It’s 1.30am and I think we’ve settled it. There again I’m rather drunk so I can’t be sure about that. All I know is there’s some funktastic random music on Spotify, two empty wine bottles on the desk and a third somewhere else in the room, and we seem to have settled (for us at least) the debate regarding Century Spice Road vs Splendor (the former hereby referred to as CSR, as it actually hurt to type all that. Plus I’m trying to boogie, sitting down) .

“We” being myself, my wife Megan (who has played plenty of games now, but still maintains that Taboo is the Best Game That Has Ever Existed) and our mate Matt from two doors down, who I converted to tabletop gaming about eight months ago and now ranks Jaipur, Elder Sign, Onitama, Champions of Midgard and Schotten Totten among his favourites.

“Are you a geek?” my wife bluntly enquired on first meeting him, when we moved to the area a year and a half ago.
“Errr… I don’t know?”
He looked… unsure.
Oh, my sweet summer child, thought Megan.

The rest of the Games Night Possibles were either:

Keith: “…watching a live recording of Frankie Boyle at Pinewood Studios…”
Jet: “…finishing off a 3D model in Zbrush for a US client…”
Matty: “…family guests tonight…”
Phil: “…at an exhibition down in sunny Doncaster. Well, Piddington down Doncaster way…”
Helen: [Unavailable For Comment.]

So it fell to an intrepid and already merry three (with obviously less glamorous or workaholic lives) to face some Euro-ey, engine-/deck-building type stuff.

Everyone has been banging on recently about whether CSR is the “Splendor Killer”, so having picked up a copy at UKGE, and armed with three bottles of wine, we set about the business at hand… or at least set about chatting and drinking most of the first bottle before we even got the lid off a box.


[Wine: H. Valrasque Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2015]

Century Spice Road vs Splendor - Splendor boxPublisher: Asmodee
No. of players: 2–4
Play time: 30 mins
Age: 10+
Type: Competitive
Mechanisms: Set Collection, Engine Building

It may sound like synthetic sugar, and be annoyingly missing a letter for those of us on this side of the Atlantic that invented the bloody language, but there’s no denying how popular Splendor has become, ranked presently at 96 on Boardgame Geek (BGG), which is better than Go, Chess and numerous other far better games than it. So actually I think we can safely dismiss BGG as a yardstick.

For the uninitiated the game consists of using poker chips in five colours (with a sixth “wild” variety) to purchase cards in three tiers of difficulty/value. These cards primarily serve as chips themselves (meaning you don’t have to use as many chips to make purchases, or can purchase more expensive cards), but also as the cards get more expensive they feature a number of Prestige Points, of which you need fifteen for victory.

Century Spice Road vs Splendor - Splendor gameplay

There’s also a tiny splash of “Take That”, whereby you can reserve a card that you can’t yet afford to buy, but don’t want another player to get. So “Take That” in the usual Euro, Passive-Aggressive style.

Splendor is easy to teach, has those very tactile poker chips and plays pretty quickly regardless of player count, so it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular gateway game and a choice for firing up or winding down a games night.

(Wine verdict: Well it’s Chateauneuf isn’t it? Birthday wine. Lovely drop.)

Century Spice Road

[Wine: Domaine de la Curguetiere Pecharmant 2012]

Century Spice Road vs Splendor - Century Spice Road boxPublisher: Plan B
No. of players: 2–5
Play time: 30-45 mins
Age: 8+
Type: Competitive
Mechanisms: Engine Building, Deck Building, Set Collection, Hand management

CSR is the new kid on the block, feted as the game likeliest to take Splendor’s crown (although king of what I’m not quite sure). The two games share a lot of similarities, but tend to play out quite differently.

In CSR players are deck- and engine-building in order to gain resources in the shape of four spices, namely Turmeric (Yellow), Saffran (Red), Cardamom (Green) and Cinnamon (Brown), or as we decided pretty much within the first minute: Custard, Strawberries, Mint and Chocolate.

The spices, held rather dinkily in their own little supplied bowls, run in that order too, which is important as you can “upgrade” a spice to a higher level.  There’s no funky poker chips here but there are some very nice shiny coins, which are almost as fun to clink together.

Century Spice Road vs Splendor - Century Spice Road gameplay

Cards allow you to claim spice cubes or upgrade one or more types of cubes for other cubes (yup, this is cube-shuffling extraordinaire), and you then use these to acquire the points cards that can win you the game. Once five of these cards have been claimed by a player (six in a two player game), the end game is initiated and every other player has a final turn to try and score some more points before totalling up.

Like Splendor this is easy to teach, has tactile, attractive components but seems to play out in about twice the time. It’s also worth pointing out that CSR is planned as a trilogy of “Century” games, which will all be stand-alone games, but fuse together in some as-yet-unrevealed way.

(Wine verdict: Really excellent low-cost bottle from the Bergerac vicinity. Buy it.)

Verdict… over a few games of Hive Pocket

[Wine: Stellenbosch Cab-Sauv Merlot Franc Malbec Petit Verdot 2014]

Century Spice Road vs Splendor - Hive

The missus and Matt gave their verdicts the instant I asked. “Splendor” they replied in drunken unison. Why?

