Splendor review

What’s a typical gift for Mother’s Day? Candy? Flowers? Perhaps even jewellery? But if she’s not into those things, you could give her the gift of time spent together while playing a board game – while still tying in that jewellery. Enter Splendor, a popular card-based board game that released back in 2014 where up to four players strive to become successful gem merchants in the Renaissance era.

Splendor is a card and token-based resource management game that’s far easier to learn than you’d think based on a cursory look at an already set up game. And despite a relatively large box (considering that the game is almost fully card-based), you won’t be overwhelmed by the number of components and things to track either. Inside the box, you’ll find 90 development cards, which will become the heart of your gem trading empire. There are three levels of cards, the lowest of which symbolize the resource acquisition phase of gem – the mining of raw materials. The second tier consists of transportation and processing, while the third level cards are the gem stores where you sell the final product.

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These high quality cards are also where the Renaissance theme is seen and felt, with nicely illustrated and thematically fitting visuals that see you collecting raw minerals from remote regions and finally setting up shop in places that resemble Venice and Paris. Further strengthening the thematic connection are the 10 cards with nobles, who are all dressed the part for the time period. You’ll use up to five of them per game session, and the rest gets puts back in the box – as these are the only cards not used, Splendor is a pretty efficient game.

The nicest elements in the box are the gems though, which you’ll use to trade with. Gems come in the shape of tokens/chips that both look and feel great, which is good because you and the other players will be handling them quite a lot. You use them to buy development cards, place them back in the resource pile, and claim them (again) in order to save up for high level development cards.

Gameplay-wise, the higher level development cards (and the noble cards) come with prestige points, and the goal of the game is accumulate 15 points in order to end the game and win. Level 1 (resource) cards help you to purchase higher level cards by offering permanent ‘discounts’ to the prices listed on the cards, and having enough cards of a certain type will attract the attention of noble – allowing you to claim their card and the attached prestige points as well.

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Setting up a game can be done in under a minute as long as you keep your cards in separate piles. You’ll stack the available gem tokens in piles of the same color (the number depends on how many are playing), and place the three decks of development cards above one another (with level 1 cards at the bottom). You’ll them use the first four cards from each deck to lay down a row of four next to each deck, forming a grid above which you’ll place the noble cards – three for a two player game, and one more for each player you add.

On a turn, you can choose to grab three gems of different colors, or you can grab two of the same color – leaving a pile of at least two. Alternatively, on later turns, you can buy a development card with the tokens you have, which will then return to the stack. Or, if you don’t have the resources yet, you can reserve a development card, taking it out of play and replacing it. It won’t count as part of your resources or prestige points yet, but it can stop another player from claiming it and can give you a quick edge when you get the resource you need for it. Reserving a card also comes with a gold token, which acts as a wild/joker resource that you can use instead of any of the other gems when buying a card. As a bonus, you can claim a single noble card at the end of a turn when you meet the requirements for it – which can instantly boost your prestige rating by three points.

There are a few limitations to the rules here, including the fact that you can only have up to ten tokens in your possession. Grab more than ten, and you’ll have to put a few of them back in order to get back to ten – wasting precious resources in the process. Gold tokens count towards your gem total as well, but can only be acquired when reserving a card. You can also only reserve up to three cards at once, and these reserved cards are the only elements in the game you can keep ‘hidden’ from other players by holding them in your hand (though they might remember what you reserved) – the rest of your gem empire is open to see and plot against for others.

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Play naturally progresses towards a total of 15 prestige points for one (or more) of the players in the game. Once that point is reached, the player with the most points at the end of the round wins the game. What’s great about Splendor, however, is that there are many paths to victory, and sometimes you’ll try to gather a bunch of gems before making big moves while at other times you’ll find yourself investing in development cards early.

With intuitive gameplay and dynamics that change depending on how many people are playing (things change a lot in between your turns when it’s four of you, but you can plot ahead more in a two player game), Splendor offers nearly limitless replay value. Sometimes you’ll play with your own plans in mind, but two turns later your primary concern might be to block another player’s ambitions. Things change quickly, and with a 30 minute playing time and quick setup process it’s easy to have another go once you’re done.

Splendor’s easy to learn ruleset makes sure that the whole family can play and that it’s easy to bring newcomers in, though there’s a 10+ age rating. The game’s been a runaway success since its introduction in 2014, and for good reason. Balanced mechanics provide a myriad of ways to play, it’s super quick to set up, and it’s being sold at a very pleasant price point as well. A great jewellery-related gift for mothers who love family time.

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