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Is it necessary to win a noble in order to win the game of Splendor?

I have heard two different sets of rules, one is to reach 15 points, the other is to reach 15 points and possess at least one noble.

Which one is the correct rule?

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No. From the rulebook, hosted on the creator's website, no mention of nobles as part of the win condition:

END OF THE GAME

When a player reaches 15 prestige points, complete the current round so that each player has played the same number of turns. The player who then has the highest number of prestige points is declared the winner (don’t forget to count your nobles). In case of a tie, the player who has purchased the fewest development cards wins.

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As per the rules quoted by steenbergh, you do not need a noble in order to win. However, in some discussions I've seen it raised as a house rule (particularly in situations where people believe that going for nobles is a weaker strategy than avoiding them, so the house rule tries to encourage competition for them).

Additionally, in the expansions Cities of Splendor, the Cities module replaces nobles with City tiles that you must claim one of in order to win.

  • 1
    One thing to remember the difficultly in obtaining a noble is entirely up to the luck of the draw for which ones you get and what cards are available for purchase so there are games where they can all get easily purchased and others where they are impossible. – Joe W Sep 3 at 20:12
  • "going for nobles is a weaker strategy than avoiding them." I find that the nobles strategy is a prisoner's dilemma. When nobody is after the good nobles (the ones with overlapping colors), then they are a good bet, but when everyone is after the nobles, they are a bad bet. So, starting out in the "nobody after nobles" state, each individual is incentivized to go after nobles. The game devolves toward the "everyone after nobles state", which is actually the suboptimal strategy. – Scott Sep 4 at 12:29

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