Matt: It’s quicker and there’s more opportunity to block your opponent.
Me: To basically f*ck people over then.
Matt: Yeeeeessss…
Megan: Also the chips are extremely satisfying. Plus I feel they’re more fluid and you can accumulate them more quickly.
Matt: Yeah, Spice Road is a bit like farming… you have to wait to harvest.
Megan: Yeah, f*ck Farmville!
Matt: Yes… Minow….Minoa…Minoan..
Me: Exactly. Wait, what?
Matt: The old Greek… in old Greece…
Me: Nope, I still don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about.
Matt: You know, non-confrontational kind of Greeks… all they wanted to do was farm.
Me: Really?
Megan: Oh, how lovely!
Me: Presumably they got massacred by the really confrontational ones?
Matt: Yes, yes they did.
Me: You seem to know a lot about Ancient Greece.
Matt: Yeah, I like a bit of Ancient Greece…

[Apologies to historians for the utter bollocks being spoken and to other readers for the general waffle, but I’m transcribing verbatim from a recording.]

Me: So would you play Century Spice Road again or would you prefer to wait and see what happens with the other titles in the planned trilogy?
Matt: It would be a two-player game for me.
Megan: I think I just prefer playing Splendor.
Me: It definitely went a lot quicker. Like it was half the time to play…
Megan: It’s because no matter what, you get to pick up chips.
Matt: Yeah, like in Spice Road one of your actions was to just pick up your cards which feels like a completely pointless action, whereas in Splendor, even if you don’t pick up cards you’re picking up chips.
Me: So you feel like you’re wasting your go just picking up your cards back into your hand?
Megan: It’s not a waste if the game goes fast, but if the game goes slow…
Me: But that was your first game of Spice Road
Megan: I don’t think it would go quicker next time.
Me: No?
Megan: No. Like I get it. I got how it all worked within two turns but…
Me: But it required more thinking each turn.
Matt: Well you had to work out your upgrade paths didn’t you? You’re thinking two or three moves ahead whereas with Splendor only one or maybe two.
Me: So not a Splendor Killer then?
Megan: No.
Matt: No.
Megan: Can we play Taboo now?
Me/Matt: NO.

Century Spice Road vs Splendor - Century Spice Road cubes

Plenty of Custard, Mint and Strawberries for my plans. All I need now is some Chocolate and I’m sorted.

I’m a little more on the fence about CSR, even though I take the points of my compadres. I like the gameplay and it’s a little more cerebral than Splendor (although not a lot). Sure, it’s just cube-shuffling, but it’s fairly enjoyable cube-shuffling and I found the deck- and engine-building mechanics satisfying.

Although the game was substantially longer, I didn’t feel it dragged, however there wasn’t the same acceleration of play you get with Splendor, where the increase of claimed cards makes the acquisition of more that much easier and faster, until suddenly the game is over and you’ve lost/won. Plus of course unlike CSR you don’t have to mess around adding up victory points.

I suppose I’m also a little tired of Splendor. Not enough to not want to play it again, but given the choice I’d probably opt for CSR as it’s still novel. I’ll have to see how that pans out a few months down the line. It will also be fascinating to see how the game fits into the developers grand scheme of a trilogy of games all working together as a whole yet able to stand on their own two feet.

Perhaps then it will elevate CSR to heights lofty enough to topple Splendor, although by that time it will be a completely different game. That said, Splendor’s expansion is retail-imminent, which will probably pull it even further clear in the eyes of many.

Century Spice Road vs Splendor - Century trilogy

(Wine verdict: Well it’s quaffable enough, although a little on the sweet side, but a bit crap after the previous two. There again after the previous two’s consumption, the disparity in quality is way less noticeable. Good to finish the evening on… a bit like Hive, although arguably that little game is better than the two preceding it. I shouldn’t need to tell you about Hive. If you haven’t got it already, get it.)

Century Spice Road vs Splendor – Pointless Comparison Chart

Century Spice Road vs Splendor - Comparison chart


6 Responses

  1. Peter

    How fast do you play Splendor? I’ve played CSR four times and they’ve all clocked in around 20 minutes.

    • Guyblin

      Well it really depends on the level of wine ingested! It’s also hard to say as with both games the two-player game is much faster than with more players, but I always seem to find that regardless of player count, CSR seems to take about twice as long? I’ll try to get a better idea next play sessions… while everyone is still relatively sober 😉

  2. Behrooz 'Bez' Shahriari

    My take-away – if you’re a peaceful farmer you’ll get massacred. Although maybe this has changed in the modern world, given laws and harsher ramifications for murder and war.

    • Guyblin

      To be honest I’m not sure Matt’s take on the Minoan civilisation was particularly (or rather remotely) accurate in the first place 😉

  3. Giles Ward

    Seems fair enough. I played CSR at UKGE and felt that while it is similar in certain ways it is not necessarily a replacement for Splendor. I would quite happily play both. Splendor when there is less time and CSR when I want a change.

    As far as the wine is concerned, I really can’t stand the stuff so I couldn’t care less!


    • Guyblin

      Good to hear Giles, you non-wine drinking savage! 😉 Still, you’re right about the white stuff… well, unless you’re cleaning paintbrushes of course!


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