Splendor (American spelling), as its name suggests, is a game with something a little splendid about it: it’s about gems and jewels. The gems that players collect and use as currency have been made to look and feel quite nice, and the game’s cards are colourful and attractive, especially the development cards: it ‘has a good feel’ to it.
Although development cards don’t get involved in any development actions, they do form the centre of the game. At the start, twelve development cards are laid out in a grid that’s three cards deep, with four cards across each row. The three rows contains cards that show scenes from a different level of development.
The ones at the bottom of the grid show scenes concerned with the mining processes from different periods. The middle row’s cards reveal processes by which gems dug from those mines might make it to the market ~ the display includes ancient ships, camel trains, and artisans, peering at gems to assess their quality. The upper row includes such as jewellers’ shops, grand statues, and back-street jewellery quarters ~ the scenes and settings into which the gems will eventually make their way, destined to become beautiful jewels.
The three rows grow in terms of ‘prestige power’ and )of course) price.
Splendor is set in the renaissance: fine art and fine goods were much in demand. Those with wealth, especially the nobility, were not averse to spending their money on fine things – gems included. It was an age of acquisition.
Players, as merchants, put resources to their best use, trying to acquire mines, along with transportation methods and artisans who can turn raw gems into profitable jewels: they want to feed the greed. But they also, as nouveau riche, seek to acquire prestige and ‘standing’ in the eyes of those they seek to emulate ~ the nobility. The gaining of most prestige points will make one of them the winner of the game.
Along with the ninety development cards, then, there are ten splendidly attired nobles: all, of course, wonderfully attractive ~ it’s in the genes, you know 😄.
The merchants gather development cards with gems displayed on them, and these gems act as bonuses – money in hand. The arrays of gems on display draw nobles in like flies to make visits to the merchants, bringing prestige points with them.
“Oh, joy! Welcome to Splendor, my lord. Will you take wine: and I do apologise for the spelling”.
So, the game is about gathering gems to act as currency, to buy development cards. Through these development cards, middle class merchants can acquire prestige, along with the gems on display that may attract the nobility: bringing more prestige.
It’s a quiet game, where players ponder, weighing their ever-changing choices. It contains well balanced quantities of luck and openings for purposeful player-control. The theme doesn’t have a massive impact upon the way that the playing of the game pans out: it’s somewhat abstract, in truth, though it’s none the worse for that.
An enjoyable game of clever card choosing, with a bit of luck thrown in (not too much), and a fair dollop of competition.
With two players, it can be a somewhat strategic game: players having longer terms plans in mind. Moves such as blocking your opponent by reserving a card can be just as important a move as claiming a development card you’ve had your eye on. With two players, the race to greatest Splendor can be quite tense and tight.
Once up to four players, Splendor may become more of a tactical game. It’s sometimes a matter of making the best move in the shorter term, rather than the laying down of longer term intentions, because the cards that make up the board can change so much between turns. You’re compelled to react to what’s available when it comes to your turn, and to hope that things will go your way.
With replay, things can become faster and aggressive, with beady mercantile eyes on the cards that may be grabbed, and the on the prestige points being ratcheted up by opponents.
An even better game ….
We prefer another game that’s set within a medieaval market context, and that’s Merchants of Dunhuang.
There’s more to it by way of players’ opportunity to make decisions of tactics and strategy, and more game-to-game variation – and it’s a lot smaller and a lot cheaper: but not so ‘splendid’.
Splendor is supported by a few expansions.
- a brief set of rules
- minimal complexity
- accessible to casual players
- not so easy to know quite what to do, and when
- each game is quite a different challenge – replayable
- may be a good game for families & friends