Splendor, designed by Marc André, is an engine building game that manages to be incredibly simple in play while maintaining a good amount of strategic depth. Superficially, you take on the role of a gem merchant trading in mines, trade routes, and stores during the Renaissance. In truth, the theme is pretty light and inconsequential to the core of the game – taking chips and buying cards.
Make no mistake, this game is fun, but how did it play with the kids?
First of all, I should say that we were very underprepared for playing Splendor at club this week. I hadn’t even had time to do more than a cursory rules read-through before starting the game with the kids because it had only arrived from NetMeeples the day before. This can’t be advised against enough: it’s almost mandatory to make any game as smooth as possible for a learning session, and you can’t afford to be flicking through a rulebook.
Luckily, the game is mechanically very simple – you can take chips, or buy a card. Only one part of the game was conceptually challenging for the kids, and that was probably a lot to do with my lack of preparation. Each card you buy contributes a permanent gem to your “buying power”, which allows you to buy more expensive cards that actually earn points. For our play-through, I took on the role of banker and had to hand back many, many “spent” card gems.
This first game started off very slowly, with the players feeling their way into how the game would develop. Most of them weren’t clear on the value of the cards with no points, which is to be expected at their age, until they saw others using them to buy bigger cards. Two players reserved several expensive cards and got stuck with them for quite a while as they tried to squeeze more value out of their ten chips than was possible. Had we played without an adult, I think the kids would have stalled out pretty quickly and potentially have given up. As it was, with me playing alongside the three of them and modeling the thought process behind my moves, they managed to pick up on more strategic choices independently.
As we were tying up the game, it was getting very close to letting out time. Everybody had a solid engine running, and all four of us were one or two moves away from breaking 15 points. As much of an overused line as it is, the tension really was palpable for the last turns. Right as the clock hit 5:00pm, we had a winner and another player scored into second place.
BoardgameSchool enthusiastically recommends Splendor for ages 8 and up. Very few of our sessions so far have engaged the players as intensely, or had such accessible strategies. There’s no question that next year’s budget will see Splendor becoming a permanent addition to our collection.