Monday, July 27, 2015

Splendorific


Splendor is not generally the kind of game that attracts our attention, but I couldn't help noticing the number of "best of the year" lists it appeared on. I looked into it a bit more, and it still didn't look overly interesting to me, and I had no interest in trying it out. But then fate intervened in the form of a copy of the game being given to Katherine as a birthday gift.

We played it at her birthday party (who can resist a brand new game?), and again a few days later, but then we put it on the shelf and promptly forgot all about it. We definitely didn't dislike the game, but, as I said, it's just not the kind of game that normally attracts our attention.

When it came time to write this review, we finally got it out to play again, and I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. My memories of having played it several months ago were hazy at best; I didn't recall disliking it, bit I didn't recall liking it overmuch, either. Imagine our surprise, then, when we wound up playing for several hours.

We do like the odd abstract game like Ingenious or Set (well, Katherine likes Set), but for the most part, the games we play tend to be fairly literal, with players playing characters coming into conflict with plots and villains, and often complicated rules intended to allow for a fair representation of the various actions a character in a story might need to perform. Splendor makes for a nice break from that, with deceptively simple rules but a lot to think about during the game.

Put simply, the game is about manipulating resources in the form of jewels of different colors. The game starts with three rows of four cards, each depicting a cost in jewels, and a resource in jewels that the card provides every turn once it's been purchased. A limited supply of poker chips, representing the different jewel colors, is off to the side, along with some yellow chips that can be used as any color.

Each turn, a player can either: take two poker chips of the same color, or three of different colors; reserve a card by picking it up (that player also gets one of the yellow chips); or purchase a card, either from the table or one he's reserved, using a combination of jewels on cards he's already purchased and on poker chips he's picked up on previous turns.

Cards that are reserved or purchased are replaced from one of three decks (one for each row), so there are always 12 cards to choose from. Cards in the first row tend to be easier to buy, while cards in the upper rows are more expensive but are usually worth more points at the end of the game.

In addition to scoring points by buying cards, there are a number of tiles put into play at the start of the game, representing nobles who will award points to the first player who buys whatever combination of cards is depicted on the tile (i.e. four red and four black cards, or three each of several different colors). The game goes on until someone reaches 15 points, at which point everyone gets one last turn to try to catch up with the winner.

The secret to the game's strength is in the number of choices it gives players to think about on their turn. If I take chips from the supply, the colors I take might give my opponents a clue as to what card I'm trying to buy, in which case they might try to get it before I get a chance to. If I focus all my attention on getting the noble tiles, I risk overpaying for cards by using chips too often, rather than relying on purchasing cheaper cards to provide a good base of resources.

We found in playing that each turn we spent a lot of time thinking about what to do, going over the different options and possible consequences, but we spent almost no time referring to the rules.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) It's not a game that we'll spend a ton of time playing, and it doesn't fire up our imaginations the way games like Arkham Horror or a good CCG do, but Splendor is very engaging and makes for a welcome break from the more complicated games we tend to favor.


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