Splendor will take you on the journey of a poor jeweler, working hard to buy his first diamond and then trade it to acquire other stones such as emeralds, sapphires and rubies, to become a real gem merchant. On his journey, he will attract powerful nobles with his sparkling gems that will gain him popularity and will make him even richer. Or at least so it promises…
As a 2014 Spiel des Jahres Nominee, Marc André’s game was a big hit at the time it launched. It was both praised and criticized by many. Many people loved it for the beauty of it and for being a good gateway for engine-building type of games. Its rules are easy to learn and in less than 10 minutes you are good to go.
How it plays
As I mentioned earlier, the rules are not complicated at all and the setup is quite fast. All you have to do is separate the cards into three decks, based on their tiers and then turn 4 cards of each tier face up on the table. These cards will represent the mines, routes and shops that can be purchased. The design on the cards is well done, as the numbers and symbols are very concise and clear, looking good without being cluttered.
On their turn, a player can perform only one of the following actions:
Take 3 gems of different colors
Take 2 gems of the same color (only if there are at least 4 tokens of that gem available)
Reserve a card by taking it in hand, along with a golden chip
Purchase a card from the table or from hand (if the player reserved any before)
And that’s all that can be done on a turn. After purchasing a card, you replace it with a new one of the same tier from the deck. Golden tokens are wild tokens and you can use them as any other type when buying a card. The number of nobles and tokens available during a game is variable, based on the number of players.
Nobles will require you to own a certain number of cards of different colors. To attract them, you must fulfill their requirements. If you manage to do so, you will instantly gain 3 Prestige points.
The goal of the game is to be the first one to reach 15 Prestige points.
My thoughts about Splendor
I bought Splendor on a whim. Locked away from my entire collection due to the COVID pandemic, I had no games with me. I wanted to buy something that I could play with my parents during the lockdown. After hearing about it a few times and seeing some photos of it, I decided to buy it. Do I regret it? Not at all. It is the first game that my mom played with me, and she actually enjoyed it!
I consider it to be a good introduction to engine-building games. All my friends understood the rules pretty easy and managed to come up with strategies quite fast, without any help needed from my side. It works wonderfully for any number of players, and I also consider it to be beginner friendly, as a new player can still compete against more seasoned players and win, due to the luck factor of revealing cards from the decks.
Although the game offers you the opportunity to switch strategies mid-game if you believe that the path you are currently walking on is not one that leads to victory, it lacks a catch-up mechanism. Sometimes when a player buys a card from the table, the card that replaces it might come in very handy to the next player, who may be able to get it for free (due to his engine). Have this happen many times, and to the same player, and the other players will soon find themselves far behind this player, with no chance to catch up to him, besides sheer luck.
You will actually find yourself switching strategies pretty often. At least I do so. The game constantly evolves as you purchase cards and reveal new ones on the table. You will constantly evaluate what cards are available on the table and which ones are worth going for, or even if you are going to be able to go for, before someone else buys it. Many times, my strategies got ruined right before my eyes because my opponents kept buying all the cards that I needed.
Every game of Splendor will feel different due to the randomness of the cards and how the players evaluate what is on the table, based on their strategy. Turns go by pretty quick and the game is usually over before you know it, if you don’t pay enough attention to what other players are doing.
At the same time, many people blamed Splendor for how badly it implements the theme. Yeah, I understand that the lower cards show different mines for the different types of gems, and that the 2nd tier of cards represent means of transportation for the gems and that the most expensive cards depict gem cutters and retail shops for jewelry, but the way you acquire these cards doesn’t really fit the theme. You just collect colored tokens with gem pictures stuck on them and then later you trade them for these cards. That’s all. How is a gem trader gonna acquire a ruby mine by simply trading two sapphires and one emerald for it? That does not really make sense, does it?
After all, you can replace the gems with other stuff such as chairs, computers, burgers or pillows and the game would still work, as long as the color matches. I’ve actually bought plastic crystals to replace the tokens in order to make it feel like we’re actually dealing with gems.
However, themeless or not, the gameplay is solid enough for a light engine-builder to keep you engaged. Me and my friends enjoy playing Splendor from time to time and it will surely continue to be part of my collection for a long time. Definitely recommended for engine building lovers.
Designer: Marc André
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Time: 30 min
Times played: 12
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