Best with: 2-3
Length of Playtime: 1 hour
Give It to Me Quick: Splendor is a light/medium strategic game that’s explained and played quickly. You’ll be acquiring gem “poker” chips and using them to purchase gem cards, building up a collection that allows you to purchase more and more expensive cards. There’s a lot of competition (friendly or otherwise) when playing with three or four players, as you’ll be buying cards before someone else has an opportunity to. Splendor is a good example of how simplicity can sometimes be the best design.
The concept of the game is simple; you will use gem “poker” chips to purchase gem cards. In doing so, you will eventually acquire Victory points depending on the types of cards you end up buying.
These gem cards are made of three different stages of cost and require different amounts of gems to buy; a certain ruby card might cost 1 diamond and 3 amethyst gems, where another ruby card might cost 2 sapphire and 4 onyx gems.
Gem cards purchased add to the value of your gem collection; if you have purchased 2 sapphire cards during the game, you get a discount on any new card you purchase that requires sapphire. If the new card only costs 2 sapphire, you would get it for “free.”
There is also an option to “reserve” certain cards during the game. All players pick from the same card choices, so if you notice another player might buy a card before you, you can take it into your hand until you can afford it later. Reserving a card also gains you a “wild” gold gem that can be used as any type.
As you build up your gem cards, you can afford more and more expensive cards, most which are worth more and more Victory points. Also, once you acquire enough gem cards to “impress” a noble, you can also win Victory points that way. The first player to reach 15 Victory points in total wins the game.
How many players is it best with?
Splendor plays very similarly from two to four players; just be prepared for a lot more card stealing (reserving) with three and four players. If you’re playing with a group who take their time with decisions, a four player game can drag a bit between turns. Typically, though, games move quickly. The player interaction really only occurs when you buy a card or take a gem before another player can, or you see that someone has their eye on that ruby card that was just flipped and you reserve it before they have a chance to. Otherwise, you’re pretty much playing your own game in front of you.
Splendor is a break from the typical euro-game in that it can be taught in less than five minutes, set up in less than a minute, and played in about thirty. Its simplicity can be refreshing after games like Castles of Burgundy or Agricola.
It’s fun to build up your gem cards by assessing the new options that come up each turn. The “best play” will change from turn to turn as the cards and gems available will keep changing. There are a few different angles to go after for a win, but it’s not overwhelming at all like new players sometimes view 7 Wonders or Dominion. However, if you make some poor decisions at the beginning of the game, you will almost certainly lose.
The ability to reserve cards in your hand can create great turnaround games where a player seemingly behind based on the cards on the board can come back and win in a surprise play (if people aren’t paying attention). This feels similar to Catan when a player with 8 points on the board is holding 2 victory points in their hand to win.
The chips used for money in the game are high quality and fun to play with, and the artwork is bright and well-done.
Splendor creates variety in a few ways: different gem cards are available in different orders each game, and different nobles are available each game. Players might be going for the same gems or cards, so there might be conflict there. That’s really about it. For a player who likes strategy, you won’t be tested with new strategies as often as say, Dominion. The same general strategy in Splendor will succeed each time. The rule to allow all players to have the same amount of turns by the end of the game is a necessity, as otherwise “going first” would be a very good indicator that you would win as an experienced player.
After playing several games, the steady build up of gem cards each time can feel a little formulaic — a cynic would say it feels like playing like a computer. Should you grab a ruby card so that next turn you can spend one less ruby gem along with 3 sapphires to purchase an emerald card worth 2 Victory points? Or should you spend a turn grabbing more sapphire gems so that you can purchase the diamond card which we get you enough diamonds to gain a noble token? In other words, not really making decisions as a “gem collector” as the game would have you believe. Based on the cards available on the table and the player’s current collection of gems, there is generally always a “best move.” Be prepared for some players who will take several minutes running a mental spreadsheet to figure out what that move is.
|for a Party||The poker chips help the appeal of the game to a wide audience. Only four players though.|
|Competitive||Yes, there is a lot of indirect conflict where you will be taking cards or gems before someone else does. Especially with three or four players.|
|Strategic||It’s strategic, limited by the number of choices on the board. You’ll be deciding the best and fastest way to build up your gem collection with the other gems you already have.|
Final Thoughts on Splendor
Splendor doesn’t overstay its welcome; it plays fast and doesn’t get bogged down in details or deep strategy. For us, it’s more of a “wind-down” game or the first game of a game night when we’re playing with more seasoned gamers. The strategic replayability has its limits, but you won’t care about that as long as you have some other games to scratch that itch. Or this will complex enough for you, and that’s fine too! Great new game, belongs in any collection.
Also try: Dominion
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