Splendor, a game for 2-4 players, is a fast-paced, gem drafting, card development game that sees players take on the role of gem merchants, battling through the renaissance to mine raw materials, transform them into precious stones and then sell them on to the rich and affluent.
In Splendor, published by Space Cowboys, you must build your might and worth and attempt to dominate the market. You'll use your resources to purchase stronger and more expensive cards with the gems you already have. If you're lucky, your work may even catch the eye of one of the nobles, and they may just pay you a visit, adding to your prestige points pool.
Each turn, a player may choose to either take three different coloured gems, two of the same colour (as long as there are two gems left in the stack), purchase a card or reserve a card. Using these four moves, you must construct a strategy that will give you an advantage and make increase your wealth, allowing you to access those stronger cards while also increasing your prestige.
The first player to 15 prestige points will bring the game to a close, but be warned. As soon as 15 or more prestige points are obtained by a player, the game continues for one more round, so you may just find yourself losing to a player who had planned a big move before you declared your 15 prestige points.
Splendor encourages the use of cunning strategies and devious moves and this creates a game that plays wonderfully well. The colourful and detailed artwork makes this a must-have for any board game collection and will have players wanting to play again and again.
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 30 Minutes
Splendor was published way back in 2014. At the pace new board games are being churned out, that makes this ol' boy rather aged in board game years. Nominated for a Spiel des Jahres at the time, how does Space Cowboys' chip collecting game hold up now?
Set during the renaissance, you and one to three friends seek to expand your wealth by investing in precious stones. From mines to transports, then finally the stores, your assets will cascade as you purchase more and more. However, your competitors have the same idea and you are all vying for the valuable attention of the nobles.
Inside the box you'll find gems represented by different colours of poker chip. These are thick, tactile components, that are pleasurable to stack and play with. There are also clear illustrations of coloured gems on each, making them aesthetically relevant. Though your supply never reaches great numbers, stacks of chips are an intuitive design choice in terms of managing your stash. That said, I feel chips don't represent your cache of jewels as much as plastic gems would.
The other main component you’ll be using are the three tiers of development cards that you’ll buy throughout the game. These have illustrations that include mines and jewellers, with both a cost and a benefit pictured along the border. Truthfully, the illustrations are okay, but most of your attention will be fixated on the information that affects gameplay. I honestly struggle to recall many of the images and I’ve played many times. The quality of the cards themselves is adequate, not feeling too flimsy in the hand.
There are also tiles that are rewarded when you are producing specific gems in sufficient numbers. These represent nobles that are drawn into your collection, depicted by famous historical faces. Again these look and feel fine, with most of your attention dedicated to mechanically valuable information.
Finally, the rulebook is easy to read and understand. No complaints to be had here, nor any awards to be given.
Turns are carried out by performing one of four options:
- Take three gems of differing colours
- Take two gems of the same colour, but only if there are at least 4 of these left
- Reserve a card and take a wild poker chip, which can represent any gem
- Buy a development card, reducing the cost based on your already owned cards
If, at the end of your turn, you qualify for one of the nobles, you can take one and add them to your point total.
As a whole, this game is simple. Collect gems to buy cards, which give you discounts. Then you can buy bigger cards and earn points. First to 15 points wins.
Higher tier cards cost more, but earn more points. The trick is deducing when to start collecting the better cards, to out-race you opponents to the score target. The only player interaction you’ll find here is in the act of purchasing or reserving cards that your opponents might be seeking.
Although this isn’t a ‘How to Play’ piece, the gameplay is simple enough to regurgitate in a short excerpt. This makes it very easy to teach. My housemate isn’t a gamer, but this is one of the few games he feels confident playing - great!
The drawback of this is relatively shallow gameplay. Compared to some of the meatier titles I’ve played, this one grows stale rather quickly. There are 90 different cards to purchase, but they are all relatively similar and provide the same colour-coded benefits, regardless of tier. Therefore, they produce little replayability.
As a family or gateway game, it works well. It is visually appealing, with tactile components that are a pleasure to collect, despite more appropriate representations available. The rules are very simple to teach, with a game length of approximately 30 minutes. This makes it easy to get to the table in front of an unfamiliar crowd.
