The Quest for El Dorado (Review)
Updated: Jun 27, 2019
There was once a time when Ankur absolutely hated deck building games. It wasn't after he played a few well designed deck building games, did he gain an appreciation for it and now it is his one of his favorite game mechanisms. One of those well-designed deck building games is The Quest for El Dorado.
The Quest for El Dorado is a game by Reiner Knizia that masks deck building with a board game. What is presented front and center to players is a modular board that represents the lands the player must get through to get to El Dorado. Driving this player movement is the player's individual decks and how efficiently they create it.
Everything from the artwork on the box to the cards to the board itself screams Indiana Jones and makes you want to put on a safari hat and hit the jungle. There are three key types of terrain: forest, water, and market. The market one is a bit strange, but it basically represents deserts and markets that you find there (these cards are also worth more money). You build your deck by investing in more valuable cards such as an Adventurer that can traverse across sea, land, or markets or a Treasure Chest which gives you a lot of money but is a one-time use card. There is also a really powerful card called Native that allows you to move to any adjacent terrain regardless of the cost.
The rules themselves are easy to pick up and the quick start guide provided is very helpful in getting you up and running. Figuring out the strategy to win though may take a couple of games. Because it is deck building, you need to know what types of cards to draw and when to draw them. In addition, it is important to know how to make your deck more efficient by shedding cards that are no longer needed (i.e. you've passed all the water tiles and only have forest tiles in front of you). When playing two-player it actually becomes even more strategic as you control two explorers and both have to get to El Dorado to win. This means that cards that were useful getting across one area can't be shed until you get your second explorer across it as well. The most difficult part of the learning curve is the set up. The board is modular so that takes awhile to set up especially if not played that often. Trying to align the hexes just right with the barrier tiles is also especially tricky.
Deck building games are like playing chess with cards. You need to plan several moves in advance while still figuring out what to do in your current turn. A card you buy now may pay dividends later on in the game. Because of this, a lot of thought goes into every turn and keeps the player engaged. There isn't a lot of communication between players as it is competitive and there aren't too many opportunities to directly affect another player's actions. When this does happen, it's because you blocked their path or took the last copy of a card they wanted. I believe this is mostly because of the size of the board where players can get spread out fairly easily. The balance in the game still keeps players close enough so there isn't a runaway success, but we think it could have been tighter so there was more player interaction.
This game is a fairly quick game to play once you know the rules. It's a game we tell people we like but we haven't found ourselves always going out of our way to play it. It is one of those games that will be at the top of your list when you want to play a board game, you're looking at your shelves, but don't know what to play.
The Quest for El Dorado is an excellent deck building game for those new as well as those old to deck building games. It is especially good for people who love board games more than card games. The spatial aspect of the game lent a lot to the theme and strategy involved with every turn. The game doesn't call out to you when you're not thinking about board games, but will call out to you when you're staring at your shelf.