This review seeks to dig deeper into the game Splendor, a chip collecting, card development and point system board game designed my Marc Andre and illustrated by Pascal Quidaut. The game isn’t available by Australian retailers (Kmart, Big W ) or Game stores (Hobbyco, Zap) but is available online for a cost from as little as $39 to $95. The game was released in 2014 by French game studio, Space Cowboys, the studio who are also known for the release of other popular games such as Black Fleet and T.I.M.E Stories.
This game review is divided under Salen and Zimmerman’s method of game review known as “Game design schema” which examines three aspects of game design which are Rules, Play, Culture (2004,p. 7)
Rules: basic organisation and design of game
The game is designed for players aged 10 and above and is capable of being played by 2-4 players in rounds lasting around 30 minutes each . Here players take on the role of a merchant in the Renaissance (15th -16th century), who’s aim is to accumulate 15 prestige points through bartering their gems for development cards.
Within the board box it contains:
- Five different coloured gem tokens (seven of the each – diamonds, ruby, emerald, sapphire, onyx)
- Five gold token chips
- Ninety development cards (representing 3 different levels- mines, transportation methods and artisans)
- Ten Noble titles cards
How to play:
The game’s mechanics are very streamlined due to it’s simple rule set allowing even the most inexperienced gamer to grasp the gameplay quickly. Each player has 3 options regarding moves on their turn and the only rule is that each player cannot have more than 10 chips. Additionally once the card is bought the corresponding gem in the top right corner is a permanent gem to be used as a “discount” when obtaining other cards. Lastly once the player has achieved the proper gem levels they will be approached by a Nobel title card, which they keep (these cannot be bartered).
In a turn player can:
- Take 3 gem chips of different colour or take 2 gem chips of the same colour (unless there is less than 4 gems then each player can only take one of that gem group)
- Trading the gems for the card
- Reserve a card with the gold token chip
Play: human experience and responses to gameplay
The game was well recieved by users, with more than 1100 users’ ratings producing a 5 star overall result on online retailer Amazon’s site. The game has been so popular that an IOS app version has been developed , but at a hefty price of $10.99 (Lui 2015), the app proving to be relatively popular achieving a 3 star rating on the app store.
In 2014 when the game was launched it was highly praised winning 4 awards and being nominated for and additional 2 awards detailed below.
- Winner of 2014 Dice Tower Gaming award for Best Game
- Nominee for 2014 Golden Geek for Best Board Game Artwork and Presentation
- Winner of 2014 Golden Geek for Best Board Game
- Winner of 2014 Golden Geek Board Game of the Year
- Nominee for 2014 Spiel des Jahres
- Winner of Bronze Tric Trac award
This game is a perfect game for beginner and experts alike, the game is simple and quick making it perfect for play with friends and for families. The game has an ability to transport the player by through simulation into the mindset of bartering gems in the 16th century, allowing the player to role play as a renaissance merchant.
The beautifully illustrated game collateral add to the role play experience, as the scenes transport the players into Florence in the 16th Century. I found repeated play through allows the player to develop strategies in trading thus it pays to play. This game is a must for any game night and should be added to your cart immediately.
Culture: larger contexts engaged with and inhabited in the game
In a interview with Meepletown, Splendor game designer Marc Andre opened up about his journey to becoming a game designer, his inspiration for the game and some of the considerations his team had to navigate during the design process.
Andre states that he came from a game loving family, and as a child had an interest in chess and math’s, as a teenager he fell love of role-playing games, especially those with medieval and renaissance themes. In collage he majored in economics and focused on the aspect of trade, working in buying and selling stocks after graduation (Thompson 2014). When it comes to inspiration for the game Andre said he looked to carefully studied games such as Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. Stating that he loved their combination of fluidity and simplicity and their game metric of one turn but multiple options for possible actions (Thompson 2014).
