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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: Unbalanced
July 27, 2000

Finishing the current series of town layouts, this week we'll take a peek at the layouts that give one player a direct advantage over the other. I call these “unbalanced” layouts because the apparent symmetry of the town layout on the gameboard is not exact, and in these cases it may make a huge difference in the outcome of the game. I'll define this layout as follows: ignoring terrain, an unbalanced layout exists where one player has a single town that is on a direct walking path to the center town while the other player does not have any such towns.

There are about 14 layouts that are unbalanced.

Unbalanced Layout
Unbalanced Layout


If you're on the good side of this town layout, it's all you could ever ask for; either the opponent will take a detour to her first town and only arrive at the center around turn 8, or she'll send the Horde directly for center without taking any towns. In the former case, you should have a pretty easy time holding the enemy to one town only, using movement-blocking spells to disrupt the Horde's advance on center, and by the time it gets anywhere you'll be in a position to advance on the enemy Sanctum! In the latter situation, you should be able to draw enough spells to stall the Horde before it reaches the center (if you can't pull anything useful by turn 6, your Lockdown strategy probably needs some tuning anyway), and you might even be able to hold the opponent to zero towns. You can't ask for more than that, can you? Have no mercy… if you're given this sort of advantage, use it to its fullest to bring home the win.

If you're on the bad side of this town layout, things aren't so simple. Your opponent will probably capture that first town, and may very well be in close proximity to the center, while it may take you a little while to get there. If you have a secondary strategy that will assist you in taking the center town, such as Combat or Powerhouse, you might consider sending your second group to your nearest town and sending your Horde directly at the center, relying on Lockdown spells combined with your other strategy to let you capture the center town. If you don't expect your Horde to survive a center-town rush, you might have to content yourself with trying to capture both nearby towns and stalling the enemy Horde just outside of center. Of course, this is not that much different than your regular strategy, so you certainly shouldn't concede from the beginning just because of an uninviting layout!


As always, Combat Speed should probably head directly to center town as fast as possible. If there's a town on the way that you can grab, great; if not, hope your second group can take your nearest town before it gets killed off. As with the Isolation layout, it is conceivable that you try to capture the nearest town with your Horde, attempt to reach your next town with your second group, and try to get your Horde to the center anyway; whether to try this instead of just heading straight for center depends on your opening hand, your opponent's House, terrain and such.

Combat Protection tends to be very happy if on the friendly end of an Unbalanced board; this usually means it can capture the center town unopposed, and use it as its main front for launching attacks. Usually, Combat Protection is content to give up the center town in exchange for time, but if it's able to win the center without a lot of fuss it can usually push that advantage into a much easier win than it normally has. If the opponent does decide to face you at center, you can probably pile on more Combat spells than they can (unless you suspect a Powerhouse spell to wipe your group out entirely, in which case you'd be wise to follow your regular strategy of relenting, and simply attempting to take your two nearest towns … luckily you'll probably know what your opponent is trying to do before you have to commit one way or the other).

If your Combat Protection is on the unfriendly end of this board, then bide your time; send your Horde to one town, your second group to the other, and start building up your invincible group … once you finish building such a group, simply march it forward and take the center town by force … as usual.


In the case of an Unbalanced layout in your favor, play exactly as you normally would. Head to the center town, and if you can capture it without a big fight and then use your Powerhouse spells to steamroll your opponent, more power to you. If it's evident that you'll lose the center town initially, at least you'll have captured one or two towns beforehand, and you can launch forward with a Powerhouse attack in mid-game shortly after the opponent takes center town. (Cheap Powerhouse typically will do the former, while Expensive Powerhouse will usually follow the latter.)

If the Unbalanced board is in the opponent's favor, you will be playing much like you would with an Isolation board, the difference being that you can guarantee the opponent will head toward center town while it's risky for you to do so! If you feel confident that you can win the battle at center, go for it … otherwise, be content to grab one or both nearby towns and then attack as soon as possible afterward.


If the layout is in your favor and your opponent takes her first town instead of heading directly to center, you have a decent chance of claiming and keeping center town. Any Attrition deck that can do that, stands an excellent chance of winning as long as it doesn't overextend itself in the mid-game by going for an “early” win. If your opponent heads directly to the center town and you don't expect to win the conflict (and you can't somehow slow or stall the enemy Horde) then the best you can do is hold back and try to create Colonies as quickly as possible.

If the layout is not in your favor, then play this layout exactly like an Isolation board. Concede the center town to your opponent, do your best to capture both nearby towns, create Colonies as early as possible and in strategic locations that will give you a nice line of defense between the center town and your Sanctum, and use a combination of town defenses and Powerhouse spells to repel your opponent's attacks. If you can buy yourself enough time to throw the game into the Attrition phase, the game is yours.


Unbalanced town layouts are often frustrating by their very nature. On the other hand, there's nothing like the thrill of winning the game in spite of an unfavorable town layout … much the same as winning the game in spite of unfavorable terrain (and in fact, if you don't draw spells that help you pass hazardous terrain very early, the strategy of the two is quite similar). Playing when the game gives you an automatic advantage through the town layout can be equally challenging though; you can bet your opponent will have some tricks up her sleeve to compensate for the towns (no opponent is simply going to hand you the win, after all!), and the fact that you'll almost always be moving your Horde directly to the nearest town and then directly to center is predictable … and your enemy can take advantage of your predictability.

Good luck!

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