Crossroads is a very interesting, unique card. Multiples can serve as both halves of a +Actions/+Cards engine, a strange feat accomplished by no other card save Nobles. But Crossroads is dramatically cheaper than Nobles and therefore much easier to accumulate. It also has a much better upside: +3 Actions and unbounded drawing power! Compensating for these relative strengths, however, is the tricky coordination required to activate them.
To analyze this card properly, I think it’s important to look at two different cases separately. These cases are (1) when victory cards in hand are always “dead” cards until the end of the game; and (2) when it helps to have victory cards in your hand. The reason I want to separate these cases is that the mechanics of the card are much easier to understand on an intuitive level if we consider the simple first case first.
When Victory Cards In Hand Are Dead
First, let’s imagine a deck with no victory cards whatsoever. You’ve trashed your starting Estates and not gained any other victory cards. What does a Crossroads do for your deck? Obviously in this case, all you’ll ever get from a Crossroads is +3 Actions. And if multiple Crossroads collide, you don’t get anything from the duplicates. How good is a one-time +3 Actions? I would argue that it’s not very good. In a 5-card hand, the +3 Actions are only fully useful if 3 of your other 4 cards are terminal actions, or if you have drawing terminals that will pull in other terminals.
Thing is, it’s really tough to use this Village-type effect without also having drawing power. If you’ve ever tried to build a +Actions/+Cards engine with University, Nobles, Shanty Town, or Native Village, you know how much that +1 Card on the vanilla Village really helps. Sometimes the lack of draw on Fishing Village even hurts sometimes. If the draw component of a +Actions/+Cards engine is lacking, getting an extra extra action from Crossroads still leaves you with a draw problem.
Additionally, since Crossroads cards don’t stack, you won’t want to get too many, for fear they’ll collide. And if you can’t get too many, that means you shouldn’t be buying lots of terminals, and if you’re not buying lots of terminals, you’re probably not going to use the +3 Actions you get. It’s a vicious circle.
But everything I’ve said so far is probably obvious: the real power of Crossroads is when you get some drawing power out of it. So let’s consider the effect of a single Crossroads card in a deck with some percentage of victory cards.
Let’s say your deck consists of 50% victory cards. Given such a deck, a hand of Crossroads-X-X-Estate-Estate is probably quite likely. Now we play the Crossroads, which gives us +2 Cards and +3 Actions. That’s pretty spectacular! It’s basically the equivalent of a Laboratory and two Villages. Staggering. Now, what do we draw? Remember that our deck consists of 50% victory cards, so if we draw two cards, the average case is that we’ll draw one Victory card and one X. Now our hand is this: X-X-X-Estate-Estate-Estate.
But hang on. Isn’t this an even worse outcome than our earlier example of a deck with no victory cards? Remember, we’re operating under the assumption that Victory cards in hand are always dead to us, so the useful part of our hand is now X-X-X. But in the earlier example, we had X-X-X-X after playing the Crossroads.
This is the Crossroads paradox: you need Victory cards to activate Crossroads, but having Victory cards in your deck weakens your deck more than a single Crossroads strengthens it. See, the thing is, even in the best case, a single Crossroads only gets you to the point you’d have been if you hadn’t had any Victory cards in your deck at all. Say your perfect shuffle luck got you a hand consisting of Crossroads-Estate-Estate-Estate-Estate. You play the Crossroads, and let’s say you draw four non-Victory cards. Now your hand consists of Estate-Estate-Estate-Estate-X-X-X-X. Since we’re assuming all Victory cards are dead cards, the useful part of your hand is only X-X-X-X, which is exactly what it would have been if you hadn’t had any Victory cards in your deck in the first place!
So maybe the solution to this paradox is to accrue multiple Crossroads. Let’s say our hand is Crossroads-Crossroads-X-Estate-Estate, again from a deck of 50% Victory cards. Playing the first Crossroads gives us 2 cards, 1 Estate and 1 X. Now our hand is Crossroads-X-X-Estate-Estate-Estate. Now play the second Crossroads. Let’s be charitable and assume we draw 2 X’s and 1 Estate. Our hand now is X-X-X-X-Estate-Estate-Estate-Estate. Well, we drew a lot of cards, but we still only got up to 4 X’s, no better than having a single Crossroads in hand from a deck with no Victory cards. Worse, we lost one of our +3 Actions playing the second Crossroads.
