A periodic column on Sanctum strategy, theory, and fun,
by Ian Schreiber, Sanctum player name Gannon. You can reach Ian at
Town Layout Strategy: Isolation
July 20, 2000
This week, we'll look at the most antisocial town layout, one in which none
of the towns are anywhere near each other. For the sake of accuracy, I'll define
this layout as one where no town is within 3 or fewer squares of any other town
(i.e. they're all 4 or more squares apart). This is actually a fairly common
town layout, coming up about a third of the time (30 possible layouts in Veldt
are like this, out of a total of 88, to be exact).
While it's not always the case, many of the Isolation layouts also have towns
that are far away from the Sanctum, which makes Lockdown's job a lot easier.
Even if one town is close to the Sanctum, there's enough space between towns
that the enemy Horde will not be reaching its destination, the center town,
without seeing plenty of interference from your spells.
Your ideal strategy is to prevent the opponent's second group from reaching
its town, and then delay the enemy Horde's progress toward center, holding the
opponent to one town. If all towns are far away from the Sanctum, you may even
be able to prevent the opponent from taking any towns at all! That aside, your
main priority is still to stop the opponent from reaching center town, and taking
the center yourself. From there, depending on the exact layout, you'll probably
want to summon monsters around the opponent's town to prevent her from gaining
too many recruits, and either advance directly from center town to Sanctum or
else head first to the remaining neutral town (the one that the opponent failed
to capture) and from there to the enemy Sanctum. Meanwhile, your flood of monsters
should prevent the opponent from making small groups from her town, and your
Lockdown spells can handle one or two large groups.
Combat Speed's main priority is to reach the center town quickly on this board;
if you don't take it early, even if you take both nearest towns, you might not
be able to attack it effectively later on because your forces are so far away.
If there are no towns on the walking path to center (there usually aren't with
this layout), then you have a tough decision to make: risk everything by marching
your Horde directly to center town, and basically concede if it doesn't reach
there in time … or take an extra turn on the way to capture a town with your
Horde, delaying your attack at center. This will be your key decision in the
game and you'll need to make it within the first two turns or so. The answer
depends in part on what House your opponent is playing and what's in your opening
hand (do you think she'll be able to stop you from reaching the center town
in time?). If you head for the center, I've found it's often good to have your
second group follow the Horde and have it capture that first town instead; the
advantage of this is it will be harder for the enemy to kill your second group
with a cheap monster (your Horde might kill the monster first), but the down
side is that any blocked movement might accidentally cause your Horde and second
group to merge (so be careful how you move your groups!).
Combat Protection likes Isolation layouts, but plays them very differently
from its Speed counterpart. Realize that the opponent will likely need to come
at least slightly close to one of your nearest towns; do your best to capture
both of them, even if you can't capture center town right away, and then wait.
If the opponent attacks, you're at an advantage: you've had four extra turns
to build up novices in your towns by the time the enemy groups are attacking,
so your groups will generally be two recruits larger than any enemy group that
walks that far into your territory (barring spells, of course). This puts your
opponent in a difficult position: if she attacks early she'll likely lose her
most powerful group and be set back four turns or more; if she waits, she gives
you extra time. Either way you'll often have the time you need to build up your
huge protected group of 8, and then march it clear across the board for a late
Like Combat Protection, if your opponent attacks you they will be at a disadvantage.
However, a competent opponent who manages to take center town may simply create
a lot of individual, small units to absorb your Powerhouse spells, and follow
up with a big group or two from its first towns to drive home a victory. This
is clearly not the best state of affairs for you to be in.
A lot of how you play will depend on exactly what your opening hand looks like,
and what you expect the opponent to do. If you think the enemy may concentrate
on capturing both nearby towns before heading to center, and you don't think
she can stop your Horde by turn 6, it might be worthwhile to have your Horde
make a mad dash to the center town even if it means giving up a closer town
for now. If you see an enemy Combat Speed group rushing to the center and you
don't have any Powerhouse spells that can stop it in time, it might be best
to bide your time, capture your nearest towns, and plan to attack center town
(and enemy Horde) with a Powerhouse spell as soon as possible.
Still, of all of the basic strategies, Powerhouse is generally least equipped
to deal with an Isolation board if it loses center town (which is quite likely),
so it might be best to rely on any secondary strategy you might have built into
your deck (Lockdown by a series of monsters to block group movement is a common
mini-theme in many Powerhouse decks, for example).
A lot of the game will depend on how fast you can create that first Colony,
and exactly where you create it. If your town defense is reliable and you can
manage to capture a town on the left side of the board, another in the right
and create a Colony in the center (just above your Sanctum), your opponent will
have a very tough time breaking through. If you have at least the occasional
Powerhouse spell and can create that sort of board position, your opponent will
lose individual recruits to your nominal town defense, and lose large groups
to your Powerhouse spells. Then it's just a matter of time before you create
more and more Colonies, the opponent runs out of cards and you both enter the
attrition part of the game …
Clearly, planning to take both of your nearest towns is key, as is generating
enough mana to create one Colony near your Sanctum before your opponent gets
anywhere near you. Being able to defend your structures, as always, is also
critical. A diversionary attack on the center town early in the game is usually
not in your best interests; as soon as your Colony hits the table your intentions
will be clear and your opponent will see through your bluff, and in the mean
time your attacking recruits will probably be lost and you'll lose precious
board position if you were unable to take a nearby town as a result.
The Isolation boards are difficult to play, because there is a lot of risk
on both sides no matter what you do. If you head to the center town early and
the opponent is able to stall or kill your Horde with monsters and Lockdown
spells, you may be left with only one (or zero!) towns on the board, and you
may as well concede. If you concentrate on capturing your nearby towns, you
risk handing the center to your opponent, and many strategies can turn the center
town into a win on a board like this. Clashes of the two Hordes at the center
town are less common on this layout because you may both take a different amount
of time to get there (one of you might head straight there while the other stops
to capture a town), but losing several groups to enemy spells should be expected;
there's a lot of space between towns, so there's a lot of time for the opponent
to stop you from doing anything.
Of course, the same is true the other way around; you'll have the opportunity
to make your opponent feel pain by delaying her groups' progress toward center
town, stopping them from taking nearby towns, or killing them outright while
they're on their way to try to accomplish anything. Isolation games, then, give
you the greatest chance to truly ruin your opponent's spirit … and give you
the greatest chance to feel as if you've been absolutely crushed. Is it any
wonder that Despair likes to see this town layout, when it can spread its influence
to the players themselves?