Topic of the Week: Splotter

Do you Splott?
How do you rate / rank the Splotters?
What defines “a Splotter?”
What game / designers / publishers have you found that are Splotter-adjacent? Does anything out Splotter Splotter?


And I’ll go first - I’ve never Splotted.

I own Great Zimbabwe, as the easiest to table. But given my current IRL people, even that has proven too much. One day I’m sure that will be my first. (And this was the entry point as usually it is the first answer to “are there any games like Tigris & Euphrates?” so it had long been pegged as an object of interest.)

I have pre-ordered Indonesia as it is one that I would really like to experience, and, in this genre, if I don’t own it I’ll never get to experience it.

I’ve declined to buy Food Chain Magnate at good prices at least twice. I’m still not sure if it was right or wrong, but I was convinced that the [play time + play complexity + unforgiving nature of the game ] was an equation for failure with most anyone I might play with.


If you want to mitigate the unforgiving bit, what I do is to tell people to grab the recruiter girl or the trainer at Round 1 and tell them to pay attention to the milestones on Round 2. That way, there’s hand holding on opening strategy. Showing this to newbies this way works, and the following rounds are fine because engine-building is something that board gamers tend to be familiar with.

1 Like

I’ve played exactly one game of Food Chain Magnate, I didn’t hate it but game owner did a gotcha with a discounter(?) which put me off. Basically said I’ve got this employee that allows me to sell to a house nearer your restaurant.

The general felling of a Splotter (from what I get) is the lack of guard rails. Like Roads and Boats gives you money to buy stuff you need to get started rather than just giving you the stuff.

1 Like

They tend to like their logistics gameplay as the most prominent design. So, I would look for logistics-focused games like Neuland, Container, and King Chocolate. Except these are rather straight forward. Splotters are not THAT elegant with their rules, but remains more elegant than a lot of heavy or mid weight Euros. Bus is the only exception to this.


How do you rate / rank the Splotters?

I’ll buy these again if my collection got burnt to ashes - in ranking order

  • The Great Zimbabwe
  • Indonesia
  • Food Chain Magnate
  • Bus

Great game, will probably not get it again. But happy to keep them as items in my collection

  • Ur 1830 BC
  • Duck Dealer
  • Horseless Carriage (sold)
  • Antiquity

Didn’t love it. Maybe I need to play it more

  • Roads & Boats

WTF is this?

  • VOC! Founding the Dutch East Indies Company

Never Splotted. Probably never will, as I am the main purchaser of the various games that get played in my group, and all the games we play usually take twice as long as they should due to child interruption, the complexity of the games just would not go over well. At best, I may get around to one at a convention or something, but not holding my breath.



  • Bus – (Capstone Edition)
    • Haven’t played but it should be a game that fits well with my tastes.

  • Food Chain Magnate
    • Haven’t played this one, either. I’m less convinced by this design, but picked it up anyway because of the nature of Splotters being hard to find later. Not interested in the upcoming big box deluxe edition

  • The Great Zimbabwe
    • Unplayed. I have a feeling that this will be a hit with a few of my gaming friends; unfortunately, I haven’t really had a chance to play games with those people in the last 4 years or so. Oh well, I’m patient and so are they.

  • Roads & Boats
    • The sandboxiest of sandboxes? About 75% of the game is actually in how the rules interact with the players, rather than the rules interacting with other rules. I’ve played multiplayer, but only by way of play-by-post and it’s hard to sink my brain into that sort of experience. I’ve also played solo, but the solo mode becomes a pretty bland optimization puzzle, I’ve found.

  • Roads & Boats
    • I own this one as well, but see above for detail.

  • Roads & Boats
    • I also own this one, but my thoughts are roughly the same as the previous game.


  • Indonesia – I’m pretty sure this would be my style of game. It’s just hard to justify at the moment without any regular, heavy gaming and all these other non-solo heavy games already waiting.
  • Antiquity – I think I’ve established that I don’t need this one. I think it’s a bit too rote and a lot too brutal.
  • Horseless Carriage – I didn’t look too much into this but what I saw seemed pretty easy to pass on.
  • Ur: 1830 BC – because of my interest in 18xx, I’ve been eyeing this one often over the years. I’ve determined, by seeing other people discuss it, that it’s probably not “great” but, instead, “interesting”. If I found it for a good price, I would probably buy it, as a curio if nothing else, but not in a hurry to pay a lot of money for it.
  • all the other ones – maybe there’s some wheat in here, but it mostly looks like chaff. If there was good stuff in here, we’d be seeing get reprinted, I would imagine – like Ur: 1830 BC, for example.

It’s a family show site!
But, I have been known to Splott from time to time.

Numerically, usually.

