A long time ago, in a galaxy far…hang on, wrong franchise. Also, it was only 2014…lemme start this again…
So, back in 2014, Marc André and Space Cowboys released Splendor. Winning the Golden Geek Best Family Board game, Golden Geek Game of the year, UK Games Expo Best New Board Game awards, and reaching number 3 on our very own People’s Choice Awards all in one year evidently wasn’t good enough for them! The tail end of 2017 brought us Cities of Splendor; four expansion modules to extend the base game.
Hey…that Cities of Splendor box looks familiar…Looks like there’s a lot inside, too!
I can’t fault your eyesight, there…the Cities of Splendor box is certainly very much like the base game – other than a slightly darker border (arguably orange, rather than dark yellow) and a different face in the main artwork, from a distance or at a glance the boxes are very similar. Good luck spotting the difference from across the aisle at the UK Games Expo, for example! Or, indeed, at Essen, where more than one person picked up the base game thinking it was the expansion (sorry everyone, it did sell awfully quickly!) I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but a little more to differentiate the boxes might have helped.
In the box, however, things are very different. As mentioned, there are four expansions. I would say “crammed” into the box, but, lets face it, there’s quite a lot of dead space inside. Yes, this means that those with limited shelf space will be able to fit everything in to the base box (good-bye insert!), but making the box the same size as the base obviously wasn’t necessary. I would argue that the box could be around a third of the height and still fit everything in nicely.
…OK, so not so much inside, but it’s still good, right?
Oh yes, most certainly, the quality of the components is very good, definitely on a par with the base game! (if you read my Istanbul review, you’ll know I’m a sucker for a well-matched expansion) The one exception to everything matching is the rules cards – each expansion has it’s own rules card, either single sided (for Cities) or double sided for the other three expansions. This differs from the rules booklet in the base game, but doesn’t feel out of place. You don’t need to flick through a book to find the rules for the expansion you’re playing, at least.
Rules, check! and..?
Cities of Splendor boasts a new deck of Orient cards, that are in keeping with the original decks; size, colour saturation, layout and card backs all look like they fit nicely. As in the base game, there are three levels, but all three have the same red backs, and the familiar one-to-three pips. There are thirty in total, ten of each level.
The eponymous Cities tiles are double the width of the noble tiles from the base game – a nice touch for those wanting to stack things together when putting the game away. It also means that the tiles have space to show off their artwork, which is excellent, and in keeping with the theme of the game. There are seven tiles in Cities of Splendor, and each is double-sided to make 14 cities to play for in total. Being double-sided however means that they can’t be truly shuffled – with only seven tiles, it’s possible to learn the opposite sides – why you would want to is another matter. Personally I would have preferred 14 single-sided tiles, or even ten to match the number available in the base game. That’s not counting the promo set of tiles, of course…
Uh huh, more cards and cardboard, that figures…
The stronghold pieces are pretty…well…strong. Decent quality plastic and with a cross-brace on the inside, you have to put some effort into squeezing them out of shape, though they won’t appreciate anyone standing on them (much…). There are three of each in four colours; blue, yellow, red…black..? Now don’t get me wrong, I like to play as the black player when possible, but when the decks in Cities of Splendor are blue, yellow, red (now) and green, it just feels to me that making these green would have worked better. Also I have a friend who pretty much always plays the green player. I’m not sure he’ll be best pleased…
I dont like green anyway! Any more for any more?
Finally, the trading posts board. I left this until last because my copy of Cities of Splendor has a little flaw; it was folded slightly off square. One side was peeling away slightly from the backing – not something I couldn’t fix, though. Each player also has five Coat of arms markers, and they are of the same card-stock as the noble and cities tiles, another plus that means Cities of Splendor should last some time before components start to wear.
Enough with the components, already, how does it PLAY?!
Oh, alright then! Much like with playing, lets take this one expansion at a time:
Lets set up shop in Bruges! Wait, no, Lyon! Oh, ok then…Venice!
The Cities expansion is the simplest Cities of Splendor expansion to explain, and the one recommended to play first. (It even says so on the rules card, and everything!) It also claims to foster more
competition between the players. This expansion replaces the Noble tiles with Cities tiles, and change the game end condition. Cities tiles require players to have a certain combination of development card bonuses. The Cities tiles also require a player to have a certain number of prestige points before they can be taken. For example, one city requires you to have two if each development card colour (white, black, red, blue and green) and in addition, 13 prestige points. another has no bonus requirement, but you must have 17 prestige points.