Material culture of renaissance & significance of gems & nobels
One of the strengths of this game is its research and accuracy in highlighting the role and significance of gems in the Renaissance and the role of a merchant. In Sessin’s paper he goes into great depths in examining the material culture of the Renaissance honing in on gems and their significance in understanding the society at the time. In his paper precious stones can be studied from several viewpoints but in relation to the game I focused on gems and their value as well as their ability to impact social status. His paper hones in on 4 of the 5 main gems that are featured in Splendor (Diamonds, ruby, emerald, sapphire) and the virtues and properties it was believed to give the wearer.
Here it emphasized that for economic reasons common people couldn’t afford these stones thus they became a clear symbol of wealth and social status of the wearer which is apparent to whoever sees it. Additionally, during this time setting gems in gold was a specialized craft for goldsmiths and gem cutters despite the development and improvement of techniques during this time. Sessin (2014) also compares the values of these gems during this time, which closely corrolates to the value of gems in the game, with some being easier to obtain than others. Here Sessin (2014) states that Rubies were seen as the most valuable, with emeralds holding ½ of the values or rubies, diamonds and sapphires ¼ (p. 67)
Furthermore Sessin (2014) also detailed the virtues that each gem gives to the wearer:
- Diamonds symbolizing marital fidelity and chastity
- Emerald meaning honesty, perspicacity, dignity, discretion, wealth (worn by men in commercial business)
- Ruby being able to control anger, competitiveness, dispel evil and lust
- Sapphire symbolizing chastity, virtuousness and promoting wisdom
Furthermore, after some research it became clear that the design team made clear desisions when it came to characters on the nobel titles and their gem requirements. One character featured is Anne of Brittany who was famous for her love of sapphire, diamonds and emerald which often featured in her tiaras (Raine 2016) ; in the game she requires those three gems in order to be summoned. It became clear that game designers were careful to award gems according to each nobels association with a gem or whether the nobel was thought to express the corrleating virtue.
For example Henry the 8th was known for his competitive nature and need to seen as better than fellow nobels by boasting of his wealth, however his exessive expenditure and mismanagement of funds almost lead to the loss of his fathers fortune (Time of Tudors 2013).
Below: Henry 8th painted below wearing some of his bejweled gold pendants. Onyx and rubies (his gem requirement in the game) seen to be consistently popular.
Mechanics and systems:
Degree of confrontation: While the game lacks interactions where one player can directly confront another (eg. stealing, sabotage or attacking), an element of confrontation still lingers in the high level of competition and tension of the race to the finish line. With each player closely monitoring the other players and strategizing to ensure they come out on top.
Abstraction & materiality: The game centers on the act of bartering or trading gems, in the game the act of exchanging your chip or “gem” for a card closely emulates the basic components of bartering through accurately modeling/simulating the act. Bartering referring to a system of exchange where goods or services are directly exchanged for goods using an medium of exchange that isn’t money (Salen & Zimmerman 2004)
This high level of modeling linked with the games focus on materiality through the tangible “gems” and ability to effectively model gem collecting creates a strong correlation to the real act. Salen & Zimmerman state that the better a board game’s ability to model/ simulate the real experience the more immersed the players will become and the easiest their ability to role play (2004, p.55).
Sassin, S 2014, Gems in Renaissance Material Culture, Thesis, University of London, pp. 1 – 80
Thompson D 2014, Game Designer Interview: Marc Andre, Meepletown, Accessed 12/03/2017, http://meepletown.com/2014/06/game-designer-interview-marc-andre/
Lui, J 2015, Splendour App, Geek Dad, accessed 21/03/2017, https://geekdad.com/2015/07/splendor-app/
Salen, K & Zimmerman E 2004, Rules of Play – Game Design Fundamentals, MIT Press Cambridge, London
Time of Tudors 2013, The Kings Jewels, accessed 19/03/2017, http://timesoftudors.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/the-kings-jewels.htm
Raine, S 2016, Her Crowning Glories, Daily Mail, accessed 20/03/2017, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3638079/From-priceless-diamond-bands-headpieces-laden-precious-stones-Queen-s-spectacular-tiaras-heart-jewellery-collection.html