Full disclosure: A review copy of The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes & Hexes was provided by Ravensburger.
Expansion reviews are (and remain) some of the toughest reviews to write, since they require a group of people to know the base game and be willing to go back to it. Or, at least, that’s usually the case. Sometimes you get lucky and the game’s simple enough that you can just teach it with the expansion and hope for the best. Either way, we’ll be looking at The Quest for El Dorado‘s expansion, Heroes & Hexes, this week, from Ravensburger; which way do you think this expansion will break?
In Heroes & Hexes, you’re back in the jungle hoping to find the lost city of gold, and you’ll do anything to get your hands on that treasure. Even, perhaps, make a deal with the devil. Thankfully, you’re not alone in your quest, as legendary heroes will strike up with your caravan provided you can earn their respect. Will it be enough, though, to overcome the demons and curses that await you? Or will the glimmer of El Dorado remain just outside of your reach?
So, the game sets up pretty similarly to The Quest for El Dorado, but with a few new things. You’ve got two new Blockades:
Just add those in.
You’ve got new cards for the market:
Just add those in too.
While we’re adding new stuff, give every player a Familiar to go with their Starting Deck:
They’re assigned randomly. You can use them for their pictured value, or trash them for a one-time use of the value in red. That’s pretty handy!
There are new Cave Tokens:
Shuffle those in. The cave variant is mandatory, now. There are also Curse Tokens!
Hooray! More on that later. There are also new cards, Hero Cards:
They go next to the Games Tavern, shuffled:
Which can be attached to … some new tiles!
These will form even more fun board configurations:
Pick one, set up as normal, place your pieces, and you’re ready to start!
Generally speaking, game plays about the same. There are a few exceptions, and a number of them have to do with those purple / black Demon Spaces.
To land on a Demon Space, you do not need to play any cards. Instead, you must take a Curse. Take one of the discs, flip it over, and resolve it. Some let an opponent move you, some let your opponents move for free, some prevent you from playing cards until you discard, some force you to discard, and some make you take junk cards. They’re all bad.
Some Demon Spaces have tunnels. You go in one and can choose to come out the other. That counts as landing on that space, so you WILL take more Curses; be careful.
The Games Tavern is also new. Upon landing on it, once per game, you may reveal three Heroes and add one to your hand. This means you can use it that turn, which is exciting! They have a wide variety of superb abilities. Shuffle the other two back in.
Beyond that, the game plays the same! First person to the legendary City of Gold wins!
Player Count Differences
They’re the same as the base game; not a ton. The only thing I didn’t note in the original game is that since there are only three cards of each type in the Market, at four players it matters a bit more when spots open up so that you can secure a card you want before your opponents all collectively have a chance to snap it up. Beyond that, I’d happily play this at any player count, and that has not changed.
- You might have to go for broke. If someone’s already in El Dorado, who cares; go for it. Play all your cards. Trash them all, if you want. Take 10 Curses; whatever gets you as close as you can get to winning. Sometimes it pays off! If you draw a bunch of Demon Cards and finish up in El Dorado, well, you’re never going to play those cards, so you kind of got lucky. It’s a racing deckbuilder; going for broke is basically the game.
- Don’t pass up on a Hero. Or, if you’re planning to do so, do it immediately. You want to be so far ahead of your opponents that they cannot catch you; you do not want to be at a point where they can make it back to you, because the Hero that they took is DEFINITELY going to make doing so a lot easier, especially the 6 Jungle, 6 Money, or pretty much any of the other heroes.
- Tunnels are definitely a dangerous way to live your best life. You’re generally looking at 2 – 3 Curses, minimum. That might let other people advance drastically, might make it so you can’t play any cards, or might get you moved back to where you started from. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes you don’t have a choice, though, so do your best.
- So are Shamans. These are a bit handier, provided you don’t get the wrong Curse, which definitely happened to a friend once. They’re usually better Natives, but having the Curse as an extra consequence does mitigate their utility somewhat, unless you have the cave tokens that let you ignore one Curse. Then, just play the Shaman with impunity a few times.
- Your Familiar should likely be burned as you get better cards. They’re decent cards to start off with, but you’ll get better ones; don’t be afraid to capitalize on that good increased effect if you need it.
- Scouts are Very Good. It might just be me, but a lot of the maps are a bit more aquatic than the base game, and having someone with the flexibility to do 3 Jungle or 3 Water is going to be super helpful, even if they do cost a pretty penny to hire. Either way, I’d recommend.
- Don’t underestimate Geologists, either. They can get you through some pretty tough obstacles, especially if you’re trying to take short routes through the various tiles. Just don’t get so many that you end up with a hand of 3 Geologists; that’s uh, not great. Beyond that, they rock.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The Heroes are a lot of great references. Even Uncharted gets a shoutout! Love it; truly. It’s a cute way to appeal to a wide variety of players.
- Making the Cave Variant mandatory is good. That’s my personal preferred way to play (and teach) the game, and I think it’s wise to just assert that players will always be playing with the Caves.
- Adds more cards. I had gotten a promo pack that added a few more sets as well, but more cards for this game are always pretty good (and they frequently get bought, so players see their value, as well).
- Adds more boards. The other thing you want from a modular game is more modules, and this delivers four new hex boards (two double-sided boards, really). That’s awesome, and there are now a lot of ways to make your own layouts (and instructions on how to do so in a way that’s somewhat balanced and respects the game’s rules).
- Fits in the base game box. Hooray portability! It’s nice that this is super easy to transport since you don’t have to lug an extra box around if you don’t want to do that.
- Not that much in the way of additional rules overhead. I still feel pretty comfortable teaching this to a new group (and indeed, I have done that in the past pretty successfully).
- The Familiars add a nice bit of starting variability. The decision of when to play versus when to trash are interesting, and it makes your opening moves slightly different, which I appreciate. It’s a very subtle thing but a very nice one nonetheless.
- The only problem with more boards is that it’s still not easy to tell what letter board you’re looking at. Thankfully, this is a Meh and not a Con because the new boards all have Demon spaces on them (the purple scary ones), so you can pretty easily tell them from other boards. Telling them apart from each other is still kind of annoying.
- Kind of forcing all players to get Heroes is interesting. I haven’t seen anyone win without one and they’re all very good; I kind of wonder why they weren’t nerfed somewhat so that players weren’t essentially pulled that way (but could still go). Game balance is an interesting thing.
- Some of the extra take-that is a bit obnoxious. I think I’m going to remove one of the Heroes from my deck, or at least limit her ability somewhat. Lara O’Malley lets you move all your opponents one space in any direction, for free, but I might disallow that being used to move a player off of El Dorado, just for an anti-frustration feature. Either way, it’s not my favorite. That similar effect happening as a result of a Curse is still annoying, but doesn’t bother me nearly as much given that you kind of opted into the Curse, so, you know. The card just kind of drags the game out a bit in an annoying way.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I’m a huge fan of Heroes & Hexes! I like pretty much everything it adds with the exclusion of some extra take-that, but honestly that’s more because I don’t like take-that than a complaint about its implementation. Even that, I will begrudgingly admit, is smart and practical for the type of game that The Quest for El Dorado is. The Curses add some new wrinkles to gameplay that I’m really into, as the risk of taking them is sometimes worth the reward of the shortcut and sometimes it’s really not. The heroes are pretty powerful, yes, but I’m not terribly bothered by them; they’re just a thing that everyone should get (and often the game makes it very hard to do so). So, yeah, overall, I think it’s a rock-solid expansion, and if you’re already a fan of the base game, I’d highly recommend checking out The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes & Hexes!