Monday, April 21, 2014

A short review of Splendor....

I'm always looking for simplicity in games, especially the lighter ones.  Much like the mathematical proofs I studied in the yesteryears of my graduate work, the simplest were always the most elegant and the best.  This to me is what makes quickie games like For Sale and Coloretto so wonderful - rules in under a minute but some definite thought involvement.  Splendor is like that - easy to explain and short enough (with the right players) and it seems like it's got some depth.  And it does if you look for it.  But I would argue one can just as easily play this fun game with nary a plan and still walk away handily with the victory.  And therein lies my disappointment although I do think its enjoyable enough filler if its played very quickly.

If a gamer was asked what an engine-building game is, they might say something like, "it's a game where you get resources to buy things which generate more resources and maybe points."  Using this description, Splendor really is an engine-building game boiled down to its purest, purest essence.  There are gems of 5 types which let you buy cards which then give you permanent gems and eventually, on the more expensive cards, points.  And that's about the gist of the game.  First player to 15 points shouts hurrah and shuffles up for another round.  It's almost that simple.  Okay, there's some bonus tiles which you can claim if you get enough cards of certain colours but there isn't much else to it.  On a player's turn, you can take 1 of the following 4 options: take 3 distinct gems or 2 gems of the same colour (if there's still at least 4 of that colour left) or hold a card for later and take a wild chip or buy a card from the table or their hand.

So you can pick up and hold up to 3 cards for later purchase?  This is key because I think this is where the major problem with the game exists.  In my experience with Splendor (including a 5-game bender a couple Saturday nights ago), the 4th choice of action - to hold a card for later and take a wild chip - is completely sub-optimal and one can win easily without ever doing it.  I honestly wonder why the option is even there if it so useless until perhaps the final turn to clinch the victory.  I've now played a few more games since then, refusing to ever pick up a card and only gathering gems when a table purchase is not possible.  And I've won them, in one case quite handily.  Part of the issue is the cards revealed are always so random that if you keep a spread of colours you're almost always able to buy something.  If not, just wait till the next turn and something will probably come up.  The luck factor is unfortunately quite large in this one.

It's too bad because this really is an enjoyable and speedy (if somewhat generic) little game which seems at first glance to offer lots of decisions.  I will say that I have only played my 10+ games with 4 players so we cycle through the decks very quickly.  This probably allows for many cards to be purchased quite easily.  I imagine in a 2-player game one would have to plan a little further ahead as the cards wouldn't get cycled half as much.

Clearly if I've played more than 10 games of this, it's a nice enough diversion (especially for lunch hours at work).  And I'll probably play it a few more times.  But the "holding" option and gold gems are entirely superfluous and one can very easily win this one by just waiting, hoarding chips, and buying the first cards that come up.

Maybe I just like that clicking those coloured chips together makes such a satisfying sound.....


  1. The last game I played, I spent my first three turns reserving cards and then focused the rest of the game around those three. I won handily. I've seen a game won by never reserving and just going for large point cards, and a game won by who got the right noble. I haven't noticed too much of a luck factor so far, but then I've only played with 2 and 3 where the cards stay out longer.

  2. Yeah, with 4 players, sitting and waiting for whatever cards you can buy automatically is a perfectly viable (and winning) strategy. There's just enough churn in the cards. It's too bad.

  3. Been a tricky one for me to track down in the KW area

  4. I suggested the flaw to people at GoF and people who played 10-15 times all said that was not a dominant strategy. Just an easy strategy that might win with new players who don't maximize their engines. All said if you know how to build a solid engine and beat people to the nobles, then the strategy you suggest is too random and inefficient to win.

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