Without Provinces, Tournament is basically one of those nice cheap non-terminals that (usually) can’t hurt your deck. Not quite as delicious as Caravan, but generally preferable to Spy or Pawn. Works with Conspirator, lowers the price of Peddler, blah blah blah.
Of course, it’s actually worse than all of them in the sense that your Tournaments stop drawing in the late game, but hopefully then you have Provinces and can make up for it by getting Prizes or Duchies. The problem I see is that people tend to forget that the risk of a parried Tournament is only worth however much value you can extract out of Prizes and Duchies. Winning a Tournament doesn’t in and of itself do much for you; in the late game, I’ve seen the Prizes and Duchies all run out, and then your Tournaments are basically just empty cards. So overinvesting in Tournaments is not such a great idea.
So how do you get Prizes? First, get a Province, ASAP. Then, draw it with your Tournament, ASAP. Behind this facetious tautology lurks two actual nuggets of advice: first, the fastest way to activate a Tournament is not to open Tournament. It’s easy to buy a Tournament later on, when you need it; it’s not so easy to vault yourself up to Province so quickly. Cards like Moneylender, Militia, Baron, Smithy can all help you get to $8 prematurely; Tournament does not.
And second, you better have some draw set up, or at least heavy trashing, or else you might get the Province first but the Prizes last. Draw differs from trashing in that heavy trashing tends to lead to Tournament-parrying all around; it is much more likely your opponent also has a Province in his 5-card hand if he has been trashing heavily than if he relies on a draw strategy. With enough draw, you can actually use the same Province multiple times; this ordinarily comes in Tactician games where you can repeatedly fish for Prizes with the same Province and drain them before your opponent has a chance at one.
Incidentally, this also suggests that you should not bother when you are getting swamped with Curses. Passing up Mountebank for the Tournament race is not a good idea; even if you get to the Province, you will never, ever get to draw them together.
You should also keep in mind the dynamic of the game. In Province games, your first Prize isn’t going to come until you’ve probably got one or two Provinces, and your opponent probably has one or two as well. This is the stage of the game where people stop improving their deck and start buying green cards. With rare exceptions, do not view Prizes as components of an upcoming engine, but rather as a final helper along the way as you stagger to the finish line. Many times I have seen a player activate his Tournament with only two Provinces left and take a Prize that does little good for him, only to lose by the Duchies his opponent has taken in lieu of Prizes. Prizes don’t score: green does.
As far as Colony games go, in a fast-paced game I tend to just skip the Provinces and take the brunt of the Prizes. This is especially true if my fast-paced deck is due to factors that do not contribute to Tournaments: Venture/Loan/Bank really isn’t going to benefit much from a Tournament, and nor would it be likely to trigger one any time soon. On the other hand, in slower games, and in mega-draw games, I’m happy to pick up a Province on the way. This is because the dynamic is totally different; in Province games, as mentioned earlier, you’re probably already in green mode by the time you get Prizes. In Colony games, your deck is still improving, which allows for you to build your deck around Diadem, or boost your deck with multiple buys from Princess.
- Big draw
- Heavy trashing (though it increases the chance that the Tournament gets parried)
- Envoy: does your opponent make you discard the Province or not?!
- Opponents’ Rabble
- Your Militia, by forcing him to decide between discarding good cards or his Province
- Fairgrounds/Menagerie/Harvest (for the variety, though I doubt you’ll be happy turning up Prizes in your Harvest)
- Cursing attacks
- Fast-paced games where Tournament becomes not much more than a Duchy top-decker
- Colony games
The Prizes themselves are a little overrated considering how much weight people assign them. They’re powerful, but like Shakespeare, Trusty Steed and Followers can be at the top and yet still overrated. Their absurdly high win rate is mostly due to the fact that the player who gets to Provinces first tends to be doing well anyway.
My default first pick, unless there is some good reason to go for Followers. Trusty Steed is the most reliable of all the Prizes: it’s good in a +Actions/+Cards chain, where it provides some good lubrication for the engine parts; it’s good in a Laboratory-type chain, for giving you a little more flexibility with respect to terminal Actions; it’s even fine in a Big Money deck, since the +4 Silvers is surprisingly helpful if you’re already set money-wise for this turn.
A pretty devastating attack, but gaining that Estate hurts more than it seems. You’re already probably at the greening-your-deck stage of the game, and adding in an extra Estate — while helpful for your score — really kills your deck just as much as those Curses are killing his. Needless to say, it is not that helpful when the Curses are gone, and in the presence of reaction cards it’s the first attack that you might hesitate to play out of fear of being Moated. I tend to get this card more to deny it to my opponents than anything else.
I think this card is underrated. It’s generally worth at least a Gold, and definitely at least a Silver. Of course, the one situation Diadem is best in (when you have a huge surplus of +Action) is really not a situation you want to be in, ideally, but sometimes you do end up with a surplus of +Action through no real fault of your own. Fully upgraded Cities are the obvious choice, but those are only really viable if you’re going for Colony, and detouring for Provinces might be a bit too slow. Worker’s Village/Hamlet into Peddler is a more likely scenario: there, you have both a ton of +Action as well as sufficient +Buy to take advantage of an obscene Diadem. Fishing Village / Wharf strategies also tend to run into a surplus of +Action sometimes, since the Fishing Villages get distributed a little unevenly and you often overinvest in them to block your opponent. And King’s Court and non-terminals often leads to some ridiculous +Actions shenanigans. But you generally shouldn’t be building a deck with massive surplus of +Action specifically hoping to take advantage of Diadem; after all, might as well load it up with Monument or even Saboteur if you have that many Actions to spare.
Bag of Gold
Sometimes you just absolutely need the +$3. Bag of Gold can be the best play if you’re both really starving on coin, and certainly it works with Venture, and blind card draw, and etc. etc. If you need this card, you’ll probably know it; and if you’re not sure, you’re probably better off with the Duchy.
It feels like Bridge, but it’s not until you start playing Princess that you realize just how much it makes you miss Bridge. The lack of a +$1, the fact that it can’t be Throned or Kinged, its unstackability … Princess is good for a late game double VP buy. But it seems to me that the odds that you’ll need that ability instead of a Duchy are relatively low. It’s nice if you stack it with Bridges, since then you don’t miss the lack of money as badly, and it’s also nice if it is your only source of +Buy. But don’t expect it to perform like a Throned Bridge.