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.