to explore within the game. In fact, there only seemed to be two types of tactic at all, of which all four of us on the final table (due to scoring I went from fourth to sixth in the final round) had been using the same tactic all along. With that in mind, here are the three main tactics – partially explored here and partially in future articles.
Building an Engine
This was, I have to admit, the most popular way of playing in the tournament. The idea is to build up as large an engine of the cheap cards as possible. In other words, purchasing cards as soon as possible when they come out and when you (as the player) can afford them. This makes purchasing more expensive cards really easy later on in the game.
The downside to this tactic is that, without a larger strategy (ie. only purchasing specific types) it wastes valuable turns. If a lot of the high-end cards require sapphire, and you are focusing on buying sapphire then all is well and good; however, if you don’t have that strategy to begin with then you are caught buying cards with no purpose.
The upside is that it makes the nobles possible to collect. Nobles tend to be worth 3 points each; however, they can often be a distraction. Just collecting one noble is not worth it. Collecting two or three however and they are. If one requires three jet, three sapphire, and three diamond and you go for it on its own then you have taken 3 points at a cost of 9 cards. Keep in mind the card game can be won on four cards, in theory. If, in that scenario, another noble is worth 4 jet and 4 sapphire then it is worth going for them. That way it is 6 points for 12 cards.
SIMILAR ARTICLE: Splendor Strategy: Gem Distribution and Analysis
Go Big or Go Home
The other tactic, my preferred tactic (and the preferred tactic of all on the final table) was to go big or go home. Find the card you want and reserve it right away, then focus. It is worth pointing out that if, for instance, you go for a tier 3 card worth 5 points then you will need a minimum of 10 chips. Where this is possible, it is highly unlikely, so it does make sense to purchase tier 2 as well. The philosophy is never to purchase a card without a points value.
It is doing this I managed to win a game on five cards.
The presumed optimum game is three cards, which (I believe, although don’t quote me) would require 27 chips minimum. Collecting two at a time this will require 17 turns to collect the resource and buy the cards. This is assuming they are reserved the moment they come out to secure the victory. If the cards are reserved first, this will require 19 rounds of solid collecting and buying (3 rounds to collect cards/gold, and 13 turns of resource collecting, and 3 turns to purchase cards). It is possible but it is not the ideal Splendor strategy.
Just going for values of 4 is another option. It requires 27 chips minimum, if all goes well. This would take 14 turns, picking two up a turn. Without reserving this would take 18 turns to complete the game. This is only one less turn than going for five different ones.
Instead it is worth going for more cards, but of varying values, focusing on one resource.
As we can see by the above table, Resource 2 is being collected as the main priority. This means that Card 1 can help buy Card 2, Cards 1 and 2 help buy Card 3, Cards 1 and 2 and 3 help buy Card 4 and so on (these assumptions have been taken off the above table). Card 1, the 4 resources needed to collect the card are never the same resource, hence Resource 1, but from then on they can be.
What this means is, if the cards align, the game doesn’t need 27 resources. It only needs 23. Reserving five cards brings this down to 18. If played correctly this could be 12 rounds, plus five rounds of purchasing, or 17 rounds. This is two fewer rounds than the optimum game…theoretically,
So it is best to focus on points cards, but also spread across a range of values.
When Does This Fail?
“Go Big or Go Home” fails when everyone is doing it. The game drags as chips are not free, and the game comes down to who started first. This is what happened in the final round of the tournament. We had all used the same tactic to get there, and we weren’t going to use any different tactic at the end.
If only we had. No one was going for the small cards and, ironically enough, that may have actually helped in the final round.
“Go Big or Go Home” will work until everyone does it. If everyone does it then it is best to build an engine and go for the nobles. I’ll be exploring this in further articles about Splendor Strategy.
I have written a few more articles now so please see the links below if you are interested in a more mathematical breakdown of the game:
I have never seen anyone use the hobbit or go home tactic. I’ll have to try it next time I play.
Go big… not hobbit. Hey, at least my phone knows I’m a geek 😝
My gang at work played this twice a week for over two years. Everyone plays big. It causes issues, for sure. It slows the game down, yes, but I don’t think it kills the tension.
That said, I found when I was playing fourth that I felt forced into playing an engine building strategy. That worked much less than a quarter of the time.
If you want to avoid the aggressive strategy, play to 21 points. It really evens out the engine building vs top-level aggressive strategy in a way that works nicely. It only adds a couple of rounds to the game.
Also, it’s much harder to win at 2-player with an aggressive strategy. It’s currently my favorite way to play.