Splendor Review

In Splendor, players take the role of wealthy Renaissance merchants buying and selling gems to turn into beautiful refined jewels. Splendor is an abstract game of card drafting and engine building that takes about 30 minutes for 2-4 players to play.

The components in Splendor are few, but very high in quality. The cards are a nice stock, and have white borders on the backs (to help minimize the appearance of wear) and very attractive images on the fronts that look great without a border. There are also gems of 6 different colors which are very nice quality poker chips. 

Gameplay revolves around the card display. On her turn, a player can execute 1 of 4 available actions:
  • Take 3 gems of different colors
  • Take 2 gems of the same color (as long as all the gems of that color are present in the bank when you take them)
  • Reserve 1 development card and take 1 gold token
  • Purchase 1 face-up development card or a previously reserved one
There are two ways to get points. There are development cards which are worth points, and there will also be a number of nobles available each game who are also worth points.

The above player would be able to purchase development cards for a discount of 2 black or red gems and 1 blue, green, or white gems.

To purchase a face-up or reserved development card, a player has to discard the tokens indicated in the lower left hand corner of the card. There are two benefits of purchasing development cards. First, they might be worth points. Second, the card will give the player a permanent discount when purchasing future development cards.

A player could attract the noble (and his 3 points) on the left by having 3 each of black, red, and white gem cards in front of her.

To attract a noble to visit her, a player checks at the end of her turn if she has at least the number and color of cards for which the noble is looking. 

That pretty much sums up the game! The game is a race to 15 points. Once a player has 15 points (and everyone has had the same number of turns), whoever has the most points wins.

My biggest problem with Splendor is definitely mitigated by its light weight and its quick play time. The luck of the draw can be a swinging factor. In a multiplayer game, the board can change a bit, and seeing a card you really need come and go before you even have a shot at it can be frustrating. Similarly, in a two player game, purchasing a face-up development card carries the risk of drawing out a card your opponent can really use. 

Even without a board, Splendor looks great on the table.

There are a lot of things I love about Splendor. The first thing would be its simplicity. When I think about how much I like a game, there are two main ratios I have in my head - how long it takes to set up in relation to how much fun I have playing it, and how long it takes to play in relation to how much fun I have playing it. Since time is the most important resource we have, these comparisons make sense to me. And on both of these scales Splendor hits it out of the park. The game takes 90 seconds to set up, about 5 minutes to explains, and maybe 30 more to play. And within that time, there is a very satisfying, juicy game experience. 

I also like the noble tiles. The 3 separate decks of development cards are distributed exactly evenly, so no color gems are inherently more valuable than any of the others. The noble tiles change that - any color gems the nobles ask for are made instantly more valuable than the others. Even though the decks of cards are static, the nobles do a lot to keep each game dynamic.

I've mentioned that Splendor is a simple game. Turns are very short, and there are not many rules. Despite those features, this is a game that can (and likely will) get bloody fast. Players who make unwise decisions can find themselves out of the game within a couple of turns. Attempting to wait until you have enough gems to afford the one card that would make everything in your gem-buying world perfect could result in utter, soul crushing despair when one of your opponents swipes the card off the board, and is rewarded with a wild gold token for her trouble. 

Two rules I haven't yet mentioned keep the pace of the game moving. Players can never have more than 10 gem chips in hand. So your plan of amassing a large number of gems and then going on a spending spree is out. The other rule I left out is that each player can only have 3 cards in her reserve at a time. So sure, you can snatch those cards you just know your opponents are eyeing up - but wouldn't those 3 reserve spots be better suited to holding cards you really need? 

Splendor also keeps the tension of a good card drafting game by keeping each player's tableau and gem stock public - the balance between going for more cards for yourself to further your engine and going for cards you think your opponents need. Splendor adds a feeling of worker placement to the mix by giving players the ability to instantly remove a card from the display even if they can't pay for it at that moment. 

Splendor is a magnificent game that I'm sure will fly right under the radar for many people. It is not flashy, doesn't have a big name designer or publisher, and there aren't any Netrunners or X-Men in the box. But Splendor is the best example of an engine building game boiled down to its core components. No resource conversions or 5-step victory point plans - just pure engine building, through and through. The game does not necessarily reach for the stars, but it absolutely nails what it does aim for - giving players the feeling of quickly and inexorably building the greatest and most kick buttingest card drafting gem engine the world has ever seen!

I really enjoy Splendor and would give it a 9.0/10. Go grab a copy. Now.


  1. Good simple review! Been considering picking up a copy of Splendor.

  2. Just picked up the game while I was at a game shop in the Netherlands. It was the owner's favorite game. He did mention that the true strategist will virtually win every time. A little bit of luck is needed in every game, but luck is a real small component in Splendor. Hopefully I can win of my 10 and 12 year old!

  3. The game in app format is awesome too. Great for playing on holiday. :-)