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Splendor Duel Review

Important Note:

All board game reviews and ratings from “A Pair of Meeples” are entirely based on the game at two players. You can learn more about our rating system by clicking below.


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Splendor Duel might be better than its predecessor, especially for two players (duh!) but does it rise above its alternatives and other giants in this category of games? 

Splendor Duel Game Review

7 out of 10
Splendor Duel Two Player Review A Pair of Meeples

Is it Good For Two Players? : Yes

Splendor Duel, technically speaking, is one of the best board games we’ve played.  Everything is so well designed, every victory condition is equally achievable, every card is meaningful and balanced, and even the number of cards in each tier seems to be perfectly calculated.

Splendor Duel is almost comparable to chess, a great and extremely well-designed game but one that isn’t the most exciting, at least to those who aren’t already in love with the game. That fact is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when deciding if Splendor Duel is the right board game for you. 

Theme: 5/10
Replayability: 5/10
Components: 8/10
Conflict: 5/10
Fun: 3/10

Husband’s Rating
7 out of 10
Wife’s Rating
7 out of 10

Pros

Easy to play and learn

Extremely well-designed

A game you can get better at each time

Very nice components

A lot of game in a small package

Feels very strategic and tactical

Cons

Every game feels the same.  This is great for this category of game but may leave some players wanting more.

Very little tension between players

A little long for what the game offers

Can be a little too thinky if trying to play aggressively

Gameplay Experience:

Splendor Duel Board Game Review Two Players

Surprisingly we have made it this far without having played the original Splendor, one of the most popular board games to date.  Once we saw there was a two-player version though, we had to give it a go.

All we knew about the original is that it is a well-loved, fairly straightforward, and quick-playing engine builder and it also scaled surprisingly well for two players.  So if you are looking for comparisons between the two games, this isn’t the review for you.  However, our position allows us to review this game without having any prior experience or expectations about this one.

We just thought it was important to note that fact, but now onto our review of the game at hand, Splendor Duel.

We cracked open the box and got down to business.  It didn’t take us long to make our way through the rules and get set-up for our first game.

We were already feeling pretty optimistic about the game just after seeing and holding all the super nice “poker chip” tokens and laying them out on the board.  We all know that having the best components equates to the best board games right? We’re looking at you Terraforming Mars.

Splendor Duel Full Board Set Up

We got to playing and we’re starting to get into the game but then we had to replenish the gems.  Laying out those nice poker chips wasn’t as fun the second time as it was the first time that’s for sure.  And the same thoughts arose the third time we had to do it.  

Our engines were growing and we were getting farther along towards the victory conditions but man refilling those gems felt like a little much in such a small, simple, and quick two player game like this.  Even though everything else seemed so well designed, those gem replenishes were just rubbing us the wrong way even though in truth, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

It’s sort of just like somebody chewing really loud, once you focus on it, you can’t stop.

We continued onward though, purchasing cards, collecting gems, and refilling gems again and again.  Eventually, I got my 20 points and declared victory over my wife.  (Side note, to be honest, the first few rounds of a new game are some of my favorites because I can actually win occasionally, but over time my wife typically gets much better and obliterates me on most games in our collection after we get more familiar with them.)

Anyway, we both didn’t know how we felt about the game after that first round ended.  It played great technically speaking and seemed extremely well designed but it seemed like a lot of work and upkeep for a two player game that just didn’t feel overly worth it.

Our pessimistic first impressions aside, we reset for our second game.  It wasn’t long into this round before we were starting to see what Splendor Duel was really about.  

This second game felt just like the first play initially but as our engines grew this time we went turn after turn without needing to replenish the gem board.  That annoying “loud chewing” didn’t seem that annoying anymore.

Our engines were doing what they were supposed to do in the game and allowing us to progress from needing to collect countless gems to instead being able to buy better cards with fewer and fewer physical tokens in our possession.

In other words, we’re doing much better this round and it wasn’t long before I got 10 crowns taking the win again.  (Trust me, this Splendor Duel victory count of mine, didn’t even last one more game).  After this second round, this game was starting to grow on us, and our more negative first impressions were starting to fade away.

We’ve played many more games of Splendor Duel since, and our feelings haven’t strayed too far from those that we had on our second playthrough.  That makes perfect sense in our opinion because this is a board game that feels pretty similar game to game.

This isn’t always a bad thing, it just means once you are familiar with the game you know what you’re getting out of it on your 20th play or even your 200th.  A lot of games are like this and many people prefer this style of game, but many may also not.

