Elegantly designed and beautifully executed, Splendor is Marc André’s game of competing merchant guilds in Renaissance Europe. In Splendor each player assumes the role of a leader of a merchant guild in a race to see who can most quickly develop their resources, attract the interest of noble patrons, and ultimately accrue the most prestige points for themselves and for their guild.
Deceptively simple, this game combines satisfying strategic depth, gorgeous art, and superbly balanced mechanics with a relatively brief play time and easy-to-learn rules. Splendor is not a game to overlook.
Splendor’s strength is clearly its elegant gameplay and mechanics. The game layout is clean and simple, the mechanics easy to understand. Play proceeds in turns, with each player limited to only one of four actions each turn.
While this may seem simplistic, Splendor possesses a strategic complexity which rewards thinking ahead and careful husbanding of resources in a manner reminiscent of Dominion. As an additional bonus, Splendor also has considerable replay value and scales well between 2 or more players. In fact, I imagine this game would be quite fun even played solitaire-style.
Space Cowboys, Splendor’s publisher, did not skimp when producing this game. Though Splendor comes with relatively few components compared to similar games, their quality is readily apparent. Furthermore, each component is covered with stunning art evocative of exotic locales, powerful aristocrats, or precious gems, all executed with a realism reminiscent of Renaissance art.
If Splendor has a weakness then it lies in the connection between the game’s flavor and its mechanics. Splendor’s premise–that of competing merchant guilds during the Renaissance–is evocative, but bears very little connection to its gameplay. For example, while playing Diplomacy, players feel as if they were actually European powers jockeying for position at the turn of the 20th century.
While playing Splendor, players do not feel as if they were merchants in 15th-century Europe. Splendor is still a very fun, challenging, and involving game but it does not seem that its mechanics or gameplay was at all inspired by its Renaissance mercantile flavor.
Don’t let the last paragraph convince you, however, that Splendor is in any way a poor or unenjoyable game.
Quite the contrary. Splendor dazzles (pun intended), and deserves the hype it has been receiving. If you are looking for a game that provides a satisfying logical puzzle, strategic long- and short-term decisions, and elegant gameplay mechanics and have enjoyed playing Dominion, Diplomacy, and Carcassonne in the past, then I suggest you give Splendor a try. You will not be disappointed.
Written by Eric Callender