Splendor certainly lives up to its name, with fantastic artwork and great quality components, plus a box insert that actually works - all in all it looks splendid on the table! Read on to find out how to play, and learn some gameplay tips.
In Splendor, published by Space Cowboys, players are rich merchants of the Renaissance, vying to build the most prestigious jewelry making business. They do this by acquiring gem mines, and the services of camel trains and shipping routes, to transport gems to artisans. There they are transformed into jewels, and sold in the finest shops, where they may attract the attention of wealthy nobles.
All of this is achieved through a simple and tight little engine building mechanic, turning gem tokens into development cards, which in turn provide permanent gem bonuses, used to buy more and better development cards worth game winning prestige points.
The core currency of the game are the wonderfully weighty gem tokens, which come in six gem types (colours) - red rubies, blue sapphires, green emeralds, black onyx and white diamonds. The sixth set of tokens are yellow gold, and these act as ‘wild’ currency.
Gem tokens are used to buy development cards.
The development cards represent the different elements involved in the process of turning raw gems into jewellery. There are three levels of cards, with the first showing the gem mines, the second level depicting transport routes and the artisans crafting jewels, and the third level showing the shops in beautiful Renaissance cities where the final product is sold.
Each card can be bought by discarding a certain number of gem tokens of different types, with the cost of cards increasing with each level. Every card gives a permanent gem bonus shown on the card, so for instance, buy a ruby mine and you will always have one ruby to buy more cards with.
Most of the cards also give those game winning prestige points.
Prestige points are the victory points in Splendor, and players can amass prestige in two ways:
- Development cards - Whilst most of the level one development cards are not worth any prestige, there are a small number in there worth a single point, and all level two and three cards are worth an increasing amount of prestige.
- Noble tiles - Each noble is worth three prestige points if a player can attract one to pay them a visit.
At the top of the play area are the nobles, drawn at random at the start of the game. The nobles watch players’ progress, and will visit them if a player has built up an impressive and specific set of development cards, giving an additional three prestige per noble.
The set-up for Splendor is simple and more or less the same for any player count:
- Shuffle the level one development cards and deal four face up side by side, and place the remaining cards face down beside them.
- Then do the same for the level two and three development cards, placing these above level one, to make a grid of 12 cards.
- Shuffle and place face up noble tiles above this grid equal to the number of players plus one.
- Place all the yellow gold tokens down, and place the other gem tokens down in piles, removing three of each for two player games, and two of each for three player games.
The youngest player goes first (it is important to remember who goes first as it affects the end of the game).
On each player’s turn, they must do one of these actions:
- Take gem tokens (not gold), either:
- Three different tokens or…
- Two of the same tokens (eg. two blue sapphires) as long as there are at least four of these tokens in the pile to start with.
- Reserve any one development card (they can have up to three in reserve) and take one gold token (if one is available). Reserved cards are kept in hand until that player chooses to buy them.
- Purchase a development card from the table or from their reserved cards, returning any gem or gold tokens used to the table.
Any time a card is reserved or purchased, it is immediately replaced with a card of the same level (whilst there are some available).
At the end of a player’s turn they can have a maximum of 10 tokens (gems and gold) so must return any excess to the table. Also, at the end of their turn, players check to see if their development cards match the requirements of any of the nobles. If so, they take that noble and gain the three prestige shown (if they meet the needs of more than one, they choose which one noble to take).
All purchased cards (and tokens) are kept face up in sets in front of players, so that all information (number of bonuses and prestige points) are available for all players to see. Unlike in some games, it is quite easy to tot up other player's prestige between turns to help you keep track of progress.
The core of the game is building a card purchasing engine, albeit a light one. Each card gives a permanent single bonus gem, meaning that buying subsequent cards gets cheaper, up to the point where you will not need to discard any gem tokens at all, just using the bonuses from your cards to complete the purchase.
The end round is triggered when a player has reached 15 or more prestige. At this point, the round continues so that all players get an equal number of turns, and a chance to pull in some final prestige points. At the end of the round, the player with the most prestige wins, and in the event of a tie, the player who has purchased the fewest development cards wins.
Hints and Tips for Splendor
- Before you start the game, take time to evaluate the state of play.
- Start with the noble tiles - look at the requirements for attracting them, and you will normally notice that several of them have a common card type needed (for example, three of four nobles may require sapphire development cards), so it might be worth concentrating on buying up those cards before other players get the chance.
- Then look at the development cards - are there some easy to grab level one cards that fit with the nobles’ requirements? If so, think about aiming for those first.
- Factor the nobles into your strategy - if you can build up your engine in such a way that it gives you prestige and also maximises your chance of attracting nobles, it means those extra points will come your way with little effort.
- Always try to purchase the level one cards that are worth one prestige point (there are five out of 40, one for each gem type), as they are a cheap way to grab a point.
- Don't be afraid to reserve cards - it can sometimes feel like a wasted turn, but by reserving a card that is crucial to your plan, you not only guarantee that no one else can buy it, you also get to grab a ‘wild’ gold token (as long as one is available), which can come in very handy.
- Be aware of what other players are doing. It is often easy to guess which cards players are going for by studying the gem tokens they take, or which nobles they hope to attract by which development cards they collect. So try to get in before them and disrupt their plans by grabbing that card first!
- If you are the last player in a round, then triggering the game end immediately finishes the game, and you win! But if you are not the last player, the round continues so that all players have played an equal number of turns, giving them a chance to scrape ahead. So it is always best to try to get close to 15 prestige (ie. 14), then aim to buy the highest value development card you can (especially if it also attracts a noble), rather than triggering the end of the game on exactly 15 prestige.
- Above all, remain flexible, and be prepared to change your strategy!