Splendor Duel is a great game, there is no doubt about that, but it is almost over-designed to the point that you struggle to bring it to the table consistently.  There’s just not enough excitement or twists and turns during a game that makes you want to keep coming back for more.

Even so, it is still a game that is very deserving of a spot on most people’s shelves, but one that will likely only see play every once in a while. Splendor Duel is a perfectly designed strategic battle between two where everything has been thought through and makes sense gameplay-wise.

How to Play Splendor Duel:

Splendor Duel starts with a full board of tokens that players will take turns collecting up to three adjacent ones at a time.  Gold tokens act as “wild tokens” and have to be taken by themselves, but players who take this action also get to draft a card to complete on a later turn.

Splendor Duel Mid Game

These tokens are then used to draft various jewel cards that grant token bonuses that make future purchases cheaper, and occasionally also give players points or crowns.  Some cards also give players immediate one-time bonuses such as “go again”, take an additional token from the board, or even steal a token from your opponent.

Players can choose to replenish the tokens at any time, but this will give their opponent a privilege that they can optionally use at the beginning of their turn to take an additional single non-gold gem.  A privilege token is also given to the player who goes second, and given to your opponent any time you take 3 of the same token or two pearls in a single turn.

Splendor Duel Engine and Cards

Players will continue collecting gem tokens, purchasing Jewel cards and utilizing them until one acquires either 20 Prestige Points, 10 Crowns, or 10 Prestige Points of the same color. Players will need to strategically manage their token limits and efficiently draft cards that will make their engine stronger, cards cheaper, and let them reach victory before their opponent.

Splendor Duel Win Conditions and Card Types

Conclusion:

Splendor Duel, technically speaking, is one of the best board games we’ve played.  Everything is so well designed, every victory condition is equally achievable, every card is meaningful and balanced, and even the number of cards in each tier seems to be perfectly calculated. 

Splendor Card Market

Extreme care was taken to perfectly design and implement every aspect of this card drafting, engine building race between two players.  A lot of thought and love was put into this game and it’s very easy to see that.

All of these things are what are going to make Splendor Duel a top 10 for some, but they are also the reasons why many may find this game somewhat lacking.

Every game of Splendor Duel is going to feel pretty similar to the last, and while that’s not the most exciting thing in the world, it allows players to pull out the game and get right down to playing.  You won’t need to go referencing the rules very often if at all.

Once you know how to play Splendor Duel, you won’t forget, and you’ll also know what you’re getting into each and every game.  This means with every play you can get better and better, and with a minimal luck factor, you can start to perfect your strategies and skills which suit these head to head two player games in our opinion.

This does mean there’s not much excitement or “fun” coming out of this game though and that might be a pretty big negative for some.  It makes sense for a game like this to feel very strategic, tactical, and almost routine, but Splendor Duel might be sticking to these characteristics just a little too tightly.

It’s just missing that little something that surprises you or makes you smile.  That thing that other games have that almost makes them call to you from the shelves, begging you to play them. It doesn’t have tension between players, that exciting although unlikely path to victory, or unique aspects that add character to each round making it feel at least a little different from the last. 

In this way, Splendor Duel is almost comparable to chess, a great and extremely well-designed game but one that isn’t the most exciting, at least to those who aren’t already in love with the game.   That fact is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when deciding if Splendor Duel is the right board game for you.

I think that covers our most important thoughts about the game and should help most decide if it’s a game for them but we do have some other minor opinions.  So if you want more, continue onwards you in-depth review readers, welcome to the weeds.

More Conclusion…

The first thing we want to talk about is how different this game can be when you play aggressively.  Some of the potential negatives we listed above can be minimized by just playing a bit more mean and paying attention and countering your opponent, which is probably the intended method.

This is great and all but the “paying attention” is where the problem with this more aggressive playstyle arises.  This game is already a little long for what it is when playing mostly “solitaire-ily”, but if you start trying to analyze your opponent’s position and block their moves every other turn, Splendor Duel will become much, much longer than it has any right to be. 

Sure, the game will be more fun and exciting if you play this aggressive way, but more often than not you will just be delaying the inevitable.  If you try to block or stop your opponent, you’re not progressing your position, likely lengthening the game for the same result.  Blocking in a way that benefits you just as much as it blocks your opponent will take a lot of thinking, or in other words a lot of time, i.e. analysis paralysis.

