Cities of Splendor: An Expansion Review

  • Designer:  Marc Andre
  • Publisher:  Space Cowboys
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  10 and Up
  • Time:  30 Minutes
  • Times Played:   > 6

Cities of Splendor: A Review of Four Expansions

CitiesofSplendor

Splendor is one of my all-time favorite games.  I’ve logged more than 75 plays (though I’ve probably played more than 100 games), hosted Splendor events, and once even placed second at a big Gen Con tournament.  So I was eager for its first expansion, Cities of Splendor, which is releasing soon.

I’m loving this expansion, which is really a series of four different expansions.  I think it adds some nice elements to the base game without adding much complexity.  I’m going to provide an overview and rating for each one.  

Cities

Expansion 1: Cities

Cities is the first recommended expansion, and I see why: it is extremely easy to learn, but it does change the game’s victory condition.

The expansion comes with seven double-sided city tiles, representing Bruges, Lyon, Lisbon, Seville, Venice, Florence, and Pisa.  During set up, in lieu of nobles, place out three of these city tiles randomly.  

Each tile shows both a point value and a number of required bonuses.  For example, one shows 13 points, plus 4 blue bonuses, plus 3 white bonuses on one side.  The other side shows 13 points, plus 4 white bonuses, plus 3 red bonuses.  

At the end of your turn, you automatically take a city tile if you meet its requirements, meaning both the prestige points and the quantity and type of bonuses.  

When a player takes one, complete the current round, and the player taking the city tile wins.  If more than one player took a city tile, the player with the higher prestige points wins.  

My Thoughts on Cities:  Cities is probably the simplest of the expansions — you can learn this in less than a minute — but it surprisingly changes the game quit a bit.  I’m really enjoying this version of Splendor, which really freshens up the game.  

Changing the end condition forces competition for certain bonuses — those ones required by the City tiles — and actually makes it where you must watch your opponents closer than ever.  I play Splendor differently than most people — I always eschew the first row of cards, going only after point cards, and ignoring the nobles — and this expansion narrows my strategy.

I recommend this is where you start.  If you like Splendor, I bet you’ll like this expansion. 

  • I love it!  Chris W.
  • I like it.  Dale Y
  • Neutral.  
  • Not for me…

Strongholds

Expansion 2: Strongholds

The Strongholds expansion gives each player three towers (strongholds). When you purchase a new card (either from your hand or from the table), you must either (1) put a stronghold on an face-up card on the table, or (2) remove another player’s stronghold.  Strongholds cannot be placed on a card with another player’s stronghold.  

If you placed a stronghold, you’re now the only player able to purchase/reserve that card.  When your three strongholds are on the same card, you can buy it after your regular action, practically giving you an extra turn.

My Thoughts on Strongholds:  Strongholds is a cool improvement to the game.  The Strongholds are (a) a soft way to reserve cards, and (b) possibly an extra move if you get all three out.  Of course, by placing your strongholds, you’re tipping your hand about what you might be purchasing, which has its downsides.

If, like me, you tend to eschew cards in the first row, this probably makes your strategy a bit more effective.  The downside, though, is that your opponents can force you to reserve cards more often, as they can deploy their strongholds to keep you from getting those high-value cards you’re clearly going for.  

This expansion is also remarkably easy to learn, and I’d play it second.  

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:

  • I love it!  Chris W.
  • I like it.  
  • Neutral.  
  • Not for me…

Orient

Expansion Three: The Orient

The third expansion comes with 30 new Orient development cards, 10 per level.  These form a separate display to the right of each level, with two Orient expansion cards showing per level.  As these are purchased, they are replaced from other cards from the Orient deck.  

The Orient  cards offer different bonuses to the player purchasing them.  

Level 1 Orient cards either (a) give you two gold tokens (you discard the card on use) or (b) let you match a bonus to a card you pair it with (i.e. you slide it under an already-acquired card and it gives you an extra bonus of that color).

Level 2 Orient cards either let you (a) pair a card (as discussed above) and acquire a face-up level 1 coard at no cost, (b) reserve a noble, or (c) have two bonuses of the indicated color.

