Full disclosure: A review copy of The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples was provided by Ravensburger.
This is always a pleasant surprise. I’m a big fan of expansions, generally, since I tend to like specific games a bunch. This isn’t quite an expansion, though; it’s more like what Funkoverse used to talk about their extra packs: an “expandalone”. This latest game in the Quest for El Dorado line, The Golden Temples, can be combined with the base game and Heroes and Hexes, but it doesn’t explicitly need to be, so this review will treat it as essentially its own thing (with the bonus perk of being able to be combined with a game I already love). Let’s dig into it and see what’s going on in the latest game of the El Dorado series.
In The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples, you already did it. You made it into El Dorado. Nice job! Unfortunately, that’s only the beginning. Now, inside the legendary city of gold, you need to access the Treasure Room if you want to make off with, you know, all the gold. You’ve heard three gems are all you need, but you have two problems to deal with. One you know: the other adventurers also followed you inside, rudely, so you need to get their first. The other you don’t: the temple has ancient guardians that will potentially get in the way. Will you be able to finally claim the treasure that is, according to you, rightfully yours?
Setup is, as usual, pretty similar to the base game. You’re going to take the board pieces:
And put them into one of several configurations (or make your own!):
This means you’ll want to add gems to the three temples, as well:
Give each player a deck in their color of choice:
And then give them player pieces in those colors:
Remember, in a two-player game, each player gets two pieces of the same color. Give them a player board in their chosen color, as well:
Shuffle the Blockades and place one face-up on the boundary between each board piece:
Then, add a Guardian Token to each of the Guardian spaces on the board:
Finally, start setting up the Market. Use the starting cards with the initial Market:
Set the other cards up behind it, forming the complete Market:
You should be ready to start! Have each player shuffle their deck and draw 4 cards.
The game plays essentially identically to the base game. In this one, though, rather than heading towards El Dorado, you’re trying to make your way to the Golden Temples to collect gems and earn entry to the Treasure Room. This, naturally, means you’ll have to backtrack a bit more than you initially expected. The first player to make it into the Treasure Room wins!
At the start of a turn, you should have four cards in your hand. The first phase is Movement! You may play cards to move your piece in any direction on the board. A few things, though:
- You may only use a card once per turn.
- The card may be any type, but it only can move you if one of its types matches the space you want to move to.
- If a card is more than one type, you may only use it for one of its pictured types on a turn.
- You may use a card to move onto more than one space, but you cannot combine cards to move onto one space. Each card has its own individual power, and if you use a 3 to move onto a 2, you essentially have 1 power left on a card.
There are a few special spaces and locations:
- Blockades: If you want to move through a blockade, spend the cost on the blockade and remove it for all players. You get to keep it! It’s useful for tiebreakers.
- Base camp spaces: The red spaces allow you to trash cards by removing them from your hand and from the game. That’s useful too!
- Temples: When you enter a temple, once you land on one of the spaces you immediately gain one of the gems.
Certain cards have an X on the sides of them; when played, they’re immediately removed from the game. One-time use!
Once you’ve finished that part of your turn, you may buy up to 1 card by either playing gold cards as gold (rather than using them to move onto coin spaces), spending coins you pick up, or spending non-gold cards as 1/2 gold per card.
When you buy a card, you may buy any of the available cards from the Market Row. If any spot is empty, you may buy any one of the cards from behind the Market, and move the other cards in that stack down to the Market Row to replace it.
Final part of the turn is simple. Discard all the cards you played, along with any of the cards in your hand if you’d like to do so. You can keep any unplayed cards, but you then draw back up to four cards at the end of your turn.
Once a player has made it to the Treasure Room with three gems, they win after the round has ended, so that all players have had the same number of turns. If multiple players reach the Treasure Room in the same round, the player with the highest-numbered blockade wins!
Player Count Differences
The game generally does a good job to ensure there aren’t a ton, which I appreciate. Normally, blocking would be extremely viable at two players, but since both players use two pawns each to move around the board, it’s largely irrelevant unless you’re trying to make one final block of your opponent’s last piece. They’re not going to be able to trap you somewhere; you can usually get around. Just make sure they’re not tricking you into a circuitous route so that they can duck and run. The one thing to note at four players is that it’s very possible you won’t get some popular cards, since there are only ever three of them. That might be strategic, but it also might be extremely bad for you if you miss out on some cards that are more useful (like cards that generate more money). For that reason, I generally have a slight preference towards 2 / 3, but it’s not a particularly firm one. It’s mostly just a conceit where I’d like to make sure I can always get the cards that I want, and that’s not even guaranteed at those player counts; other players can still buy the cards that I want to claim. It’s just harder for players to run out a stack when there are fewer of them.
- Remember, you’re going to have to double back. This is pretty critical to the game. In the original The Quest For El Dorado, you could get away with single-use trashed cards to advance yourself so that you could get ahead quickly. If you do that, you’re going to have trouble making it back to the starting point for the Treasure Room, which isn’t great.
