Now this is how you make a good theme game! Splendor is already a standout in the hobby, so let’s put a super exciting theme on it. Instead of chasing gems and Renaissance nobles, in Splendor Marvel we chase Infinity Stones to defeat Thanos. Easy to learn, quick to play, and you get to save the multiverse before bedtime!
As a fan of the hobby, it’s exciting to see these crossovers. There are so many great, easy, fun games in the hobby that non-fans would enjoy. However, the fun of these games is hidden underneath a bland theme. Carcassonne is a great example. It’s a fantastic family game, but it doesn’t tell an exciting story. There isn’t a lot to convince non-hobby fans to give Carcassonne a chance.
This new trend is exciting. There’s been a slow build-up of games like these. One of the first themed-hobby games like this is, arguably, Hail Hydra. It’s a Marvel themed cooperative game where players can’t trust everyone at the table. The game is a heavily streamlined version of the prodigious Battlestar Galactica, which is sadly out-of-print and unlikely to return. Hail Hydra does almost everything that Battlestar Galactica did, but in 45 minutes instead of 3 to 6 hours.
Earlier this year, Avalon Hill published Betrayal at Mystery Mansion. This is a new version of their classic storytelling game Betrayal at House on the Hill. The original Betrayal centered around a shifting, chaotic haunted house. The game played very differently and told different stories based on random cards and tiles, and different player decisions. The consensus described it as Scooby Doo the Unofficial Board Game. Then came Betrayal at Mystery Mansion - a new Betrayal game that featured classic Scooby Doo characters and storylines.
These games, Splendor and Betrayal and Battlestar Galactica, are wonderful and deserve a wider audience. Adding popular franchises to them, while keeping the mechanics the same, will extend their reach further.
The Accelerating Economy of Splendor
So what’s about this new game? Fortunately, the publisher of Splendor kept the original rules almost unchanged. To see what differences there are, though, let’s see what the original is all about.
The aim of Splendor is, of course, victory points, and those victory points come from two different sources. Players mostly get points from development cards they obtain during the course of the game. These development cards cost gems, and come in three tiers. High-tier development cards give points, as well as providing a permanent discount, but cost a lot of gems. Low-tier development cards don’t have a lot of points, but still provide discounts, and are much cheaper.
And there’s the basic arc of a Splendor game. Players buy the affordable low-tier development cards to get discounts, that make mid-tier cards more affordable, which make high-tier cards even more affordable. This gives Splendor this really fun feeling of acceleration. Players start off slow, and aren’t able to accomplish much on their turn. Near the end game, though, players are spending lots of money and buying expensive things. It’s like each game of Splendor is its own rags-to-riches story.
Grasping At Infinity
Fortunately, Splendor Marvel plays almost exactly like its predecessor. The end-game conditions are a little different, and there’s another bonus tile with a different way to earn it. In order to win, instead of just having 15 victory points, Splendor Marvel requires to have 16 points, at least one of each of the five colors of cards, and a green Time Stone token. This is a little higher bar to reach, but also a more interesting challenge. Also, cards provide Avengers icons, and the new bonus tile simply goes to the player with the most Avengers icons.
Other than that, the changes are all on the surface. Instead of having gem tokens, players have Infinity Stone tokens. Instead of development cards that depict mines and merchants, players have character cards that depict Marvel superheroes. It’s amazing how much a difference mere cosmetic changes make to the game, the game really does become a lot more fun.
Splendor Marvel: A Game That Tells A Story
While some may think that connections between the Infinity Gauntlet epic to Splendor is a little tenuous, it’s arguably better than the alternative. Splendor had a pretty generic Renaissance merchant theme, and didn’t reinforce the theme a lot. The new Marvel theme matches up well. It's a lot more fun and exciting to assemble your own team of superheroes to recover the Infinity Gauntlet and defeat Thanos. The new theme also leverages a pop culture juggernaut to promote excellent tabletop game design. Splendor Marvel is an almost strictly better choice for new players to the game.