Review – The Quest for El Dorado
Will you dare to search for the golden city? Assemble your expedition and lead it through the jungles of South America in this deck-building board game. You need to have a good plan, expert explorers, and the right equipment. Will you choose the scout, the photographer, or the prop plane? It is up to you to find the best route through the wilderness with your team and to win the race to El Dorado! Every route is a new challenge. Every game needs a new strategy!
When I first heard about The Quest for El Dorado, two things grabbed my attention. First, it is a deck-building game (my personal favorite game mechanic), and it is a 2017 Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year award) nominee for Game of the Year. Published in 2017 by Ravensburger, The Quest for El Dorado is a deck-building/racing game by game designer Reiner Knizia, with art by Franz Vohwinkel. Knizia is one of the world’s most successful and prolific game designers, with more than 600 games and books published worldwide in over 50 languages, selling over 20 million copies.
The Quest for El Dorado is a deck-building/racing board game. Each player starts with the same combination of cards comprising their deck. During their turn, they use these cards to move their player piece along the expedition to the finish line, purchasing new and better cards along the way which improve their deck and better progress them on their journey.
There are 3 gameplay phases. First, players play cards from their hand. These cards are used for movement, or to buy new expedition or action cards from the market board. Players move through different types of terrain: landscapes, mountains and caves, rubble, and base camps. Two requirements must be met to move onto or through a space. First, the color symbol on the card must match the color symbol on the hex. Green spaces require machetes, gold spaces require coins, and blue spaces require paddles. Second, the power value of the card must be equal or higher than the power of the space. Leftover power from cards can be used to continue moving to the next space, but expedition cards can never be combined to move into a space with higher power. For example, a green hex with 3 machetes will require a green expedition card with a power of 3 or higher, but 3 expedition cards with a power of 1 cannot be combined to move into the space. Additionally, if a green expedition card with a power of 3 is used to move into a green hex with 1 machete, the player can continue to move to another green hex with 1 or 2 machetes.
Mountain spaces (which includes caves, an advanced variant of the game) cannot be moved onto. Players must go around these spaces unless they have a special action card that allows for the movement exception. Base camps require players to either discard cards or completely remove them from the game to occupy these spaces. Also, players cannot occupy or pass through spaces with other player pieces.
Players will also encounter blockades, which are obstacles along the path. The first player who wants to pass a blockade must overcome it by fulfilling its power requirement by playing cards just like a movement. Then the player gets to keep the blockade, which may be used as a tiebreaker at the end of the game.
When buying new cards, there are 6 piles of cards, with 3 of each card, to choose from on the market board. Once a pile is depleted, the next player to make a purchase from the market board can choose the next set of cards to fill the vacant spot from the pool of remaining cards that are not yet in play. There may be decisions of strategy based on what cards may be good for you but not for the rest of the players.
The second phase is discarding cards. Players put all of the cards played in the first phase into their discard pile. If any cards are left in their hand, they can either keep them for the next turn or discard as many as they want without playing them.
The final phase is to draw cards for the next round of play. Players draw cards from their draw pile until they have 4 cards in their hand. If the draw pile doesn’t contain enough cards to draw for the next turn, draw as many cards as possible. Then, shuffle the discard pile to form a new draw pile, then draw the rest of the cards needed.
Using these basic rules, players race to the finish line. The first player (in a 3+ player game) to arrive at 1 of the 3 finishing spaces (“El Dorado”) triggers the final round. All players have an equal number of turns to complete the race. If no other players reach the finish, that player wins. If multiple players reach El Dorado, the player who has collected the most blockades wins the game. If there is still a tie, the player with the highest power blockade wins. In a 2-player game, players use 2 player pieces of the same color. The second player piece must reach El Dorado to trigger the final round of the game.
We did a complete gameplay video over on the Time to Play! YouTube channel. Check us out and don’t forget to subscribe when you are there!
The biggest positive about this game has to be the replayability value. The game comes with multiple board tiles that are two-sided, so the number of configurations of the game board are numerous. Designers were also mindful of two-player games, adjusting the rules so that each player has 2 playing pieces of the same color that are racing to the finish. This allows for a new layer of strategy in the race to the finish line.
There is also a “cave variant” that allows you to explore caves, which are represented by cave tokens stacked on top of the cave spaces. When a player stops in a space adjacent to a cave, they can explore the cave to find advantages in the game, such as additional movement, exceptions to movement into spaces, and changing the symbol or movement type of cards that are played.
The card art and component quality are nice. The modular board game tiles are high quality and will hold up to many plays. There is also a fantastic first player token!
When I hear that a game is a deck-building game, I get a little excited. But this game is less focused on the strategy of deck-building that I prefer. Instead, the cards are drafted primarily to accelerate your movement across the game board. The Quest for El Dorado is a racing game, first and foremost. Over time, your deck is built, lesser cards are culled to make room for better cards, which in turn grant you more advantageous abilities in the game. But it’s not a “deck-building game” in the sense that building a deck is the main focus of the gameplay. It’s not heavy gameplay by any means. Due to its simplicity, it will probably not see very much action on my game table, as we are a more seasoned gamer group that prefers more complex games.
There is one component of this game that drives me crazy… tiny cards! I am not a fan of the half sized cards that come in some games. I feel like a giant trying to manage these little bitty cards in my big giant hands. There are 86 expedition cards in the game. Sigh.
The Quest for El Dorado is a fun and exciting racing game that will appeal to a wide audience. With a recommendation of ages 10 and up, it is an excellent game for younger audiences or a gateway game for those just getting into board gaming. I could definitely see this game being brought to the table when we have this level of gamers joining us, but it’s doubtful that the game will get much gameplay aside from that. Its wide appeal does have a spot in my game library for that reason alone, but the immense replayability, attractive theming and quality game components are an added bonus.
- Release Date 2017
- MSRP $32.99
- Playing Time 30-60 minutes
- Age Range 10+
- Player Count 2-4