One day this game showed up on the front page of my favourite online game shop, and I’ll be the first to admit, the cover caught my eye with all the sparkly goodness of a rare gem, but I waited before procuring Splendor. The first review I saw was Watch It Played’s preview of it with Jules Vautour of Asmodee. My interest was peaked, and by the time I received my copy, I’d seen more high praise from both Drive Thru Reviews and from the Dice Tower. It was time to dive in.
Splendor is from designer Marc Andre and French publisher Space Cowboys. It’s an abstract game played with a small set of cards broken into three decks, a handful of “noble” tiles, and a variety of poker style chips illustrated with gemstones. Players either pick up chips or use their chips to buy cards which will give them future purchasing power, and maybe even some prestige points. Once a player hits 15 prestige points – the game stops, and the person with the most points wins. It’s elegantly simple in it’s execution, but these simple mechanics begin unfolding after a handful of plays and revealing the hidden gemstone within… a crunchy tactical game that’s easy to learn but will take much longer to master.
On our first few games, Jenny and I focused on building our purchasing engines. We scooped up lower value cards in an effort to make the rush on higher value cards that much easier. Something we only started using more aggressively later on was the ability to reserve a card, effectively putting it on layaway and picking up a gold (or “wild”) chip in the process.
This blocking mechanism adds one additional challenge to an already crafty game. If you’re really in need of that rare Ruby, it can prevent that card from being lost to another player who manages to buy it first. Alternatively, it can let you grab a card that you may not have the resources to buy, but that you want to prevent another player from acquiring.
The 2014 Spiel des Jahres nominees were announced today, and it’s no surprise that Splendor made the cut, alongside Camel Up and Concept. The game is accessible, fun, easy to learn, easy to teach, and lasts only about 30 minutes. It seems like this was built to be a SdJ winner, but not in a contrived way. Splendor is a unique experience, and despite being accessible, it’s still capable of challenging more veteran gamers.