Designed by Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga, primarily. Secondarily would be if it was published by Splotter Spellen.

I think Cole Wehrle may come the closest to out-Splottering Splotter? Or at least vying for similar design-space.

Without really knowing the true meaning of Splotter, I would guess Feudum?


Okay, fine. Let’s break it down and talk about what “Splotter” means.

I would say, principally, we’d be looking at game designs where interesting decisions aren’t sacrificed
for the sake of reducing the complexity of the game-state or the rules.

They, Splotter, are famous for the sentiment (paraphrased), “If you can’t lose on the first turn, why would it be part of the game?” So, we can see, all of your decisions should be impactful to the game state; and all of them substantially impactful.

There’s also a rather cutthroat nature to the games – if you are to win, you must do so at others’ expense. There’s very little room for “you do that, and I’ll do this, and we’ll see how our scores add up at the end”.


I used to live in Splott… (an area of Cardiff)


I chuffin love the Splotters I love.

Indonesia is I think my favourite to play. The strategic space is so deep and varied. I think the most 18xx like but also very much it’s own thing. I love the way every move from every player spirals the game state and navigating that is just interesting. It also has the pleasure of things being reasonably calculable to a point where you then need to make your decisions based on gut instinct and supposition of what your fellow players may do. It does have a weakness though of the players need to make this self balancing. Last game a chain of reactions meant I left someone on competition with another player and they did a bad job so the person they failed to check just won easily. Similarly I’ve seen a game won when someone handed a player a total monopoly which was obvious but they were being stroppy. So it’s knife edge on player skill making satisfying outcomes but the journey is always so rich.

Food Chain Magnate not my favourite but still in my top 3 games, all games not just Splotter’s. If I could only own one Splotter it would be this one. I think it’s the most robust as I think it’s the least prone to weak play handing out a victory arbitrarily. I think it also has a varied feeling of form between the map layout and the tech tree each player develops via their employees. I also really like the art which isn’t a universal opinion. I actually dislike the look of the deluxe one. Although the openings are limited I think it opens up nicely and has years of play in it. Reading the map and the employee potential of other players are the first level of competent play but I’ve not played enough to know what the next levels are. Plenty more for me to explore here.

The Great Zimbabwe is the third of the best 3 to me. It’s faster, that’s good, but my criticism is that where FCM is won by good play I find TGZ is lost when ability to stop a player from winning runs out. Maybe that’s like Inis? I think it takes good play to be in a position where you can win but I don’t like it as much without the powerful moves winning you a game. I also wonder of my dyspraxia makes the game state harder for me to read as it’s less inclined to abstracting out to a number head grid. Fun theme though and a fun game.

I have owned and sold Antiquity, Bus and Roads & Boats. I won’t criticise as this post is already long. I own Horseless Carriage and will most likely sell it but I may not. It was good but not as great as the others I like. It may be because I’m more jaded than when I first played the others. It may also be because I’ve since started playing 18xx. It may also be because I need to give it time to learn enough about the nuances to enjoy it more. It could also not be as good :man_shrugging:. As I have more gaming constraints these days I may not play more to find the nuances and just move on.


I played TGZ for the first time this weekend, my first in person Splotter having played two excellent PBF games

I think there is too much going on in the ones I’ve played with too many consequences of your actions for me to enjoy playing them.

I think they’re an innovative company and I can see why people love their output, but they’re too much for my taste.


What defines Splotters?

  • Lots of cardboard tokens
  • A certain box size (with exceptions–looking at Bus and Roads&Boats of course)
  • The cheapest art possible–is it still art if its just stick figures?
  • Nobody in my group buys them
  • I will probably have to beg my locals to play with me–if I ever get that far

So ownership:

  • Cannes–exiled. It resides at my sister’s as previously mentioned a few times. That was years ago. I punched it, tried to learn the rules. And concluded this was not a game for me. After that I was careful with game recommendations from the friend who told me at SPIEL that this was awesome. 20 years later or so we both know that we have a very small overlap of what we like.
  • FCM–unplayed, I tried multi-handing for rules learning, which I quickly abandoned it felt like the game was dead without actual other players.
  • TGZ–half-played. This one I actually finished a 2-handed learning game of. I still believe that I could get my partner to try this with me. But it’ll cost me …


  • Antiquity–playing and losing vs @Benkyo was so much fun that I can’t wait for Splotter to announce a reprint, please? After Indonesia?

Indonesia looks intriguing. But I should probably stay away from it. Because I would not buy FCM again, having realized that it is only ever getting to my table if someone asks for it. But the people who might even consider FCM are much more likely to request Revive, Pax Pamir, Spirit Island or even Frosthaven. I am more likely to get Voidfall to the table than FCM–it helps that Voidfall has a playable solo-mode that helps me retain the rules.