- While trashing is important, multi-use cards will be a lot more critical, this game. There are a lot of times you’ll want to make subtle movements through things that aren’t torches, the overarching terrain type of this game. You’ll need multi-use cards to get through some of it, or, at least, it’ll help. Especially the ones that potentially give you money, instead; those are absolute perennials. I usually recommend that.
- Having 0 – 1 coins at all times isn’t a bad move. It’s useful for the blockades and the temples, but the most important thing is that you can use it as extra money! You gotta love the extra cash. I think some people would debate the blockades and temples thing as being more important, but it’s nice to be able to buy better cards when you can.
- The Guardian penalties are sometimes worth it, especially if you have 0 coins and you activate a “lose all your coins” space. That’s the big one. If you can hit that Guardian when you have zero coins, you get a less circuitous route without any penalties. Additionally, late-game Guardians that allow your opponents to trash a card in their hands aren’t that useful; they’re a lot worse early-game, since it lets players clean up their decks.
- Block other players aggressively, but watch out if you’re playing with more than two people. If you invest all your time blocking one person, the other people will slip by unfettered. That said, it’s very fun to block one person for at least a little bit and hope that you can force them to discard a useful card that they’d ultimately need. That’s fun.
- Watch out for diluting your deck too much to get to a specific temple. Buying a ton of certain types of cards is fine, but you need to make sure you’re staying flexible so that you can get back to the Treasure Room, otherwise you’ll end up getting stuck.
- Buying up all the alternate sources of income can stymie your opponents’ plans pretty aggressively. I do try to do this pretty frequently; making it hard for your opponents to get better income sources is going to slow down their overall progress. Makes it harder for your opponents to buy better cards and whatnot. It’s good! Plus, if you can eventually buy the more expensive cards, it’s going to be a much better time.
- Similarly, trashing less useful cards (Student, Traveler) can really clean up your deck. This is the general move in a lot of deckbuilders; getting rid of garbage cards and setting them up with their replacements is widely considered a good move.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I already like deckbuilding a lot. It remains one of my favorite mechanics, especially when it’s used in fairly novel ways, like Slay the Spire or this or Minecraft: Builders & Biomes. I like the strategy of cycling cards through your deck progressively and trying to build something up either through dilution or deck thinning; it’s interesting.
- I also like racing games. I just find them to be a lot of fun, so, naturally a hybrid of the two mechanics is likely going to be right up my alley.
- Love modular boards. It’s cool to be able to make your own configurations or use some of the recommended ones. I’m really excited to see what other players start making as their configurations.
- The whole thing fits in the same box as the base game. This is just always nice, since that means I can lug fewer, heavier boxes around. More space, more weight, and more chance of inadvertent injury! But also a higher overall transport efficiency, and that’s what counts.
- It also, in addition to being a standalone, can combine with the base game and the expansion. I think this is awesome when games let you do this, especially because if the combination is bad, you still have the base game, if you like that! It gives players more options, and I’m a fan of consistently having more options.
- My war against tiny cards continues. This is a particular pain for me because I find them difficult to shuffle and the one major complaint I have about deckbuilders is that you always have to shuffle. It’s exhausting, and I hate it. But I am burdened by it consistently. I’m not that mad about it because, frankly
- I think the doubling back element does slightly increase the complexity of the game, so, be careful. I think that in the base game, you can get away with only looking towards the goal, but since the goal doubles back, some players are going to lose sight of that and potentially dilute the torches in their deck with other cards if given the opportunity, which may lead to some frustrating turns. Remind them before the game starts.
- You should take some time to ensure that all players have read the cards in the Market and understand them before you start playing. The problem with any deckbuilder with lots of text on the cards is that nobody really reads before they start a game, so that means often certain cards will go unloved and unused, even when they might have helped prevent a frustrating turn. Try to walk through them, but there are a lot, so, good luck.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, I like The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples even more than the base game! For starters, the doubling-back part of it is superb; I think that does a really nice job making you think more strategically than tactically, which is part of what you have to do in the base game. The new cards are interesting as well, and they provide different strategies than the base game / expansion, so even experienced players are going to have to think through exactly how they want to approach the new problems. Naturally, I have to mention that its expansion potential is also a net positive, though I reviewed this as a standalone product. I consider that essentially almost absolutely positive, and even if it’s not a good mix it can still be played on its own, so, hard to consider it a negative. There aren’t many negatives about this game, to be honest, for me. My usual gripe persists in that I don’t particularly like tiny cards, but there’s not much you can do if you’re already bought into the The Quest for El Dorado game ecosystem. While it still doesn’t really have much in the way of a catch-up mechanism, the doubling back does make it so that players have to be more thoughtful about the cards they add to their decks, lest they end up stranding themselves through poor decision-making. Beyond that, though, this is still one of my end-to-end favorite deckbuilding games, mostly for the racing element, and I’m always excited to play new entries in the series (pretty similarly to the Dale of Merchants series, now that I’m thinking about other things I need to review). If you’re a fan of deckbuilding, jungle exploration, or you love a good racing game, I’d highly recommend any of the games in The Quest for El Dorado’s series, but if you’re looking for something that tilts slightly more strategic, I think that The Golden Temples is an excellent choice!