Splendor Marvel is the brand new edition of the set collection, tableau building board game, from publisher Space Cowboys. Designed by Marc André, the game sees 2 – 4 players attempting to be the first to collect the infinity stones, to obtain the Infinity Gauntlet before Thanos can. Based upon the Marvel Comic Universe, players will use stones to form a team of Marvel characters, for around 30 minutes. However, with a number of Marvel games releasing recently is the one the Avengers would choose? Let’s find out!
Setting up the game sees the market of level 1 – 3 character cards formed in the middle of the table. Each deck is separately shuffled, with four cards flipped over from each, creating a grid of available characters. Depending on the player count some of the infinity stone chips are removed from play, otherwise they are placed in piles within reach of all players. Also based on the player count, up to 4 of the location tiles (noble tiles in the original) are placed above the market. These location tiles are double sided, with the side randomly chosen.
On a turn players can perform one action: to gain infinity stone chips, to purchase a card or reserve one for later. When taking infinity stone chips players may either take 3 chips of differing colours or two of the same colour (as long as there are still two or more of that type remaining afterwards). Players can instead reserve any of the character cards from the market taking it into their hand. Whilst there is a limit of 3 reserved cards per player, whenever this action is taken the player also gains a wild S.H.I.E.L.D. token – which can be used as any infinity stone chip.
When purchasing a card it can be from either the table or a card the player has previously reserved. Every card has a cost in the bottom left and an infinity stone type in the top right corner, with a matching coloured bar. Cards can potentially also denote a point value and avenger symbols, both of which are shown on that coloured bar. By returning the infinity stone chips back to the bank, equal to a card’s cost, you recruit that character. This is then placed face up in front of the player. Importantly, the infinity stone that the card shows then reduces the cost of cards in the future. For example, Hawkeye depicts the soul stone. With him recruited, when buying a card with a cost including soul stones the number of soul stone chips needed is reduced by one.
This cost reduction stacks. By this it means that if you gain multiple cards featuring the same infinity stone the cost of future cards can be reduced by multiple chips. This is vital for when it comes to purchasing level 3 cards, as they commonly have costs of 7 – 10 chips, and players can only ever have 10 chips in their possession. Level three cards are more important in Splendor Marvel as they are the only cards to feature a bonus Time Stone. Time stones cannot be spent, nor can they be obtained in any other way and each player can only gain one.
Purchasing cards isn’t only for reducing the cost of future cards, nor are they just for points. The location tiles, which were selected at the beginning of the game, are awarded to the first player to achieve their requirements. Most of these look for sets of specific stones, though the Avenger tile looks for cards with Avenger symbols on them. The Avenger tile can also be stolen, unlike the rest. It is earnt when a player has brought cards featuring a total of three Avenger symbols, but if another player gains more they steal it and the 3 points it is worth.
Play continues clockwise until someone triggers the end game. Unlike the original, players are not only looking to hit a points total. To trigger the end of the game a player must have at least 16 points, at least one card of each infinity stone type and a time stone (from owning a level 3 character). When this occurs the current round becomes the last one, with each player up to the start player having one last turn. At this point the player with the most points wins, which isn’t always the player that triggered the end. The end game round can also be stopped. If a player is only on 16 points thanks to the Avenger tile and it is taken from them then the game continues on. While this will be a rather rare thing to happen, the potential for it to occur is an exciting prospect.
The twist on top of the original sounds much bigger and somewhat more complex than it truly is. There are additional requirements on top of getting to a point total to win. Thankfully, the additions can be easily explained. Getting a time stone isn’t a hard step, players just need to buy a level three card. At the same time, level one cards make it easy enough to get a card of each colour. So, boiled down players just need to make sure on their path to getting 16 points they pick up a card of each colour, with one being a level three card.
While this might not occur in every original Splendor game it isn’t exactly unusual for players to meet these requirements without needing to. Having some cards of each colour makes things cheaper and level three cards always denote the most points. The conditions to win therefore just stops potential paths to victory that don’t require the large point hauls from level three cards. Still, this keeps players competing for the same cards that bit more. Technically, the requirements could be skipped if players wanted to just play by the original Splendor rules.
The hardest parts that new gamers trip up on once or twice fall away pretty fast. Commonly these are not being able to take 2 infinity stone chips of the same colour when there are less than four in a pile and reducing the costs of cards based on the cards they’ve purchased. For gamers these rules will be easily remembered but some new players do need a reminder once or twice. After a few turns though everyone will be up to speed, having seen all of the actions and probably seen a card’s cost reduced. From then on the game flows nicely.
With such a large deck the characters depicted aren’t just the Avengers everyone is used to, being lifted from the comics not the films. This can result in a lot of people staring blankly at characters such as Lockjaw or Squirrel Girl. There are also a lot of versions of Spider-Man with full on Into The Spiderverse vibes. This could put some off but you don’t really need to know who any of them are. They create great talking points, a few laughs along the way, and are a great way to make what were bland cards in the original have a bit of something special to them.
Splendor was known as a game that had fantastic components and a rather low ratio of components to air in the box. Splendor Marvel follows this, coming with glorious poker chips for the infinity stones and the wild S.H.I.E.L.D. tokens. What is nice to see is that the infinity stones have subtle shapes around them, which is carried over to the cards, for colourblind gamers. The cards are of good stock, shuffling nicely. Despite there being very little in the way of slamming cards down or opportunities for them to be bent, this production quality is a positive from the perspective of the game lasting a long time.
The box has a great insert that sees the piles of infinity stones housed separately, and an area to keep the three levels of cards split apart. It’s just a shame that the box is so much bigger than it needs to be – the game could be much more portable otherwise. It is unlikely that the game will see promos or an expansion, so a larger variety of “nobles” would have been nice. 10 nobles were included in the original, with 5 tiles in Splendor Marvel. Thankfully, 4 of these are double sided closing the gap.
Splendor Marvel with its tweaked end condition sounded like it might be a twist on the much loved Splendor: akin to the Ticket to Ride map pack variants making small but noticeable changes. Looking past the reality stone and players will find a very similar game, with very little in the way of change. For someone that owns the original it is therefore hard to recommend owning this edition alongside it. If the Marvel theme truly grabs you then it could be something to replace the original with. Otherwise, picking up either version of Splendor, the original or Splendor Marvel, will allow you to have hours of entertainment at the finger snap of an Infinity Gauntlet.
(Editor’s Note: Splendor Marvel was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)