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Board Games With OB #32: Splendor

Back when I was high school, I threw shot put & discus* for the track & field team. But the events that really fascinated me was the distance running.

Distance running is a very tactical discipline. Part of winning the race is knowing when to make your move. When you start your push to the finish and hopefully leave everyone else in the dust.

If a idea of making a winning push like in a race were put into board game form, it has to be Splendor. Splendor is a game of trying to properly set up and then eventually push forward to the game's finish line, all while hoping you don't blow it and allow someone else to make their move. This deep drama, combined with a ridiculous easy ruleset, makes it easy to understand why Splendor was a finalist for this year's Spiel des Jahres, the top award in board gaming.


So, plan your push as we talk about Splendor.

Game: Splendor
Players: 2 to 4
Gametime: 30 minutes
Designer: Marc Andre (France)
Key Mechanics: Resource management, economic development

Story: You are a gem trader in the Renaissance. You will acquire gems and then through the acquisition of the services of gem mines and distributors, you will seek out the favor of nobles to ultimately become the dominant gem dealer in all the land.


What do you do? There are three key types of components in Splendor. First are gems, represented by poker chips. Gems come in five varieties: diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire and topaz. There's also a sixth kind of resource chip, gold, but more on those later. Next is the market of gem producers whose services are available for purchase, represented by cards. Cards come in three levels, the higher the level, the more difficult the card is to get and more rewarding it is once you get it. Finally are the nobles, represented by tiles.


At game start, you will have stacks of each of the resource chips (how many depends on the number of players), four cards of each level will be displayed face-up on the table (the rest are in face-down piles sorted by card level), along with a number of the noble tiles equal to the number of players, plus one. You're ready to go.

On a player's turn, they get a choice of doing one of three actions-

Take gems: If a player chooses to take gems, they grab chips from the general supply and add them to their personal stash of gems. A player can either take one gem of three different colors, or if there are a certain amount available in the supply, two gems of the same color. Important detail: A player can never have more than 10 chips in their personal stash.


Purchase a card: A player can also use their gems to buy a card from the market. The gem cost of each card is displayed in its lower left corner. Once they buy a card, they take it from the market and place it in front of them. The benefits of buying a card is shown in its upper corners. If there is a number in the card's upper left corner, that's the number of victory points the card is worth. There will also be a picture of a gem in the upper right. That represents a permanent discount the player now has in purchasing additional cards in the future. So, for example, let's say a player wants to buy a card that costs 2 emeralds and 2 diamonds. If they have one diamond card in front of them, they only have to pay 2 emerald and 1 diamond chip. If they had two diamonds cards, they would only need the 2 emeralds chips, and so on.

Reserve a card: You don't need to have the full cost of purchasing a card to get it out of the market. You also have the option to "reserve" a card. You take the card out of the market and place it face-down in front of you. You also receive a single gold chip. Gold chips act as jokers, taking the place of any of the gem chips in a purchase. (But remember, they also count toward your 10-chip limit) On a future turn, you can buy a card you hold in reserve instead of buying a card out of the market, thus gaining access to its victory points and purchasing discount. You can never hold more than three cards in reserve, and the only way to get a card out of reserve is to purchase it.


Throughout all this, there are also the nobles tiles. Each noble has certain gem resources they want you to have. One you have the gem resources available they desire, that noble becomes a permanent customer of yours. This earns you 3 victory points.


How to taste sweet, sweet victory: Splendor is a race to 15 or more victory points. Once a player scores 15 or more, all the player who still need to take a turn in that current round get one last chance to top the 15+ score (in other words, all players get an equal number of turns). Highest score wins, ties are broken by the player with the fewest cards purchased.

So, what makes this game awesome?

  • Simple to learn. You literally have only three choices of what to do on a turn.
  • At the same time, the strategic puzzle of this game is mesmerizing. You have to constantly pay attention to the board to see what's available for purchase, what it costs to purchase, and what it gets you in return. So you have to make some commitments, especially in pursuit of expensive Level 3 cards worth anywhere from 3 to 5 points. But the market is in a constant state of change, so overcommitting can wind up leaving you high and dry. Figuring out how to balance this is a fascinating challenge.
  • That's where the push comes in. Level 1 cards are cheap and help you construct an economy for when you decide to surge up and purchase the Level 2 and Level 3 cards that have the points you need to win the game. But you have to make a decision of when exactly to make that move.
  • A good player is also going to keep an eye on what the other players are doing. Perhaps you're able to figure out a big 4-point card someone else is going for. You can, in fact, be a jerk and reserve that card first so they can't get it, but at that point are you ever going to be able to get it out of your reserve? That's a dilemna every Splendor will have to consider at some point.
  • The artwork on the cards is just amazing.

Watch it in action: For the visual folks, here is a video explanation of Splendor by The Chalk.

*What this means is I did my three preliminary rounds throws, didn't make finals, and spent the rest of day goofing off.


Board Games With OB is a somewhat profane feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

Previous Board Games With OB:[Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido] [Blokus] [Puerto Rico] [Love Letter] [Can't Stop] [The Red Dragon Inn] [Dominion] [King of Tokyo] [Pandemic] [Spyrium] [Settlers of Catan] [Seasons] [Alhambra] [String Railway] [Kingsburg] [Betrayal at House on the Hill] [7 Wonders]


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