SPLENDOR [BOARD GAME REVIEW]

Theme:
It’s the Renaissance and you are in the business of providing the highest quality cut gems to the wealthiest clients at your disposal, for the right price. To make this possible, though, you must acquire mines, establish transportation, and hire the most talented artisans available before you can open shop.

As it were, you are not the only merchant in town utilizing these same marketing tactics. You better act swiftly and strategically before your competitors beat you to the punch and gain the admiration — and bountiful coin — of the rich and prestigious nobles. They are eager to empty their pockets for the chance to own and display the finest jewels their money can buy! The question is, will they be buying from you?

Overview:

  • 2-4 Players
  • Ages 10+
  • 30 Min

Splendor is a set collecting, engine building game that was created by Marc André, with art by Pascal Quidault. The game focuses on purchasing and acquiring three levels of Development cards from a Marketplace with the use of the game’s currency, which happens to be gems (represented by colored tokens). Development cards grant players with a permanent discount, that is stackable, towards their future purchases. The wider variety of Development cards and sets collected, the easier it becomes to buy higher level cards, which may award Prestige Points. Players strategize their purchases in the attempt to become the first player to reach 15 or more Prestige Points and winning the game.

Game Contents:

  • 1 Rule Book
  • 90 Development Cards:
    • 40 Level 1 cards (green deck)
    • 30 Level 2 cards (yellow deck)
    • 20 Level 3 cards (blue deck)
  • 40 Gem Tokens:
    • 7 Ruby tokens (red)
    • 7 Diamond tokens (blue)
    • 7 Sapphire tokens (white)
    • 7 Emerald tokens (green)
    • 7 Onyx tokens (black)
    • 5 Gold tokens (yellow)
  • 10 Noble Tiles

The Cut & Dry:
Right from the start, players will find that Splendor is both easy to set up AND learn/teach to play. I’m not sure how important that is to those in the gaming community (I’m still relatively new to the modern board/card gaming community), but it scores some points in my book! Speaking of books, the rulebook is thin, roughly 3 pages and that includes some anecdotes about the game and its creators.

You start the game by shuffling up the Development decks. There are three different categories of Development cards, and the Magic: The Gathering player in me instinctively wants me to classify them as common, uncommon, and rare. The decks are distinguished by both color and specific tier markers (white circles on the back of the card), so it’s definitely hard to mix them up, which is a good thing. Once you have each individual deck shuffled you place them in the play area with the first tier deck (40 green cards) on the bottom, and then vertically place the second and third tier decks (30 yellow cards and 20 blue cards respectively) above it. Each level of tier pictorially represents the process of manufacturing your gems and contain cards that are more difficult to obtain based on their level, which is balanced out with their awarded Prestige Points.

Once the decks are placed in the play area, flip up the top four cards of each deck and place them in a row to the right of their respective deck. This will create a 4x3 Marketplace grid where players will be able to purchase cards from as the game progresses.

Shuffle the Noble tiles and reveal one for each player, plus one (so, for example, 2 player games will feature three Nobles), placing them above the Marketplace. The remaining are removed from the game.

Then separate the Gem tokens, by color/type, into piles and stage them above the Nobles and Marketplace, or the best accessible location available. The amount of tokens used (like Noble tiles) is dictated by the number of players. During 2 player games, you remove three Gem tokens from each pile (aside from the Gold tokens) leaving four in each. In 3 player games, you only remove two from each pile, again with exception of the Gold tokens, leaving five in each pile.

Setup will vary by what is best for the play area.

Setup will vary by what is best for the play area.

Now that the play area is complete, the first player takes their turn. The rules suggest the youngest player begins the game, but naturally any fair method of selection will work. Play then continues clockwise from there.

On your turn, you can make only one of four possible choices:

  1. Collect 3 Gem tokens, each of a different type
  2. Collect 2 Gem tokens of the same type (ONLY if there are four or more Gem tokens available in that pile)
  3. Collect a Gold token, allowing you to Reserve (place in your hand) a card from the Marketplace OR the top card from any Development deck (ONLY if you have two or less Reserved cards in your hand — the allowance cap for Reserved Cards is 3)
  4. Buy a Development card from the Marketplace OR from your Reserved cards, placing it face up in front of you

It’s important to note that a player may not have more than 10 Gem tokens at the end of their turn. A player with 10 Gem tokens may still opt to obtain more, but they must replace an amount back to the Staging Area (allowing them to essentially swap out newly desired gems), so that they only have ten at the end of their turn.