Obviously when you have such a deck, some hands will play out better than this, and some worse. But this is not a spectacular average case. Moreover, although increasing the number of Victory cards in your deck will further empower these Crossroads cards, that increase will also space out your Crossroads cards more, making them less likely to collide.
Ultimately, Crossroads doesn’t seem very good, does it? Except as an end-game accelerator: buying a mid-late game Crossroads might allow us to start greening earlier without clogging as badly. But that’s a pretty narrow application for a card that seems like it should have better potential.
But to understand the situations where it shines, let’s take a brief second look at what it actually did for us in the above examples:
- The first Crossroads provides us the +Actions component of an engine, but it doesn’t really provide +Cards so much as a pseudo-Cellar effect. As observed, even in the best case, the first Crossroads can’t get us more useful cards in hand than we might have gotten with perfect shuffle luck. And having the Crossroads in hand still uses up a card slot. So, again, the first Crossroads is really more like a Cellar with extra actions than something like a Level 2 City, which provides both +Actions and +Cards free and clear.
- Successive Crossroads cards provide terminal drawing power, like Moat or Smithy. They use up an action to play, but now it’s possible to accrue more useful cards in your hand than you started with. However, the drawing power of these extra Crossroads cards is somewhat determined by how diluted your deck is. So even if you get a staggering +4 Cards out of a Crossroads, the fact that you can get +4 Cards probably means the cards you draw won’t all be useful ones.
Now, certainly there are combo possibilities. If you can play a Scout before playing Crossroads, not only will Scout increase the drawing power of your Crossroads, but it will increase the quality of the cards you draw with the Crossroads, which is pretty cool. But in the absence of synergy with other action cards, Crossroads is probably pretty bad most of the time.
When Victory Cards In Hand Are Useful
First, when might Victory cards in hand be useful?
- When you have discard-for-benefit actions. These include Hamlet, Vault, Secret Chamber, Baron, and Tournament. Having Victory cards in hand means you can discard these for some benefit, rather than having to discard a more useful card for those benefits.
- When you have mandatory discard actions. These include Horse Traders, Young Witch, Warehouse, Embassy, and Inn. These cards require you to discard something as compensation for receiving their other benefits. If you have Victory cards in hand, you can discard those instead of more useful cards.
- When you have trash-for-benefit actions. These include the Remodel family, Apprentice, Bishop, Salvager, and Trader. Assuming you might want to feed any of your Victory cards to these, Crossroads can help you draw these with those Victory cards.
- When you have hybrid Victory cards. This is the obvious and strongest situation.
The first three cases here are very situational. They only apply when such cards are in your deck, and the benefit you get from comboing them with Crossroads may or may not actually be worth the trouble to try to do so.
But the last case can be overwhelmingly strong. Crossroads turn all your Great Halls into Laboratories, basically, because when you play Crossroads, you draw a card for each one, then draw another when you play each Great Hall itself. Having multiple Crossroads compounds that benefit even further.
With Nobles, Crossroads does better than drawing an extra card per Nobles: it also allows more of those Nobles to be played for +Cards rather than merely for +Actions, which is huge.
With Harem, Crossroads turns each one into an activated Conspirator, sort of, because you get +$2 from the Harem and also get an additional card in your hand for it.
It’s less effective with Island, however, because the best way to use Island is to get it out of your deck as soon as possible, but it may still help you pair up your Islands with good Island targets.
The bottom line is that Crossroads with hybrid Victory cards is probably a no-brainer. Otherwise, Crossroads is probably a bad bet unless there is a specific combo possibility, OR you have a spare $2 buy after you’ve started greening but before you want to start buying Estates.
- Hybrid Victory cards.
- Discard-for-benefit cards, including Baron and Tournament.
- Mandatory discard cards.
- Trash-for-benefit cards if your Victory cards are good targets for them.
- Silk Road (only insofar as it makes accumulating a density of Victory cards more attractive).
- Lack of the above.
- Availability of less finicky alternatives for +Actions, +Cards, and/or Cellar-like sifting.