Published on November 13th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen1
Sitting On A Gold Mine
Review of Fool’s Gold
At long last Fool’s Gold, by Seattle designer Joshua Balvin via Passport Games, has been released to the public. We met with Joshua earlier this week to play Fool’s Gold and talk about the process of designing games. Despite hitting production problems initially, Joshua was able to weather the storm and get his vision out there. As a veteran of the video game industry (5th Cell/Scribblenauts) as well, he was able to leverage his experience to give him perspective on his projects.
Fool’s Gold itself is a straight-forward, light worker placement game. You play as 19th Century prospecting teams looking for gold in the Rocky Mountains, but you’ll have to sift through the silt to get to it. Fool’s Gold has art reminiscent of colored woodcut prints that were common in publications in the 19th century, which is a touch that I enjoyed. The illustrator is Ian O’Toole, who has also worked on other games such as The Gallerist, did an especially good job with the box.
Fool’s Gold uses six-sided dice and five decks of cards, as well as a board, to play. I felt that the board was needlessly large- everything could have been fit onto a board half the size of the one used, but never detracted from the game play. The set up is quick and simple: shuffle the decks, hand out workers, roll the dice. I like how once you know the rules you can just hop right into the game with minimal fuss, and clean up is just as easy.
If I were to compare Fool’s Gold to any other games on the market, I’d say it feels like a cross between Alien Frontiers and Caylus. It feels like Alien Frontiers in the sense that you are rolling dice, which effects the spaces you can place your workers on. Also, turns are simple like in Alien Frontiers, with a simple place-and-pay mechanic. In fact, turns in Fool’s Gold usually take much less time. It feels like Caylus in that you have a prioritized lane that you need to place your workers on, and you have to time delicate combo moves on these lanes.
In Fool’s Gold there are five lanes/zones where you can search for gold: Hills, Forests, Mountains, Rivers and Lakes. The zones are marked 1-5, and at the start of a round you roll a handful of d6 (six-sided dice) to determine which zones are available to place your workers into. Rolling a six means you can spend an action to open up a closed area with the “wild” dice, but that means you probably won’t get first pick of the spaces within that zone. Or you could use that die somewhere else, denying access to that zone from the other players (a tactic I enjoyed).
Players then take turns placing workers in the columns for each zone. Where in the column you place determines how much money it costs to put your worker there, but going for the cheapest option isn’t usually the best idea. When the assigning phase is done, there is a mining phase where a number of cards will be dealt from the deck of cards assigned to each zone. Many of these cards will be silt (worth nothing) but some will also be gold and gemstones, and the way to determine who gets first pick, is by who placed their worker in the more expensive option during the assigning phase.
But that’s not the only strategy- if you place two workers in a column you automatically out-rank anyone who just has one worker in that zone. Though if two players have more than one worker in a zone then the one with the more expensive worker goes first. That means that if you can get in early enough, you could buy two cheaper spaces which gets you more security for less money. The bluffing and bidding mechanic in Fool’s Gold is very fresh and while incredibly easy to understand, is fulfilling in play. Because this mechanic is so reliant on the people you’re playing with, every game of Fool’s Gold will be different as you try to out maneuver your friends.
There is a come-back mechanic for those who assigned workers to a zone and got nothing to show for it, called “wintering over”. Instead of sending your worker back to your supply for $2, you can have them stay in the zone and try to mine again with 1d6 cards. It’s a nice press-your-luck mechanic that isn’t too punishing if you bet incorrectly.
Fool’s Gold was an easy to learn bidding and press your luck game that has a lot of replay-ability. Fool’s Gold is a great choice for those times you just want to grab a game off the shelf and play with little fuss. It is also a good purchase for those looking to get into board games, or as a gift for new comers to the hobby. Fool’s Gold on Amazon!