Gem tokens are the currency players use to purchase the Development cards available in the Marketplace. Each Development card has its own set of unique attributes (Cost/Gem Discount/Prestige Points). The cost of any given Development card is displayed in the lower lefthand corner of the card. It is represented by colored circles (new sets now feature matching gem types in the circle — the original game I played did not) with a listed number in each. The colors designate which type(s) of gem(s) — the number dictating how many of each — are necessary to purchase the Development card. Gem tokens used to purchase Development cards are returned to their respective pile(s) in the Staging Area.

Gold tokens are Wild and can be used in lieu for any of the five standard gem types. There is no limit to how many Gold tokens a player can have, but they can only be obtained when Reserving a card or drawing a card from a Development deck to your hand, which is limited to a max of three. If a player has reached the max, but plays a Development card from his Reserved Hand, they may then, once again, obtain a Gold token and Reserve or draw another Development card on their next turn. In the event there are no more Gold tokens available, a player may still Reserve a Development card (assuming they are not at the cap), they just won’t receive a token.

Purchased Development cards are placed face up in front of its owner. Whenever a Development card is purchased or Reserved from the Marketplace it is immediately replaced with the top card of that row’s respective deck. Once a deck runs out, the respective row will just simply empty as the last of that deck’s Development cards are purchased.

Each Development card also features a gem type in the upper righthand corner of the card. When purchased, this is the Gem Discount that will be made available to its owner for future purchases. For example, If a player has one Diamond Development card and one Sapphire Development card in play, and a Development card in the Marketplace costs 2 Diamonds and 2 Sapphires, it would only cost that player 1 Diamond token and 1 Sapphire token to purchase.

In the example above, because the player has 3 Ruby Development cards and 2 Diamond Development cards collected, they could the Ruby card featured above for free. Or they could buy the Onyx Development card with only having to spend 1 Diamond, 1 Sapphire, and 2 Emerald tokens. If this player manages to buy another Diamond Development card, at the end of that turn they would meet the requirements to lure the featured Noble to their shop!

In the example above, because the player has 3 Ruby Development cards and 2 Diamond Development cards collected, they could the Ruby card featured above for free. Or they could buy the Onyx Development card with only having to spend 1 Diamond, 1 Sapphire, and 2 Emerald tokens. If this player manages to buy another Diamond Development card, at the end of that turn they would meet the requirements to lure the featured Noble to their shop!

Aside from the cost and Gem Discount, some Development cards are worth Prestige Points, which are featured in the upper lefthand corner of the card.

At the end of a player’s turn, they check if any Nobles come to “visit” them. Each Noble has a set of requirements that need to be met before they can be obtained by a player. Like the Development card cost, these requirements are listed to the left side of the Noble and dictate what type of gems (featured on purchased Development cards), and how many, a player must own for them to acquire said Noble. If a player meets those requirements at the end of their turn, they take and place the Noble in their play area next to their purchased cards.

splendnobles.jpg

Nobles offer additional Prestige Points for a player and can sometimes swing the games into someone's favor. If by chance, at the end of a player’s turn, more than one Noble would visit them, that player must choose only one of them to do so.

Once a player has acquired a total of 15 or more Prestige Points, the current round is completed, and the player with the most Prestige Points wins. In the case of a tie, the player with the fewest purchased Development cards wins.

The Cryton Critique:
I had the pleasure of playing Splendor for the first time just last week (now months ago from when I originally wrote this during NaNoWriMo — November — but whatever!) while visiting Fantasy Flight Games, a local gaming publisher, which houses it’s own Gaming Center for employees and customers alike to engage in their passion for gaming with one another. I meet friends up there weekly, and naturally gaming groups are commonly using the space for their game nights.

It was one of these gaming meetup groups that sucked me into trying Splendor, not that they really had to twist my arm much, and I’m grateful they did.

Asked to help set up the game, the first thing I noticed right away were the tokens (basically poker chips) and the weight they had to them. I was surprised and commented, to which the owner of the game expressed his own satisfaction at their quality. I don’t play poker, but I couldn’t help but continually play with the tokens, flipping one between my fingers as though I was a professional player (they do do that, right?). I’m also no expert in the varying grades of card stock, but both the Development cards and Noble tiles seem to be high quality.

