Splendor Isn’t Splendid But Golems Are Pretty Cool

I’ve spent the past four weeks of BCM300 playing board games…a lot of board games.

In particular, I want to focus on two very similar games; one from week one and one from week three. Both Splendor and Century: Golem Edition are Eurogames, one of the several genres within the hobby gaming industry.

I’ve always been big on board games so I find myself much more engaged by hobby games than by mass market games. Eurogames emphasize strategy and can be considered the polar opposite of random chance / dice games. A large amount of Eurogames revolve around resource management and/or engine-building, where your turns consist of collecting resources that can be traded for pieces that increase game points, create or transform resources, or interact with other pieces in your hand.

Both games are ludic in nature, as they have detailed rules and specific winning conditions. Though paidia and ludus are depicted at opposite ends of a spectrum, Egenfeldt-Nielson et al. says “even ludus experiences contain room for interpretation, alteration of rules, and some actions that are not covered by the rules.”

Despite the similarities, my experience with Splendor could not be more different to my experience with Century.

Splendor was published in 2014 by Space Cowboys and designed by Marc André. Set during the renaissance, each player plays a trader working with five types of gems. Aiming to increase the quality of your equipment and become the best merchant, you have a couple of options each turn; take one of several combinations of gem tokens or buy a card using said tokens. The cards you buy increase your points and grant you gem bonuses. The stunning illustrations were created by Pascal Quidault (alongside Abbas Amirabadi and Mahmoud Arasteh Nasab) and really feel correct for the time period it’s emulating.

This is, sadly, where my praise for the game ends. My friend Blake and I (who both have reading difficulties) were the first to look at the rulebook and we both were very critical of its layout and accessibility. It was seemingly jumbled around the pages and the images were unhelpful. Luckily, one of our tutors guided our group through how the game worked and set up the card layout himself, so we didn’t have to rely much on the rulebook itself.

Our play felt stilted and clunky. We were all silently playing our own individual game whilst sitting next to each other. Before each turn, there was a limp pause where the active player had to stare at the cards on the table and figure out if they could do something useful that round. Most of the turns were gem pickups and card reservations that would eventually be freed when the wildcard gem was spent.

The card art, while lovely to look at, often blended in with the important gem graphics, making comprehension difficult for me and majorly slowed down some of the turns.

Play plodded along until we decided we’d had enough and afterwards realised that two out of the four of us had already surpassed the points needed to win. We were on autopilot, I guess. None of us seemed to have any engagement with the narratology during play and there was no sense of excitement. Overall, Splendor lacked social interaction, rapid play, and exciting turn-planning. These are all traits I like seeing in resource management games and can all be found in our next game.

Century: Golem Edition was published in 2017 by Plan B Games and designed by Emerson Matsuuchi, using the mechanics of Century: Spice Road as a base. In this version of Century, you’re a caravan merchant buying and selling crystals along the Golem Road. Your goal is to gain a massive fortune before the competing merchants, with the help of kindly Golems. When taking a turn, you have four actions to choose from: play a card from your hand and do its action, purchase a card from the market, purchase a point scoring card (golem card), or retrieve all your previously played cards back to your hand so they can be played again.

In essence, Century’s mechanics is Splendor with more interesting card effects and the ability to pick up and replay cards, allowing you to properly customise the order of your engine.

Before I get into the good, I have to point out that Century’s rulebook gives Splendor’s a run for its money regarding poor readability. Though Blake and I were once again part of the group, we also had two abled students with us who expressed difficulty comprehending the wording. This shows a problem on Century’s part. We spent 50~ minutes going over the rulebook. We managed to set up the table properly using images within the rulebook but most of the finer details about the mechanics were clouded by the unhelpful wording. Eventually we watched a YouTube video on how to play it. I’ve learnt that most people use fan-made game mats.

Unlike Splendor, Century’s art is both beautiful and extremely readable. The trade, create, and upgrade symbols and the points and required crystals on the golem cards all pop out from the background art without hindering the theme. They were illustrated by Chris Quilliams, Fernanda Suárez, and Justin Chan and I especially love that each golem is covered in the. I care a lot about this fantasy world and it’s all because of the friendly trades and helpful golems depicted on the cards. The vibrancy of the Golem Road comes through perfectly.

All four of us had an absolutely spectacular time playing. Even though it has the same ‘individual game’ aspect as Splendor, it never felt like we were playing by ourselves. The quick pace at which cards get collected and renewed, combined with the interesting engine parts meant that we ended up having an ongoing conversation about strategies, the cute golems, and how rich I was.

Oh yeah, I won the game. I managed to find a set of three cards that I kept playing; pick up five yellow crystals (the lowest colour), turn four yellow crystals into three blue crystals, turn three blue crystals into three pink crystals (the highest colour). With that, I bought golem cards that were sitting next to the coins, which give extra points. It got to a point where I had the next four turns planned in my head at all times and was waiting to spring back in during my turn.

This is the feeling I want to have when I play a game. I want to be smiling and decimating the competition…

…in a friendly way.

REFERENCES

Century Golem Edition n.d. Board Game Geek, <https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/232832/century-golem-edition

Egenfeldt-Nielson, S. et al. 2008, What is a Game? Taylor and Francis. ch. 3, pp. 22-40. <https://www.dropbox.com/s/8o6njz7xzbpnrkj/What%20is%20a%20game.pdf?dl=0>

Hardy, P 2020. ‘Philosophy of Tabletop Game Design: Engine Building’, Vibrant Bliss, blog post, 21 August, <https://vibrantbliss.wordpress.com/2020/08/21/philosophy-of-tabletop-game-design-engine-building>

Rouse III, R 2005. Game Design Theory and Practice. Plano, Texas: Wordware Publishing Inc.

Splendor, n.d. Board Game Geek, <https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/148228/splendor

Sicart, M 2008, Defining Game Mechanics, The International Journal of Computer Game Research, vol. 8, no. 2. <http://gamestudies.org/0802/articles/sicart>

Daniel

2 thoughts on “Splendor Isn’t Splendid But Golems Are Pretty Cool

Add yours

  1. Good review Daniel. Thank you for quoting from my blog series. I want to buy the Golem Edition but sadly the playmat (which feels like an essential part of the game’s aesthetic appeal) is very difficult/expensive to find.

    Of course you can still play the same game without it, or find a virtual version with it, but that’s just something for people to bear in mind when choosing whether to buy it.

    Like

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