Splendor Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide

The lords and ladies are dreaming of the perfect new jewel to spark the imagination. As one most respected merchants in the region, you’re only more than happy to sell it to them.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been made yet.

Splendor
  • Ages 10 and up
  • Number of Players: 2 to 4
  • Game Time: 30 minutes

Brief Overview of Splendor

Splendor Board Game

Unfortunately too, that’s about as much thematic flair you’re going to find in the game.

Splendor is a simple card drafting and engine-building game. The thematic elements are there simply there to add a bit of color to the game. 

It’s very easy to learn how to play and is a great gateway game, especially for those players that are looking for a lightweight experience. 

Versions & Expansions

Cities of Splendor Board Game Expansion

Cities of Splendor

This is actually 4 separate expansions that can be added to the base game. Each one makes a different change. Some simply change up the way nobles score by swapping them out entirely or adding to them.

The two biggest changes are the Orient expansion and the Stronghold expansion. Orient adds 2 cards to each row which grant bonuses when bought, and Stronghold allows players to easily reserve cards and the potential to buy more than one card on a turn.

These expansions definitely change up gameplay so if you find Splendor getting a little stale, this will definitely inject some much-needed life into your game.

Cities of Splendor Expansions
  • The first-ever expansion for Splendor
  • Four new expansions for Splendor in a single box, each offering a...
  • Each expansion highlights and enhances a separate aspect of the...

Unboxing Splendor

Splendor Board Game

I’ve always been very impressed with the production value of Splendor. 

Inside the box you’ll find:

  • 40 multicolored gem tokens (6 different colors)
  • 40 Level 1 cards (green)
  • 30 Level 2 cards (brown)
  • 20 Level 3 cards (blue)
  • 10 Noble Tiles

The stars of the game are the gem tokens. Whenever you hear anyone talk about Splendor, the conversation will undoubtedly turn to them. They’re solid and hefty poker chip-style tokens that feel fantastic in your hand. I don’t even mind waiting for my turn, because I end up practicing my single-handed token shuffle while I study the board.

A single component doesn’t make a game great, but it’s the attention to detail here that really makes the game/components stand out. It’s a simple extra that just feels right. 

The rest of the cards and tiles are all solid quality and the artwork is bright and colorful. Our copy has lasted many years and playthroughs with no unpleasant surprises. 

Too much box

I really like the box itself as well. It’s definitely oversized for the number of components actually needed for the game, but the stock insert holds everything neat and organized. It makes it much easier to set up because everything is separated and ready to simply be pulled out and placed on the table, ready to play. 

There are a ton of aftermarket boxes and inserts that fit the entire game into about a quarter of the original size. It makes it much easier to travel with but it’s all about personal aesthetics.

How to Play Splendor

Splendor Board Game

Splendor is very easy to learn with simple rules and setup, making it very easy to jump into a game. The object of the game is to simply get 15 victory points. 

Setup

Separate your gem tokens by color and set them in the middle where everyone has easy access to them. 

Next, come the cards themselves. Each deck level is shuffled individually and set in ascending order. Four cards are drawn from each level creating a 4×3 grid.

On your turn

On your turn, you’ll perform one of the following actions:

  • Take 3 different colored gem tokens.
  • Take 2 tokens of the same color.
  • Reserve a card and receive a Wild Token.
  • Purchase a card.

There are a bit more fine details here, but that’s the gist. Take some tokens then use those tokens to buy cards.

The engine-building aspect comes into play with your purchased cards. Each card has a different colored gem on them for cost, some are worth victory points (usually in the higher level cards), and an overall color. The overall color is the important one after it’s purchased. 

Each card equates to a permanent gem color in your pool. If you purchase a green emerald card, you’ll have at least 1 green emerald to spend every turn. After about mid-game, you’ll be able to simply pick up cards from level 1 without actually spending any tokens and it’s the only way to get the higher cost cards.

Reserving a card lets players pick up a card from the pool without having to pay for it. They don’t get any of the bonuses, but nobody else can purchase it. This is pretty useful if you have your eye on a particular card that you know won’t be there next turn, but can’t afford just yet. On top of the reserved card, players also get the ever-important wild token that can be used in place of any color. 

Nobles

The noble tiles represent the bonus point system. The first player to pick up the number and color of cards indicated on the tile, the noble “comes to visit”. They basically just pick up the tile as a free action and gains a nice point boost. 

Winning

When any player reaches 15 points, the current round is finished and the player with the highest point value wins. 

Your First Game of Splendor

Splendor Board Game

In the first game I ever played, I focused heavily on building up enough cards in my pool to just pick up cards from the deck for free. I thought it was a cool strategy. I also completely ignored the noble tiles. 

I was able to pick up most cards I wanted, but I completely missed out on the noble tiles and all those sweet bonus points. 

When starting your first game of Splendor, it’s a good idea to try to get as many colors of gems as possible. This will give you the most flexibility and allow you to refine your strategy as you go.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Easy to learn and play
  • Awesome gateway board game 

Cons:

  • Zero thematic elements
  • Seems to end suddenly 
  • Lots of empty space in the box

I cannot stress how easy it is to learn this game. There are only 4 things to do and yet it doesn’t feel half-finished. That’s pretty impressive for a “big box” game.

The big-box part is up for debate. Splendor definitely comes in a very pretty big box, but the actual components of the game can literally fit in a box one-quarter of the size. A lot of people actually have cut the box into fourths and rebuilt it to make it fit better on their shelf. 

They did, however, put a very nice insert and quality components into the box, so that doesn’t really bother me at all. My copy is still in all of its air-filled glory, sitting on my shelf. 

The one complaint I had is a similar complaint my friend made about Catan. Sometimes when, in the middle of the game, you’ll feel as if you’re just getting into the stride of the game and then bam! Someone goes, “Oh, I have 15 points.” It just seems so abrupt. I’ve also tried playing a few games up to 20 points, but then it feels like we’re just dragging it out.

TL;DR

Splendor is a simple, inexpensive, and easy-to-learn engine-building and card drafting game. 

It works well as a great gateway game and as a game for families with kids. It plays relatively quickly and works as a nice warm-up for something bigger. 

My only real pet peeve about it is the weird pasted-on theme, but that doesn’t stop the game from being good.

Conclusion: I like Splendor. I really do, but…

The thematic elements of the game annoyed me. Splendor markets itself as this economical game in which players are gem merchants, but really the only thematic elements you’ll ever find are in the rulebook explaining that you’re a merchant. Nothing in the games shows this at all. 

You could honestly throw random pictures and colors on everything it would be 100% the same game. 

That’s not enough for me to completely banish a game from my shelf. Remember, I like this game. It’s just an irritation that’s always there every time we play. 

There are a lot of games that have similar cookie-cutter themes that could easily be replaced with anything, but I’ve never come across one that really irritates me like Splendor. It just doesn’t do anything with it. 

</Rant> 

I really do like bringing out Splendor for my non-gamer friends. When I can convince newbie players to sit down and actually put away their phones for a minute, Splendor is always a great choice. It’s very non-threatening and doesn’t scare people away with a rules explanation like Catan. 

Often the problem with a gateway game is finding that balance of simplicity and newness that will captivate a non-gamer and Splendor does that very well, making it continually earn its spot on my game shelf. 

Splendor
  • Ages 10 and up
  • Number of Players: 2 to 4
  • Game Time: 30 minutes

Have you tried Splendor? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the game. Drop a comment below and let us know!

Stats at a glance

Players: 2-4

Ages: 10 +

Easy

30 Mins

Publisher: Space Cowboys

Published: 2014