Splendor is one of the favorite board games of Assorted Meeples, and there’s a good reason why it gets so much play at our tables. It’s a fantastic game that has a lot of strategy, is easy to learn, and can be played relatively quickly. Much like chess, it’s a game where the rules and concepts can be learned quickly but learning in-depth Splendor strategy continues for years as the nuances of the game become more and more important in games filled with competitive experienced players.
The Ladder Strategy in Splendor is a strategy that focuses on identifying gem colors that are needed in large numbers for cards on rows 2 and 3 and ignoring balance to horde cards and gems of that color to “climb the ladder” to high point cards in the two point rows of cards.
I originally mentioned the ladder strategy in my Splendor Tips, Tricks, and Tactics Strategy Guide, which covered the basics, but here we’re going to deep dive how the ladder strategy works in the game of Splendor.
The Splendor Ladder Strategy Explained
Sometimes when you look at the board and see how early cheap cards get snatched up by opponents or how you’re way behind in racing for the available lords, it makes sense to see what other options are available. Once you get behind enough in those races, it’s very hard to catch up in-game and requires luck – something I don’t like to rely on.
It’s important to know how this works because there are a few important points about how the ladder strategy works that good players pay attention to. This is because you not only want to see the opportunity if it’s there for you, but you also want the ability to see it and block (hate draft) someone else.
Keep in mind that:
- Most of the time it’s easy to see a ladder strategy on a board
- You will want to use carefully planned reserves to muddy the waters on what you’re doing (or just straight out protect your strategy from hate drafting)
- The focus isn’t on what there’s a lot of on the board, but what strategic gem colors are in high demand for a series of high point cards
Like any good strategy in Splendor, you want to use this in conjunction with what the board is showing, how a game is playing, and never lock yourself in too early.
Important: If a clear ladder strategy reveals itself in the early game, make sure you’re the one in position to take advantage of it. If a board demands a lot of green and two opponents have multiple green cards and you have none, trying to win via ladder strategy is a bad move for your specific situation.
Splendor Strategy: Ladder Strategy Example 1
Take a look at the board below:
Here there is a clear and obvious what the ladder play is going to be if: A) It exists and B) You’re in position to take advantage of it. Green on green in the mid row, and some high point cards at the top are demanding a high number of greens. If you can horde green gems and grab some early cards to race ahead of your opponents, this can be a powerful move, especially since there’s an easy to acquire low point green also in the middle row.
There are other green gem cards that require only green gems to acquire them in the deck, so if those start popping up after you have 3-4 green cards then you are in a very powerful position to make a run.
When it’s semi-obvious like this and you don’t have a clear move, don’t be afraid to reserve one of the top row cards to get it “out of sight, out of mind.” In this situation in 3-4 rounds I’d look to acquire another green gem card, and I wouldn’t hesitate to reserve the Red Gem or Black Gem cards on the top row to both make sure I have them and can’t be hate drafted later in the game, but also to get the gold gems I need to grab one of those mid-level green cards.
As a secondary note I’m still looking for:
- Cheap blues and reds since there are two 4/4 nobles that both require green
- Some reds since the big Ruby and big Oynx on the top row also require a handful of reds in addition to greens
- Whites and blues if there are moments there’s nothing on the board I can grab or people start hoarding chips – because these can lead to lords which is my quick pivot if the green ladder strategy bogs down.
Splendor Strategy: Ladder Strategy Example 2
Let’s have a look at another game board, and this one will be part way through the game and it will be really, really obvious what the play is.
Most Nobles are 4/4 making a ladder strategy more likely to work AND snag a bonus lord along the way, and black is in high demand in the mid-row and high-row with high point cards demanding a high number of Oynx chips. I’m one of two players with a lot of black chips, and I’m about to grab the middle black to stake my claim and start the sprint.
Those 4 cards are 13 of 15 points needed for victory, and since two of them are diamonds, if I got both that would give me 3/4 diamonds needed to grab the 4/4 diamond/onyx lord for another 3 bonus points.
Now my opponents should 100% hate draft me, but it would take all three of them doing it to cripple this strategy. And that’s assuming other Onyx-heavy cards didn’t come up. Even if they did that, I could reserve the 1 point green card and pivot to cards demanding rubies/red after that.
Next turn, I would 100% reserve the 5-Oynx ruby in the middle row if the other player with black cards started grabbing black gems to compete with me, and I wouldn’t be afraid to reserve one of the top cards the turn after that if I had to.
This would guarantee me access to most of the points needed to win the game while giving flexibility to grab any fortuitous drops on the board.
Note: This game ended up being a blow out victory for me.
Splendor Strategy: Ladder Strategy Example 3
Let’s try looking at the Splendor ladder strategy when you need to mix it with other options. This is a more complicated board, but having a sapphire ladder strategy as the default when you’re not hate drafting or looking at a cheap card can work out really well.
This is an interesting one because it’s more of a hybrid than a pure ladder strategy but take a look at the board. Here’s what I get right away from studying it:
- Blue is the starting ladder color thanks to the 2 pt emerald in row two, the 3 pt ruby in row three, and the 5 point emerald in row three
- However, ALL three of these cards require 3 emeralds as well, meaning this is a Sapphire-Emerald ladder where you need both
- Two of the Nobles requires 3 sapphires and 3 emeralds, opening up some serious point possibilities if we can pull this off
- Picking up greens and reds opens up more lords – and possibly a sprint at the 4 ruby in the corner
So what can we do with this information?
