Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Splendor" Is Splendid

Hey all you die-chuckaz and card-floppaz!

Sorry I haven't been posting with my usual proletariat-like regularity lately but between working a part-time job to pay the bills and the usual demands of summer I haven't had a lot of time to write lately. Instead of relying on donations, maybe I should just initiate a Kickstarter to make pasta salad, get independently wealthy, clear out the local Sobeys stores in order to cover my lofty stretch goals and then, maybe then, I can concentrate on doing what I was clearly put on this Earth to do: play games and then write about it.

All right, enough with the pity party, amirite?

So, waaaaaaay back in June when Cheryl's moms came to visit, we also managed to get in a game of Splendor after Timeline.


Now, I've already raved about this game during International Tabletop Day and the last Davecon but I still think that this game deserves its own time in the spotlight, so here goes.

This one's deceptively simple. The goal of the game is to be the first player to reach fifteen Prestige Points. These come from two different sources: the Development Cards you purchase and also from the Nobles who gravitate to your side of the table when you pique their interest after acquiring a certain number of advancements.

On each of their turns players complete one of the following four actions:
  • Take three different gem tokens.
  • Take two gem tokens of the same color, but only if at least four tokens of the selected color are still available.
  • Reserve a Development Card and take one Gold token. Gold is pretty awesome since you can sub it in for any kind of Gem. 
  • Purchase one face-up Development Card from the middle of the table or pay for one that you've already Reserved. 

Players usually begin by parleying the few Gems they've collected into one of the basic Green-level Mine Developments. These are great because they provide permanent Gems which can be used towards future, more expensive purchases.

When someone hits the benchmark of fifteen Prestige Points, all the other players get one final kick at the can so that everyone has an equal amount of turns. The player who finishes the game with the highest number of Prestige Points wins. If there's a tie, victory is awarded to the person who managed to get the most Prestige Points with the fewest number of Development Cards!

Looking to appraise Splendor more closely? Then point yer loupe at the following link to get up close and personal with the game's myriad of facets. 

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This was our original set-up:


I began by picking up a pair of one-tier Diamond Mines and augmenting this with a couple of low-level Ruby and Onyx Mines. This allowed me to branch out by purchasing a Sapphire Mine for only three Onyx. Eventually I managed to snag two Onyx chips in one go and Reserve a third-level Blue Diamond Development which I eventually managed to pay for. Even though this cost me three Diamonds, three Rubies and six, count 'em, six Onyx, the resulting four Prestige Points came as a pretty nice little windfall.

Cheryl did a much better job diversifying her coffers. She quickly snatched up a Green-level Diamond Mine with two Sapphires and two Onyx and then used this perma-Diamond to reduce the cost of a Level-One Ruby Mine. As new Green options appeared she quickly gathered them up, establishing the perfect foundation for exponential growth. After adding three second-tier Diamond, Emerald and Sapphire Mines she parleyed these budding resources into a Level Two Yellow ship Development which gave her two Prestige Points. She finished this solid opening off by reserving a third level Blue city Development, nabbing a Gold in the process.

Sheila also did a great job picking up a wide variety of Level One Mines, almost to a fault. She acquired the second initial level one Ruby Mine and then used it to get a deal on a Green-tier Diamond Mine. Things continued to snowball for her after she used these glittering new assets to get a cut rate deal on a tier-one Sapphire which, in turn, led to an intro-level Onyx. She doggedly pursued this pattern and eventually ended up with no less then eleven (!) basic Mines in total but only three Prestige Points. Nevertheless, she was well set up for a blitzkrieg-style end game.


