After the first two turns, there are no guarantees. The specifics of what you do depend on what you draw, but the basic principles are the same. Let us continue with the rest of those phases, starting with phase 2 (obviously): the GOLD rush!
Phase 2: The Gold Rush
Few things help your deck more than some gold, and if you can get it in your deck quickly, that will boost your deck in the long run. After your first two turns, your first goal is to get a gold or two.
In this phase you can also continue to enact your chosen strategic option of attacking or trashing, but this is also where you can overdo it. You want to trash all your copper (and probably even your estates) if you can, but you need to replace it with silver to move toward the goal.
You want to attack your opponents, but not so much that you can’t play your other action cards or you can’t actually boost your buying power. Remember; use caution and don’t buy too many action cards. And when you do get them, buy ones that will increase your buying power or give you card draws.
Be especially careful buying those +1 Card/ +1 Action cards that don’t do much else for you. They can be nice, but they may actually slow you down regarding that gold.
Phase 3: Deck Building
Okay, so you’ve got a couple gold in your deck. Now you really need to build a deck that will carry you to victory. It’s not just about getting up to 8 treasure; you need a deck that will be able to do so consistently for several turns. You don’t want to start buying provinces on a lucky draw, only to find yourself unable to reach 8 again for a long time.
In this phase you will probably spend several turns buying cards less than your purchasing potential. But that’s okay, because more important than maximizing your spending is buying the right cards.
Make sure to continue to buy treasure, but this is also the phase where you need to buy villages or other +2 action cards if you want to use a lot of actions. But decide carefully if you do—a lot of times a solid deck only has four or five actions in it by the end. However, some action cards can be used extremely effectively to boost your buying power, draw a lot of cards, and hurt the other players.
Just make sure you balance your strategy. If you are buying villages (and their variations), you need useful action cards in your deck so as to not waste those extra actions you’re getting. Villages are best combined with cards that give you big +Card draws, so that when you draw more action cards you can use them.
If you’re trashing, keep doing it. Hopefully all your copper and estates are gone. Depending on what trashing cards are available, just keep refining your deck. Get rid of cards that are less useful. And don’t forget, the point of trashing isn’t to empty your deck, it’s to make the awesome cards all the more accessible. Get lots of gold, get extra buys if you can, and try and keep your whole deck in your hand with +Card draws and stuff like that.
If you’re attacking, use it when you can, but try not to make your attacks the focus; your attacks should simply slow the other player down while you build up your treasure and your access to it.
Phase 4: The Awkward Phase
At some point, your deck is ready for the endgame: buying up provinces quickly. The awkward part is transitioning between the two.
The trick is, if you buy provinces too early, they hurt your deck, slow you down, and prevent you from finishing strong. If you buy them too late, you will be too far behind the other player(s) and unable to catch up.
There is no hard-and-fast rule; you just have to feel it. The right time is different depending on the cards available in the supply. Here are a few general pointers though:
- If there are no +Buys available, pretty much buy a Province as soon as you have 8.
- If there are +Buys, you might want to keep building your deck a little longer. Having an even stronger deck may get you two provinces at once; but more important, you may be able to use the second buy to supplement your province purchases with extra gold or silver, or useful action cards, to lessen the negative effect of a province on your deck.
- If you start getting 10-12 treasure in your hand consistently, start buying provinces.
- If you have a great trashing deck and it’s very small, wait as long as you can. When you have a really small deck, the impact of a province is much greater than if it were added to a large deck. Ideally you would get up to 16 and two buys, and then grab two provinces, which should leave you enough breathing room to grab two more quickly.
- If you have 16 and two buys, buy two provinces. Your deck is good enough to withstand some dead cards, and it’s really just a jerk move to delay the game any longer because you think you can get to 24 and three buys. Don’t be that guy.
- Once you start buying provinces, it’s generally a good idea to keep buying them as fast as possible.
If you can be the first one to grab a province, you put the other player(s) in a position of having to catch up, which is never great. But again, if you jump in too soon, you might slow your deck down and fall behind. It’s more art than science figuring out exactly when to buy.
Phase 5: The Land Rush
Once you’ve bought that first province, it’s all out for points. Your deck should be good enough to last a bit while taking the hit of victory cards, so go all out. Take a province whenever you have 8. Be careful about buying duchies—they can be a great tiebreaker, but they can also slow your deck down.
Pay attention to the ratio of cards. In a two-player game, there are four provinces for each player. But if you get an extra one, you’re not just 6 points up on the other player, you’re 12 points. That’s four duchies. So if you can grab a fifth province, do it, and don’t worry about the duchies because it’s almost impossible to bridge that gap.
Be careful with the special point cards. Cards like Harem and Nobles should be taken in phase 3, not here. But Dukes and Gardens? Those can be tricky. We’ll look into specific strategies for those cards later.
This is the phase, though, where you start doing insane things to ruin your deck. Trash your Mining Villages to get to 8. Remodel your golds into provinces. Do it, and do it quickly—if you did your other phases well, you won’t need to worry about losing a gold here and there.
Be careful with certain attack cards in this phase, which may help your opponent more than hurt them. Especially the Swindler. While awesome in the beginning and middle of the game, the Swindler can ruin things for you if you accidentally Swindle a province. The only replacement for a province is another province, which decreases the available supply. It may be okay if you’re ahead, but if you’re behind on provinces, you might lose your chance to catch up. And that would suck.
Phase 6: Endgame
When rushing for provinces, be careful. Try and pay attention to how many provinces the other players have—and if they’ve bought duchies. Also keep in mind curses and whether you’ve trashed your estates (or other players have).
If you don’t pay attention, you may end up buying your last province too early. If you’re just one estate behind and tie on provinces… you still lose.
The key moment is when there are two provinces left (in a two player game; there is no key moment in a four-player game, just get as many provinces as you can and try to throw in some duchies when no one is looking. Legally, of course). If you buy the second-to-last province, that means the other player can grab the last province and end the game. If you’re far ahead, go for it. But if you’re pretty sure you’re tied, grab a duchy instead of the second-to-last province. That forces their hand; if they can afford a province, now they have to buy a duchy instead just to stay caught up—otherwise they’ll lose if you can buy the last province. Unless you think the other player can grab two provinces on their turn, grab a duchy and be ready to nab the last province. This also makes a difference if you’re the first or second player—if the second player ends the game and the points are tied, the game is a tie. If the first player ends the game and the points are tied, the second player wins. So if you’re first player, be especially watchful for the tie. This, of course, only applies to two-player games; nothing is certain when there are four players and four provinces left, and you should just buy a province.
Of course, if you can buy a duchy and a province at the same time, more power to ya. Go get ‘im.
There’s also something else to consider. It may be significantly quicker to end the game by running out the three supply piles instead of provinces. This is more common in 3-4 player games, especially ones involving attacks, but it can happen anywhere. End the game quickly, especially when you have a clear advantage that the other player will have an almost impossible time surmounting.
I’ve ended a game by buying a curse, voluntarily, before, just because it was the third supply pile to end. I had two provinces; no one else had any. There were curses everywhere, and people just weren’t able to get decent hands because of it. I could have continued very safely with a solid lead, but it was better for everyone and for the enjoyment of the game to just end it. If you are way ahead and can end the game in one turn instead of two, do it. It’s not cool to drag the game out longer than it needs to be when you have a clear lead. Just be on the lookout. Don’t be a jerk.