Sometimes a wee game comes along that just feels nice. It drops a board game reviewer in a difficult spot, because saying a game feels nice doesn't actually tell anyone anything. Through the words below I will try to explain why Splendor works so well.
But it does feel nice. Honestly.
I like the name. Let's get that out of the way first.
Splendor is a game for 2-4 players, and it's about collecting gems. You take gems, then buy cards with those gems. The cards you buy will offer discounts from any further cards you buy. You use your gems and cards to buy even more valuable cards – cards that offer victory points. There are nobles on the table too, and we all know that noblemen and female noblemen love gems – if you get enough gems of the type they like, they'll visit you and award more points. First to 15 points wins.
The components are beautiful. Seriously. Big heavy poker chips with shiny stickers on them are your gems. These sit in stacks. Good quality cards with lovely art and clear information are laid out on the table in rows. On your turn you can take three gems of different colours, or two of the same colour. You can buy a card with the gems you've collected. You can “reserve” a card for later, taking it into your hand and taking a gold “wild” gem alongside it. These gold gems count as any colour - very handy.
The game is all about building up your gem totals to cover the cost of the expensive cards that will award you the victory points. You will have gems in hand, in the form of chips. And you will have gems printed in the corner of cards you buy. You will be keeping an eye on the nobles – Henry the VIII is looking for a lucky person with a cumulative total of 4 black gems and 4 red gems on their cards. If you have those in front of you, he will visit with his 3 victory points and then probably eat you out of house and fucking home and chop your nut off, the fat murderer.
Look, let me just show you a big photo of how the game looks. You'll see what I mean.
As you can see, the game is all about trying to hit targets. It's about what to buy, and when to buy it. Take two blue gems now. Take a red and a green and a white next turn. Take a red and a black and a red the turn after. Buy the 2 blue 2 red card. Now you have a green gem card on the table. What now? Buy that 1,1,1,1? Sure. Where now? And when?
See a card you are building towards? Reserve it. Claim it, take a gold chip too. Oh shit – your opponent just bought that card you wanted. Do you switch strategy? Will they hit the target for the nobleman you're chasing first? Do you start buying black? Or green?
And as you play, your plans shifting back and forth, your fingers are picking up those heavy chips and clack-click-clacking them. You're dropping them on the table – CLACK! And picking them up again, spinning them in your fingers, CLICK-WHIRRRR-CLACK!
“I'm buying this card...” Clack clack clack as you pick up the chips.
Game components are important. Board games are physical things. Tactile things. And this game just... feels... nice. It feels like a quality product, and the game itself is a beautiful, streamlined thing. It's very simple, with few rules, and plays so smoothly.
Sometimes when you play a good game you struggle to explain why you enjoy it so much. It can be hard to nail down exactly why you finish some games and feel compelled to say “Again?” right away. Often, when I'm enjoying myself playing a nice wee game, I think to myself: “Man, this game would be good with a cup of tea.”
Splendor would be great with a cup of tea.
I like the fact that you are thinking, building a little engine to grow towards the cards you want, but also adapting on the fly. And it's all moving along so quickly. You take a couple of chips. Your opponent takes a couple of chips. You take a card, fling your chips back in. Your opponent takes a few chips. You can chat during it, listen to music, drink tea. “Oh, that's me at 15 points. Cool. Again?”
Or wine. Splendor would be great with a wee glass of wine. It's a GREAT 2-player game, by the way.
So, that's me recommending it. That's me telling you it just feels nice. Try it.
Blood Bowl: Team Manager is a GREAT game. A brilliant game. I covered it a while back. Take a look at the second half of this - https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/04/29/cardboard-children-blood-bowl/
There's a new expansion on the way and it brings new teams, corrupt referees, penalties and stadiums. I don't even think this game needs any new features. It's great as it is. But new teams are always a good thing. You can read all about it over here - http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_news.asp?eidn=4719
And I wanted to flag up this Kickstarter – it's an attempt to make more board games accessible to the blind. These good folk want to make card sleeves printed in braille, and have plans for braille dice for games like King of Tokyo. And hey – EVERYBODY should be able to play King of Tokyo. It looks like a thing worth backing to me, so do consider helping out if you have a spare few quid. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/64ouncegames/board-games-now-blind-accessible
I think it's about time that I did a personal Top 20 games of all time thing. It seems like everybody is doing them, right? I want to set myself the challenge of putting my favourite games in order of preference, and then shouting at you all about them. Maybe it will be a Top 50. I dunno. I'm pretty sure about what my top 3 games will be – the rest will be fun to sort through together. ME AND YOU, BABY. 2GTHR.