Well we’re definitely shooting for that cheap blue card to start. This also means that if blues don’t come up quickly we can grab some greens, and we want to jump on sapphire cards when they do turn up.
After the cheap blue card, I might seriously consider reserving both of the greens we’re looking at because this will do two things:
- Secure most of the blue ladder
- Since they are both prominent greens, players tend to remember that so they won’t remember that we need blue to complete these cards – they’ll shoot for hate drafting green cards…leaving the blues we actually need open to get picked up
Really advanced players might not fall for this, but it’s one of those little quirks of human nature and how the mind works so in this case if reserving those cards protects my ladder, hides my intentions, AND gets opponents watching the wrong cards I’m 100% great with that.
Splendor Strategy: Ladder Strategy Example 4 – When You Need To Hate Draft
Another reason for learning these advanced Splendor strategies? Knowing what to do when you’re in a situation like this:
This board has a serious white ladder that should have players drooling – especially as each blue sapphire card picked up in that ladder gives them the second gem they need. So this is a white ladder play, right?
Look at the cards. Player 1 and Player 3 both have multiple white Diamond cards and player 3 is likely to grab another one. I’m way too far behind to jump into this game and win it since I have ZERO white cards.
What I might have a chance with is some Nobles, especially if I can grab some cheap Ruby cards, which are also in demand of some decent point cards, and give me a decent spread to point my way up within striking distance of 15. That’s the best play here – along with maybe a very strategic hate draft if I can get rid of one of my pocket cards quickly enough.
The Three Other Major Splendor the Board Game Strategies
One thing I love about Splendor is that many times the best strategy is a blend of a couple. You might be shooting for Nobles, but have a touch of ladder thrown in. You might be hoarding one color, but then hate draft at the right moment.
I tend to shoot for Nobles when there are many 3-3-3 out there, or ladder otherwise, but it’s funny how often these all blend together.
The Wide Net (All 1’s) Strategy
This is generally one of my favorite strategies, especially if you can do it cheap and there’s no obvious ladder showing. This is getting 1 of each card color as quickly as possible. Sometimes that means paying extra for that last color, but this is a powerful strategy, especially if you can beat other players there by 1-2 turns.
Because that makes all the 1-1-1-1 cards in row one essentially free, allowing you to stack up on cheap cards. It also means you only need one gem to buy any 2-1 cards that pop up. This also stops the common bottleneck of needing one of a color and not having that, but having all the other required gems for a card.
That happens a lot with some of the cheaper cards in row 2.
Having this base allows you to scale very quickly in any direction you need to, and also means when you have 7+ chips, you can probably grab, or are close to grabbing, any card in the first two rows. It’s a strong foundation, but you need to pull it off quickly.
The Nobles Monopoly Strategy
It’s not often you can win off mostly off of nobles, but sometimes it works out. Look at what colors are in the most demand with the most nobles (I recommend focusing on 3-3-3 nobles versus 4-4 nobles) and this is where you’re sprinting to get the combos you need to get noble after noble, and hate drafting to slow down your competition from doing the same.
This can be powerful but it generally requires you going early in the order, navigating growing multiple card types at once, and maybe a touch of luck and smart hate drafting. It’s hard to get ahead to the point where this is in the bag as all players tend to pay attention to Nobles, but it’s worth a shot if you find yourself in a good position because of how the board plays out.
Monopolize One Gem Color
This can be a very effective “hate draft” method of playing the game that gives huge headaches to your competition in-game, while also hopefully using some degree of the ladder method to build up your points, or else choke them all off from a ladder while pursuing a different strategy entirely as they keep waiting for you to let go of gems you refuse to let go of.
This usually has to work around a board or with another strategy to work well, but it can be stunningly effective.
How Does Splendor’s Ladder Strategy Compare to These Other Strategies?
Many times they go hand in hand. Especially the monopolizing a color, since often times there will be multiple mid-level cards that are blues that require all blues, greens that require all greens, etc.
In those cases the most efficient way up the ladder is to hoard those gems, then buy those cards, getting another permanent one of that color before hoarding the gems again.
In my eyes, the Ladder Strategy is an exceptional counter-attack strategy when most the table are fighting for nobles. You can avoid their back and forth and sprint up to higher point cards to really ramp up the pressure.
It’s rarely a strategy that starts from turn 1, but can reveal itself relatively early in a game. If you know when to pivot because the board is setting up nicely for a late game run for you, a ladder strat of some type is almost always involved in a winning strategy that doesn’t involve a lot of luck.
Splendor Ladder Strategy: In Conclusion
More often than not I start out the game looking for a wide net method where I’m trying to get one of each color as quickly as possible, and hopefully faster than every other player. This is a great foundation, and it’s a foundation that also works before leaping into the Ladder Strategy.
However, when the ladder strategy lines up, it is incredibly hard to stop and often requires multiple players to hate draft and put their plans aside to slow you down, much less stop you, and often times that just doesn’t happen.
It’s an excellent strategy, even if you just piecemeal part of it together with other available cards to take advantage of how the board plays out in-game.
Other Board Game Articles of Interest
- Godsforge Board Game Review
- Best Smash Up Expansions
- Strategy Games Better Than Risk
- Sushi Go Party Strategy
- Mechs Vs Minions Review
Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.