If you’re looking to add a highly strategic but simple game to your collection, Splendor, an economic strategy game for 2-4 players, would be my pick.
Why I love it
Splendor is probably the game I’ve played the most, and that’s for good reason! Many strategy games involve some luck, and while luck does impact the game, nothing happens that feels unfair.
In many cases, what seems like bad luck can often be a result of in-game decisions or played around
Splendor is a combination of engine-building, resource management, and card drafting that challenges players to optimize their turns, and it is always satisfying to me to buy an expensive card or use my resources to purchase a card exactly.
Turns generally go by quickly and players have only a few options, though each decision is impactful.
Games are not repetitive because of the many possible combinations of cards available to purchase, and each turn has an impact on future outcomes.
Who would love it
Target Audience: Gamers. While non-gamers can definitely also enjoy Splendor, it is a pretty strategic game and people who don’t enjoy strategy games will be less likely to enjoy it. On the other hand, it is a very easy game to teach and can be a great “gateway” game to get someone into board games.
Who might not love it
Most of my friends really enjoy Splendor, so I don’t really have a lot to say here, but the one note that I would have is that it can be a bit hard for new players to compete with experienced players who understand the game well.
What it is
In Splendor, players are renaissance merchants, acquiring gems to turn them into something greater. On a turn, players will either take gems, reserve a card (and gain a gold, a wild gem), or buy a card. All cards have a gem on the top, and once purchased, this gem is deducted from the future cards. Many cards will also have a point value on the top of them, and when a player reaches 15 points, they win the game (though any player who went after the winning player will get a chance to match or exceed the value for a chance to win). Cards vary in cost, and the most valuable cards are generally harder to buy, though some cards really are just “better” than others. At a glance, some of these cards may even seem impossible to buy, as players are limited to 10 gems at a time, but over the course of the game, these cards can become affordable as costs are reduced by buying other cards! The other way to gain points is to fulfill the requirements for a “noble” tile, of which there are as many as the number of players plus one. These are achieved by buying a specific number of cards of the colors found on the tile, They are all worth three points and can be taken immediately upon achieving the requirements, not requiring a turn to be used.
When to play it
Splendor is a relatively quick game, playing in under a half hour with two experienced players and in just over a half hour with the maximum of four, so it’s very easy to get a game in anytime.
Usually, once I show someone the game, the new players want to try again and improve their skill at the game. I like to play best with two players, and in games with three or four players, there is slightly more luck involved, so players can work together to block others more easily. This can be better when introducing newer players to the game, as they may then be able to compete with experienced players more easily.
You might like it if you also like…
Century Spice Road – Shares the same drafting and resource management economic strategy components
When taking gems, players can either take three gems of different colors or two gems of the same color so long as there are 4 or more of that color gem before taking them. Early in the game, it is often preferable to take more gems (three of different colors) rather than two of the same, as the extra gems are often useful.
When choosing which card to buy at the start of the game, I prefer to target a card with a gem that I can then use to buy another card that is worth points. Usually, you’ll be able to take one excess gem per turn at first, and I like that excess gem to correspond to the color card that I’m buying, as this will create an advantage in that resource.
As a player with engine-building experience, it can be tempting to buy a ton of low-cost cards for extremely low or even no cost late in the game; despite this, since most of these cards do not have any point value, they will likely not contribute to winning the game and are wasted turns.
The high-cost cards may seem excessively expensive, but they are more attainable than you think, especially if you reserve them and claim a gold. Without purchasing higher-cost cards, it is extremely difficult to win the game against players who are buying them.
Do not plan your entire game around getting a specific noble; they are a great supplement to your score if once can be acquired conveniently, but your game plan usually gets predictable, is easily blocked, and is often too slow to compete with players who went for bigger points.
Splendor is probably my favorite game to play and is an extremely rewarding game to play. I would recommend it to anyone looking to branch out into strategic games that are skill-based as it does not feel as punishing to lose as a territory control game, where players often feel like they have no chance to win from very early on. Players will be engaged throughout whether they are ahead or behind, and comeback wins are common!