Splendor Strategy: Tactical Analysis (Noble Strategies)
When I first started this blog I released a couple of articles I had been working on for a while about General Splendor Strategy and Splendor Gem Distribution. The idea behind these was to break the game down into its core components, to look closer at each aspect of the game, to determine the best overall strategy. At the end of the second article, I determined that in order to look at the strategy properly you would need to take the nobles into account. This was to answer one prominent question: Is it worth going after the nobles, or is it better to acquire them by happenstance?
In order to do this a couple of things need to be noted. The first is to work out the points return on investment based on cards. This will give us a base value of the Splendor nobles, telling us the point-per-card return on investment, followed by looking at the gems needed (as a bare minimum) to get the cards and thus get the nobles.
Overview: The Nobles
I had to spend a lot of time looking through forums to work out who the nobles are, but the table below shows the nobles, what it takes to acquire them, and then the return on investment of the nobles as they are. This is the points value divided by the number of gem/resource cards needed to obtain the noble.
As it can be seen, there are two types of noble. There are those that require eight resources to purchase, and those that require nine resources instead. Instantly, at face value these present ROI of 1 resource to 0.375 (8:3) and 1 resource to 0.334 points (9:3). Intrinsically, we can see that those five nobles that require nine resources are less attractive.
Of course, this is not the end of the story. From the look of it, we can see that, with reference back to my previous post on Gem Distribution, the ROI of even the higher cost (9 gems) nobles is similar to that of a high-level tier two card. Using Machiavelli as a gaming benchmark (there is a sentence that has never been said before), we can see that he is worth more than some of the tier three cards that command a higher points value, purely from an ROI perspective.
The table above is, to be completely honest, is a bit misleading. When we think about it, although this may seem like the best way to attribute ROI from the nobles, it is simply not the case that achieving each noble is worth an ROI of 0.375/0.334. Realistically, in order to gain a noble, we need to first purchase each resource leading up to them. These each, in their own way, have an acquisition cost, and so the table above is not wholly accurate.
The Real Return on Investment
So what is the best way to work this out? Taking Machiavelli as that aforementioned benchmark, we need to look at the bare minimum needed to achieve his acquisition. For Machiavelli, he needs 4 Diamond cards and 4 Sapphire cards. It is a steep cost, as in order to do this in the cheapest way possible, we will have to get four cards of each, none of which have points attached.
Those 4 Diamonds and 4 Sapphires cost a whopping 14 chips each to ascertain. That is 28 chips in total.
This massively shifts the ROI, and (considering that Machiavelli is one of the easiest nobles to get) instantly the position as to whether the nobles are worth it shifts. Suddenly, we see that nobles find their ways right at the bottom of the ROI list. They don’t seem worth it at all.
What About the Nine Gem Nobles
Okay, so an eight resource noble may not be worth it, but what about the nine resource? This may sound counter-intuitive; however, it is possible that the lowest three cards of three resources may be easier to get than the lowest four of two resources.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at the nine gem nobles (I’ll just post the final calculations rather than all the tables again). For this, we’ll use the example of Francis I of France. Since all noble cards, whether eight or nine resources are symmetrical we can pick any noble, so Francis I is as good an example as any. He has one of the easier names to spell.
Francis I requires three Jets, three Emeralds, and three Rubies.
As it can be seen, there are 30 gems that need to be spent to gain the 9 resources needed to get Francis I as a noble. That is a lot of coin! This gives him an ROI of 0.1, the lowest of all the returns on investment.
So What Are Nobles Good For?
So there appears to be two ways of playing nobles. The first of these is purely circumstantial. If you happen to get a noble, or are close to getting one anyway, then they can be worth going for. If, on the other hand, you are not close to getting one anyway, then forget about them. They are not worth it.
The other way, and this can be somewhat interesting, is (if the right combination of nobles comes out) you can create a ricochet effect through the noble deck. This is purely by using one to gain the resources of the next.
What does this look like? Well, a little bit like this:
So what is this? Well, with the right combination of nobles the ROI can be split out between all of them. Take the above as an example. Machiavelli has the initial cost attributed to him. This is, as discussed, a pitiful ROI of 0.108.
If Anne of Brittany is out though, she shares the need for Diamonds and Sapphires, like Machiavelli, and needing four of each for Machiavelli means you more than fill Anne of Brittany’s need for them. All you need then is three Emeralds. Due to already having 8 resources, this can be done by only needing to gather a further 5 gems. You won’t need any Diamonds or Sapphires as you have already collected them for Machiavelli. This gives Anne of Brittany an ROI of 0.6, which is much higher than any card is on its own.
To gain Solomon the Magnificent all you will then need is one Emerald. This, at its cheapest, will cost one of every resource bar Emerald (being the four resource, zero point, tier one card). You will already have Sapphire and Emerald, meaning you will need only two resources. Suddenly, the ROI for Solomon the Magnificent is 1.5. That is phenomenal. I’ve illustrated it below to show how this works.
This chain can continue, so after Solomon you will look at who else needs Emerald and Sapphire. Catherine of Medicis, if she is out, becomes the next target. To get her it will require 3 Rubies. After her, you look at Mary Stuart, who will only require one more Ruby to complete. Doing this tactic could win a four-person game, where five nobles are out; however, they do need to be the right nobles! The odds of this happening are low.
How does this relate to the “perfect game”? Well, the perfect game requires 23 resources (if played absolutely perfectly). Realistically, a variation on the perfect game requires around 30. This is nowhere near that, requiring a staggering 52 resources for 15 points.
So When Are Nobles Worthwhile?
Nobles come into their own in one situation – when there are more than two players going for the perfect game. The perfect game is an expensive strategy early on in the game and resources get eaten up fast. Going this route will take a good few turns; however, it can be done on few resources per turn. This is a more conservative strategy; however, when playing against seasoned players it can be a great one to use if the table allows.
There is no doubt about it, Nobles can be a useful tool in a game of Splendor. They can be the difference between winning and losing a game. That being said, in my opinion, they are an all or nothing strategy. When looking at the overarching strategies of the game, there appear to be two main winning strategies – the bull rush technique (ie. the “perfect game”) or the slow and steady noble technique. Go for one or the other, but the really important thing is to commit either way.
For my other blogs on Splendor Strategy please click on the below links:
You claim that a 3/3/3 noble requires 30 gems. I take it you arrive at 30 by muiltplying (3+3+4) by 3, where 3, 3 and 4 are the costs of the cheapest tier-1 cards producing one gem in each of the three colors.
This ignores the effect that some e.g. blue-producing cards cost white, so if you already bought a white-producing card, buying the next blue-producing card costs you less than its list price.
This effect is key in making engines seem appealing at all, so I think you’re selling nobles somewhat short. An analysis done at https://spendee.mattle.online/lobby/forum/topic/mzXQmzjCBmyC56Dgx/splendor-strategy-data-analysis-part-1 suggests that building your strategy around nobles is still not worth going for.
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I see your point about the nobles making engines appealing, but I don’t think they are the only appeal. There is something amazing about just watching everything unfold – nobles or not. It was really interesting last year, playing on the top table of the UK Games Expo championship – I don’t remember a single noble being picked up in the final game.
To answer the rest of your point – the maths bit – I’ve just re-read the article and I believe you have a point. I don’t think I did take the engine into account with Tier 1. I think it’s because those cards could come out in any order. You can’t even guarantee the cards, yet alone the order.
There is definitely room for a wider exploration here. I think that’s a goal for a few months time – to create a full mathematical breakdown.
It’s a shame I no longer have the spreadsheets, as, in hindsight, I should have stuck those on Google Docs.