View From Taft

Splendor is a tabletop card-based game created by Marc Andre, designed by Pascal Quidault, and first released by Space Cowboys in 2014. At first glance, the game looks complicated, maybe even daunting, because the cards look a bit like those of Magic: The Gathering, another card game. I was delighted to learn that some topics I learned in business school are demonstrated in Splendor. Below are my top management and economics lessons from Splendor.
Splendor is a race to 15 prestige points, played by 2 to 4 players. The players are merchants who take turns in getting gems and gold tokens, which are used to purchase development cards that symbolize mines, transportation methods, and artisans, which will allow you to earn points, as well as get bonus gems that can be used to buy other development cards.
At every turn, a player can get tokens, purchase a card, or reserve a card, which he or she may not be able to afford yet, but will be working towards paying off. A player usually uses the first few turns to collect tokens until he or she has enough to buy cards. Once he or she has enough tokens, the decision to either use the turn for collecting more tokens or letting go of some of these tokens to buy a card becomes harder.
Many of us face a similar dilemma in real life: should I continue working at my current job, or use the resources that I have already saved to invest in something that could make me happier and/or earn more money in the future, such as an entrepreneurial venture or a graduate degree? In economics, an opportunity cost is the cost of the option that one did not take. Unfortunately, most of us cannot tell beforehand which opportunity costs are worth it. We just have to keep playing long enough to know for sure.
To facilitate transactions, this game uses tokens and development cards. If you use tokens to purchase a development card, the tokens are returned to the bank for the other players to use. If you use a development card to buy another card, you still get to keep the card you used for succeeding transactions, making it a renewable resource. However, there are only 7 tokens for each of the 5 kinds of gems (emerald, sapphire, ruby, diamond, and onyx), and only 5 gold tokens. The number of tokens per gem is reduced to 5 if there are only 3 players, or to 4 if there are only 2 players.
Tokens are limited resources; when they get depleted, players have to wait until the stocks are replenished to be able to use them again. To earn the 15 points as quickly as possible, players cannot depend solely on the limited tokens that can be spent only once. They ought to also invest in something that they can use over and over.
Splendor allows players to hold 10 tokens at a time. However, that doesn’t prevent some players from hoarding one type of gem. After a few rounds, the rest of the players will have a shortage of diamonds or rubies, making it difficult or even impossible for them to purchase cards. Meanwhile, the hoarder sits on his or her loot and refuses to spend them and put them back in circulation. He or she eventually makes a grand purchase, which allows him or her to earn the 15 points and end the game.
Of course, all the other players will laugh and talk jokingly about how crafty the hoarder’s moves were. But you can be sure that in the next round, these players will gang up on the hoarder and block his or her every move. Worse, the hoarder might not be invited to the next game.
Splendor reminds me of why countries have anti-hoarding laws. In economics, I learned that when I deposit my savings in a bank, my money can be used by other entities to expand their businesses. However, if I merely keep my cash in a coin bank or under my mattress, nobody benefits from it until it is spent or invested.
I don’t know if the game developers intended to impart these lessons to Splendor players. It would be interesting to find out if playing this game in class and relating it to the above topics will reinforce a student’s understanding of and appreciation for economics.
Liza Mae L. Fumar is a PhD in Business student of De La Salle University, where she also teaches Management and Organization and Human Behavior in Organizations.