Hamlet has a bunch of attributes that don’t seem like much on their own, but when combined make it into a real power card:
- Costs only $2
- Can give +2 actions (for -1 card)
- Can give +buy (for -1 card)
- Can discard cards
- Can be a cantrip (when you decline to do 3-5)
None of these are going to blow you away, but the combination has great synergy. The key is that it’s an amassable $2 card that provides its own +buy. Other amassable 2’s like Fool’s Gold and Native Village need some other source of +buy to make them really useful, while Hamlet has it on its own. Hamlet+4 Coppers+Estate buys 2 more Hamlets. This ability to quickly infuse a large number of Hamlets into your deck give reliability to a +Cards/+Actions engine even without strong — or possibly any — trashing. And there’s no real issue with having too many Hamlets, since at worst you can use the extra ones as cantrips that replace themselves in your hand. (Of course, there are some issues with having too many cantrips.)
The fact that it’s a 1) village, 2) a source of +buy, and 3) reduces/alleviates the need for trashing means it nearly enables engine strategies all on its own. The only thing it needs is a means of increasing handsize (and some way of making .
You have to be careful with terminals that give only +2 cards (e.g., Moat), since if you have to discard for +action and then only draw 2 cards, you still only have 5 cards in your hand. This can be okay if you’re trying to sift/cycle to play cantrip money or repeatedly cycle to find a key card, but a lot of the time you’ll find that you’re just spinning your wheels and would be better of just skipping the Hamlets and going more for money (or a non-handsize-decreasing village if possible).
But terminals giving more than 2 cards (Smithy, Council Room, Torturer, Nobles, Rabble, Margrave, Catacombs, Hunting Grounds, Envoy, Wharf) are great. Draw-to-X cards (Library, Watchtower, Jack, even Minion) are even better, since they negate the downside of discarding, and can benefit from it (discard bad cards with Hamlet to draw hopefully better ones). With non-terminal handsize increasers (Laboratory, Shanty Town, Apprentice, Apothecary, Scrying Pool, Alchemist, Menagerie, Hunting Party, Stables, Governor), you can use less of the +actions discard, just using as many as needed to play your terminals or to help activate the draw of Menagerie or Shanty Town. Hamlet even works nicely with the oddball handsize-increaser, Counting House — discard Coppers just to scoop them back up, and use the +buy to get more!
With Other Villages
While the presence of Hamlet makes it quite likely that it will be an engine game, it is not necessarily the case that Hamlet will be the best village for the engine. Very often, you will prefer to purchase a more expensive village if you have the money for it, sticking with a couple Hamlets to add in the non-terminal +buy. Because of the discard, Hamlets are generally inferior to other villages when used strictly as a village, with the primary exceptions being when the discard is beneficial. This problem becomes even worse with the case of the aforementioned +2 card terminals, and also with handsize attacks. If you start with only 3 cards, it’s very hard to have stuff you want to discard. Every card is precious.
But even when you’re not using Hamlet as a village, it can be very beneficial as a +buy or even a very easily amassed cantrip. For example, with Scrying Pool, you just want as many cantrips as possible, so you can draw them up, and then play them to substitute in other cards. And for Vineyards or Gardens or Philosopher’s Stone, the more (action) cards in your deck, the better. And you can even use the buys on Coppers to get even more cards into the deck!
In order to do anything useful, Hamlet must decrease your handsize. This makes it much more painful to use when your hand already starts small. Additionally, having excess Hamlets to use as cantrips can cause decision problems with your discard. Since you don’t know what the Hamlets will draw, you have to make hard decisions between discarding Hamlets and other cards.
Since it only costs $2, you will likely have to “overpay” for your first Hamlet. But you usually want to get it early so that you can use the buy to tack extra Hamlets onto your other purchases or to purchase multiple Hamlets at once. Since it’s so easy to quickly collect a bunch of Hamlets in a small number of turns, you have to be careful not to get caught with too few Hamlets when the pile runs out. If the Hamlets are the only villages and are so far split 3-3, then your opponent buys the remaining 4 in one turn, you can find yourself on the wrong side of a 7-3 split. This gets even worse with more players as the number of Hamlets that can disappear between your turns increases further. So there is some need to get your Hamlets in early. But on the flip side, you can end up with a “village idiot” deck if you just focus on grabbing Hamlets at the expense of overall economy and draw. So there’s a delicate balance here, particularly when you’re not first player. Naturally, this makes Hamlet a first-player-advantage card.
Tactical Play Decisions
When you play Hamlet, you have a couple decisions to make, so you generally want to play them as late as possible so you know if you need the extra actions of buy, but this is often not possible, since you may have to use it as a village right away in order to play your terminal draw card. You have to have a reasonable sense of whether or not you might need the extra buy and if you’ll have another Hamlet play later to get it. Also, if you have a lot of Hamlets in hand, you may want to use more for +actions, even if it means discarding a Hamlet, since there is an increased likelihood that your terminals are also clumped, and you’ll need to have the actions available when you draw a bunch together. If you waste all the Hamlets as cantrips, you may run out of actions.
- Cards that draw +3 Cards like Smithy
- Cards that “Draw-to-X” like Library
- Decks that want lots of cards/cantrips (Scrying Pool, Vineyards, Gardens, PStone)
- Nearly any engine
- Tunnel (or other cards that you want to discard)
Doesn’t work quite as well with:
- Cards that only draw +2 cards like Moat
- Handsize attacks like Militia
- Worker’s Village (which is nearly strictly better except for the cost)