Full disclosure: A review copy of The Quest for El Dorado was provided by Ravensburger Games.
I’m doing a giveaway for this game, running until 12/15/17 or so! Check it out.
Well I mean I’ve been working on reviewing all the SdJ nominees for 2017, having already covered Kingdomino and Magic Maze (I may not have posted Magic Maze by this time, so cut me some slack). Figure that The Quest for El Dorado should make it onto my list, as well.
In The Quest for El Dorado, you and other intrepid explorers are cutting and boating and buying your way through the jungle, trying to get to the fabled city of gold first, as nobody remembers or cares who got to El Dorado second. To do so, you’ll have to race your opponents, cutting them off and taking shortcuts to get through as fast as possible. Will you win the race to El Dorado?
The first thing you’ll notice is a bamboozle of tiles:
There are many different configurations of tiles, but here are a few of my favorites:
Pick one and go for it. You can also make your own, but you generally want to try and mix it up a bit if you’re making your own so you don’t create a dominant strategy (for instance, an unbroken chain of green / blue / yellow tiles from the start to the finish).
Next, add blockades between all of the tiles:
You’ll want to put them on the “entrance” to the next tile. Once you’ve done that, give each player a deck:
Oh, also give them starting tokens and a player board in the same color (check the bottom-right corner of the decks):
You can tell which cards are in the starting decks by looking in the bottom-right corner for a red, blue, yellow, or white symbol. Speaking of symbols in the bottom-right, you can also check the bottom-right for a circle, and if it has one, then it’s one of the starting Market cards:
Add those, and set the remaining cards behind to form the Marketplace:
Choose a player to go first, and then place the remaining players in clockwise order on the 1, 2, 3, and 4 spaces. If you’re playing two players, put the starting player’s tokens on 1 and 3, and the second player’s tokens on 2 and 4.
If you’re playing with the Caves variant, add two Cave tiles to every Cave on the board:
Once you’ve done that, shuffle your deck, draw four cards, and you’re ready to start!
Fair bit of setup, but the gameplay itself is pretty straightforward, as it’s a deckbuilder, like Dominion. On your turn, you will have four cards in hand, and you will play as many as you want. These cards will have a variety of symbols / effects. The primary three types of cards you will play are green (jungle / machete), blue (water / paddle), and yellow (village / coin). Each of those lets you move one pawn (this is important for two-player games) into a space with that symbol on it. An important caveat: you cannot combine cards to move onto a space of a higher value. For instance, a Photographer (2 money, though I think Photographers are worth more than that, personally) can move you onto a 2-coin space, but you cannot play 2 Photographers to move onto a 4-coin space. You can, however, play a Photographer to move through 2 1-coin spaces. Useful to know! You will also have to spend movement to make it through a blockade, but when you do, remove it from the board and keep it. It doesn’t block other players anymore, either! That’s so charitable of you.
Some cards have the “X” symbol on the sides of them:
These cards are single-use; you may play them but if you use their effects, they are immediately removed from the game. If you discard them for any other reason, they just go to your discard pile.
Some cards, like Jack-of-All-Trades, are one of anything, but you must choose each turn what you want to use it for:
Another thing you cannot do is move through a space with another player on it. You have to go around or wait for them to move. The jungle isn’t big enough for both of you.
Once you’ve moved as much as you’d like, you may spend money to buy one card from the Market and put it in your discard pile. You may not use any money that you used to move through village spaces this turn, as it’s already been spent. You may also discard any card from your hand to earn 1/2 coin per card. (If you discard cards that are trashed on use this way, they go to your discard pile, not the trash.) You may only buy cards that are in the first row of the Marketplace (on the board). If there’s ever an empty slot, you may buy anything in the Marketplace, but you immediately move that entire stack to the Market board to fill the slot. Now, other people can buy it too! …hooray.
At the end of your turn, discard as many cards as you want and then draw back up to four cards. You can save cards if you want to hoard up for a power turn down the line. If you end your turn next to a Cave tile (and you moved this turn), take a Cave tile and keep it face-up in front of you. You can use it on subsequent turns. If the spot’s depleted, you get nothing.
As you might guess, if you make it to El Dorado then you’re essentially done! This begins the final round. Put your piece on the golden city to indicate that you’ve gotten there first. If other players can make it to El Dorado, well, then you all arrived at about the same time, so whichever player took down the most blockades wins!
Player Count Differences
I like this at pretty much any player count. At two, you need to move both of your player tokens to El Dorado in order to win, so it’s pretty hectic and I like that a lot. There’s a lot more blocking, since you can sacrifice one of your people to keep the other player’s token held back, a bit. At four, everyone’s moving independently, so you don’t want to team up with anyone to hurt someone because you’re potentially helping a competitor. That said, you now have a lot more people to deal with, so certain actions / routes become more complicated. You gotta be more flexible at four, since your plans will probably go a bit awry.
I have no strong recommendation or preference for any player count. I’d be happy to play it at any.
- Cartographers. As with all journeys, buying a map is pretty smart. The fact that it lets you draw extra cards is kind of a bonus.
