Splendor: Tactical Analysis (Blocking Other Players)

Over the past few weeks, I have been analysing the game Splendor from several different angles. For this, so far, I have written from the perspective of looking at overall strategy, breaking down the individual cards, and breaking down the nobles. These I have tried to do as objectively as possible, using maths to determine the return on investment (ROI) for certain moves the player can make. Simple, eh?

Well, no, not overly. As with other games, there are often more elements at hand than we give the game, or ourselves, credit for. As such this article will look at a completely different kind of strategy.

So far we have looked at, what is known as, proactive strategy. Namely, this is a strategy where the player seeks out a specific method of gem/resource attribution and sticks with it. Now we are going to look at a reactive strategy. This is a strategy that is far more aggressive. Unlike the other strategies, it relies on being tuned into how the other players are playing.

Yes, let’s talk about blocking.

What is Blocking in Splendor?

Blocking in Splendor is like blocking in any other game. It is the art of removing an opponent’s opportunity by putting yourself in the way. Unlike with other games, however, the only way to do this in Splendor is to absorb the responsibility of the other player into your own collective.

What does this mean? Well, in Splendor you block a player by reserving the card they are after. Either that or for more adventurous players (less risk adverse players), you purchase the card outright to avoid them taking it. That responsibility is then moved from them to your hand, thus successfully blocking them from getting what they want.

Recently, I have seen a few players play this strategy, in the UK National Splendor Tournament at the UKGE, at home, and whilst gaming within my gaming group. They were kind enough to train me for the tournament and tried everything strategy they could to knock me down a peg. This makes me fairly confident when I say “as an offensive strategy, blocking does not work (but as a defensive one it might)”.

Why Does (Offensive) Blocking Not Work In Splendor?

Blocking doesn’t (generally) work in Splendor for a couple reasons. Namely, Splendor only has one win condition – specific gem/noble collected points. There is no end-game like there tends to be with worker placement games. Instead, what you see is what you get. This means that playing a purely reactive strategy will never win a game unless you are only playing a two player game. The reason for this is simply because you, as the player, can only efficiently block one player at a time.

When playing with three or four players, blocking in Splendor will never be an efficient way of playing the game. Blocking one player will only enable the other player to win.

The reason for this is because the focus of a blocking strategy is not to gain points but rather to stop other players gaining them. Unlike in a game like Stone Age, where there are lots of different resources, in Splendor there is only one. This can be problematic. It means you can’t block a player and build up a different resource at the same time. Otherwise, this could be something which counteracts the drain in resources the blocking strategy tends to be. Being wholly reactive is not efficient as it saps the player’s attention from all but one other player.

Where Can (Defensive) Blocking Work?

Although it is far from recommended, it is possible to guess which cards players are saving up for and reserving them. This can be done to mess up a player mid-game, and thus gain a large enough lead; however, it then causes a problem.

The three reservation spaces players have are valuable real estate in a four player game. It is rare that gold is not needed to buy high-end cards, and so a good player can use the reservation ability wisely to build up a healthy stash of gold coins. The trick of how to do this is to reserve a card just before you need to buy it – it takes two turns to purchase, but it gives the valuable gold coin that can be used for so much during the game. Looking at the final table (at the UKGE) it was something all the top-end players did a lot. They reserved and then purchased, purely to use gold for high-end cards.

Clogging up that real estate with cards other players want is not a wise move. The reason for this is because, if you never have any intention to purchase the card, you will be limiting your options later on in the game for reserving cards. You will be limiting your options to reserving two and that can cripple late-game play.

If, on the other hand, you do have an intention to purchase then this is a reactive move for an incredibly strategic strategy. If you reserve it because you know other players want it then that is a wise move. It allows you to purchase it when they can’t.

To be honest, it is that simple, and kind of follows the general gaming creed of “don’t be an arse for the sake of being an arse”. Although this is a far shorter article on strategy than my other Splendor articles, it is something which had to be explored.

For my other articles on this, please see below:

#1: Overview of the Strategies (and Perfect Game)

#2: Gem Distribution and Analysis

#3: Noble Analysis and Noble Strategies

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