Splendor – Splendidly Addicting

Ah, the Splendor of it all! Splendor is an easy-to-learn, quick-playing and addictive game for two to four players. Players play rich Renaissance merchants acquiring mines, transportation methods, and artisans so they can turn raw gems into beautiful jewels and increase their prestige. If you’re resourceful and acquire just the right combination of developments one or more nobles may visit your shop and increase your prestige even more. Well, that’s what the theme is supposed to be anyway.

While the gem-collecting aspect of Splendor certainly comes through, in all my plays I never really noticed that the cards I acquired represented mines, transportation methods and artisans. (I learned that little tidbit when I read the rulebook again in preparation for this review.) To me the game just seemed to be about acquiring gemstones and enticing nobles to visit in order to earn the requisite 15 prestige points. I guess that just implies that at least some of the theme of Splendor is irrelevant. Perhaps it’s the mechanics, the engine-building itself that makes this game so addictive. The artwork and high-quality components definitely enhance the splendor. Let’s see what it’s all about.

Splendor game setup

Splendor game setup

The game begins with three rows of four face-up development cards, one row for each Level deck. The green development deck represents Level 1, gold – Level 2, and blue – Level 3. Each development card depicts a particular gem in the top right corner, the number of prestige points it’s worth in the top left corner, and a gem cost in the bottom left corner. A number (# of players + 1) of random nobles are arranged above the rows of cards. They, too, have a prestige point value in the top-left corner with the price that will entice them to visit your shop in the bottom-left corner. Stacks of gem tokens – nice, hefty chips representing diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies, onyx and gold – are sorted by color and set to the side where everyone can reach them. (You’ll remove some of the tokens from the game when fewer than four are playing.)

Game play is simple and straight-forward. On your turn you can perform one of four possible actions:

  • Take 3 different-colored gems.
  • Take 2 gems of the same color, but only if there are currently at least 4 of that color available.
  • Take 1 gold and Reserve 1 development card by taking it into your hand. Gold tokens are wild; you can substitute a gold for any one colored gem when making a purchase. You can only reserve a maximum of three cards in your hand and the only way to get a reserved card out of your hand is to purchase it.
  • Buy 1 face-up development card from the table, or a previously reserved one from your hand, by paying the appropriate cost.

Players should organize their purchased cards by color and stagger them so that their gem color and prestige point values are visible. Each development card you purchase becomes a permanent gem in your collection (note the top right corner of the card for the specific gem type), which you can use to defray the cost of future development card purchases. For example, if you have 2 rubies in your collection and wish to purchase a development card that costs 2 rubies and 1 onyx, all you have to pay in tokens is 1 onyx. The two ruby development cards remain in your collection after the purchase; don’t discard them.

Splendor nobles

Splendor nobles

After taking one of the above actions, discard gems down to the 10-gem-token maximum, if necessary, and check the available Noble tiles to see if one will visit your shop. A Noble will visit you when the number and type of gems in your permanent collection (purchased development cards, not tokens) matches or exceeds the Noble’s cost. To signify the visit, if one visits, place the Noble tile in your play area. If you meet the conditions of more than one Noble, you can choose which one you want to visit, but only one can visit per turn.

Play continues until the end of the round in which a player earns 15 prestige points, so everyone gets the same number of turns. The player with the most prestige points wins.

It’s hard to define what makes Splendor so splendid and addicting. The artwork, high-quality components, the heft of the tokens, and even the perfectly-fitted box insert are certainly excellent. Splendor is also easy to learn and teach and deceptively simple to play. With additional plays, you’ll discover there’s more strategy to building a good gem-acquisition engine than at first meets the eye. Maybe it’s that special combination of high-quality components and the just-around-the-corner glimpses of how you might improve your strategy that make it so addictive. I know I often feel like the end comes too soon and want to shout “Not Yet! I was almost there!” At any rate, I’ve warned you that it’s addicting, even if I don’t know why.

Splendor supports 2 to 4 players ages 10 and up. I don’t see any reason younger folks couldn’t play this game as well, no reading is required. Play time is a fast 30 minutes. It’s over before you’re ready for it to be over. Splendor is a good choice for non-gamers, casual gamers and hard-core gamers alike. Expect to play a minimum of two games each time you get it out. No one can play just one.


Copyright © 2014-2015 by Tina G. McDuffie. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of Asmodee.

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