So even though this game is meant to be played aggressively it doesn’t appear to usually make the most sense to do so and also makes it too long.  As a result most of the time you’ll be focusing on your own strategy and giving little to no attention to your opponents.  This means all the negatives we said above are still very valid points because typically players won’t play Splendor Duel in a way that diminishes these things.

The second issue is even though the game is too long already, at the same time somehow it ends too quickly.  What we mean is it starts fairly slow, and then things start moving along but then all of a sudden somebody wins.  This balance of letting players use what they have built and ending the game in a timely manner is something most engine building games struggle with.  

The last minor complaint we want to cover is the lack of tension in Splendor Duel.  This is another thing that could be minimized by more aggressive playstyles but like we said, that comes with its own set of problems.

You’re not that worried about your opponent taking a card or token you need, because there are so many other options usually available to you.  In other words, you never see the move that dramatically changed or decided the game.  You kind of just keep playing, not feeling that tension, and then suddenly somebody wins.  

All of these things aren’t huge issues but they are there nonetheless.  What we said earlier is still the most important aspect of Splendor Duel but if you’ve made it this far hopefully these other minor criticisms helped you learn even more about this game.

Even though we might seem overly critical of the game, we want to reiterate that it is a great game, especially in terms of design, and as long as you know what to expect and are a fan of these super tight, and strategic battles between two players that are almost perfect information games, then Splendor Duel would likely be a great addition to your collection.

Is Splendor Duel Good For 2 Players?

This is a two player only game so everything we said above applies.  I guess a more important question is whether Splendor Duel or Splendor is better for two players.  I think it’s safe to say that Splendor Duel is the right choice for this player count.  

It is such a well designed game with every aspect having that two player count in mind.  The balance between victory paths, cards, tokens, privileges, and players is very impressive.  If this game sounds up your alley, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the two player experience it provides.

Pros:

  • Easy to play and learn.  Once you know how to play you’ll likely never forget.  Excellent rulebook too.
  • Extremely well-designed.  Every aspect is thought out and balanced to near perfection.
  • A game you can get better at each time, as you perfect strategies.
  • Very nice components.  Those hefty “poker chips” feel great in your hands.
  • A lot of game in a small package
  • Feels very strategic and tactical

Cons:

  • Every game feels the same.  This is great for this category of game but may leave some players wanting more.
  • Very little tension between players
  • A little long for what the game offers
  • Can be a little too thinky if trying to play aggressively, which also increases the game length.

Splendor Duel Board Game - Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Fun Family Game Night Entertainment, Ages 10+, 2 Players, 30-Minute Playtime, Made by Space Cowboys
Splendor Duel Board Game - Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Fun Family Game Night Entertainment, Ages 10+, 2 Players, 30-Minute Playtime, Made by Space Cowboys
Splendor Duel Board Game - Strategy Game for Kids and Adults, Fun Family Game Night Entertainment, Ages 10+, 2 Players, 30-Minute Playtime, Made by Space Cowboys

We hope this Splendor Duel two player review has helped you.

Our reviews are not paid reviews, but some games are given to us, we do not let this affect our opinions in any way. This post may contain affiliate links so we might receive compensation if you sign up for or purchase products linked to. As an Amazon Associate, we can earn from qualifying purchases. This helps cover our site's costs and allows us to continue reviewing games.


Splendor Duel vs. 7 Wonders Duel

This comparison is one many are asking about and one that we almost included in the review above but decided to make a separate section here.  These games do share a lot of similar characteristics in terms of gameplay.

They both are card drafting engine builders at their core and very similar in their gameplay style, but they still have their differences.  7 Wonders Duel addresses many of the issues that Splendor Duel has that we have gone over in this review.  

Where Splendor Duel feels the same from game to game, 7 Wonders Duel has various wonders to make each game and the strategy you pursue feel a little different.  Where Splendor Duel lacks tension, 7 Wonders Duel has hidden cards that players reveal for their opponents that can greatly shift the game.

Where Splendor Duel has no excitement, twist and turns, or dare we say “fun”, 7 Wonders Duel has Science Tokens with bonuses that feel dramatic and different, military victories that are dramatic and exciting, and science victories that are even more shocking and unlikely.

So in general one may say 7 Wonders Duel is probably the better game, but Splendor Duel still probably has its place in most people’s board game collections.  The physical tokens add an entirely different aspect to the game that makes it quite different.

Splendor Duel Tokens

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