Playing games with kids can be a drag. 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 sealed the deal—those kids are great salespeople). I wanted a game to play with my niece and nephew that the adults could play without wanting to claw their brains out afterward. I just wasn’t expecting to play Incan Gold so much when only adults were present.
How It Works
Incan Gold is a press-your-luck game in the Gryphon Bookshelf Series. 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 decision cards for each player—one signifying explore further, the other return to camp.
In the deck of tunnel cards, there are fifteen treasure cards (numbered from 1 to 17) and fifteen hazard cards (three each of five different hazards), 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 when a card is added to the tunnel.
Each turn, 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. Players who leave split the treasure leftover on each prior tunnel card and are out for the remainder of the round, but their treasure is safe (can be put under their tents). If the card is a treasure, the number of gems on the card is split evenly among players still in the tunnel, with the remainder being placed on the card. If the card is a hazard, if it is the first of its type, it means nothing. But if it is the second hazard of a type, the tunnel collapses, and all players still in the tunnel lose all their treasure from the round. Then play moves to the next round.
Whenever a player or players go back to camp, whoever leaves splits the treasure on each card as evenly as possible, again, leaving any remainder on the card. Artifact cards are worth five or ten treasure each, but they can only be taken if a person leaves the tunnel alone; they cannot be split. Whoever has the most gems at the end of five rounds wins.
Explore Further, or Return to Camp?
What I like about Incan Gold is its simplicity. The rulebook 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 binary decision: press on further in the temple for the possibility of greater treasure or return to camp, securing your winnings. Because of this simplicity, it is a game that kids can easily join (and win), and it makes a great experience for the whole family. There is some amount of reading other players, especially where artifact cards are concerned, that provides an added layer of interest for the adults. Because players can only take artifacts if they leave the temple alone, they have to gauge when to leave (and if they misguess, another player may take 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 unless you leave very early, which happened to my niece, and while she whined about it and was near tears, she was back in the game three minutes later. The game also 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 light party game 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, especially when playing with a group of adults. 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 games 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 appetizer for other, meatier games, and it serves as a good game to loosen people up to have fun. It has also gone over well with almost every group I’ve ever brought it to (especially in family settings).
One of the problems @Futurewolfie had with Incan Gold in his few plays was 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. This is a just criticism of the larger game–we played with the full eight players the night he tried it–but this hasn’t been my experience since 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 in the second game we played 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 is. The gameplay, in my opinion, is optimum with 5-6 players.
The components of this game are high quality, though the cards started showing wear after just a few plays. The gems are an awesome thematic touch, as are the tent cards, which fold out to become actual tents. In general, I can’t give enough praise to the bookshelf series from Gryphon: the games are accessible, look good, and generally attract my friends and family to want to play them. Incan Gold is no exception (and For Sale is the best filler game I’ve played).
I’m not very good at Incan Gold, but it is still fun even when I lose, which I consider the mark of a good game. Incan Gold can wear out its welcome when it is the main entree of a game night, and it 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 excellent when used 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 that adults can also enjoy, you can’t do much better than Incan Gold.
A version of this review originally appeared on Tongue Fried Goat.