Harem is a curiously underrated card. Bedazzled by the allure of Gold, many players pass on them entirely until the late game, treating them as consolation prizes for missing out on Provinces. Nothing could be further from the truth: in a Province game, the general rule for Harem is to buy it over Gold when you would buy a Province over a Gold.
There are, of course, countervailing considerations: for starters, in Colony/Platinum games, Harems become less important, since their VPs matter less and getting to $11 requires much stronger buying power than Harem can provide. Moreover, attacks tend to hurt Harems more than Gold. This is especially true with Militia and other handsize reduction attacks: because Harems are worth only $2, Harems alone cannot get you to Provinces if you’ve been Militia’d. Unlike Harem, Golds are not affected by an opponent’s Bureaucrat. And with Remodel on the board, you would probably rather purchase Golds (to help you get Provinces earlier) and Remodel them into Victory points.
But these exceptions aside, Harems generally become preferable to Gold far sooner than most players think. The point at which you should take a Province over a Gold depends on the nature of your deck, but as a general rule, unless you find yourself at $8 unexpectedly early, or you don’t anticipate ever reaching $8 again (and would rather buy Duchies), you should almost never pass up a Province for a Gold in a non-Colony game. Likewise, in solitaire Province games, simulations demonstrate that strictly buying Harems (and never Golds) does considerably better than strictly buying Golds (and never Harems), and the optimal transition point for Golds to Harems is extremely early on. Of course, these simulations don’t take into account attacks or the value of $5 cards (all of which counsel in favor of Golds), but as a general rule, you should probably be buying Harems before you think you need to.
Harems become obscenely good buys when playing Hoard. They interact well with Mine, since not only can you upgrade your Silvers into Harems, you can “downgrade” Golds into Harems in the late-game. Late-game Mints also become meaningful with Harems in play, since you don’t have to wait for the reshuffle to experience the benefit. And like all mixed Victory cards, a high concentration of Harems synergizes very well with Scout.
Finally, Harem makes for … rather odd (some might say distasteful) thematic interactions. It’s amusing to imagine how, exactly, Thieves can come in and rob you of an entire Harem, or how a Mine can turn Silver into a group of women. You’d also think that the Harem would cost you money, but apparently it provides a source of income instead …
- Colony/Platinum games
- Handsize-reduction attacks
- Opponents’ Tributes
- Opponents’ Thieves (for the same reason that Harem makes late-game Mints useful)