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 concept. 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.