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Sanctum | Strategy, Sorcery, SubterfugeSanctum | Strategy, Sorcery, Subterfuge



Ngozi's Way

A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun, by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at

Town Layout Strategy: Center Cluster
July 6, 2000

A little while ago I briefly went over different possible town layouts, and their odds of appearing in any individual game; see Probabilities (Part 1). In this next series, I'll go over some commonly-seen town layouts and how you play differently depending on which one comes up.

This week, we'll look at what I call the Center Cluster: all of the towns are within 2 walking squares of at least one other town. In such cases, the towns either end up all being in a clump at the center, or sometimes they form a mostly-straight line across the board.

A Clump of Towns
Center Cluster Layout – Clumped

A Line of Towns
Center Cluster Layout – Line


This isn't always a friendly town layout for a Lockdown deck to see. Closest towns are usually within 3 or 4 steps of the Sancta so your opponent will probably reach her first town before you can stop it, and then the town is only two steps from the next, which forces you to constantly be stopping individual-recruit groups from moving forward. You might have an equally hard time avoiding the enemy Horde; your own Horde will be headed for center town no doubt, which will not be that far away from the opponent's first town.

If you have a secondary strategy, such as Combat or Powerhouse, you'd do well to concentrate mainly on that for Center Cluster games. While you'll certainly be able to buy a turn or two with your Lockdown spells, probably giving you the center town initially in the process, you will have to push that forward to a victory and Lockdown spells alone will not do it for you. You'll need to destroy the enemy Horde before it reaches center town somehow, so start thinking how you'll do that from turn 1. Don't be afraid to discard expensive Lockdown spells; their best use will be in the early game before reaching center town anyway, to buy you one or two precious extra turns, and you'll want to be going for an early win which makes the more expensive stuff far less useful. Likewise, since you might only get decent use out of your first two Lockdown spells, don't be afraid to discard surplus (even if they're cheap) when you'd rather be drawing something to help you deal with the enemy Horde.


Center Cluster is what Combat Speed decks should be praying for; you can't do much better than this for a town layout with that strategy. You want to reach the center town and force combat early, and with all the towns in about the same place you know your opponent will be sending her Horde in the same vicinity as yours. If you win the battle for center town, you'll only be a turn or two from your opponent's next town, which is a very good position for you to be in on turn 5 or so! Combat Protection isn't quite as happy about this town layout, but unless it's up against a Combat Speed deck it could certainly be worse. Consider playing such a deck closer to Combat Speed: build up your Horde and head directly for center. With all of the towns so close together, defending your earlier towns if you give the opponent the center will be tough, so better to go for an early advantage (unless you have another strategy as backup, of course).

Play for the center-town rush; capture one town on the way but send your Horde directly to the center of the board where it can do the most good. Most Combat decks have a relatively cheap mana structure to begin with; this gives you several options on the first couple of turns. You can add a fifth recruit to your Horde for extra combat power (recommended on this town layout with Combat Speed), or make a relatively large second group to take the second town (useful in some cases, so you can press the attack even if a Powerhouse spell takes out your Horde), or even make no second group at all (the second town is within a short walk of your first town, after all, so you can just pick it up later) and instead build up a lot of mana so you can toss even more cheap spells in mid-game.


Like Combat Speed, a Powerhouse deck with a cheap mana structure absolutely loves this town layout. Play it much the same way: head for the center town early and use your cheap Powerhouse spells to take it by force; then press your advantage quickly, while you're in easy reach of the enemy towns, before the opponent has a chance to recover.

The more mana-intensive Powerhouse strategies are another story. You probably won't have the mana to cast your powerful stuff early. Worse, a lot of the more expensive Powerhouse spells will either be unusable or will get in your way. As one example, Void targets a square, and there aren't very many squares between towns that won't have groups on them every turn; and even if you do get an opening to cast this, you'll just be blocking your own progress. As another example, Lycanthropy is a nasty spell to drop on the enemy Horde to stop its progress, but it's not so great anymore when you'll be forced to encounter a pack of fully-healed Wolves in direct combat ...

For the expensive Powerhouse decks, then, start looking for ways to get an early advantage. Discard your most expensive spells early on, and perhaps even later if it starts to look like you won't be able to use them effectively during the game.


Center Cluster can be a dream or a nightmare, depending on the precise layout and exactly how good your deck is at holding your own towns. Since all the towns are stuck together already, your opponent may have a tough time getting to your Sanctum without having to go through your towns the hard way; if you can stall the game even against an enemy speed rush at your first towns, you may end up with the time that your strategy needs to work.

One problematic type of Center Cluster is where the opponent has a way to get a single recruit group adjacent to two of your towns at once (that is, if your nearest two towns are diagonally adjacent to each other). Then you have to defend both towns instead of just one (unless you're unnaturally good at guessing where the enemy group will try to move), and if you're just throwing up sacrificial recruits in your towns to stop them from being captured, you may run out of them too early. In this case, it might be best to work with a secondary strategy in the early game; if you have a few Combat spells, perhaps you can try to add a fifth recruit to your Horde on turn 1 (even if the opponent kills it, it might appear to be enough of a potential threat to slow her down a few precious turns). If you have some Powerhouse spells, try unloading them on the enemy Horde early instead of saving them for later, and see if you can't take the center town early.

There's one other thing you may have to worry about; if the opponent is entirely unable to overrun your towns, she may decide it's easier to go the long way around to your Sanctum, avoiding the cluster of towns in the center of the board entirely. In this case, your town defenses are useless; try to create a Colony or two near your Sanctum so that it's impossible for an opponent to just walk around, if you can, or else be prepared to use up your Powerhouse spells defending your Sanctum.


This town layout often has the most vicious battles for center town, and is one of the hardest to come back from when you're at a town disadvantage. Is it worth building your entire deck around the possibility of this one layout? Probably not there are only about ten or so possible layouts (out of 88) that fit this classification but it does teach us that pure Lockdown and expensive Powerhouse decks might consider incorporating at least a minor secondary strategy to rely on in Center Cluster games.

You'll note that I didn't list Denial above. As a strategy, it simply stops the opponent from casting her own spells, and must be combined with at least one other strategy for it to actually do anything. So, you'd play a Denial + Lockdown deck exactly as you would Lockdown as far as the town layout is concerned; you'd play a Denial + Attrition deck the same as you would an Attrition deck; and so on. Because the presence or absence of Denial itself does not directly affect the part of your strategy based around the town layout, it will not be mentioned explicitly in this series of articles.

Good luck!

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