That shining city of gold known as El Dorado has been a source of inspiration for everything from literature to gaming. In 2017 Ravensburger published Quest for El Dorado from renowned designer Reiner Knizia. Does this deckbuilding “race to the finish” game fulfill our wildest dreams or leave us searching for a better game?
Up to 4 players will be racing across the jungle on a modular map that is really impressive. The game comes with almost a dozen map pieces that can be arranged in different ways. Quest for El Dorado comes with instructions on building 7 maps with various difficulties. This is a great starting point. With a little creativity or searching online, you can create lots of other maps that suit your needs. This map building feature gives the game a tremendous amount of replayability.
Players chose an adventuring meeple and get a deck of 8 cards to match their token. The goal of El Dorado is to travel from one end of the map to the final destination of El Dorado faster than the other players.
Like most deckbuilders, everyone has the same deck of 8 cards. These will start you off on the adventure but won’t be enough to get you to the finish line. On your turn you draw 4 cards from your deck and use them to travel across different terrain types or purchase new cards from the market.
Your have three different terrain types you’ll move through. Green is for the jungle, blue is for the water and yellow/tan is for the desert. This yellow/tan color also has a coin value attached to it. These coins allow you to purchase from a row of cards in the market. Everyone has access to these cards and there are only a total of 3 of each card type.
Quest for El Dorado does an excellent job of injecting tension into the game as players buy from the market and certain cards run out. As players approach bodies of water on the map, there will be a rush to purchase the “Captain” card that gives players 3 movement through water spaces. When a player buys the last card in a set, they get to say what card comes down into the market next. The market only has 6 possible options for the players to purchase.
Players buy new cards that get added to their discard pile. Once the player is out of cards, their discard pile is shuffled and becomes their new deck of cards. You’ll shuffle about 20 times during a normal game.
Patience is More than a Virtue
Quest for El Dorado is a race game. While everyone is trying to run from one end of the map to the other, patience can really pay off. Players who look ahead and plan for the future will find that the game feels a bit like a puzzle. “What card combinations will help me 5 turns from now?”
Someone can move fast through the first dozen tiles but if they don’t have the right cards, they may be forced to take the longest route around the center of the map. Players who really plan will find that they can take the shortest route and often times leave the other players in the dust. El Dorado is a light strategy game that is very accessible to new gamers.
Your adventurer will come upon a couple different tiles that aren’t represented on the cards in your deck. Some tiles let you pass by discarding a card (or two). Another tile forces you to throw one of your cards out of the game. Players can also end their turn next to a cave and gain a bonus tile that can be used once during the game. Practicing patience and buying the right cards can ultimately help you win the game.
Going for Gold
I have to admit that El Dorado is unlike most of the games we own. There are no points. You don’t tally anything up at the end of the game. Cards don’t have some secret value that will be calculated at the end. If you reached El Dorado first, you win. Obviously there is a tie breaker if two people reach the finish within the same turn.
The first time I played this I remember thinking, “So, that’s it? You got there first and there’s nothing to count at the end?” This is not a bad thing, just not very common in modern board gaming.
The more I’ve played El Dorado, the more I’ve respected how the end of the game plays out. You’re not going to be able to stumble into first place. You have to really work out a strategy to get there the quickest. Filling your deck with meaningless card just means that the “one card I need right now” will come up less often.
Knizia has done a fantastic job of creating a game that doesn’t bury people under rules and is extremely accessible for young, old and new gamers. The objective is easy to understand and the different terrain tiles are simple to comprehend. Newer players will probably have questions about different icons but those are layed out in the rulebook for a quick reference.
Quest for El Dorado is one of our favorite purchases from 2017. The game comes to the table often because of its ease of play and great replayability. I honestly feel like El Dorado should be on the family game shelf in the same way that Ticket to Ride has become a staple for most families. Knizia has created what I consider “gaming comfort food” in Quest for El Dorado.
Now it’s time to end this review because writing this has made me want to go play Quest for El Dorado even more.
You can find Quest for El Dorado at Target, your local gaming store or purchase it on Amazon today.
- Excellent replayability and modular map
- Simple to learn and teach others
- Difficulty can be adjusted with differnt map layouts
- Plan at least 10 minutes to setup the game