- Don’t fear the trashers. Even if it’s a single-use card, it’s NOT BAD to have one in your deck. Use a Transmitter to gain a Native card without opening it up to another player to buy. Get all three to gain all the Millionaires before your opponent even has a shot. Compass letting you draw 3 cards is pretty solid! In fact, some of the Cave tiles actually let you avoid trashing these cards. Even for a single-use card they’re sometimes helpful.
- In fact, don’t fear trashing at all. Thinning some of the garbage out of your deck is good. If all your Travelers become Photographers, you literally double the monetary value of your deck. If you get rid of all the bad cards, you’re in even better shape. Don’t underestimate the value of thinning your deck. It’s a killer strategy in most deckbuilders, if you can.
- That said, don’t spend all your time wandering. If you hit each of the 1-card trash tiles, you’ll be wasting a lot of time meandering. You’re better off buying a few Scientists and using them to trash cards from your hand each turn. Scientist + Cartographer is a good combination.
- Power turns are a good thing to shoot for. If you can cover a ton of ground in one turn, that’s usually worth it. Just don’t waste all your time setting up for a megaturn, obviously.
- Go for the Cave tiles. They’re good! And free. Just don’t forget that you have to move in order to get another Cave tile.
- Native cards are good for expensive spaces and very bad for cheap spaces. Don’t fill your deck with them, as they’re just “move into an adjacent space” cards. They’re great for that 4-coin space but it’ll take you three of them to get through 3 1-jungle spaces. Save a Trailblazer for those situations.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The core concept is really, really good. The closest thing I’ve seen to a racing deckbuilder is the Dale of Merchants series, but it’s more card-based and isn’t as physical as Quest for El Dorado. I like both, though! They both give the player a nice sense of progression as you work towards the goal, especially physically, which I like.
- Lots of routes to success. There are bad ways to build your deck, sure, but there are plenty of good ones as well. Do you take the simple paths around the edges, where high-value cards can move you quickly, or do you try to buy more expensive cards? Or do you just buy all the Cartographers and play all your cards every turn? (Generally, that works.)
- Lots of fun configurations of tiles and routes. I particularly like the create-your-own option. Do you have any particularly great configurations? Share them with me here, on Twitter, or on Instagram! I’d love to see them.
- Multiple difficulty levels is a nice touch. It’s great that you can show a simpler version to players and the game can grow with them. It also makes it accessible to more types of gamers, which is always a good idea.
- Seems expandable. I imagine there are more cards and more tiles that could be added — it’d be super cool to see a new terrain type or to see a variant game that takes place on like, a mountain (snow!) or something. It seems like a super fun conceit, so I’m here for it.
- Bright and colorful. It’s nice! The blues and the greens really shine during gameplay and it’s nice to look at.
- The blockades are a nice catch-up mechanism. I’d be interested in modifiable tiles that cost less as more people move through them, as well, but that’s a cool way to slow down the frontrunners.
- Ugh, small cards. Still irritates me. I just want normal-sized cards. These seem less bad than other ones, but I also have no real ability to gauge which are the best and the worst. Honestly, it feels kind of arbitrary how much this annoys me, but, here we are.
- The lack of any real insert is a bit of an issue. The tiles just kinda slosh around inside and it’s a bit frustrating, too. I understand that every game can’t have a vacuum-molded insert or whatever, but it would have been nice to have something a bit more substantial.
- The mixture of icons and numbers is confusing to new players. I had a few players get very confused that there are three machetes on a tile but the number 3 and a machete on the Trailblazer card. It’d be nice if they were more consistent.
- Some players may not be into the blocking. It’s the absolute lightest form of take-that, in that you happen to be standing in the spot that someone wants to move through, but some players may be frustrated by the bottlenecking. That also can cause other issues.
- The different configurations are fairly hard to assemble. The letter in the center of the tile is hard to see and it’s not always intuitive where where tiles match up with each other (since they’re jagged hexes), meaning you spend a lot of time rotating tiles and sliding pieces. It would have been nice to have just a dot / number in each of the corners and match them up that way and save myself some time. Oh well, I’ll just let other people do it next time.
- If too many players are content blocking each other, the game’s length can spiral upwards quickly. It’s fairly easy to get into a standoff where you don’t want to move to let other players out and they don’t want to move because they’re collecting Cave tiles or something, so you should be mindful of that. Eventually, the blocking player is going to have to move, but they may be able (especially in some two-player configurations) to junk up the game for a while. Just something to keep in mind.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, The Quest for El Dorado is super fun! As mentioned, I really like the sense of progression you get through the game as you move towards the finish line. The racing component is super, as you’re never totally sure what your opponents are going to do or how they’re going to block you, so it’s pleasantly intense the entire time. Plus, the varied tiles and configurations don’t really reward experienced players that much (even though experienced players may be more familiar with the cards), as there are many different “good” routes (although there are a few places where bottlenecks can emerge). While it’s more complex than Kingdomino / Magic Maze, in my opinion, I still think it’s a really fun experience that’s worth a play, especially if you like deckbuilders and / or racing games!