Daniel Aronson, designer of Tile laying adventure game, The Island of El Dorado very kindly let me review his game The Island of El Dorado which launched on Kickstarter on Tuesday 29th and was funded within Just 20 hours! If that’s not enough to convince you to take note of this game, then keep reading.
After playing The Island of Eldorado for the first time I was struck, not only by how much I enjoyed it but how it told a story. It made me feel like I wanted to share that story as part of the review, and so here rather than a more traditional review, which you can find for the game as a video here, and written here, I’ve decided to do more of a battle report.
The Island of El Dorado is a competitive, tile laying, light strategy, adventure game for 2-4 keen explorers. The aim of the game is to be the first person to control the four shrines to be found somewhere on the island. To achieve this you are going to need to build up resources by building and employing farmers, defend yourself from, or go and attack your enemies with your armies, and successfully explore the island to find and control the four shrines, one of which is hidden in the depths of a dark and dangerous cave.
Each player will start with one of eight explorers, all with their own unique special abilities, but enough of me talking, let’s have one of those explorers, Tizoc the Gatherer, pick up the story with his battle report.
“The Diary of Tizoc the Gatherer – April 17th 1589
On reaching the shores of El Dorado, I found we were not alone, that pale skinned cut throat corporal Hector was on the island! I needed to watch out for him, with access to more villagers than me he can potentially gain more resources and control a bigger army. I knew I had to play to my strengths of gathering food if I was to reach all four shrines before Hector.
It wasn’t long until I found the first shrine. Of course that blithering idiot Hector was on my tail but didn’t have the resources to make an offering.”
As we started off our first game of The Island of El Dorado, we spread out, flipping over new tiles as we went in search for the shrines.
We quickly learnt that the game is not all about exploring but of worker placement, of setting up farms and villagers, this lets you build up the resources you need to make offering to the shrines when you find them. Access to resources is somewhat luck of the draw as tiles are flipped over and I can easily imagine games where certain resources are difficult to get or protected by an opponents fort.
“The Diary of Tizoc the Gatherer – 1589 – With both of us setting up farms and getting our villagers to work on the land it wasn’t long until we both had made offerings to the two known shrines. We had a few early run ins but chose to keep things peaceful. I had been stockpiling resources from the outset and could not afford to loose them to Hector so we went our separate ways in search of the third shrine and the entrance to the cave.”
Combat is a risky but necessary business in The Island of El Dorado. Combat is dice driven, with your strength equalling the number of dice you add to your pool. Loosing is pretty unforgiving. Any villagers or buildings caught up in the fight are removed from the board (you will have to pay to get them back) and if your explorer is involved, they are banished to a tile of the opponents choosing. Finally you have to give up half of your resources to the winner which can be pretty game changing, particularly as I had taken to hoarding like Scrooge McDuck during a recession.
“…Being the top class explorer that I am it wasn’t long before I reached the end of the world, which as we all know is as flat as a table. This forced me to back track unexpectedly but I made good progress across the terrain.”
Movement and resource gathering is based on the roll of two dice, you then choose one to be your movement amount and the other to be the abount of resource cards you can take.
This game is a little bigger than suits our little dining table and we kept hitting the end of the playing area as the island expanded. With all the island and all the cave tiles out you may be pushed for space, the rule book even suggests putting the cave tiles on a different board but that may not always be practical.
“…As I headed onto the western peninsula of the island, my opponent headed North East. I followed the narrow rocky outcrop in the hope that I would find the cave, but I knew the risks, If I made the wrong decision I’d be stuck out here handing victory to Hector. But as the available space to explore dwindled [and I rolled another six], I knew I would find the cave.”
This is what I’d call a light and accessible strategy game. You can make tactical decisions on where to go, what to build, what resources to farm and when to attack opponents. You can use your special ability to define an over arching strategy. For example in this game I got a food every turn so could easily replace villagers which cost food to produce. So I used my villagers to mine gold meaning I could easily pay to move my army around. Though strategy and tactics are involved a lot comes down to luck. Tile drawing, movement and combat are all driven by luck and simple choices. Although this might not be for the more hardcore gamers, this game is intended to bridge the divide between family games and meatier strategy games, and with this it does a great job.
“The Diary of Tizoc the Gatherer – 1589 – Here I made my first mistake [partially due to not reading the rules properly], I built a fort near the entrance to the cave, before discovering that the heathen would not be coming to the cave but coming for me! To kill me and steal the cave shrine from me!
Things went from bad to worse when I received news that Hector had found, and made an offering to the third shrine. All he had to do now was kill me. He surrounded the last shrine with his army, built a fort and waited, safe in the knowledge that I would have to come to him and his superior army.
The Gods were with me however, and I found the cave shrine right next to the entrance, giving me the strength to try to defeat Hector once and for all.
Then came grave news from base camp. Hector had killed all my villagers and burnt one of my farms to the ground. Hector then moved to cut me off but underestimated my determination and the strength the cave shrine gave me. Alone, I banished him to the far end of the island where my poorly built fort would finally come in useful.”
A couple of times I felt this game wasn’t quite tough enough for my usual tastes. I was sat there with more resources than I knew what to do with which meant even when my army and farm was destroyed I could easily replace them. But then I would remember that I was still very much on the back foot. I had to get past my opponents entire army, fort and explorer, then make an offering to the final shrine. All they had to do was roll a higher number in combat than me and I would instantly loose, so I never felt like I had the win in the bag, and for me that feeling of the possibility of losing any second is something I look for in games.
With Hector gone I had the upper hand. I had been storing food and gold since the start of my expedition. I rebuilt my farm and army over night and had them march ahead of me where they crushed Hectors forces and lay siege to his fort.
With nobody to stand in my way the path to victory was clear. I made an offering to the final shrine and was all conquering on El dorado.
Having been lucky enough to get to play The Island of El Dorado before launch, I can and will back this game safe in the knowledge that I will get my moneys worth. I do, and will continue to enjoy this game with each new exploration and I’m confident that the people I will play with will like it too.
In short if you are looking for a clever and accessible, tactical, exploration game with a load of replayability and a unique narrative each time you crack open the box then I can highly recommend The Island of El Dorado.
The campaign is live now, so go give Dan some of your money!
Thanks for reading.