Splendor is one of the most successful and popular games out there. It’s accessible, quick and fun to play. But most importantly, comes with kick-ass poker chips! At its heart, Splendor is a card-management engine-builder that pits players against each other in a race to 15 prestige points. There was a tapped-on theme of being a rich merchant during the renaissance trying to acquire jewels. But the game quickly becomes an abstract game of chasing colours. Fun, very satisfying and a brilliant gateway game. But it does lack a fun theme.
I really enjoy the game but I never wanted to buy it. I would regularly play with friends who had it and always enjoyed the experience. But it lacked a certain something that warranted a place in my collection. Well, now Marvel has come and slapped their mighty brand over it, and boom, Splendor: Marvel! And there it is, sat on my shelf!
Is the game any different? Not really. But it sure does look cooler now! And I know my kids will want to play. And now the poker chips are Infinity stones!
The Marvel version is essentially the same game. But with way better art! Each card now depicts a character from the marvel universe that you need to recruit. Replacing the rather dry but efficient design from the original. Your goals are essentially the same, but the story around it is so much more thematic. I am lost more in this games universe than I was with the base game and find myself pouring over the cards, not just to see what I need, but to check out the pictures too.
The end game scenario has changed a little and for the better. Players now need to do a few more things to trigger the end of the game, and there is a fluctuating bonus score of three points available with the Avengers tile. But before we come to that, let's talk quickly about how this game players.
“You won’t like me when I’m angry!”
Set up of the game is very simple. Separate the cards into their three types and then lay them into three rows of four cards. Place out the location tiles, Avengers tile, Infinity gauntlet tile and all the chips. Done! This is all achieved within a minute. To explain the game to a new player, you are talking about just one minute more!
Your goal is to get 16 infinity points as quickly as possible. One more than the original. Points are attained from the cards, locations, and the Avengers tile. On your turn, you can do one of four things. The first two are to either take two infinity stones of the same colour, (if at least four of that colour are available) or three stones of different colours. These stones will be used later to recruit characters to your team.
Your other two options are to either recruit or reserve a character card. Characters have their recruitment requirements clearly on them. This will be a number of coloured stones they need to join forces with you. They will then bring with them the permanent stone purchasing power to your team. So that in later turns, you will be able to recruit characters using just the characters themselves. You use temporarily owned Infinity stones to recruit characters who will then bring with them permanently own Infinity stone power.
Reserving a card means you simply bring it into your play area, but not your hand yet. And take a S.H.E.I.L.D token, a wild infinity stone. You can recruit this character at any later point on your turn, but no other player can now access it. And that’s the game.
“Part of the Journey is the end.”
The end game has changed as I mentioned above. Players now need to have not just the required points like the original, but now also, one bonus of each colour and one green infinity token. This is all clearly marked on the infinity gauntlet tile in simple iconography, which stays present throughout the game. So, it is all very simple to learn and play.
One final change is the avenger tile. This brings three bonus point to the player who owns it at the end of the game. You can acquire this by having character cards recruited into your team with the Avengers symbol on it, and when you have three of these, the tile comes to you. But as soon as someone else gets at least one more Avenger symbol than you, they take the card and its potential three points. This is a fun see-saw element that can affect end game triggers and the ultimate winner, so worth watching your opponent’s recruitment throughout the game.
“No amount of money ever bought a second of time.”
The original was hugely popular but sometimes criticised for being a little lacking in player interaction. Occasionally players would take a card you really wanted, but otherwise, it was a solitaire race game, who could get the required points first. Now, with the Avengers token, you need to pay way more attention to what your opponents are doing. A swing of six points can be huge in a game that only requires 16 to win.
This can also mean that the game can end when you least expect it. On one turn, a player could recruit a character card with two Avenger icons on and two points, claim the Avengers token from another player taking three more points, and leap from 11 to 16 points in one turn. Also, taking you back three. But the fact that you need to have a bonus of each colour, it is a little easier to track your opponent’s progression. As you can only ever acquire one card each turn, you can never get more than one bonus colour each time.
"I don't know if you've been in a fight before, but there's not usually this much talking."
All of this creates a much more interactive, social experience. I find I play Splendor: Marvel more “head-up”. I am more aware of my opponent’s actions and trying to guess what they are up to is a lot of fun. The game feels more of a group experience than the solitaire race of the original. And the theme pulls me in way more with the colourful and vibrant art, recognisable characters, and familiar storyline.
But what remains from the original is the sweet satisfaction of building your engine. For anyone who has not played an engine builder before. Let me briefly explain this beautiful mechanic. At the start of the game, you have no engine. Just you. As you begin to recruit characters in your team, they will bring with them bonus colours. Powers to recruit more characters using their combined powers. Acquiring one character my increase your “mind” strength for example, and when added to other cards than have brought your combined “reality” and “soul” strength, this may mean you can now get another character card that needs one of each to recruit. Your engine now has more parts to it. More strength and power. You have built a functioning, working, efficient engine.
The joy of this comes from the planning. The top row cards are harder card to acquire, but bring more points and Avengers icons with them. They are present for all to see from turn one, but no one will have the power to get them yet. But as you can see what they need in order to be recruited, you can start to plan. You will find you look down to rows two and one to see which cards are there that will bring the required powers needed to get the cards you want from row one.
Your engine will not get built at random but from a framework. A plan you forge from turn one. But of course, other players are competing with you. They too may want those cards. They too are building their engine. Do you try and get to the top rows as quickly as possible, recruiting fewer cards thought-out game, but each one more powerful? Or do you build up a big powerful engine from the bottom row, hoping for a late flurry in the later rounds where you can recruit whatever you like for free.
"Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it."
This creates a beautiful balance where on occasions you can be caught out, Other players may work quicker, build a more efficient engine than you and trigger the end game before you have made use of your own engine as much as you would like. But with the added requirement for the end game in this version of the game, I find this happens a lot less than the original, and this is a good thing. Building an engine is fun. But using it is way more fun! And in Splendor: Marvel you get to use your engine a lot more.
If you have Splendor than I would not say you need this game too unless you are a huge Marvel fan. But if you have neither, this is the better version. It has all the original does but adds more. And not in meaningless rules or components, but rule tweaks and extra scoring options. Splendor: Marvel may well now be my gateway game of choice. Whenever someone who hasn’t played much before wants to try a game, if they are a Marvel fan, this will be my go-to choice. And if you yourself are thinking of a family-friendly accessible game for your own Marvel clan, then look no further. This is one super-secret boy band I do want to join!