Opportunity Denial – A Disruption Evaluation Framework
A glaring hole exists, I believe, in the game strategy literature surrounding the evaluation of hindering your opponents’ strategies and goals. As a concept, it’s obviously known, and it’s known to have value, but the amount of value it has is poorly understood. There’s no framework for knowing how to compare it to advancing your own game plan. In this article, I seek to fill that void.
Take, for instance, the Landmark Defiled Shrine. With N tokens on it, buying a curse is exactly like buying a victory card worth N-1 points, right? So if there are, let’s say, seven counters, then it’s the same as buying a (0-cost) Province? Not exactly. First of all, there’s an issue about piles running out – usually buying a province will hasten the end of the game moreso than buying a curse (though I guess that’s not always true). Moreover, though, there’s some amount of denial to each play. When you get the curse, the points leave Defiled Shrine, meaning that you’re effectively stopping your opponent from making the same play on their next turn. Some people say that this is like a 12 point swing. But when we look at this under the paradigm of opportunity denial, we can see that this is not the case. First of all, you haven’t denied them anything if they weren’t going to buy a curse anyway. But even if they were, they now get to spend that buy on something else, whatever the next best thing was. So it comes out to the full 12 point swing only in the case where they were otherwise doing nothing with the buy.
Let’s compare that to buying a Province. Every province you get is a province your opponent can’t get in the long run. But getting a province now doesn’t do much in terms of the overall number they can get until the game is about to end. Is buying a province, therefore, a 12 point swing? No, it isn’t either. First of all, your opponent may not be going for provinces at all – if they have access to VP tokens, or alt victory cards, or some other way of winning the game, then it doesn’t make much difference. Additionally, while buying the province is a long term denial of the Nth province (where N is how many remained before you bought it, plus how many they have right now), that only tends to matter as N gets low. In other words, denying them the 7th province doesn’t matter so much – it’s the 5th and the 4th where it starts to become pertinent. And the fastest way to deny them those may not be to buy one straightaway.
The same logic from the Province case actually applies to any pile that is running out. Think about a case where there's only one pile of villages, and generally the best deck to go for is some kind of draw-your-deck-using-terminals-then-play-a-bunch-of-payload thing, which is often the case. In such a situation, having more of the villages means you can play more actions - more draw cards, as well as more terminal payload cards. Fantastic. But is it worth it? It's easy to imagine a situation where, let's say the fifth village will eventually move you from two provinces per turn to three. And you already have five, so you're set there, but there's one left, and you're trying to figure out whether to deny your opponent. Let's also assume that it will cost you a turn to get the village (because if it's free, then obviously you should do it). In this case, the answer is pretty clear that you should not bother with denial - you're costing yourself a turn, and your opponent will get to cut some gains (one less village and a bit less payload, since they can't support it), which means they're actually getting off the ground faster. Between all that, you might still be ahead, but it's hard to imagine you'll be more ahead than if you just went for your own greening phase. The more interesting question comes up when it flips you from single province turns to double. This reduces time from greening start to four provinces by two turn cycles. Spending time on the village which is superfluous for you costs you one turn, and them not needing to build as much means they can cut this one village, along with probably one draw card and about two to three payload cards. One thing extra for you plus 4-5 for your opponent looks like more than enough turn cycles, but we have to remember that probably some of these things get bought on the same turn anyway, and the extra village does also help your reliability (probably more so than the extra cards hurt it). So all in all... it's actually a close call, and depends on the specifics. But certainly the value over not denying isn't super high.