Sunday, January 9, 2011

Explore further! Explore Further! Go back to Camp! (First impressions of Incan Gold)

I had an excellent evening this past friday night, playing games with a large group of friends.  Since we're talking about board games and not teen partying, 'large' is 7 people, too many to play certain games like Catan, Smallworld, or Dominion.  However we did pull out some old favorites - Falling and the Great Dalmuti - and one new game - Incan Gold.  Falling was a blast as always, and I was surprised how well it worked even with 6 "goblins" falling at once.  Space gets a little tight when everyone's trying to reach over each other, but I think a big crowd makes it all the more entertaining.  Dalmuti is a casual classic, a good finisher to any game night as rounds are fast and you can play as long as you like without requiring much energy.
Incan Gold, however, was a new experience, and I thought I might as well share my impressions.

In Incan gold, you are Indiana-Jones style explorers heading deep into a Mayan cave to recover treasure. The mechanic is simple.  Each turn, players secretly decide whether they want to explore further, or head back to camp.  If they return to camp, they keep all the treasure they've collected and split any treasure left on the ground with any others who leave at the same time.  Each player who continues, however, has a chance of finding even more treasure as they explore to split evenly with the others who explore (leaving the extra for the next person who leaves the tomb to collect) - but they also have a chance of meeting their untimely doom and losing all the treasure from that round.

I think this is a great concept and good for a larger group of gamers, especially a mixed group of more involved gamers and... you know... normal people.  The risk/reward system is exciting and energetic without being too complicated to put-off nongamers. However, I'm not sure that Incan Gold does all that great a job with that potential.  The concepts are there but something isn't quite right with the system.

 The main problem, I feel, is that the risk/reward system is far too skewed against the "risk."  The person who ended with the most treasure at the end was rarely, if ever, one of the people who took big risks to score more treasure.  Usually it was the person who bugged out first, avoiding death while picking up a small amount of treasure.  Part of this was because of the excessive number of traps.  It takes two identical hazards to kill the remaining explorers, but half the cards are traps, and there are 3 of each kind.  That makes it far too likely that two identical traps will be encountered. That means that those who took a risk rarely ever got anything and treasure gains were skewed heavily towards those who wimped out early.  The risk-takers rarely accrued enough treasure to make it worth retreating, and they generally died before getting close to a point of "I have a lot of treasure... should I be greedy and go for more, or save what I have now?"  Only once did this happen, and this was after we decided to modify the game ourselves and removed the 3rd card of each hazard.

Simply put, a risk/reward game should offer actual reward to the risk takers.  This just rarely ever happened.  Many kept taking risks in hopes that the deck would finally swing their way.  Especially after the first person ran, picking up all the leftovers of the treasure, there was hardly any treasure to claim.  There was rarely any limit to be pushed.  We all wanted treasure to heap down and make it a real challenge to decide when to leave.  Instead, it generally got to a point where it wasn't worth leaving even to claim the treasure you had, and so you would continue on, and then you would die. Die die die, that's all that seemed to happen.  It was continually anti-climactic as the brave ones died without gaining half the wealth of the early leavers.  The game should have focused on who was willing to stay to find more treasure.  Instead it became more about who would leave first and collect all the leftover treasure.  Defeating the risk/reward system completely.
I think the game got a lot better when we removed the 3rd card of each hazard from the deck.  That made it far less likely that each hazard would reach its pair.  The risk/reward system suddenly produced actual rewards thus making the risk more real.

Ultimately, the game is just flawed, despite its strong conflict.  That being said, however, it did provide the group with an enjoyable experience.  Despite the frustration of the risk never ever paying off, there was plenty of excitement and tension as we waited to turn over the next card.  It was good for a variety of skill levels, with our personality types coming out in humorous ways during the decision-making process.  Really, you could say that the fun came from the people, not the game, but that may be partially true of any board game.
Incan Gold is not an expensive game, and it fits up to 8 players which is a bonus.  Still, it could use a bit of refinement and I highly recommend removing one of each hazard to make it more fun.


  1. I agree with your review...mostly. I was a bit disappointed in the actual game, considering the reviews were as glowing as they were.

    However, I think it deserves another shot. The split is a little over 50% in favor of the treasure, and it's not quite true that the most cowardly players were the ones who won. In fact, the game that most rewarded the cowardly player was the one we played after removing the third card of each hazard.

    The game still has going for it, I think, that it can be played with all skill levels and with young kids. (I bought the game partly for large groups, but mostly so I could play something other than Uno with the nieces and nephews.) I think Incan Gold deserves another go. That's all I'm sayin'.

  2. It can be tough to play with 6+ people, my game group tends to split into smaller games when we get over 5 players but we're all there to play games so having everyone in the same game isn't as important as a group of friends that all want to hang out together.

    I can't remember if you've mentioned it before but Citadels can play up to 7 and is fun if you have a group that doesn't mind being mean to each other. I find it drags a little with larger groups but it could still be worth trying. A new great large group game is 7 Wonders which just got through with its first printing and may be hard to find until a second run comes out. It's a drafting game for up to 7 players and has simultaneous actions which is important for making large group games not drag.

    On the topic of Incan Gold, did you guys remove the Hazard that triggers the round end each round? This should make each round slightly longer and increase the risk/reward system as the game progresses. Also, did you play with the Artifact cards? This can encourage players to leave early thus increasing the reward for those that stay longer.

    Did you have a lot of players that were playing it risky for most of the game? If this is the case then the reward for pushing your luck would decrease and potentially favor those who played it safe each round. This is also where the artifact cards could help to add additional incentive for players to leave the temple early.

    I think you should give it another go as the game was designed (with all 3 hazards of each type).

    If you're looking for other push your luck type games I would highly recommend Can't Stop (2-4 players, dice game) and Ra (2-5 players, auction game).

  3. Snugs, we did move the one hazard each round. Maybe we were just hitting a run of bad luck but even later rounds would end very very soon. We generally had a lot of the players playing it risky, but since the rounds lasted maybe 4-5 cards there wasn't a lot of chance for people to abandon the trip one by one. Usually we'd go 2-3 rounds, then one or two people would leave, then another 2 rounds and everyone else would die. The people who stayed rarely got a chance to accrue extra wealth over those who left early.

    I'm definitely willing to give it another try. I definitely had fun with the group there.

  4. I decided to review this one, too:


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