After a player takes a city tile, the current round completes and then the game ends. If only one player took a city tile, that player wins, however if more than one player took a city tile, the player with the most prestige points wins. The prestige points required range from eleven to seventeen, with the combination of development cards varying considerably, making games of Cities of Splendor with this expansion more dynamic.
I’ll give you two flawless rubies for that big rug over there…
The Trading posts expansion shortens the game, by granting you powers when you meet the requirements for a trading post. Each player starts with five coat of arms tokens in their player colour. As with taking a noble token, if at the end of your turn you have completed a trading post requirement, you place one of your coat of arms tokens on the trading post. From the beginning of your next turn, you benefit from the trading post’s action or ability for the rest of the game. The trading post abilities are permanent, and you can take an action as many times as you meet that action’s requirement.
For example, if you have two white bonuses from development cards, you can place your coat of arms token on the relevant trading post. From the beginning of your next turn, when you take two gem tokens of the same colour, you can take a third gem token of a different colour. Another trading post grants you prestige points for the number of trading posts that you have placed tokens on. Points can rack up very quickly using this expansion; Cities of Splendor can easily be won before you notice it if you’re not paying attention to your opponent’s actions.
Not for the weak…
The Strongholds expansion lengthens the game, and bear with me here, because it gets intricate! Each player starts the game with three strongholds of the same colour. After you purchase a development card, and before the new card is revealed, you must either:
- place, or move, one of your strongholds onto a face-up card on the board. You cannot place your stronghold on a card where another player has already placed a stronghold.
- remove another player’s stronghold from the board, and give it back to them.
What do strongholds do, I hear you cry! (I apparently have very good hearing) Well, put simply, strongholds prevent others from buying cards. While a stronghold is on a card, only the owning
player can purchase or reserve the card. When they buy the card, the player takes the stronghold(s) from the card back into their hand (and then places one, as per the rule above)
If all three strongholds are on the same development card, the owning player may purchase the card as a second action. The card must still be paid for as normal, then all strongholds are returned to the owning player. This means that it is possible for a player to purchase two cards in the same turn. If a player’s turn starts with two strongholds on the same card. They then purchase another card. This means that they can move their third stronghold onto the card with the other two. Now that the player has their three strongholds on the same card, they can purchase that second card.
If you like player interaction and the chance to mess with your opponent’s plans, this Cities of Splendor variant is likely the one for you!
We, three kings of Orient, are…
Finally, the Orient expansion adds more cards to the game. Lay out the Orient cards next to the development cards, with two cards from each level face up. Orient cards are purchased in the same way as development cards. Some are single-use and then discarded, others ‘pair’ with development cards to increase the bonuses you receive from them. For example, You can discard some level one cards to count as two gold tokens. Others, you can pair with a development card that you have already bought. This then counts as a second bonus, matching the bonus of the card that it is paired with. You cannot reassign a card after you have paired it.
Other orient cards enable to you take level one or two development cards for free, or give double bonuses. There are even cards that let you reserve nobles so that they can’t visit other players. Swiping that noble just before they would visit an opponent makes for a very satisfying Cities of Splendor turn..!
So…what’s the verdict
Let’s make no bones about it, I know of nobody that has played Splendor and didn’t like it. The simplicity of the mechanics, and the attractive artwork, make for a great, quick, fun game. And while each of Cities of Splendor’s expansions add some complexity, I don’t think they complicate matters. A couple of minutes into Cities of Splendor and you understand the differences, and what you can do to win. Doing it, however, with others able to affect your options each turn, is what makes the game more fun!
If you found the player interaction in Splendor lacking, Cities of Splendor brings you The Orient, and The Strongholds. If you wanted a more varied end-game, Cities of Splendor has the Cities module. Finally if you thought Splendor too long, Cities of Splendor has Trading Posts to speed things up.
Initially, I was…miffed (good word, that) that the expansions were quite small, and couldn’t be combined. But, having played each of the expansions in Cities of Splendor, I can see the advantage to this. No one expansion is so complicated that you can’t pick it up quickly. The game variations, coming from such subtle rules changes, deepen the game without overwhelming you with choices. Arguably, Space Cowboys could release each expansion separately (If you’ve played a game from Queen Games, you get the idea). However, keeping everything to one box maintains overall quality.
What’s that? A rating? ugh, right then…Splendor has always been a 7.5 in my eyes. I’m always happy to play, and it’s usually on my list of recommendations. Cities of Splendor only extends this – adding variety to the options involved and tweaking the mechanics just so. So – 7.5 it is. Now I just need to decide whether to keep both boxes on the shelf, or make my own insert….
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