Since I had never played Splendor, the board game, before diving into my review of Splendor, the mobile game, I got an opinion from a friend of mine who is both a mobile gaming journalist and a noted board game aficionado. He assured me that it was quite good, and that the only reason he had never purchased it in physical form is that it didn’t support solo play.
While it has a lot more to recommend it than just that, Splendor does allow you to play by yourself on iOS or Android. Games can be set up for two, three or four players, with multiple types of AI opponents filling in the other spots as needed. I’m happy to report that until you get a few games under your belt, those bots can easily kick your butt too.
Not that it should take you too long to get up to speed. Splendor does indeed manage to fall into the “easy to learn, difficult to master” sweet spot to which many board games aspire, and its simplicity also makes it perfect for touchscreen devices. Taking on the role of a Renaissance-era merchant, your goal is to rack up 15 points of Prestige before any other player by acquiring developments and convincing nobles to favor your cause.
That might sound like a premise that could be bogged down in excessive detail, but the gameplay is equal parts straightforward and strategic. In each turn, you’ve got only one decision to make. Either grab some gem tokens — three of different colors, two of the same color or one gold token — buy a development by spending the correct number of gems or reserve one for later, keeping it out of the reach of others until you can afford to buy it. All developments grant you permanent gem bonuses of some kind, making subsequent purchases easier, and some also grant Prestige. Nobles can bring their Prestige to you if you manage to total the correct bonus amounts in the right colors.
Making all of this even more interesting is the fact that you can see what the other players are doing in their turns. so everything is out in the open. There’s no real bluffing involved, but you can definitely make wrong guesses about what developments might be hot commodities and end up missing out. Every turn is important, and even the longest game is over in less than 30 minutes.
Days of Wonder, a company that knows quite a bit about both board games and their translation to mobile thanks to Ticket to Ride, gives you multiple ways to become engrossed in Splendor. Along with the aforementioned solo play, there’s also a “pass and play” mode for multiplayer games on the same device, plus challenges based on historical situations, each with their own unique rules and set-ups. Online multiplayer might have been nice, but there’s enough here that you won’t feel cheated without it.
The music you’ll hear while playing can get a little repetitive, but everything else about the presentation is top notch. The artwork is detailed and inviting, and everything is easy to read. Menus are both clear and usable, and there’s nothing in the course of play that ever seems confusing or non-responsive.
At full price, Splendor might seem a bit steep, but it feels like it’s worth every penny thanks to its smart design and near infinite replay value. People who were hooked on the board game but want a chance to play without bugging friends will certainly adore this, and newcomers looking for more board games to play on the go should find plenty to like as well.
Pull the Trigger if:
- You like the physical version of Splendor but no one answers your texts to set up game night.
- You’re looking for a game that you can learn quickly but will hold your attention long term.
- You’ve always fancied yourself something of a gemologist.
DON’T Pull the Trigger if:
- Online multiplayer is something you can’t live without.
- Your favorite t-shirt says, “Free-to-play is the only way.”