Splotters feel like games for people who have game-clubs and dedicated gaming groups. People like me who have to rely on their partner who isn’t a hobby gamer and the occasional game-night with friends are not the target audience–no matter how much I would love to play if someone else wanted to bring it to the table.


To me this doesn’t fit the bill. Lacks the elegance of rules lightness and too much of the wrestling is with the games system’s complexity rather than wielding them against the opponents. Also there are too many points where the systems get gummed up which also un splotters it for me.

So as to what makes a Splotter. Light and elegant rules with complex strategic situations that are player driven with low to no game component randomness would be my first draft answer. Going by this I’d suggest the closest games I have played are Paris Connection and Chicago Express.


Yes, I Splott.

Roads & Boats
The Great Zimbabwe
Horseless Carriage
Food Chain Magnate

In that order, probably.

Splotters are player-driven, eschewing rule complexity and optimization puzzles to create intense competition between players with no guard rails. Little or no randomness, maybe with uncertainty introduced by having simultaneous hidden action selection (usually the only exception to near-perfect information - everything is visible and open). I’m reminded of a now-deleted blog post by a designer named Simmons that helped me understand how things like simultaneous hidden action selection or hidden units can serve the same function as drawing chits or rolling dice.

The only Splotter-adjacent games out there that I know of are all the 18xx games, which are similar in a lot of ways, but as I understand it usually have no randomness or simultaneous hidden action selection or humour, which I think leaves 18xx games a step behind. I think Wehrle (who @pillbox mentioned above) is not at all Splottery, and wouldn’t want to be. He has that emphasis on player-driven direct competition, but is more interested in “chrome”, for want of a better word (tying in to a historical theme and argument), and seemingly a big fan of large amounts of randomness.

I think (hope) @yashima was misled by the ugly early Cannes, as I think the Splotter artists who worked on some of their later games did a fantastic job. Definitely not “stick figures”. Solid art direction with definite aims that were achieved. Clarity first and foremost, but also strong evocation of theme.

Much as I love Splotter games, they are remarkably hard to table, because people don’t like getting crushed when they lose, or having to learn how to not lose. There’s also no outlet to blame the dice or cards - if you lost, it was because of what players did. Online, with other Splotter fans, seems to be the way to go. Except for The Great Zimbabwe, which seems sufficiently short and approachable (and Bus, if I liked Bus more).


Some people Splott.
They Splott a lot sir.
I do not Splott.
No, not a jot sir.


I find that with some people even cards and dice aren’t enough for blaming. I often wonder if any game where experienced people are playing quickly the shrinking of the space for mistakes to be made then brought back from can be enough for some people to react badly. Also a feeling of something missing as not enough mastery to see what others are doing and the subtleties of the game state misattributes the being lost to not liking the game. Kind of an ego thing?

I can think of a game of Food Chain Magnate where a competitive new player had all the warnings and when the game turned to a victory we explained what was going on and wanted to demonstrate the last turn for experience and learning but they were getting shirty with the game. So that fits this discussion. I can also clearly remember a game of Oh My Goods where the 4th person joined in after an absence where 3 of us got in to it. They felt similarly lost and disliked it. Obviously many examples but these 2 stick out for me and I have pondered them and Oh My Goods is a more normal card game so a counter point here. I wonder if Splotter’s being so different to most modern games the dislike is amplified as there’s less to hang on to in terms of transferrable skills from resource games and the like.


I’ve hardly Splotted, I have only played Bus many years ago when I was still in the UK (late 2000s, early 2010s?) Somehow I found it hard then (I did not have the board game baggage I have now), but I really enjoyed it. It was sold to me like “it is way, way better than Catan”, but then again, I have never played Catan, so the comparison fell moot in my case. I would really love to play it again, but I don’t know anybody who owns it.


I’ve seen a significant number of people who think that games that are designed to give artificially close scores are a good thing. I’m starting to suspect that it’s an ego thing.


Bus is a really stingy game. You have 20 actions and it initially seems like you should be able to get more buses and score more than 1 point per action eventually, but ending the game with more than 10 points is a real challenge. The score track doesn’t even go past 20.

There’s a recently developed, very good online browser option to play Bus over at onlineboardgamers.

@EnterTheWyvern @lalunaverde Sometimes I wonder if the kind of people who might like Splotters are the kind of people who only play chess. Meanwhile, the people who actually get into “the hobby” mostly seem to like some other aspect of gaming. It does surprise me that chess is so popular, and yet the crossover of people who play modern board games and chess seems to be very low. I should probably roll in Go, Shogi, and Xiang Qi (especially for people who think chess is flawed).