When you play Splendor for the very first time after hearing the explanation of the rules, the flow of the game seems self-explanatory. Splendor’s strategy seems to focus on drawing gems until you can buy cards, then other gems to buy more, and over and over again. And when your engine is running, you start buying some of the more expensive cards that earn you points. You can then look at the cards in front of you, see which gem sets the nobles are looking for, and aim to collect the necessary sets so that you can get your points from the nobles and earn.
This way of playing is good. This way of playing is good! You will learn a lot, have a lot of fun and get a better idea of how the game is played. But as you play Splendor more and more, it is not this way of playing that will allow you to win. To win you will have to dig a little deeper and be a little more ruthless. To win, read on or watch this video below:
So here’s how you would approach Splendor with a view to trying to win:
# 1: Understand the ultimate goal in Splendor
When you first experience Splendor, it’s tempting to grab gems and cards and use them to create a gem card engine. Splendor favors this type of play, and right from the start, when you are learning the game, you should.
But this focus on engine building can make you lose sight of the true purpose of Splendor. As obvious as it may sound, the winner isn’t whoever builds the brightest engine; rather, it is the first person to achieve at least 15 points. How you get there is up to you, but you’ll need to get there before everyone else, either by playing as efficiently as possible or by finding a way to slow down other players.
This tip forms the basis for the rest of the tips, so it bears repeating: Understand Splendor’s goal of reaching 15 points or more.
This means the name of the game is Action Efficiency, leading to point # 2.
# 2 Track the number of laps you need to reach 15 points. Win in 24 or 25 spins.
Start by playing the game solo and try to score 15 points in as few turns as possible. This means that every time you make a move, count it and compare your latest results to previous results and compare the performance of one strategy against another.
Yes, it is a tedious thing to do. But you try to win, remember? And sometimes, winning requires you to do tedious work to get the most out of it.
It is worth doing it because you compare yourself to the best. And how well do the top players play? Well, thanks to some analysis work by mattle, we find that most games of Splendor end in 26-28 turns. The implication here is that you will need to be able to score 15 points in 24-25 rounds if you are to expect any chance of winning. Take more time, and there’s a good chance you’re not playing as efficiently as you can.
Benchmarking turns isn’t the only metric to focus on, either. You should also look to see how many cards you are buying. If you buy too many cards, you may be using your spins inefficiently and not focusing too much on what gives you the most bang for your buck. Again, thanks to Matte, we see that most players win by buying only 11-12 cards. Use this knowledge to guide your game.
Remember that while you are trying to play as efficiently as possible, you are also trying to keep everyone from playing as efficiently as possible. To do this, we move on to the next tip
# 3 Refuse opponents from development cards whenever necessary.
The steps to do this are simple: look at your opponent’s board. Then analyze their board to see what they could do. Then it’s your turn to book the development they need. At worst, they’ll still have to take a turn or two to pivot to a new map. At best, they’re stuck with a handful of gems that they can’t use because you’ve robbed them of good opportunities.
Not only will denying your opponents slow them down, but the versatility of the Wild Gem shouldn’t be underestimated due to its ability to give you more options, making it harder for others to stop you.
For example, with a generic gem in hand with emeralds and rubies, you can run after that red or green development instead of being totally handcuffed on a path and also tilting your next actions towards your opponents, so that they can refuse you.
So with those ideas in mind, let’s move on to the things you shouldn’t be doing while playing Splendor.
# 4 Don’t buy too many cards from the first row unless they are worth points.
“Too much” being the key words. Remember, your goal isn’t to create the flashiest engine. It is a question of reaching at least 15 points before everyone else. Cards in this row cost you gems, which costs you momentum. This will slow you down and make it harder to win by getting the cards that really matter.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy any of the cards in the first row. There will be cases where you are simply deprived of higher cost cards, have 10 gems in your hand and be forced to buy. Or you see a development that is critical to your opponents’ strategy or your strategy, perhaps because it has been scarce the entire game. If this is indeed the case, it is perfectly reasonable to buy this development, even if it is in the number one spot. Because it gives you a better chance of winning.
But if you can, buy cards from the second row onwards, as these developments not only help lower the cost of future developments as all developments do, but they also provide an effective source of points to get you to 15. points faster.
# 5 don’t focus too much on the nobles
Their presence in the game, as well as the 3 points they provide can be a bad temptation to lead you down a less efficient path. You don’t want to waste stocks chasing developments for the sake of getting when that time is best used to research developments that earn points.
It can be hard to believe that Nobles aren’t that good, but the point is, there are more effective ways to get points. For example, a green gem that provides 3 points only takes 5 turns to grab if your opponents are doofuses. But a noble who requires 3 green gems, 3 red gems and 3 blue gems, can take at least 15 turns to be able to acquire. If you use points per turn as a measure to judge yourself, nobles are not ineffective.
In turn, the cards that earn you the most points are the second or third row development cards. Direct your gem acquisitions and development purchases towards obtaining those developments that earn you points and you will see yourself doing well more often than not.
Analyze the position of the opening plate to assess which 15 point path is viable.
You will use it to understand how to execute your strategy and how to prevent others from doing the same through more efficient play or denial of resources.
While this tip is pretty obvious, I’ll give a few examples of what to consider to give an opening array state.
In this example, we see that two of the nobles require red and green development cards and this union makes the noble strategy a bit more viable. On top of that, we see that cheaper low-level developments are also tracking those same numbers. So while I mentioned that chasing after nobles might not be the most effective route, in this case it might be worth targeting.
At a minimum, you should be aware that other people might want to take the noble path and hamper their attempts to do so with reservations at the right time.
In this case, you can see that the nobles are all scattered in their development requirements, so there really is nothing to pursue. But then you’re going to look at the development boards and oh what do we have here? Many of the developments here require Green Emerald Gems in order to be able to be purchased. So if you are able to grab this opportunity, start accumulating the green gems and green development cards to be able to do these great transport games.
Likewise, if you don’t have the initiative to be able to do so, start reserving and preventing your opponents from getting the green developments they need and see if a more viable path opens up.
Hope the strategy tips will help you become a better Splendor player. If you have any questions or have any strategies you want to share, feel free to comment in the section below. Thanks for reading!