Buzzworthiness: Incan Gold

This week’s review is late due to The Eleven being o a Wednesday this week.  But never fear – here’s a review of

image by BGG user l10n0fjudah
image by BGG user l10n0fjudah

Incan Gold is a 2006 game from designers Alan R. Moon and Bruno Faidutti.  It was originally published by Sunriver Games, and is now published by Grphon.  The game is for 3-8 players, takes 20 minutes, and is based on Moon and Faidutti’s Diamant, released the year before.  In Incan Gold, players are treasure hunters going into an Incan temple and trying to get out with as much loot as they can.  Unfortunately, there are hazards at every turn, so you may get nothing at all.

The game comes with 15 treasure cards, 15 hazard cards, 5 artifact cards, 8 tents, 8 entry cards, 8 exit cards, 5 level cards, and a whole bunch of gems in turquoise, obsidian, and gold (worth 1-5-10).  Each player has a tent and a set of entry/exit cards.  In each round, players will be delving into a different level of the temple, as tracked by the level cards.  Your choice is very simple: either you’re in or you’re out.  Players choose the enter or exit card secretly and reveal at the same time.  The next card of the temple deck is revealed, and the process continues.

There are two types of temple cards – treasures and hazards.  When continuing into the temple, a treasure card will show a number of gems from 1-17.  You split this evenly among all people still in the temple, with any remainders left on the card.  Gems are kept outside of your tent.  A hazard does nothing…the first time.  If a hazard comes out a second time, anyone still in the temple loses everything they have acquired so far as they run away screaming.  There are five types of hazards, and three copies of each in the deck.

So if you choose to continue, you have the possibility of more treasure or of losing it all.  If you choose to exit, you will put all gems outside of your tent inside your tent.  Additionally, you get to take any remainders that have been left on cards. If multiple people leave at the same time, you have to split the remainders.

The round is over once all explorers have left, or once the second hazard of a type comes out.  Shuffle up the cards and go to the next level.  After the fifth round, the player who has collected the most treasure is the winner.

COMPONENTS: The Gryphon edition made a number of improvements over the original Sunriver edition, including linen finished cards and actual tents.  The “tents” in the original version were cards that you had to fold to make your tents.  They ended up looking really ratty with the crease down the middle.  Gryphon chose to include premade tents, and they are much nicer.  The cards, too, are sturdier and hold up to more play than the original.  The box is also a different shape to fit in with Gryphon’s bookshelf line.  It works well for the game, but is still a little big – you don’t really need all that space for a deck of cards and some gems.

Other than these changes, the editions are the same – same art, same plastic gems.  The art is clear and effective – the snake hazard is particularly frightening – and there are plenty of gems to go around during the game.  Great components.

THEME: The premise is that you are entering five different levels of a temple, searching for treasure.  And as honest adventurers, you are splitting the loot evenly.  The first time you see a hazard card, it’s like you saw it from a distance and are on alert.  The second time you see it, you are so scared that you leave without any of the loot you’ve collected.  The family-friendliness of the theme is helped in that you don’t die, and the game length of playing five rounds is served by this thematic touch as well.  It is a good theme, if maybe a little overdone.  But it works for this game.

MECHANICS: Incan Gold is a push-your-luck style of game.  There is simultaneous action selection in choosing whether you’re going in or out, and there are math skills involved as you divide the loot (time to hone your division skills).  The hazards serve the game in providing a reason to leave, and the way they are introduced is quite brilliant – instead of losing as soon as you see one, it’s like the warning before the strike.  There’s not much reason to leave until you see a hazard.  Once you do, however, any card could end the game.  The fact that there are five hazard types just increase the tension – you may not have lost yet, but there’s a rock slide, spiders, snake, fire trap, and zombie already out, so maybe you might want to leave.

Another thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the artifacts.  One of these is added to the deck per round, and adds an extra layer to your choice.  The first three that come out are worth five points, and the last two are worth ten.  To add some stress to the decision, you only get them if you are the only one to leave since you can’t split an artifact.

The mechanics of the game are very simple, but very effective.  They work well to keep you playing.

STRATEGY LEVEL: This game is a push-your-luck game, with the operative word being “luck”.  You can try to read your opponents and decide when they’re going to leave or continue so you can maximize your profit, but it really is going to come down to the cards.  It’s all about how far you’re willing to push it.  There’s nothing to prepare you for the likelihood that the first five cards are all going to be hazards, or that you’re going to decide to leave just before the 17 treasure card comes out.  This game is low strategy, it’s more like a gamble.  Without the financial aftereffects.

ACCESSIBILITY: This game is one of the easiest out there to teach because there’s only one thing you need to do – choose whether you’re in or out.  The rest of it is just logistics.  It’s incredibly simple, and still a ton of fun.  This game can be played and enjoyed by ANYONE of any gaming level.

REPLAYABILITY: This is a game I can play over and over and over, and it never gets old.  It changes every time, and that tension of making the one simple decision keeps the game fresh.

SCALABILITY: This game plays with 3-8 players, and I say the more, the better.  As you get to higher player numbers, you’re going to get lower scores as the split payouts are lower, but there’s the potential for the last couple of people to race ahead with some bigger payouts.  I wouldn’t really want to play with three, and I’d say 6 is probably the best number, but I’d honestly play this with most player counts.

FOOTPRINT: Incan Gold is a pretty small game.  It doesn’t take up much space.  Most of the board space is taken up by the level cards, and the path you create.  Each player also needs a spot for their tent.  However, this game is still playable with limited space as long as people can keep track of their own treasures.

LEGACY: I have not played Diamant, so I can’t really compare this to that.  However, I will say that this is absolutely the gold standard in pure push-your-luck games.  Can’t Stop is another great one, but Incan Gold can handle more players and has significantly less downtime.  Also, it’s a fantastic gateway game that can really teach the push-your-luck style and provide great fun.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I love this game.  It has worked with every group I’ve played with.  Of course, as with anything, it’s not for everyone, but the vast majority of people have had a great time with it.  So check it out.  Thanks for reading!

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