Splendor, a clever little game that won BoardGameGeek’s 2014 Game of the Year, is now available for iOS. Since we’ve never reviewed the game here on GeekDad, I thought I’d start with a review of the physical game, and then move on to the app. If you’re already familiar with the game, skip down to the app section for a description and more screenshots!
At a glance: Splendor is a set-collection game for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It retails for $39.99 though you can find it for less, and since it has been out for a while you may be able to find a used copy, too. I think you could play with kids younger than 10–there’s no inappropriate content and the game mechanics are fairly easy to learn.
- 40 tokens: 7 each of 5 gems, and 5 gold
- 90 Development cards: 40 Level 1, 30 Level 2, 20 Level 3
- 10 Noble tiles
The cards are easily distinguished by the colors of the backs, plus the 1, 2, or 3 dots. Each card has a color gem at the top (and sometimes a score value), and then some requirements at the bottom some number of different colored gems. There’s also a large illustration in the background of each card that’s just there for theme. The cards are a nice quality.
The Nobles have portrait of noble people, with a score value and two or three requirements below it. The portraits themselves aren’t absolutely necessary–again, they’re just there for flavor. The Nobles are square cardboard tiles–nice and sturdy, about the width of a card.
The gem and gold tokens are what really shine about Splendor and, I’m guessing, contributed to most of the game’s sticker price. They’re hard plastic chips with stickered illustrations on them, and they feel like nice poker chips–maybe not the super expensive type, but certainly a good medium-weight chip.
The box insert holds everything neatly, even separating the three decks of cards, but it does mean there’s a lot of empty space here. Fortunately, GameTrayz has you covered with a smaller tray (with a snap-on lid) that holds everything in about half the space, if you want to ditch the box.
My overall impression of the components is that the game is over-produced: that is, there’s a whole lot of original artwork and really nice components for what is a fairly simple game at its core. But I think those really nice components have been a big selling point for the game, too–there’s a nice feel to the chips and they’re fun to stack, so it works.
How to play
The goal of the game is to score the most points; the game ends after a round in which any player has reached 15 points.
To set up, each deck of cards is shuffled separately, and four cards are turned face-up from each deck. The gems and gold tokens are separated into stacks and form a supply. The Noble tiles are shuffled, and a few are set out face-up (the number of players plus one). With fewer players, you’ll also remove some of the gem tokens before starting.
On your turn, you may take tokens, reserve a card, or buy a card. And then, optionally, you may take one Noble tile if you fulfill its requirements.
To take tokens, you either take 3 different gems, or you may take 2 of the same gem if there are at least 4 available. If you have more than 10 tokens, you have to discard down at the end of your turn.
To reserve a card, take any of the face-up cards or the top card of a deck, and then take a gold token. Reserved cards are kept in hand (or face-down) and cannot be discarded. You may reserve up to three cards. Cards taken from the face-up area are immediately replaced from the deck.
To buy a card either from your hand or from the face-up area, you must pay the cost shown on the card. You spend tokens (gold is wild) equal to the cost, but any gems you already own act as discounts. The large white number at the top of the gem card is the score–some gems aren’t worth any points.
If, at the end of your turn, you have the right cards to fulfill a Noble’s requirement, then you may gain the Noble. You may only take one Noble tile per turn.
When a player reaches 15 points or more, the game ends at the end of the round (so all players get the same number of turns). Highest score wins; in case of a tie, the player with the fewest cards wins.
Splendor is easy to teach, plays quickly, and has a bit of that engine-building that I like. “If I buy this blue gem, then that’ll make it easier for me to get this red gem over here, which in turn will get me one step closer to that 5-point gem in the top row.” It’s a good game for casual gamers and kids because there aren’t too many rules and it’s fairly easy to grasp, but the game changes slightly each time based on which gems and nobles are out there.
Thematically, it’s just a little weird–there isn’t any particular reason why trading some gems gets you other gem cards, which can then buy even more gems without spending them. I’m really not sure what’s supposed to be going on there, and in that sense it feels like an abstract mathy game with pretty pictures on it. And that’s fine, too–but if you’re looking for a story here, I’m not sure you’ll find one.
I’ve played Splendor several times but I seem to be pretty bad at it–I know I try for the engine-building, but most of the cheaper cards aren’t worth points, so it takes me too long to build up to start buying the higher scoring cards. I’ve seen some players just start collecting gems and going straight for the Level 3 cards (ignoring the nobles) and win that way, and I think there’s part of me that just wants the engine-building to be the best strategy even though it probably isn’t.
