When you play Splendor for the very first time after hearing the rules explanation, the game flow seems self explanatory. Splendor’s strategy appears to be focused on drawing gems until you can buy cards, then get some more gems to buy some more cards, and again and again. And when your engine is up and running, you start buying some of the more expensive cards which give you points. You might then look at the cards in front of you, look to see what sets of gems the nobles are looking for and aim towards collecting the needed sets so you can get your points from the nobles and win.
That way of playing is fine. That way of playing is good! You’ll learn a lot, have lots of fun, and get a better feel for how the game plays. But as you play Splendor more and more, that way of playing isn’t what will allow you to win. To win, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper and be a bit more ruthless. To win, read on, or watch this video below:
So here’s how you’d approach Splendor from the mindset of trying to win:
#1: Understand the ultimate goal in Splendor
When you’re first introduced to Splendor, it’s tempting to grab gems and cards and use that to build a gem card engine. Splendor promotes that type of play, and early on, when you’re learning the game, you should do just that.
But that focus on the engine-building may cause you to lose track of Splendor’s true objective. As obvious as it may be, the winner isn’t the person who builds the splashiest engine; rather it is the first person to reach 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 finding some way to slow the other players down.
This tip forms the foundation for the rest of the tips so it bears repeating: understand Splendor’s goal which is to hit 15 points or more.
That means the name of the game is action efficiency, leading to point #2.
#2 Track the number of turns it takes for you to reach 15 points. Win in 24 or 25 turns.
Start by playing the game solo and try to hit 15 points in as few turns as possible. That means every time you make a move, tally it down and compare your latest results against previous results and compare how one strategy does against another strategy.
Yes, it’s a tedious thing to do. But you’re trying to win, remember? And sometimes, winning requires you to put in a tedious amount of work to eke out every advantage you can.
It’s worth doing this because you’re benchmarking yourself against the best. And how well do the best players play? Well, thanks to some analytical work by mattle, we see that most games of Splendor end within 26-28 turns. The implication here is that you’ll need to be able to hit 15 points within 24-25 turns if you expect a chance at winning. Take longer, and chances are, you’re not playing as efficiently as you can.
Turn benchmarking isn’t the only metric to focus upon either. You should also look to see how many cards you’re buying. If you’re buying too many cards, you might be using your turns inefficiently and not hyper-focusing on what gives you the most bang for the buck. Again, thanks to mattle, we see that most players win buying only 11-12 cards. Use that knowledge to guide your play.
Don’t forget that while you’re trying to play as efficiently as possible, you’re also trying to disrupt everyone else from playing as efficiently as possible. To do that, we turn to the next tip
#3 Deny opponents of development cards whenever necessary.
The steps to doing so is simple: look at your opponents Board. Then, analyze their board to see what they might be going for. Then on your turn, reserve the development they need. At worst, they’ll still have to take a turn or two to pivot to a new card. At best, they’re stuck with a handful of gems they can’t use because you’ve deprived them of any good opportunities.
Not only will denying your opponents slow them down, the wildcard gem’s versatility should not be underestimated because of its ability to give you more options, which makes it harder for others to stop you.
For example, with a wildcard gem in hand along with some emeralds and rubies means you can chase after this red development or green development instead of being totally handcuffed into a path and also tipping your next actions to your opponents, so they can deny you.
So with those ideas in mind, let’s turn to things you shouldn’t do when playing Splendor.
#4 Don’t buy too many cards from the first row unless they provide points.
“Too many”, being the key words. Remember, your goal is not to build the flashiest engine. It is to get to at least 15 points before everyone else does. The cards from this row costs you gems, costing you momentum. This will slow you down and make it harder for you to win by getting the cards that actually do matter.
Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t buy any of the cards from the first row at all. There will be instances in which you’re simply priced out of higher-cost cards, have 10 gems in hand and are forced to buy. Or you see a development that is critical to your opponents strategy or to your strategy, maybe because it’s been scarce all game. If that is indeed the case, it’s perfectly reasonable to purchase that development, even if it’s in the first row. Because doing so gives you a better chance at winning.
But if you can, buy cards from the second row onward, because not only do those developments help reduce the cost of future developments like all developments do, they also provide an efficient source of points to get you to 15 points faster.
#5 Don’t focus on nobles too much
Their presence in the game, along with the 3 points they provide can be a bad temptation in getting you to go down a less efficient path. You don’t want to waste actions pursuing developments for the sake of getting when that time is better spent chasing developments that give points.
It might be difficult to believe that Nobles aren’t that good, but the fact is that there are more efficient ways to get points. For example, a green gem that provides 3 points takes only 5 turns to grab if your opponents are doofuses. But a noble that requires 3 green gems, 3 red gems, and 3 blue gems, may take 15 turns at a minimum to be able to acquire. If you’re using points per turn as a metric to judge yourself, nobles aren’t inefficient.
Turn for turn, the cards that give you the most points are the development cards from the second or third row. Gear your gem acquisitions and development purchases towards getting those developments which give you points and you’ll see yourself doing well more often than not.
Analyze the opening board position to evaluate which path to 15 points are viable.
You’ll use this to figure out how to execute your strategy and how to keep others from doing the same through more efficient play or resource denial.
While this tip is pretty obvious, I’ll throw in some examples of what to consider giving an opening board 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 the cheaper low-level developments also follow those same numbers. So while I did mention that chasing after nobles might not be the most effective way to go, in this instance, it might be worth gunning for.
At the minimum, you should be aware that other people might want to go down the noble path and to hamstring their attempts at doing so with some well timed reservations.
In this case, you can see that the nobles are all scattered in their development requirements so there’s really nothing to chase after. But then you go look at the development cards and oh what have we here? A lot of the developments here need green emerald gems to be able to purchase. So if you’re able to seize that opportunity, start hoarding the green gems and the green development cards to be able to make those big point hauling plays.
Likewise, if you don’t have the initiative to be able to do so, start reserving and blocking your opponents from getting the green developments they need and see if a more viable pathway opens up.
Hopefully the strategies tips help you become a better Splendor player. If you have any questions or have some strategies that you wish to share, feel free to comment in the section below. Thanks for reading!