Sunday, August 9, 2009

Amuse-bouche: Why I'm not sold on Incan Gold

Perhaps my experience of Incan Gold was tainted by the first play when, with a runaway leader going in to the final round, there was no way anyone else was going to win.

With hindsight, I did go into this game expecting greater depth rather than treat it like the light piece of fun that it is designed to be.

The thing is, I do like light, fun, anyone-can-win style games (Zombie Fluxx being a prime example); I just don't like the uncertainty of the whole press your luck genre.

For the uninitiated, Incan Gold is an, erm, Incan themed treasure hunt card game where each turn every player must decide whether they wish to remain in the current round ("exploring the temple") or not. For those that stay in, a card is turned over. If that card contains treasure, those players still in the round share the treasure evenly amongst themselves, with any remainder placed on the card.

If the card turned over is a "danger" (ie. snake, spider, zombie, fire, rock fall), no one receives anything. However, there are three of each type of danger, and should one danger appear for the second time in the round, all players still exploring run screaming from the temple, dropping all their ill gotten gains in the process.

The crux of the game is, therefore, to decide at what point you wish to quit the round so as to safely stow your treasure. Obviously, until at least one danger card appears (they make up just under 50% of the deck) there is no benefit to departing the temple, but once a danger appears, you have to weigh up the risk of remaining in the round, as well as the likely decisions of the other players.

If you are the only player who quits the round on a particular turn, you get to take all the treasure still sitting on the cards that couldn't be divided between the players when it was discovered. Of course, your share diminishes if you depart at the same time as another player, so that's where factoring in the other players' decisions comes in to the equation.

The two games of Incan Gold we played were vastly different, and showed the two types of strategy that I think are likely to succeed. They also illustrated just what a random game this is.

We played with eight players in each game, which in itself makes a huge difference as to how much treasure you get, as more players are likely to leave the temple at the same time as you if the treasure is enticing enough.

One particular player proved to be more reckless, or foolhardy, than everyone else, and was always the last player remaining in each round. As a strategy, it's not the smartest thing to do, but it paid off handsomely in game one. With a massive haul all to himself, he finally left the temple in Round 4 with a total of 37 gems to his name.

This was significantly more than anyone else, and made the final round something of an anticlimax. No one was ever going to reach the same score, so it became a situation where you might as well stay in the round for as long as possible, risks be damned.

The same strategy was applied by this player in the second game, but failed dismally as he finished that game with no treasure what so ever. I found myself employing the same strategy as by that time I didn't really care how I went. I did, however, decide I'd rather not finish scoreless so I jumped out of Round 4 with 13 gems.

Round 5 was another anticlimax when the first four cards dealt were dangers, two of which were the same, so no one scored anything in that round.

Fortunes were reversed in game two as the winner of that game had lost the first. His 32 gems were amassed evenly across the first four rounds, and showed that playing it safe and not being too greedy is also a viable strategy. I'd tried that strategy myself in game one but, like everyone else, had lost out to the whale.

If I hadn't gone on tilt in the second game, I would almost certainly have improved my score. Ultimately, though, Incan Gold just seems a little too random. It's how you and the other players manage that randomness that decides the winner, but because of this it didn't have the fun factor for me.

Take Incan Gold for what it is, and it can be a fun game. The way the games panned out on the night just didn't make it as enjoyable as it otherwise could be. That's not to say I wouldn't play it again, because I would. I'd just lower my expectations a bit and get into the light hearted treasure grabbing romp that it is designed to be.

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