Level 3 Orient Cards let you either (a) take a face up level 2 card at no cost, or (b) earn prestige points by discarding bonuses of the indicated color.  (For example, you could discard two lower-level white bonus cards to take a blue bonus card worth three prestige points.)    

My Thoughts on The Orient:  The Orient is perhaps the expansion that changes the base game the most.  For the first time, you might be getting rid of cards in your tableau (to get the Level 3 Orient cards), reserving nobles, or pairing bonuses.  That’s a big change, and it makes Splendor even deeper and more challenging.  With the Orient expansion, this goes from feeling like a family-weight strategy game to a gamer’s game.  

This is my clear favorite of the different expansions.  This makes Splendor feel like a much more interesting game, giving players more options than ever.  And, amazingly, Marc Andre added that depth without increasing playtime or making the rules more complicated.

Dale Yu: I like this one. Having 6 extra cards in the tableau really opens up your options – makes it harder to be shut out of stuff.  I also really like the new actions, especially the reserve a noble tile action.  I have seen this used at times to win a race, but I have also seen it used (smartly) to deny someone else the tile that they needed to reach the winning total.  Clever!

  • I love it!  Chris W.
  • I like it.  James Nathan, Dale Y
  • Neutral.  
  • Not for me…

TradingPosts

Expansion 4: Trading Posts

A “Route to the Orient” board is set out, and each player takes five tokens of their chosen color.  

At the end of your turn, if you meet the requirements of one of the five powers listed on the Route to the Orient Board, you place one of your tokens on that power.  You can now benefit from it in the game.  

The five powers are:

  1. After you purchase a card, take 1 gem token.  (Cost: 3 Red Bonuses, 1 White)
  2. When you take 2 gem tokens of the same color, take one of a different color.  (Cost: 2 White Bonuses)
  3. Each of your gold tokens is worth 2 gem tokens of the same color.  (Cost: 3 Blue Bonuses, 1 Black)
  4. Gain 5 prestige points.  (Cost: 5 Green Bonuses, 1 Noble Tile)
  5. Gain 1 prestige point for each token you’ve placed on the board, including this one.  (Cost: 3 Black Bonuses)

My Thoughts on Trading Posts:  This also adds a cool twist to the game: with Trading Posts, not only do you need to focus on prestige points and nobles, you also have the chance to earn special bonuses.  Each of them is powerful in its own way, so this adds a great deal of depth to Splendor.  It also shortens the game by five minutes or so.  

Trading Posts has made my fellow players really specialize on one color of bonuses.  For example, in my last game, I had one friend chasing green bonuses, another friend chasing white ones, and I was just chasing points (though I did eventually get trading post associated with black bonuses).  

I suspect if a player ever got the green bonuses they’d win — 5 prestige points is a lot, plus they’d already have noble — but that is a challenging feat to pull off, and I don’t see it happening all that often.  

This is probably my second favorite of the four expansions.

Dale Yu:  This one is OK – I liked the additional abilities given by the different Trading post bonuses.  The green one is obviously an endgame function, but the others are all beneficial, and players that do not achieve one of them early on will find themselves struggling.  Being able to draw an extra gem with each card purchase or being able to draw an extra gem with each pair can really supercharge your engine from the start.  I feel like this timing issue gives perhaps an undue advantage to a player going earlier in turn order – though I haven’t played it enough to know if that is true or not.  

  • I love it!  Chris W.
  • I like it.  
  • Neutral.  James Nathan, Dale Y
  • Not for me…

My Overall Thoughts on Cities of Splendor (Chris Wray)

I love all four of these expansions.  All of them make subtle changes to an already great game, enough to make the game feel fresh, but not so much that they feel clunky.  All of them are easy to learn, and all of them complement everything we’ve come to love about Splendor.

There has been some complaining about the cost of this expansion set, but i just don’t see it: there’s a lot of value and replayability here.  Marc Andre genuinely did design four new expansions, and two or three of them would have been worth the price of admission, let alone all four.  

Is this a “must have” expansion?  If you love Splendor, I’d say yes.  

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris W.
  • I like it.  
  • Neutral.  
  • Not for me…

 

Ranking the Expansion Modules

 

  • Chris Wray: The Orient, Trading Posts, Cities, Strongholds

 

 

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