As mentioned before, the game is super easy to teach and learn, and the process of doing so for the newcomers was complete in the amount of time it took to shuffle and set up the play area. The rest simply involved hands-on learning, which was very minimal.

That first game was four players, and after having played it with four players and then again with two players multiples times, I can say the experience is similar, but different. With four players, it can be harder to strategize because you have three others who are affecting the Marketplace as opposed to just a single opponent. Sometimes you can guess what a player may be aiming to acquire, as all tokens used to buy Development cards are open/public knowledge, but doing so with three people while planning my own purchases was beyond me. There are also the Reserved Cards of all players you would have to factor in.

While Reserved cards are technically placed in your hand, and remain hidden from other players, the playgroup never bothered and instead placed them face up (albeit rotated horizontally) on the table. I can attest that even though they were always visible, it seemed that most rarely focused on their opponents Reserved Hand. Everyone, including myself, was too busy plotting their next best purchase (which is usually the same as another’s) and eyeballing who was closest to receiving a visit from which Noble.

During 2-Player games, however, I felt it was much easier to spot what your opponent’s next Development card would be, so nabbing them before they can (many times by Reserving them) is actually an effective tactic. Doing that in games with more players, when not specifically needing the Development card, can actually hinder yourself and you may find yourself falling behind.

The only catch up mechanic, if it can be considered that, are the Nobles. While I’ve been told they rarely make a difference, I disagree, especially in 2-Player games where the Nobles are what I focused on the most, which resulted in me winning a majority of the games. I feel the same holds true for games played with more players, as well. They definitely can turn the tide in your favor.

Regardless if Splendor is played with two or more players, the games are relatively quick (they call me Slowplay, mind you) and a lot of fun! Everyone I’ve played it with has enjoyed it, and generally it’s played more than once when it hits the table. After playing more over the past few months, however, I would add that sometimes games can be a bit longer depending on players, and how prone they are to fall into Analysis Paralysis (AP).

I would personally classify it as what they call a “Gateway” game. I’m kind of torn on the term, but I understand it. Basically, Gateway games are those that are fast, simple, and widely accessible to new players. I feel this would apply to Splendor, and I would definitely expose it to newer players looking to break into the modern board gaming scene. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t play it with seasoned gamers, though. Quite the contrary. I feel that it would be appealing to both new and veteran players alike. Most people I’ve played with are long-time gamers, so that says a lot.

Whether the appeal comes from the fact the game was just recently released, and that its charm will eventually fade and grow old for some, remains to be seen. I don’t think that will be the case with myself. Once I pick up my own copy (hopefully way sooner than later! Update: I got it for the Ladyfolk for Christmas!) I plan to expose as many people to it as I can.

Splendor has great theme, which is present in the Gem tokens as well as the Development cards, which features art representing the progressive stages of obtaining and crafting your gems for your future customers. And while it may not be a very deep, complex game, there is enough strategy involved to keep most gamers, of all experience levels, interested!

The Jak’d:
Although I found myself really enjoying Splendor, I thought I should mention some other aspects that I find important (or curious). Mind you, many of these are aesthetic, and in no way impact the gameplay or my overall rating.

  • Box Size: I thought I would begin with the packaging itself. The box for Splendor seems entirely too big for its limited contents. I’m pretty sure it could have been half its current size. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a bigger container, but I bring it up first because I feel it coincides with some of the other curiosities I list below.

  • No Board: It seems that many games are released sans a game board. Then in later iterations or expansions, they eventually include one. I’m not sure why this is common practice, but it is. Splendor doesn’t exactly need a board to set up the play area, but I always find the addition to be a nice option. As mentioned above, there would have been more than enough space to include one in the box!

  • Marked Backs: Definitely an issue some won’t understand and think ridiculous, and that’s fine, to each their own. Ever since I began gaming I’ve been sleeving my cards. It’s instinctive. It’s habit. To me it just makes sense. Could this be based on my first love being Magic: The Gathering? Perhaps. Or perhaps I just like to keep game components in the best condition possible. It’s probably a mixture. With Splendor, the backs of the Development cards are color coded and marked with their level rank (indicated by one, two, or three circles).