Overall, Splendor is a nice, solid game that is obviously a crowd-pleaser. It’s not quite heavy enough to really scratch my gaming itch completely but I did get a used copy so I could have it for game nights. If you’ve never tried it before, it’s certainly worth a shot, but I know some gamers love it and some don’t care for it at all. Nice components, easy to learn, but not a very deep theme.
Splendor on iOS and Android
Today, Splendor becomes available for iOS and Android: it’s a partnership with Space Cowboys (the original publisher of the game), Asmodee, and Days of Wonder. Days of Wonder (publisher of Ticket to Ride and Small World) was purchased by Asmodee last year, but beyond publishing tabletop games, it also had its own digital division that made all of its apps in-house. This team is responsible for the Splendor app, and it’s a well-done version that retains the look and feel of the original while adding some digital goodies.
I got a sneak peek at the app. Here are some screenshots from the iOS version (from my iPhone and iPad mini) to give you an idea of how the app compares.
The app has a built in “Learn to Play” that explains the rules with visual aids, and it explains the game easily.
If you have a Days of Wonder online account, you can use it to sync your various devices–this will track your avatar and crest choice, as well as achievements and high scores. The app lets you choose from various portraits of the nobles and different symbols and colors for the crest. You can even adjust the screen to your liking, changing the size and position of various elements on the screen like the font, cards, tokens, and so on. I found the default to be pretty good, though being able to increase the font size is nice for the iPhone.
When you play the game, you can either play against AI opponents or against your friends using pass-and-play. Currently there isn’t support for online play, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Days of Wonder is working on that for a future update, based on their previous apps. It’s pretty easy to adjust the number of players, player names and portraits, and even the style of play for the AI. The AI choices are: Balanced, Specialized, Opportunistic, Random Behavior, and Secret Behavior. I didn’t see detailed explanations of these styles, and I was surprised that you couldn’t do a mix of pass-and-play and AI players.
The app works pretty intuitively. Tap tokens to pick them up–your current choices are shown down at the bottom of the screen by your avatar, and you can tap a token there to put it back. If you tap on a card you can afford, it will be shown in this corner as your selection. If you tap a card you can’t afford yet, it will appear there along with a gold token, indicating that you’re reserving it.
At the bottom of the screen, it also gives shows you a count of how many tokens of each type you have, as well as how many cards (in a rectangle) of that type you own. Your score will appear in gold next to your avatar as soon as you score points. There’s also a number showing how many total tokens you have so you know if you’re close to discarding.
It’s easy to see which cards you can afford during your turn–they’re highlighted in green. If you’re still making your selection but haven’t confirmed it yet, some cards may be highlighted in blue, indicating that you would be able to purchase them next time with what you’re currently taking. (Note: if you’re playing pass-and-play, the reserved cards are turned face-down when it’s not your turn.)
On the left of the screen you’ll see all of your opponents with their scores, as well as an indication of the first player. You can tap to switch between the avatars and the resources–really a more useful view because you can see how many cards and tokens each player has. When AI players take their turns, you’ll see the tokens or cards moving to their avatar sections.
If you meet the requirements for a noble, it is automatically claimed at the end of your turn. If you’re eligible for more than one, the app will show you all of the eligible nobles, and you tap to choose one.
Overall, the app works just about exactly as you’d expect. There are some animation effects that show things moving around, but nothing overly flashy or elaborate–just enough that it’s clear what’s happening in the game. I do wish there were a way to adjust the animation speed because it’s a touch slow for my taste, but that’s better than being too fast to follow.
The app does add a few other features not in the physical game. Achievements, of course: winning a game against an AI, against 2 AI, against specific types of AI players; winning with a certain score spread or within a certain amount of time; completing pass-and-play games.
The other new feature is Challenges. Currently there are three categories: Madrid, Istanbul, and Sahara. Each location offers six challenges, each inspired by some historical event. Instead of the usual rules, Challenges change the game setup and win conditions. Sometimes you’ll have to score a certain number of points within a set number of turns. Sometimes you have a time limit imposed either on the whole game or each turn. The costs of the cards are changed, and sometimes you’ll start with tokens or card bonuses.
There’s a big mix of different Challenges–I was able to complete Istanbul and Sahara fairly easily, but Madrid has me stymied. Many of the Madrid Challenges have a limited number of turns, and I’m finding it tricky to score points quickly enough. Some of the Challenges I completed have a goal that increases as you take more turns, so you can win if you catch up eventually.
Overall, I think Days of Wonder has done a great translation of the app, and the added features are nice. My wish list for the app includes pass-and-play mixed with AI opponents, and of course online play so I can play against faraway friends. The only other thing missing is the physical click and clack of the tiles.