I first got to play Splendor a few weeks back, and you may recall me tweeting that it was the best new game I got to play that weekend. But you can’t say much more than that in a tweet, so it seemed to me that it was high time to say a little bit more about the game.
Splendor is a straightforward economic engine game in which you take gems of various colors, use the gems to buy development cards, and then each of these cards permanently contributes to the purchase of cards on later turns. You start out by purchasing rank 1 cards, which take about gems to grab, and are worth no victory points. Then, as you start accumulating enough development cards, you’ll more readily be able to acquire rank 2 development cards, which cost a lot more gems but are worth victory points. And, of course, rank 3 development cards take even more gems to get and give even more victory points.
At the start of the game, the setup will look like so:
You can see the gems, the three ranks of development cards, and at the top the noble tiles. On each player’s turn, they get to take exactly one out of four possible actions. First, they can take three gems of different colors. Second, they can take two gems of the same color as long as most of that stack is left. Third, they can cash in their gems to buy any of the development cards available (the empty slot is immediately refilled). The cost of a development is expressed in 1-4 different kinds of gems, and each existing development can reduce the cost of any future development whose cost includes the kind of gem produced by the development. Fourth, they can take a wild gold (the yellow chips) and “reserve” a development card, which takes it out of the card row and makes it only available for that player to purchase on a later turn.
The noble tiles are an additional source of victory points. At the end of a player’s turn, if the player has met the requirements of a noble, then the player gets to take that noble’s tile (only one tile per turn, however). The requirements are all in terms of having enough developments of the appropriate colors.
The game’s end is triggered when one player has 15 (or more) victory points, with players continuing to take turns until the round is concluded and everyone has taken the same number of turns. Most victory points wins.
Splendor is a fantastic gateway game. It presents a core “eurogame” mechanic of building an economic engine, and strips it down to a very easily understandable format (and it really does play in only half an hour). It presents gameplay decisions, but not ones that will put players (new or old) at risk of analysis paralysis. It requires tactical decisions about what developments to shoot for immediately, mid-range strategic planning about which bonus tiles to shoot for, and an important long-range strategic decision of when to turn from grabbing “free” early development investments that aren’t worth victory points, to shelling out hoarded gems to get the higher-rank developments. With that mix of some decisions, but straightforward ones, I anticipate Splendor being one of the big board game successes of 2014.