    Sure, there are clear sleeves available, but I get disappointed when you aren’t given much choice in the matter. Either you use clear sleeves or three different colored sleeves (or backings) to indicate the levels of the Development cards so they don’t get mixed up. It’s more annoying than anything. Accompanying that is the fact that the cards may not fit back into their holder within the box (I’d like to note this is the main culprit of my dissatisfaction). I tried penny sleeves and they were too long. Perfect-fit sleeves may work, but there is a chance that the extra thickness created will hinder them from being placed in their holders. (Update: Even Perfect-Fit sleeves make the piles too big to fit into their original housing area, but there is still room in the compartment for them all. Be careful placing the cards into Perfect-Fit sleeves, as they can be really tight and the card may bend if you aren’t careful!)

    I don’t feel like I am of the minority here. I’d like to think it’s a well known fact that sleeving cards is a common practice among gamers, so I feel that game publishers should take that into account when determining spacing for their packaging. I just feel that it’s something that should be automatically considered standard procedure. It bothers me, considering the abundance of wasted space within Splendor’s box. This may not bug some people, but it does me.

  • Prestige Points Vs Development Card Cost: One thing I noticed, and didn’t quite understand, was the cost distribution of Development cards compared to the Prestige Points they are worth. The Level 1 cards make the most sense. There are a very few Level 1 cards worth Prestige Points and those that are are only worth a single point. I believe there is one of each type of gem card where a player needs 4 of one gem type to purchase the card and these are the ones awarding 1 Prestige Point.

    It seems clear that when more of a single type of gem is needed, the Prestige Point value is increased. That seems balanced, since it’s much harder to accrue one type of gem, where other Development cards allow a various spread among types, making them essentially easier to receive discounts and buy.

    Other cards, though, notably in the Level 2 deck, appear to be a bit imbalanced among the choices you can make. An example of this would be: one card costing 5 Diamonds, while a second card costs 5 Diamonds and 3 Sapphire, but both being worth 2 Prestige Points. It would seem to me that the second is a lot harder to acquire than the first, and should be worth more.

    There are a handful of these inconsistencies throughout the upper tier decks. It just makes me curious how Prestige Points were determined based on Cost. There may be a varied amount of gem specific Development cards available, making certain gem type Development cards more expensive? From inspection it seems that there is an equal spread, so your guess is as good as mine.

    It’s a minor complaint. Considering the more players you have, the more varied the collected tokens and discounts utilized by each player will be and the board should be changing so fast that there’s always going to be an alternative to the more costly card. If not, it’s something all the players have to deal with.

  • No 5-6 Player Allowance: This (among others in this listing) is just me being overly picky. Many games run 2-4 players, it’s pretty standard issue, but I can’t help but feel that with merely the addition of a few more cards per deck, that more players could viably play. This may be true with most games, so I’m sure it’s a moot point. But again, the box had room for much more. The playgroup that introduced me to Splendor has played with five players and confirmed that it works. (Update: After playing a 5-Player game, I feel it’s possible — it’s not the cards that seem to be the issue — but you run out of tokens easily, forcing some players to be unable to do much on their turn. Not optimal.) Perhaps there is the possibility of an expansion? Add more cards and tokens? It would be easy enough, and when doing so they could possibly address probably my biggest issue with the game (one that does affect my rating):

  • Lack of Player Interaction: This is one of the biggest drawbacks I think the game has. There is very little player interaction. In fact, it’s pretty much limited to either purchasing or reserving a card an opponent may or may not want at any given time, as the game plays out. And again, as mentioned earlier, that is a real hit or miss tactic, especially in games being played with more than two players.

    I felt the game would have had a little more depth with, and would have benefited from, some simple interactions among the players. For example, the ability to steal or swap an opponent’s purchased cards (or swap them with another from the marketplace), or with Reserved Cards, considering the opponent would still keep the use of their Gold tokens. I understand this would change the dynamic of the game and likely prolong the overall play time, but I feel that even these simple additions would have made Splendor even more enjoyable!

So, as you can tell, most of these are pretty superficial and center around the actual packaging of Splendor. I’m not sure if any expansions are planned, or if it’s even the type of game that would normally receive any. If so, I feel like the game evolving to support more players and deeper player interaction would be very feasible and, again, beneficial.

If Splendor remains a stand-alone, however, I will enjoy it nonetheless! It’s a game I can’t wait to share with friends, whether they are avid gamers or beginners.

The Cryton Chronicles OMN Rating: 7.75
BoardGameGeek Rating: 7.58/10

Have you played Splendor before? If so, what are your thoughts on it? What aspects do you like and which do you dislike? Does this sound like a game you would want to add to your collection and/or introduce to your playgroup(s)?