“Splendor” is a board game for 2 to 4 players, designed by Marc André, published by Asmodee. The digital versions are published by Days of Wonder — versions are available for PC (on Steam), iOS, and Android. I am going to talk about the physical and PC versions. Unless I specify, you can assume that everything I say in this post refers to both versions.
The general ‘theme’ of Splendor is that the players each represent wealthy Renaissance-era merchants, acquiring Gems, in order to purchase mines, ships, and the backing of nobles. In practice, though, except for the beautiful artwork on the cards, the theme is pretty thin. If you are looking for a strongly thematic game, this may not satisfy you.
The goal of the game is to collect victory points — once any player reaches 15 points, you are in the last round — the game will continue until every player has had the same number of turns. At that point, the player with the highest score, wins.
The game consists of 6 piles of different-colored poker chips, each representing either Diamonds, Rubies, Onyx, Emeralds, Amethysts, and Gold, 3 decks of development cards, divided by general quality, and 10 noble tiles. On a turn, you can do one, and only one of the following:
- You may collect up to 3 (non-gold) gems, none of which are the same color.
- You may collect 2 (non-gold) gems of the same color, so long as there are at least 4 gems of that color available.
- You may reserve any development card on display OR the top hidden card of one of the three undealt development card decks. If you reserve a card, you collect a gold token. Gold tokens are just like other gems, except they are wild, and can be used in place of any other color gem. You can have up to 3 development cards reserved.
- You may purchase any one development card on display or that you personally have reserved.
Note also that you can never have more than 10 tokens (including gold), so if you go over 10, you will be forced to discard the excess.
Development cards have 3 relevant stats — purchase cost, point value (which if not shown, is zero), and bonus value. The bonus value is the displayed gem on the top-right-hand corner of the card, and this bonus is cumulative, and can never be lost. It is used to reduce the purchase cost of all future development cards. So while the top-tier cards may seem really out of reach as far as their purchase cost is concerned, as the game progresses, they will become more readily affordable.
And there’s just one more thing — there’s a random selection of nobles who can join your faction once your accumulated bonus matches or exceeds the required bonus printed on his tile. No more than one noble can join your side on a given turn. However, if two nobles qualify to join you on a turn, and the second one is still available on the following turn, you’ll get that one as well. Since every noble is worth 3 victory points, you should definitely take them into consideration when plotting your moves.
The PC version is very faithful to the board game. BUT it does not support on-line multiplayer. You can play hot-seat games, or you can play against the AI. Hopefully, on-line play will be added sometime in the future, but it’s not available now. One thing that the PC version DOES add are challenges. Challenges are very fast-paced, often timed puzzles where you are given a goal and a deck with a fixed order, and must achieve that goal within the specific time period or turn limit. And I will say that I found most of them to be VERY challenging (and not only because I’m not a fast thinker).
The game itself, whether you are talking about the board or computer game, is very easy to learn, and plays relatively fast (once everyone is used to the rules). While there is certainly luck involved in the game, you’ll find that there are a lot of meaningful choices that can make the difference between victory and defeat. Do you buy the cheap cards that aren’t worth points, to build up your bonus, or do you collect gems towards more expensive cards that give you points up front? Do you aim for the bonuses that are most desirable on the noble cards, or the ones that are rarest or that you need the most for future purchases? Do you reserve a card to prevent another player from taking it, or do you risk leaving it out there, to collect even more gems, so that you can purchase it outright?
Splendor is an INCREDIBLY elegant game. What I mean by this is that the rules are deceptively simple, but it still has as somewhat rich complexity that arises out of that simplicity. It’s a very clever design, and the game is addictive as hell. It lacks the depth and thematic atmosphere of many other games, and it is very light. But I still enjoy it.
If you have friends to play with, get the board game. If you don’t mind playing against the AI, and don’t mind about hotseat being the only multiplayer mode, or if you like the idea of the challenges, then certainly consider the PC (or mobile) versions. I have not tried the mobile versions but I understand that they are pretty much the same as the PC version. If you are still uncertain, check out any Youtube Video for the game in the version of your choice. But I give it a definite thumbs-up.