Monday, February 14, 2011

Quest for Riches in the Ruins

Playing games with kids can be a drag sometimes. You have to put up with the tantrums. You have to spend lots of time explaining and correcting. And, worst of all, most games for kids are just not fun for adults to play. Uno? Life? Even Clue? No thanks. This was primarily my reasoning behind trying Incan Gold, a 3-8 player party game based on Diamant (and this video review was what convinced me--those kids are great salespeople). I wanted a game to play with my niece and nephew that the adults would enjoy, too. I just wasn't expecting to play it so much when only adults are present.

Incan Gold is a press-your-luck game. The game comes with a tent for each player, a deck of tunnel cards, five cards to keep track of which round is being played, gems (the treasure!), and a set of cards for each player--one signifying explore further, the other signifying return to camp. In the deck of tunnel cards, there are fifteen treasure cards and fifteen hazard cards (three each of five different hazards--falling rocks, spiders, mummies, fire, and snakes), and one artifact card is added in each round. Because of this, the probability is pretty even between a hazard or a treasure turning up. Players secretly select whether they will explore further or go back to camp, then all players reveal their decision simultaneously. Tunnel cards are turned up one at a time after players have decided to leave or stay. Treasure cards are split evenly among the players still in the tunnel. The first of any kind of hazard card means nothing, but if a second hazard card of that type turns up, the tunnel collapses, and all players still left in the tunnel lose all their treasure from the round. Then play moves to the next round.

That's the basics of how to play. Treasure is always split evenly, and the remainder stays on the treasure card. So if a treasure card shows 17 gems and there are six players exploring, each player gets two gems, and five get placed on the card. Whenever a player or players go back to camp, whoever leaves splits the treasure on each card evenly. (In the example above, if one person left, he would take all five gems on the 17 card; if two left, they would each get two; and so on.) Artifact cards are worth five or ten gems each, but they can only be taken if a person leaves the tunnel alone, that is, they cannot be split. Whoever has the most gems at the end of five rounds wins.

What I like about Incan Gold is its simplicity. The rule book is four small pages, and it takes less than five minutes to teach. There is no in-game text aside from the numbers on the treasure cards, and each turn involves a simple decision between two possibilities--press on further in the temple for the possibility of greater treasure or return to camp, securing your winnings. Because of this simplicity, it should be a game that kids can easily join (and win). There is some amount of reading other players, especially where artifact cards are concerned. Because a player can only take an artifact if he leaves the temple alone, he has to gauge when to leave (and if he misguesses, another player may take it, or he may leave in a group, meaning no one gets it). I also like that, over other press-your-luck games, specifically dice-based ones, every player plays at all times. There is very little down time, and the game builds good tension. The theme is strong, and I, at least, feel like Indiana Jones when I'm playing--always a good thing. I like that this is a light party game that gets and keeps everyone involved.

That being said, Incan Gold's greatest strength--its simplicity--is also its greatest weakness. Because the game is simple, it cannot sustain extended play (which can be said for most light party games, depending on your group). I enjoy it whenever I play this game, but it feels somehow unfulfilling. On the other hand, I have never played just one, or even two or three, games of Incan Gold in a sitting. It's easy to play four or five without giving a second thought. It is a fast and fun game, and it leaves the players itching for more (especially if they lost). It's a good gateway into other, deeper games, and it serves as a good game to loosen people up to have fun.

One of the problems that a friend had with the game is its seeming reward for cowardly players. To him it seemed that those who returned to camp got the greatest rewards while those who pressed on often returned to camp empty handed. (He attributes this to the deck's containing three of each hazard card, making them turn up often.) This is a just criticism of the larger game--we played with eight players the night he tried it--but this hasn't been my experience in smaller games. Obviously when more players are playing, each player gets a smaller cut of each treasure card, and the hazards do turn up sooner than you'd like. We remedied this by removing one of each hazard, stacking the deck in the players' favor, and it worked well this way with eight players. In 4-6 player games, though, I think the game is fine as written. I think the gameplay is optimum with 5-6 players.

I'm not very good at Incan Gold (I've mentioned before that I would be the most boring person to watch on Deal or No Deal because I would play too conservatively), but it is still fun even when I lose, which I consider the mark of a good game. Incan Gold isn't great if you're looking for a strategy-intensive game, or even a game that will keep people occupied for hours. But it is good for what it is, and if you're looking for an ice-breaking, simple diversion, a gateway into deeper games, or a game to be played with kids, it will certainly not disappoint.


  1. I could see it working a lot better with fewer players. The wealth would spread a lot more thickly, making it more worthwhile for the middling players to abandon ship.

    With 8 people splitting the wealth, the 1st person to leave gets all the good leftovers, and the people remaining still don't get much as far as reward, so it's hardly worth it to leave, but then the rewards continue to get stretched thin until the tunnel collapses...

  2. I think your solution to remove one of each hazard made the 8-player game work better, but it doesn't solve the problem of the treasure being spread too thinly. Still, I think it's fun, though most fun with 5-6 players.