Design: Marc André
Artwork: Pascal Quidault
Publisher: Asmodee, Space Cowboys
Duration: 30 minutes
This week I’m taking a brief trip back to Splendor. I never thought a card game about accumulating wealth (stuff) to buy further wealth (more stuff) would be as damn good and bloody difficult as it is, but apparently I was wrong. Splendor is a set collection game, where each turn players collect ‘gem’ tokens in order to purchase gem cards of varying levels. Some simply give you a coloured gem, others give you points- but once cards are in your play area you can you use them as currency to buy the higher value cards. The first person to score 15 points wins the game. On paper this sounds all fairly straightforward- dare I say… easy? Trust me when I tell you that, for me at least, 30 minutes of brain burning & nail biting ensues.
More accurately Splendor is a ‘triple whammy’ set collection game. You are collecting the gem tokens to buy cards, the cards to enable higher purchases and sets of cards to buy the favour of royalty (the objective tiles on offer- spot the depictions of historical favourites such as Queen Victoria and Henry VIII). The rules around how many gem tokens you can collect and how you collect them brings an additional layer to the mix. Reserving a card allows you to take a gold piece (one of those wonderful ‘can-be-used-for-anything’ type tokens) and is a great way to snare an expensive gem card. Becoming unseasonably peeved that your opponent has taken the gem/card/royalty you wanted is also a given fact in Splendor.
This is why it works so well for me- there is a certain amount of conflict, but not so much so that you’re butting heads at every turn. After all there are plenty of gems for everybody! But some minor conflict is present and I like that. I very much enjoy the different elements of set collection within the game, and how damn tricky it is to get the cards you want. I also love when your wealth starts to accumulate and it feels like you’re getting cards ‘for free’, as you’re no longer relying on just the gems to purchase with.
I admire Splendor because of how well it works. I like set collection games, but some click with me and others don’t. I think the ones that don’t are often due to a piece of the design being a little…off. In those cases set collection can boil down to nothing more than ‘getting the things just because’. And then you don’t have that nice sense of satisfaction, or fun. I believe (from my experience) that it’s often a result of a game being ‘rushed’, perhaps not tested enough, like an almost finished story- that if pushed just a little bit further could have been wonderful. Splendor is a simple game, and a good gateway game because of how easy it is to learn. But it’s a polished piece.
Am I any good at it? Not massively. I take a ridiculously long time deliberating my turn and if I’m feeling a little beat I sometimes forget which card I was aiming to buy. Then colours and numbers blend into one and I forget what century I’m in. So focus is key. Early afternoon games are optimal (chance would be a fine thing!) and remembering what card you want to buy is a huge plus, obviously.
Lastly I’ll leave you with what stood out for me the most when I revisited Splendor (after a long time period of not playing). The artwork. I guess at one point I was so focused on the game I would only see the colours and numbers, and everything else was just background (which is a testament to a game not needing fancy artwork, if the game itself is a fine one). When I played recently I noticed just how detailed and vivid the artwork was, and how well illustrated the portraits were- really lovely stuff.
I’m so pleased that Cities of Splendor is to be released soon. This is a quartet of expansions in one that interact with the base game and individually. I don’t know too much at the moment, but I’ll be investigating at GenCon and will absolutely be reporting back.
Thanks for reading!