Reviewed By: Dillon
Splendor was released in 2014 from designer Marc André and Published by Space Cowboys and Asmodee
In Splendor, you’re playing the part of a merchant around the Renaissance era. Your main objective is to be able to produce the largest amount and highest quality jewels. You take part in the whole process of gathering gems, transporting them around, and having artisans cut them into exquisite jewels.
That’s the blurb – and when I first read the description, it didn’t jump out to me as something I would be interested in. Luckily, the designer wisely decided to abstract all of those processes into a straightforward game of cards and tiles. The end result of this turns out to be quite an
interesting game, but then Splendor’s designer took things one ridiculously awesome step further. They added the TOKENS!
Does all of Splendor’s abstraction and a few poker chips amount to an enjoyable board game? Keep scrolling to find out…
Gateway Game - Great for BeginnersI want to make special mention of Splendor being a Gateway Game. We here at BoardGameBuds have a soft spot for these games that are usually just a notch in complexity above games like Monopoly or Uno. If you have friends or family who have only been exposed to board games more than 30 years old, a Gateway Game is the perfect place to start them off and introduce them to something more modern.
Splendor comes in a simple box, with cover art that may not convey immediately what you’re getting into. I was initially left with a sense of “that’s it?” when looking at the components, after having read a few positive comments about the game.
Looking and touching are two distinctly different senses, however, and Splendor takes full advantage of the latter. I present to you: The Tokens.
Amazing, Epic, Outstanding, and Superb. These little chips are perfection, and there isn’t a moment during a play of Splendor where I’m not enjoying them. I’ll stack them up, count them, roll them beween my fingers, slide them around on the table. Every one of these nonsensical little actions has absolutely nothing to do with the game, and at the same time has absolutely everything to do with what makes Splendor special, for me.
I could wax poetic for probably another several paragraphs or so about these tokens, but don’t want to take away too much of the spotlight from the actual game and other components. They are wonderful. Cutting myself off now from more token talk.
The other components in Splendor are great as well with the development cards having some nice pictures and very clearly displayed information about how much they cost and what they produce in each turn for you. The Noble Tiles are likewise sturdy and immediately easy to digest.
It’s 4 pages long, with one whole page consisting of the cover art, and a half page on the back about the designer and artist. What’s left is 2.5 pages of perfectly laid out instructions that your Mom or Grandmom could read, understand, and be playing in a few minutes.
This is another area where the simplicity of the design functions to make the instructions easy, but Space Cowboys didn’t miss a beat with highlighting Splendor’s purity. Splendor has an exemplary rulebook!
The mechanics of Splendor function very well. It is a game largely about card drafting and set collection, and also building up an engine that will work for you on future turns. The main goal of Splendor is to collect the most Presige Points. The numbers a the top of the cards and tiles represent those Prestige Points.
The card drafting aspect in Splendor makes up the bulk of the “board” that is laid out in front of the players. This gives everyone in the game access to 12 different cards that will work together to build their business of selling fine jewels. There are three tiers of cards that are increasingly expensive to purchase. The higher tiers generally produce more efficiently for the purchase than the lower tiers, or provide a better Prestige Point reward.
This setup is always unique and changing as well, since each tier has a deck to draw from and only 4 are available at a time. You might be going for mostly red and white gems, but if tiers 2 and 3 are full of blue/green/white cards, some game adjustments must be made.
Noble tiles in Splendor are not able to be purchased, but are instead automatically acquired when you have enough cards of certain colors. These often act as objectives that each player will be trying to achieve to pick up a boost of Presige Points. I like that they are all visible, so it’s possible to look around the table and try to counter-play your friends who may be going for a particular noble based on their current cards played.
Splendor’s turn structure flows very quickly, allowing actions of either drawing tokens, buying a card, or reserving a card. The card reserve is very cool, allowing you to take a face-up card and keep it for yourself to buy at a later time. You also get a golden chip that acts as a wildcard for any chip on a future turn.
There aren’t many complains about Splendor’s gameplay. Most of the complaints that we initially had were due to not having the correct amount of chips available for particular player counts.
Splendor plays quick, and usually has players ready to play again right away to try something slightly different than they did before. This is the game that I’ve been able to play with my wife more than any other board game, which really says something!
Personally, I found Splendor to lose a bit of its luster after about 15 plays. For a game that retails around ~$30, that is a great value. The draft choices keep things interesting and make every game unique.
I’ll preface this section by noting that Splendor is a wonderful Gateway Game experience. For players that are unfamiliar with modern board games, you can be nearly certain they will enjoy this game. My critique is from the perspective of someone who plays a lot of board games, but if you’re mainly interested in Splendor as a Gateway Game, then you can skip down to the rating and know you aren’t missing anything!
Feeling is an area where Splendor didn’t really click for us. While the bulk of the game is all very-well constructed, there wasn’t often a sense of greatness while playing it. To be clear, Splendor is enjoyable, but playing it finds something a bit lacking. The best way I can illustrate that is through a comparison.
For a long time, I considered Ticket to Ride to be the single best Gateway Game around. I still think it is wonderful, but I would probably recommend Splendor over it now, mainly for the shorter play-time. In comparing the two games, the moments that are exquisite in Ticket to Ride are revealing the Destination Tickets at the end of the game.
Those moments have players holding their breath, checking their cards and trains, and usually more than one person thinking they have the game in hand. A single ticket uncompleted there means a huge swing of Victory Points, and builds to a dramatic finish.
Splendor doesn’t really stack up in that department. Splendor instead has you building an economic engine, and then right when things are getting exciting is over.
It’s likely that the streamlined nature of the Splendor and quick play time has a large part in all of this. Still, those strengths in other areas show as a weakness here.
Splendor is our first, and easiest recommendation as a Gateway Game. The quick pace of play, ease of learning, and obscenely fun tokens all add up to a well-priced package that provides a ton of value.