Then things really began to pick up. I used my three Diamond Mines to re-finance my Reserved Yellow-Level Sapphire elephant caravan, which awarded two more Prestige Points. With that in place, I patiently waited for the Sapphire pile to be replenished. When that happened I quickly scooped up two of those precious blue Gems and then Reserved (and subsequently paid for) another Level Two Sapphire craftsman. *Blam!!!* - two more Prestige, just like that! With my eye set on enticing the Onyx / Sapphire / Diamond Noble over to my side of the table I went through great pains to purchase a high-Level Onyx expert. Unfortunately when the sources for Onyx began to dry up I found myself momentarily paralyzed. Foolishly I decided to go for a big finishing move by reserving a Blue-level Onyx district.


After amassing a formidable collection of Gem-producing Mines, Sheila began to make some big moves. This involved using her prodigious, Scrooge McDuck-style pile of Gems to pick up two virtually-free Yellow tier Diamond and Emerald Mines for a total of four Prestige. After the timely acquisition of two Onyx Tokens, she picked up a mid-level Emerald elephant ("Emeraldephant"?) caravan for peanuts (*snarf*). Then, in a bravura little move she used three free Rubies she found in her couch cushions to slash the price of another mid-Level Ruby expert, scoring three Prestige in the process. Finally exploiting the power of Reservations she set aside a Blue-level Ruby district and claimed a Gold, hoping to score five possible  Prestige before the end of the game.

 
As soon as any precious Onyx appeared on the table, Cheryl always seemed to have the right combination of Mines and / or Gems to "yoink" it right out from under me. After picking up some virtually-free Diamond, Emerald and Sapphire Mines she had plenty of liquid assets to procure a highly-prized Yellow-Level Onyx expert and a caravan as soon as it flopped. Having three permanent Onyx at her disposal was clutch, since it allowed her to retain a Yellow-tier Sapphire expert for nothing but a song and some stale saltines. This also instantly wooed the Onyx / Sapphire / Diamond Noble over to her side of the table! 


FINAL SCORES

Cheryl...18 Prestige
Me...13 Prestige
Sheila...11 Prestige

CHERYL WINS!!! 


***
REVIEW

PROS
  • As soon as you heft one of those Vegas-style Gem Tokens yer gonna wanna play this game if not blurt out this. Slight downer: the high-quality chips definitely drive up the cost of the game. Now, this didn't bother me one bit but some folks might be perturbed only ninety cards, forty tokens and a rule sheet after dropping forty or fifty bones. Those people, IMHO, could arguably be classed as cretins.   
  • The Development Cards are richly illustrated and very well-made.
  • Splendor's rules are incredibly clear and easy to explain. You can chuck this one down on the table and inspire avarice in your gaming group within minutes.
  • Since you can only take one action out of four, the game's flow feels peppy right from the get-go. 
  • Remember, the Gems provided by those low-level Mines continue to stack up, giving the game an almost juggernaut-like pace as it races to its inevitable conclusion.
  • Even though the game appears to be deceptively simple, you really need to be engaged while playing it. Woe to any unobservant player who doesn't take advantage of a heavily-discounted, or worse, a free Development and someone else then just comes along and snags it!
  • There are several different paths to victory. For example, in this match, the Nobles were pretty much an afterthought. Cheryl beat the crap outta us without even enlisting their snooty their help!
  • You need to adapt! Instead of stubbornly waiting for more Onyx to show up I really should have switched gears and altered my strategy. 
CONS
  • Nothing concrete to mention. I do have some niggling concerns about the game's long-term replay value and whether or not there's a singular, optimal strategy. But this is sheer speculation on my part and shouldn't be taken as a concrete slight.
***
I really adore this game. Obviously it isn't as deep or ground-breaking as T'zolkin or Terra Mystica but it's pretty darned, diddly, doodly good. As a fantastic opener to your game night or something you can use to show yer non-gamer friends and relatives how great they can be, Splendor makes for a fantastic light strategic addition to any library.

This one scores five pips outta six with a healthy tilt up!


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Looking to celebrate a win by cramming all of the Gen Tokens down your pants and doing a hula? Click on the pic below to acquire a copy of Splendor and keep this blog all sparkly and such!

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