One Board Family: Splendor Review
I love a good thinking game. I crave a game where I need a long-term plan that is broken up into smaller, short-term plans that have to adjust from time to time due to the movements of other players. I long for the constant calculations that have to take place as you watch other players work to outwit you. I revel in the feeling of victory when you’re able to extract your rival from the jaws of success. I…. need more synonyms.
“Hey Alexa, what’s another way to say that I really like and want something?”
When you think strategy games, you probably think chess, and rightfully so. But it can be tough to get someone to sit down for a game. You need something a little less abstract. You need something with vibrant colors and more visual stimulation. You need something with really good tokens. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit specific.
Shine Bright Like a Diamond
Splendor is a game that was released in 2014 by Space Cowboys, and it puts you in the role of a merchant during the Renaissance. You’re trying to collect prestige through acquiring and selling precious gemstones, purchasing trading vessels, stores, and professionals to improve your business, and impressing nobles. All of this is done with three decks of cards, a few small square tiles, and some solid tokens that put standard poker chips to shame.
Three levels of cards are laid out to form a market, with higher levels being more expensive but worth more points. On your turn, your two main options are taking tokens (either three of different colors or two of the same color) or purchasing cards with the tokens you’ve acquired earlier.
When you buy a card, it gives you one of the jewels as a permanent bonus. So, for instance, if you buy a card with a diamond on it, all of your future purchases that cost a diamond will cost you one less. As you buy more cards, you’ll eventually be able to acquire those lower level cards for free, but those higher level cards that are worth more victory points will become more obtainable, too.
Now you won’t be building your little jewelry business in isolation. There are bonus cards featuring different nobles who are keeping an eye on you. If you manage to get a set of cards that match their requirements, you will win their favor and get bonus victory points. Whichever player can reach at least fifteen victory points first is the winner.
Worth its Weight in Gold
Now I mentioned that this game is a thinker, and with this simple rules description may have you doubting me. But trust me, from the very first move, you have to begin planning out your moves several turns ahead of time. You want to pick out your target card, see its price, and then acquire the gems on your turn to get that card. Everything’s fine if you’re the first player, but if you’re going on a later turn, you can probably go ahead and predict that the first player is going to get what they need for that card before you do, so you should go ahead and start targeting something else. And that’s just the beginning of the game.
As you continue, you have to keep an eye on the other players to see what nobles or high value cards they may be trying to acquire. The more players there are, the more strategies you have to consider, and the more you may have to alter your plans turn after turn to ensure that you maximize your efficiency. None of this even takes into account a third option for your turn – reserving a card. While rarer than the other two actions, this allows you to take any card from the market and place it face down in front of you so that you may purchase it on a later turn. You also get a ‘wild’ gem for it which can be used in the place of anything else when making a purchase. This option adds even more depth, giving you a way to snag a card you desperately need before your opponents, or maybe even just to ruin someone else’s plans by grabbing the card they’re saving up for before they get a chance.
Splendor is one of those games that you can definitely get better at as you play more often. Just as my friends Chad and Alicia can decimate me in a game of Dominion because of the strategies they have developed over time, a veteran Splendor player could clean a new player’s clock. This can make it a bit difficult to convince people to play, so I often have to go a little easy on folks when I play this for the first time. No one likes to be destroyed the first time they play something, and since my goal is having fun over winning, it always seems to work out. However, if I’m ever able to sit down with a couple of people who also know what they’re doing, a game of Splendor can get really intense – and really fun – really fast.
Only for Those with the Finest Tastes
I actually started writing this review in October of last year, and I just kinda forgot about it until I was scanning my folders today. And in that time, I’ve actually not brought Splendor to the table. As I’ve said, it’s a bit difficult to find balanced play for veteran and new players, and so I often opt for something different when we have guests over. In addition, the components, while very nice, don’t get really have “table presence” like Colt Express. More than likely, there will be some people in your gaming group with whom you will never want to play this.
Even with those issues, I think that Splendor is a fantastic game that many people should add to their collection. If you’re strictly a Cards Against Humanity kind of player, this isn’t going to be for you. If you love light-hearted games with a good sense of humor, you need to look elsewhere. But if you want a game that forces you to pay attention to every move and requires you to think several turns ahead and be ready to change your plan at the drop of a hat, then Splendor would be a great game for you. Or if you just really like good tokens.