Gems of the Orient: A Review of Cities of Splendor

Cities of Splendor

Asmodee's Cities of Splendor adds some variety and strategy to 2014's card and gem game, Splendor. Are the 4 expansions included in this box really necessary? Read on!

In this game, you become a Renaissance-era gem merchant as you try to make your way to The Orient, where more exciting deals are to be made.

Gameplay

The gist of 2014's Splendor is as follows: players take turns drawing gems. Players use gems they've drawn to purchase cards. Cards are worth Prestige Points and also have bonuses that make buying additional cards cheaper. When a player has collected appropriate sets of bonuses, he or she attracts a "Noble," a tile worth additional prestige points. First player to 15 prestige points triggers end-of-game. 

Cities of Splendor includes four small expansions, each of which adds a slight variation to the basic game of Splendor. These are four independent expansions, not meant to be combined with each other.

The first expansion in the box, "Cities," is only slightly different from Splendor proper. In this variation, the noble tiles are omitted, and in their place, new "city" tiles are laid out. Like nobles, players must meet certain conditions in order to take a city tile. For example, have 13 prestige points, 4 blue gem bonuses, and 3 white gem bonuses, get a city. Another is to have 15 prestige points and 5 gem bonuses of the same color, get a city. Once a player has gained a city tile, they will be the victor unless another player takes one by the end of the round (in which case, the player with the highest number of prestige points wins). 

"Trading Posts" is the second expansion in the box. In this one, players unlock new rules by purchasing cards with certain bonuses. For example, when a player gets three red bonuses and one white, for the rest of the game they can take a gem token whenever they buy a card. There are five such rules that can be unlocked. 

The third expansion, "The Strongholds," has players each taking three plastic castles in a color of their choosing. Whenever a player purchases a card, they must either place one of their strongholds on another card that's available for purchase or remove another player's stronghold from a card. A card with a player's stronghold on it can only be purchased by that player. Once a player has all three of their strongholds on a card, they may purchase that card after taking an action. That player basically gets a free action, buying the card, without having to use their entire turn to do so.

Finally, "The Orient" adds new and exotic Splendor cards to the table. These cards have crazy rewards as their bonuses or costs. For instance, a one-time use of two free gold gem tokens. A player who has this card can get two free gems toward the purchase of any card on the table. I'll let you discover the rest of the zany costs and bonuses on these new cards. 

Review

The secret to the success of 2014's smash hit card game Splendor was its simplicity. This gem trading, card drafting game was immediately popular because it contains alarmingly few rules. You could teach this game to your Grandma in less than five minutes and start plugging away on some gems.

So if Splendor was great because it was so simple, how could Cities of Splendor, a new box with 4 small expansions inside, improve on the game without mucking it up with a bunch of fiddly rules? The trick is that most of what's included in Cities of Splendor doesn't really "expand" the game. Instead, it provides slight variations of the game you and your Grandma have come to love. 

"Trading Posts" was this reviewer's favorite of the four expansions. I found that the trading posts make Splendor much more thinky and crunchy in terms of decision making. Good, but probably not for Grandma!

Conversely, "Strongholds," in my opinion was the weakest of the bunch. I found the strongholds to be useless in a two-player game, as players simply take turns either adding their own or removing their opponent's castles in an infinite back-and-forth. However, with four players, the strongholds were more of an amusing free-for-all.

The cards added in "The Orient" expansion made for a fun and different excursion from regular old Splendor. I can see this one getting a lot more plays.

The components in Cities of Splendor are of the highest level of quality you can expect from a major boardgame publisher like Asmodee. Everything is linen finished and heavy. The strongholds are incredibly detailed and attractive. Pascal Quidault once again provided the artwork, which is absolutely stunning. 

So is Cities of Splendor an essential addition to your collection? It certainly is if you're a fan of the original. I'm not sure that I will pull this out every time I'm in the mood for Splendor. What can I say? I like the original just fine! Stil, the choices included herein add a nice bit of variety and occasional depth I might be craving with a standard classic. The Cities of Splendor expansions are nice to have on hand, if not totally necessary.

Pros: Adds variety to the original game, excellent component quality

Cons: Sometimes you just want to play Splendor!

Heather Van De Sande
Heather Van De Sande's picture
"Good, but probably not for Grandma!" Tsk, tsk, tsk. We play Terraforming Mars and Euphoria with my friend's 78 year old grandmother. Don't dismiss what the greatest generation is still capable of. I'm seriously looking forward to this expansion.
Robert
Heather Van De Sande's picture

NIce review, not as nice with the ageism.

Thanks for the review.

 

I had a chance to play some of the expansions recently at Salt Lake Gaming Con.  Unfortunately both "Traders" and "Cities" were completely in-use by other players for the couple of hours we were demoing but we played "The Orient" and "Stronghold" numerous times (individually and then mashed together).  

I definitely agree that the Stronghold wasn't amazing but it was kind of a fun way to add a little more player interaction (and confrontation) beyond just buying or reserving the card that an opponent wanted.

The Orient cards were interesting and I suspect that we'll mix them into our standard play almost every time we play Splendor (the exception might be with newbies).

I'm really interested in trying out the "Trading Posts" expansion but I'm less excited by "Cities"...it seems alright since you can kind of plan for it based on what people have similar to the way you plan for somebody to swoop in and grab nobles now but I'm not terribly keen on the Cities-as-victory condition.

 

Still, this expansion box will be added to my collection and at least parts of it will see play with most of our games of Splendor.

Dogbolter
Heather Van De Sande's picture
Ugh shut up