In this review we travel back to the Renaissance into the shoes of rich merchants who will look to purchase precious gem mines, transport those gems to cities, and use artisans to transform them into beautiful jewels that you hope will impress the aristocracy. Splendor promises to be a fast paced, resource management, fun tabletop game, so let’s find out if Splendor has discovered a diamond fit for the Queen of England or unearthed a mineral not fit to decorate a dog’s collar.
Splendor is a two to four player Renaissance themed, economy game that has players drafting and collecting cards in order to gain enough prestige points to win. From the outset players will note that this is not the most ‘theme heavy’ game on the market. The theme is quite loose and not immediately recognisable as a Renaissance themed game and could easily have any number of different themes overlaid and still use exactly the same mechanisms. Do not, however, take that as a slight against the artwork. Credited to Pascal Quidault the art is some of the cleanest and crisp that you will see with bright, vibrant & natural colours that instantly capture the eye. As with the theme the art is not the most detailed around, but it fits perfectly with the loose, easy theme. I recently reviewed Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, and the art on the Old One’s cards are immense, and when they are revealed it really adds to the feel of the game. The art in Splendor isn’t required to have that same level of emotion; instead it allows the mechanics of the game to shine through whilst still doing its job.
What I have just said about the artwork, completely disregard that as we talk about the box art. The character on the front of the box is so fiercely intense that players will feel as if he is staring right at you from the game shop shelf, almost challenging you to return his gaze. Instantly drawn to his eyes you will then notice the glittering gem which he is inspecting and boom, Splendor has your attention. A very clever piece of design by Pascal, and I commend you for it. For any video game lovers among you (probably 99% of you), the box art made me think of the character from Thief, the same kind of mysterious but piercing look that has you self-evaluating when exposed to it. Lastly on the box, it comes with a very nicely designed, plastic insert that keeps all of the components separate, meaning set up and clean up are much quicker.
The rule book is more like a two & a half page information sheet. Again, this is not a dig at Splendor, far from it. The game rules are so well designed and easy to teach that no further reading is required. The rules go through its components; set up for all two, three & four player variants, then teaches players the available actions and small details including victory conditions which are required to start. The text is broken up with colorful diagrams and also fits the audience rating of ten plus.
The three levels of development cards are made of good card stock and have been designed with players in mind, by which I mean that they display only the information that is required in large, colorful font or art. Being devoid of text a card can be read and digested with nothing more than a glance that again highlights the loose, fun theme that I have noticed throughout. Each card will state how many and of what type of token that players must use to purchase it. It will also show which gem family it belongs to and how many (if any) prestige points it offers.
Also included are ten noble tiles that display pictures of Europe’s aristocracy which again offer similar information to the development cards, although all of these tiles give you three prestige points and are used slightly differently throughout gameplay. The tiles are made from thick cardboard instead of the regular card stock. Although I am certainly not complaining about this, I can’t see a reason for it either. They are handled less than the other cards and could easily have been of the same stock whilst having no impact on the game. Not a criticism, more a curiosity.
The final component that we will discuss also happens to be my favourite in the game. They are the tokens that display the type of gem that they represent and have actually been made out of poker chips, meaning that they are heavy in hand, durable, and easy to handle. This is important as they are the most used components in the game, so it is obvious to me that either designer Marc Andre or publisher Space Cowboys have put real thought into the token designs which has massively paid off in the finished product.
Set-up of the game is minimal and will take a few minutes at most. The development cards are grouped into three levels and are placed in a column with level one at the bottom, followed by level two and three. Four cards are then drawn from level one and situated in a line abreast from the starting deck, and this is repeated for levels two and three until the table consists of a 3×5 rectangle of cards. The noble tiles are then placed above the level three deck and will consist of the number of tiles per player, plus one extra. Place the tokens in easy reach of all players with the rules suggesting under the level one cards. Players are now ready to begin a game of Splendor, yes, it is that quick.
As I have already alluded to and you have probably all guessed, the gameplay is not very complicated and can be taught to children and adults alike in a matter of minutes. A player will have one action on their turn and must choose from one of four options. They can either: take three gem tokens, take two gem tokens of the same colour, reserve a card and take one gold token, or finally, purchase a face-up card from the table or a previously reserved card. So, let’s say on our go we collect a red, white & blue (how very patriotic) gem token; on our next turn if a card is on the table that can be purchased from one red, white & blue token, we could choose to hand over our gem tokens and take the card, which would immediately be replaced by another card from the deck of its level. The card that we have purchased is a blue gem card, and having that blue gem card means that for the rest of the game we will need one blue gem token less to purchase other cards. If we had two blue gem cards, we would require two less blue gem tokens and so on. Now, cards that cost this little will emanate from the level one deck and are unlikely to offer prestige points, whereas level two deck cards may cost five red and three black tokens but will offer a mid-range level of prestige points. Level three cards follow the same pattern and are subsequently far less used. At the end of a player’s turn they must check two things, firstly they must check to see if their hand contains enough cards of a particular gem to warrant a visit from a noble. If they do, then a noble will be taken by that player along with its three victory points (only one noble can be taken by each player per turn), and players must then check the victory condition, with the first player to achieve fifteen prestige points being declared the winner at the end of that round.
The way the development cards are divided into three levels is what takes this game from a generic resource collection game where going first is everything or every player is fighting for the same card to a very solid strategy game that will have different players thinking that they can achieve victory in very contrasting ways. Is it better to buy lots of the cheap level one cards and build up your free tokens, or is it better to save for the more expensive level three cards which give the most prestige points? Some might even aim to have more noble tiles than other players which again offer prestige points. Does a player want to waste a turn to reserve a card whilst other players are collecting tokens, and are any players brave (or stupid) enough to draw a face down card straight from the deck and be stuck with it? Players will have quite a few alternative approaches towards Splendor with little rules such as a ten token hand limit or a three card reserve limit really helping to keep the game under control. Also, let’s briefly mention the gold tokens. These are also known as joker tokens and can be used in lieu of any other token which give play a nice random effect and stops opponents trying to work out your next move, which can be done as the rules state that all cards and tokens in a player’s hand should be visible to the rest of the table.
Designer – Marc Andre
Artwork – Pascal Quidault
Publisher – Space Cowboys
Release – 2014