Splendor Duel is a 2-player version of the popular gem-themed game that borrows some key elements from its cousin, 7 Wonders Duel: the tableau is a pyramid, and there are now 3 ways to win.
Take a hike, player 3! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table. Here’s how to play Splendor Duel!
You and a friend go head-to-head in a special two-player-only version of the popular gem-cutting game Splendor.
If you already know how to play Splendor – there’s my How to Play video – you’ll have a bit of a head start here. But interestingly, if you’ve played 7 Wonders Duel (video) you might see a few similarities.
You’ve got this pyramid of cards dealt from three decks: these are the cheap seats, these ones are moderately expensive, and these ones are high cost, high value. You want to buy these cards and add them to your collection by spending onyx, sapphire, ruby, emerald, diamond, and gold tokens, and Splendor Duel adds a new currency: ultra-rare pink pearls. There are 4 tokens each of these guys, 3 gold chips, and only 2 pearls. You’ll be collecting these gems from this shared board: take any three adjacent chips in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line, with some restrictions that i’ll go over later.
You can spend your gems to buy the cards by paying the cost along the lower left side. So this card costs you two rubies and three onyxes. It also gives you a prestige point towards winning the game, and it has a blue sapphire icon in the corner, which means that you now have a permanent blue token that you can apply as a discount to all future card purchases.
In the original Splendor, the first player to reach a certain score would win the game, but Splendor Duel has three different ways to win: the first player to reach 20 or more prestige points can claim victory. Some cards you buy have these crown symbols on them; if you buy enough cards to have 10 or more crowns, you’ll win the game. And if you buy a bunch of cards of the same colour, and that collection of cards shows ten or more prestige points, you’ll win the game. So just like in 7 Wonders Duel, if you blindly gun for a certain strategy without carefully watching what your opponent is doing, you could end up getting flanked and losing the game when your opponent pulls out a surprise win with one of the other two victory conditions!
Splendor Duel also introduces these privilege tokens that give you a slight advantage in certain circumstances. There’s a row of 4 royals you’re trying to impress by collecting crown cards, and some of them give you extra abilities. And the cards themselves introduce certain new abilities as well.
That’s the game from way up here. Now let’s dive down and delve into the details!
On your turn, you can do one of three things: you can take gem tokens from the board, take a gold token and reserve a card, or buy a card.
When you take gem tokens, you’ll be taking them from this board, which you’ll have populated at the beginning of the game by randomly pulling tokens from a draw bag and filling it up along this spiral shape. You can take up to three gems in a straight line, starting anywhere and in any direction, including diagonally, with a few restrictions:
You can’t take these two gems because there’s a gap in the middle.
You can’t grab these ones because one of them is gold, and gold is not a gem. It’s special. We’ll see why shortly.
You ARE allowed to grab these ones, because you can grab pearls along with gems.
If this is how the board looked, you couldn’t grab 3 chips, because there are only two that are adjacent, but you’re allowed to take less than 3 gems on your turn. You could even just grab 1 if you wanted to.
If you take 3 gems of the same colour, or if what you take includes both of the game’s two pearls, that’s a big advantage, so your opponent gets one of these conciliatory privilege scrolls. We’ll see what the scrolls do shortly.
You can’t have all the tokens: at the end of your turn, if you have more than 10 tokens – gems and pearls and gold included – you have to return the excess tokens to the bag until you only have 10.
Ok – option two is to take a single gold token from the board. Gold tokens are wild – you can spend them in place of any gem, or instead of a pearl. When you take your gold token, you also reserve one of the cards from the pyramid. You’ll usually do this if there’s a card you really want to buy but you can’t afford it yet, and you don’t want your opponent to take it. The card you take goes into your hand and is kept secret from your opponent. You can have a maximum of 3 reserved cards in your hand. When you take the gold and the card, instead of taking a face-up card, you could also grab a face down card from any of the three decks. Taking a gold and reserving a card is one unified action: if there aren’t any gold tokens left on the board for you to take, you can’t just reserve a card on its own.
