Well, we’ve had a little time off after the exhausting extravaganza of the Nuremberg Toy Fair over in That Germany, but now it’s time to get the nose back to the grindstone, get the games on the table and get some reviews up on the site. I managed to pick up a fair few new titles while over there, including games that will be available in stores over the next few months as well as a bunch of prototypes that may be making their way through to full production by Essen 2014. As you’d expect, Asmodee had a whole bunch of interesting new stuff on their sizeable stand at the fair, some of which are already available – but you’ll have to wait a short while for Splendor, designed by Marc Andre.
Falling firmly into the “easy to pick up” category, Splendor certainly looks pretty unassuming when sat on the shelf. The ubiquitous mysterious chap, shrouded in shadows, that seems to appear on most eurogame covers is well in effect, and cracking open the box doesn’t really prepare you for a life changing experience. Inside you’ll find a deck of cards, separated into three separate coloured piles, a stack of tiles depicting various royals and dignitaries from history, and six different piles of coloured chips. Components are actually really quite nice, the chips in particular, so your interest is piqued a little as you get yourself ready and set up to play.
Here’s the deal – the three card piles are shuffled and four of each type are flipped face up. Depending on how many people are playing – between two and four can get involved – a random amount of dignitary tiles are revealed as well and placed at the top of this field of cards. Finally, the different coloured chips – representing five different precious stone types and one final stack of gold – are put within reach of everyone. The aim of the game is to be the first to reach fifteen prestige points by grabbing cards and attracting the attention of the nobles. Hitting that target triggers the endgame, but you’ll still have to make sure that no-one else scores higher than you… Just because you’re finishing the game, it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to win!
Each turn will see players allowed to perform one of four actions. You’re either allowed to take one each of three different gem chips, or two of the same from one pile. Alternatively, you can shift your focus to the cards, either ‘reserving’ one by taking it from the field into your hand (and taking one of the valuable gold chips), or spending your chips to buy one that you like the look of. The cost that’s printed on the bottom left of each card is what you’ll need to pay before taking and laying it down in front of you, which is what you’ll be aiming to do most of the time. You see, each card also has one of the five gems printed at the top of it which you can put towards the cost of subsequent cards. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get your hands on one that also brings in those valuable prestige points. Any time a card is removed, whether reserved or played straight down, it’s immediately replaced with another from the same level’s deck. Oh, and as you’d expect, the three different card levels get increasingly expensive and lucrative.
As the game progresses, you’ll notice a tipping point where the focus moves away from taking chips from the stacks and looking solely at the cards laid out before you. Sure, you may occasionally need the odd chip here or there to top up the resources that you have at your disposal in order to pick up newly revealed cards, but most of the time you should have enough from what you’ve built up while playing. These huge lines of cards are also important for another reason – taking the tiles featuring the game’s noble personages, each of which will get you another three points closer to your goal. Every tile has a set of requirements on it that need to be reached before you can claim it, but rather than needing chips, you have to get sets of cards that will catch the eye of the dignitary. Manage to get a couple of them and you’re well on your way to winning.
And really, that’s pretty much the game. Get chips, spend chips, get cards, use cards, get tiles, get to fifteen points before anyone else. It feels like I’m damning the game with the faintest of praise, because it’s actually really rather decent. Splendor is not going to rock anyone’s world, but it’s certainly a great example of a game that happens to function really well. When playing with a friend, he echoed the sentiment – while everything in the game is certainly good, you’re not exactly excited about the prospect of playing it again and again. He described it as feeling like a really solid part of a much larger game, an central engine around which something more fulfilling could be be created – and then I got annoyed because there was no way I could put that into better words.
Splendor is the very definition of a Try Before You Buy game – I’m sure that there are many people who will enjoy it more than I, reckoning it to be the ideal filler or some such accolade, but for me… well, it’ll be getting a place in my collection and will be sitting on my shelf, and I’ll be happy to play it if anyone else asks to bring it to the table, but I don’t think I’ll be the one making the suggestion. Splendor, while not being Fool’s Gold, just doesn’t have the lustre needed to get me excited.
Splendor was designed by Marc Andre and will be released through Space Cowboys (an Asmodee imprint) later in 2014. Between two and four people can play with games taking between twenty and forty minutes. And yes, not having a ‘u’ in the name bugs the hell out of me.