Splendor Review

2-4 Players
30 Minute Playing Time

Brief Overview:
Splendor describes the player as 'The Greatest Gemstone Merchants of the Renaissance', in a game that will have you sending ships to new worlds, recruiting renowned artisans, investing in mines all while building a commercial empire to acquire glory and prestige.  At least that's what the back of the box tells you.  Truthfully, you could say your building a commercial empire but aside from that you'd need a pretty good imagination to get an experience anywhere close to the boxes description.

In Splendor you are collecting gems, which will allow you to collect cards worth gems, which will then allow you to collect cards worth gems and victory points.  Get enough of the cards worth gems and you'll receive a bonus three victory points or as the game calls it 'a visit of wise monarchs, (and) patrons with infinite resources'.  To collect these, gems, cards and victory points you'll do one of three actions each turn.  Take gem tokens - two of the same color (as long as it will leave two tokens of that color still available) or three of different colors with no restrictions.  Buy a development card at the appropriate cost, by paying with your gem tokens already collected while subtracting any gem cards previously purchased from the cost required.  And lastly, you are able to reserve a development card for future use also while collecting one golden token that can later be traded to represent one of any colored gem.

Players take turns doing one of the three mentioned actions each turn and will slowly build up their gem empire.  Once a player has reached 15 'Prestige Points', the remainder of that turn is played out and the player who ends up with the highest amount of points wins the game.

My Thoughts:
As mentioned in the overview, the description of what Splendor is meant to be and the actual reality of what Splendor is do not match at all.  With a wonderful imagination you could try to force yourself to create a little story when your purchasing cards, but really you are collecting colors (or colored gems) and as much of them as possible in an effort to get some points.  Splendor does have some nice looking artwork of old buildings, modes of transport, and mines, but there is no renaissance artisan feel in the gameplay and the artwork is largely overlooked.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me tell you about this great little game called Splendor. Theme is nice and can really add to a game, but mechanically Splendor is an excellent, and it's better to have a game that plays well with little theme, then a game that draws you into a world and lets you down with how poorly it plays.  This is the perfect gateway engine building game.  A great place to start for anyone new to the mechanic, yet still an enjoyable time for those well versed in the empire building we love.  It's simple, easy to learn and teach, with virtually no analysis paralysis, and well balanced.  For a game with minimal components - poker chip / gem tokens, gem cards and noble tiles, Splendor surprisingly isn't limited by one way or one strategy to play with no sure way to getting Prestige Points the fastest.  Sometimes the noble cards that come into play can lead to a quick victory, but other times it'd nearly be a waste to pursue more then one noble.  Occasionally I will almost ignore certain colors of gems as I rush to get the points while everyone is playing the long game and still slowly building.   This is where the luck of the draw can effect the game in small ways, but if your flexible and varied in your planning it would be pretty rare for luck solely to cost you the game.

I would be more engrossed in Splendor if I found myself in the actual world of Merchants and dealers, but the simplicity and flow of the game doesn't require anything more than seeing the colors of your gem sets build and grow.  The pay off for your collected Development cards feels great, as it gives you the freedom to start collecting a majority of your cards in a single action and without having to collect or spend gem tokens.  High valued cards are accessible from the start, but locked away by limits on the amount of gem tokens available.  This not only gives you an immediate plan / goal to work towards, but comes with a sense of achievement when you can finally collect a card you've been eyeing off (or had reserved), since the start of the game. Progression is rewarding and easy to see as you build up your gem cards and can start purchasing from the second and third tier cards.  Whether playing with two, three or four players, each player count is balanced, plays well and feels slightly different in the way you need to approach each turn. The design of Splendor just works. No game is flawless and Splendor doesn't change that, but don't be fooled by it's simplicity at first glance.  For a simple game you'll still find a fair bit of depth and Splendor makes a worthy addition to any gaming library.

The Verdict
Excellent balanced gateway game 
Where it lacks theme it makes up for with solid mechanics