Finally, if you don’t take tokens or reserve a card and take a gold, your last option is to buy a card from either the display, or from your hand. Pay the cost of the card in gems in the lower left corner by putting those tokens back into the draw bag, remove the card from the display, and put it face up in front of you. Then, flip out a new card from the same row.
Later in the game, if you’ve already bought a bunch of cards, those cards may offer you permanent gem discounts on future purchases. So here, you want to buy this level 2 diamond card, which costs 4 sapphires and 3 rubies. You only have 1 sapphire, 1 ruby, and 1 gold in tokens, but you have 3 permanent sapphires from cards you’ve already purchased, and one permanent ruby here. If you let the wild gold token stand in for that missing third ruby, you can cash in your chips and buy this card. Intriguingly, there aren’t any cards in the game that provide pearls as a discount.
So if both players are constantly taking tokens from that board, how does the board get refilled?
Well, on your turn, before you do your main action, as an optional action, you’re allowed to refill that board, as long as there’s at least one chip rattling around in the draw bag. Shake up the bag and refill the board, starting with the central space and following the spiral, filling in all the gaps. Now you should have much better options for token selection, which gives you an advantage, so your opponent gets to take a privilege scroll. There are only three privilege scrolls in the game, and if there aren’t any left for your opponent to take, your opponent takes one of your privilege scrolls.
So what’s up with those scrolls?
Well, before the main action on your turn, for each privilege scroll you spend, you can take a single gem or pearl from anywhere on the board. You’re just not allowed to take a gold token using a scroll. Then, return the scroll to the middle of the table.
Some cards have these special purple abilities on them that may help you get a leg up on your opponent.
Buying a card with this symbol on it means you get to take another full turn right after you finish this one.
This symbol means that you get to take a token from the board that matches this card’s colour. So in this case, you could take a black onyx gem from the board. If there aren’t any black onyx gems left, you forfeit the perk.
This symbol gets you a privilege scroll. And again, if there aren’t any left, you take one from your opponent.
This steal symbol lets you yank a gem or a pearl token from your opponent. You can’t steal gold, though.`
And when you take a card with this symbol on it, you snug it up to one or more cards of a certain colour, and it acts as a card of that colour. So putting it here means you have two diamond cards, so you have two diamonds as a permanent discount on future purchases. Once you decide that card’s colour, it remains that colour for the rest of the game. If you don’t have any cards that give you a gem discount, you’re not allowed to buy a card with this colour-matching perk on it.
Remember that victory condition we saw, where you can win the game if you have 10 points showing across a single card colour? Well, those colour change cards count towards that total. So here, you have 10 points showing in your blue stack, and you’ve won the game.
There are four cards depicting fancy royal folks you’re trying to impress. If you build enough cards to get you past three crowns, you get to take a royal card of your choice as a free action on your turn – you still get to perform your main action. If you reach six or more crowns, you can take a second royal of your choice. The royal cards get you points, and most of them have those extra purple card abilities on them that we just looked at.
To set up the game, shuffle the level 3, 2, and 1 card decks and deal out a pyramid of 3, 4, and 5 cards respectively. Put the scoring tile at the top, and the gem board at the bottom, with those three privilege scrolls nearby. Put the four royal cards here. Throw all of the gems into the draw bag, shake it up, and populate the board in a spiral starting from the middle space. Decide the first player with a spirited round of karate. Whoever isn’t the first player gets a scroll as a consolation prize. Then, take turns going back and forth until someone buys cards worth 20 or more points, collects cards with 10 or more crowns, or gets a single colour of card – including those mimic cards – worth 10 or more points.
And now, you’re ready to play Splendor Duel!
Get Your Own Copy of Splendor Duel
This is a big release for Asmodee/Space Cowboys! Look for Splendor Duel at your Friendly Local Game Store.