So why doesn’t this hit my table more often? It’s not that this game is bad - it just isn’t the best for a hobby gamer, in my humble opinion. For anyone that’s a little deeper into the hobby, you might prefer other card-drafting or set collection games, including Citadels or 7 Wonders. I’d argue these possess a little more depth to wrestle with, whilst remaining easy enough to teach.
It’s also worth highlighting that an expansion for Splendor is available, however. Cities of Splendor contains four expansion modules with which you can augment gameplay. These include altering the victory conditions or granting special abilities. If you think the base game is a bit shallow for you, these options might spice things up a bit.
In another of our regular board game spotlights, Zatu Games snaps open its baby blues and takes a juicy gander at Splendor, the 2014 release from designer Marc André and publisher Space Cowboys.
Splendor - The Game
Splendor’s box art shows us everything we need: a well-hatted man staring at a gem with the burning intensity of someone who’s struggling to remember what, deep down, their onlooking girlfriend knows to be true: they left the oven on. It’s a deft and oddly poignant way to introduce players to its theme of Renaissance trade.
It’s a simple, strategic game for up to four players. Each turn, one of said players may take one of three actions. They can collect gems of any colour, which act as currency just like they don’t in real life; they can purchase a card, which may represent anything from a building to a ship to a shop to a mine; or they may reserve a card, keeping it safe for when they have the necessary funds and netting them a chip which may be used as any type of gem, but using up their turn.
The aim is to build your wealth over time. Cards offer bonuses to later purchases, and some grant prestige points. First to 15 prestige points wins the game.
Strategy comes from card selection: do you purchase cheap cards early to ensure your wealth builds off the bat? Or do you save up for the more expensive ones and hope the risk pays off? Wealthier players may attract ‘nobles’, renowned visitors that further increase their prestige.
If you’ve always wanted to dominate the lofty heights of 16th century business, Splendor lets you financially ruin your children in a fictional setting.
Space Cowboys is a bit of a baby, founded in 2013 by the three founders of Asmodee. Their entire team comprises just five members, marking a return to their roots for Asmodee’s Nunes, Mouret and Croc.
Marc André has his roots in economics and stock trading, and applied a similar, albeit simpler, mathematical framework to Splendor.
If you fancy yourself a Shylock, only without the attempted flesh cutting and horrific property loss, buy this game here at Zatu Games!
We here at Zatu Games oppose the very idea of the balance fallacy to its rational core, because life is balance, man. To exercise that opposition, we asked gamers on the internet what they think of Splendor, the 2014 release from Space Cowboys.
For the sake of emotional binary, we’ve split them into the good and the bad. Here’s what people think:
‘I really like it. I think it makes a great gateway game.’
‘You’ll find it’s generally pretty well regarded and has broad appeal. I picked it up over the summer and it’s been a big hit, mainly because the rules are so, so simple and the game plays quickly.
My wife and I will often play best of 3, and when her friend comes over it’s usually first pick as well. I’m the only ‘gamer’ of the three of us and I usually lose; there’s quite a lot of room for strategy, but you can also play by doing whatever pops into your head and rack up plenty of points.’
‘It’s a very quick little game that has some interesting decisions in it.’
‘One of my favorite games! The art is beautiful – the tokens feel great, the box is too big!
But really the game is quite fun. The engine building mechanism really works your brain. You start putting pieces together to make it faster and faster. Everyone is starting at the same pint and before you know it everyone is pulling ahead, then one falls back, then you get get the lead, all through quick moves.
This game can have major action paralysis though. It’s amazing to think “Do I do this for me or do I do this to stop my opponent”. It’s a simple, beautiful game.’
‘Dreadfully dull. The decisions aren’t interesting because, mechanically, they’re all the same.’
‘It wasn’t enjoyable for me. The decisions, the few that were there, weren’t interesting. Played once and couldn’t understand what people were raving about frankly.
It’s, at best, OK. I would never choose to play this over almost any other game though.’
GreatWhiteToyShark (again) says:
‘I’d say the only real weaknesses are 1) not much direct player interaction and 2) a theme that, while beautiful, doesn’t really add anything to the experience.
Interested in Splendor?
So, Splendor. There you have it: generally pretty well regarded, dreadfully dull, quick, little, overly boxed, and beautiful. Everything you could possibly want in a game.