Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 7 November 2015

A Jewel of a Filler

The award winning Splendor is a simple game of card drafting and set collection from French publisher, Space Cowboys. Designed for two to four players, aged ten and up, they take the roles of merchants during the Renaissance who are competing to build the most successful jewel emporium. They will invest in mines and transportation, and then employ artisans who can turn raw gems into beautiful jewels, in the process hopefully attracting the attention of the nobility and acquiring their patronage. A game takes no longer than thirty minutes and scales easily from two to four players.

Splendor consists of seven sturdy Gem tokens of each gem colour—Diamond (white), Emerald (green), Onyx (black), Ruby (red), and Sapphire (blue), plus five Gold or ‘wild card’ tokens. Ninety Development cards are divided into three decks consisting of forty Level 1 cards, thirty Level 2 cards, and twenty Level 3 cards. There are ten Noble tiles. At game start, Noble tiles equal to the number of players plus are randomly drawn and placed face up; each Development card deck is shuffled and four cards drawn from it and laid in a line, so that there is grid of three by four cards.

Each Development card is marked with a gem representing its value and a cost that must be paid in gems. So one Development card might cost one Emerald, Onyx, Ruby, and Sapphire gem each, whilst another might cost two Ruby and two Sapphire gems. In addition to the gem granted by a Development card, others are marked with Prestige points. Level 1 cards are easier to purchase than Level 2 and Level 3 cards. Each Noble tile is illustrated with a portrait and a player needs to own three Development cards of three colours or four Development cards of two colours—for example, three Diamond (white), Emerald (green), and Sapphire (blue) each or four Onyx and four Ruby Development cards, if he is to qualify to gain that Noble’s patronage.

Each player starts with nothing and on his turn can do one action. This can be to take Gem tokens (three of different colours or two of one colour); reserve one Development card and take a gold token; or purchase a single Development, either face up from the table or a previously reserved one. A player cannot have more than ten Gem tokens. A player needs to spend the correct number of Gem tokens to purchase a Development card—as indicated on the card—to purchase it. Gold tokens count as any Gem token. Purchased Development cards act as bonuses in future purchases. For example, a Development card costs two Diamond, four Onyx, and one Ruby Gems to purchase. If a player already has two Onyx and one Ruby Development cards, then they act as bonuses and cut the cost to just two Diamond and two Onyx Gem tokens. If a player has enough bonuses to purchase a Development card for free, then he can. Purchased cards are replaced from their respective Development decks until that deck runs out. At the end of a turn, if a player purchased Development cards with gems equal to those on a Noble tile, then he is awarded that tile.

Play continues until one player has acquired fifteen Prestige points. Then the current round is completed so that everyone has played the same number of turns. The player with the most Prestige points is the winner.

Splendor is a simple game. Players try to collect Gem tokens to buy Development cards. This is not only to gain the bonuses that will reduce the cost of purchasing further Development cards, but also to qualify for the Noble tiles. As players collect more Development cards, they gain more bonuses and thus buy better cards.

In fact, Splendor sounds too simple, but it gets tactical when play turns competitive. Players are competing for the same resources, so a player can block another player’s actions—taking the Gem tokens another player wants, purchasing or reserving a Development card another player wants, and getting a Noble card first. This forces players to change plans from one turn to the next, so players have to watch what each other does and what cards and tokens each player has. Thus play is more challenging with more players.

As much as Splendor is physically well done—the Gem tokens are hefty, the cards attractive, and so on—the game’s theme is very light. In fact, the concept of investing in mines and transportation and employing artisans to turn gems into jewels never even enters play. It could even have a whole new theme—or none at all—and game play would be unaffected.

Splendor is not quite a light filler—it is slightly more complex than that in terms of what a player needs to think about from one turn to the next. Nevertheless, the game is enjoyable and worth replaying as a solidly designed filler.

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