Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Poor Man's Incan Gold

I read an entertaining review yesterday of Incan Gold (designers Bruno Faidutti and Alan Moon, publisher Fred Distribution's Gryphon Games).  I really like risk management games (also known as "push-your-luck games"), even though I'm pretty bad at them.  (I got eliminated early in the Can't Stop tournament at PrezCon, which my buddy Grant G. won.)  In the case of Incan Gold, players advance into an ancient ruin to find and share treasure but risk encountering monsters that can force them to drop their loot and run.  At any point, each player has an opportunity to take his share of the loot back to his tent, which guarantees that he keeps what he has but means that the players who continue get a bigger share of whatever additional treasure turns up.

I found the mechanics and components to be straightforward enough that I could recreate the gameplay (if not the artwork) with simple gaming components.  From a normal deck of playing cards, I assembled the two jokers, the twelve face cards, and one each of black ace, two, three, four, five, seven, and nine, and red ace, three, four, five, and seven.  Each player gets a different colored pawn, and a set of poker chips serves as gold treasure.

In my version of the game, the aces and number cards represent treasure.  Black cards are worth their face value in gold (with an ace representing a value of one).  Red cards are worth their face value plus ten (so that the red seven is worth 17).  Jokers represent single artifacts worth ten each.  Face cards represent monsters.

[What follows is a description of the rules of the game, but the review I read illustrated them nicely and with a touch of humor.]

The game consists of five rounds.  Each round starts with the deck being shuffled and a card being turned face up to start the journey into the ancient ruin.  If it is a treasure card, the players divide the loot equally.  Now, players have two piles of money over the course of the game.  One pile is their "loot bag," which is where they add found loot but is also what is at risk of being dropped if a monster scares them away.  The other pile is their tent, which is where they dump their loot bag when they decide to leave the ruin and keep what they've found.  Treasure in the tent can never be lost.

When treasure from a treasure card is divided evenly among the players, any remainder is left on the card.  Each player now has an opportunity to decide to go back to his tent and keep the money in his loot bag, or to keep going deeper into the ancient ruin in search for more treasure.  This decision is simultaneous among all the players.  The way it is executed is that all players take their pawns and put both hands under the table.  All players then place one closed hand on top of the table.  When everybody is ready, all players open their hands.  A hand with a pawn in it means that the player has decided to go back to his tent; an empty hand means that the player has decided to continue with the expedition.

If any players decide to go back to their tents, they divide evenly among themselves any treasure that had been left on any cards so far in the expedition.  Then they move all the treasure in their loot bags to their tents, and they are done for the round.  If any players decided to continue with the expedition, they place their pawns on the table next to the face up cards, and another card is drawn and placed face up alongside the last one.

If the card drawn is a face card and it is the first face card of that suit (spade, heart, diamond, or club), then nothing happens.  Players again decide whether to continue or to turn back.  If the card drawn is a face card and it is the second face card of that suit, then all players who are still in the expedition lose all the treasure they have accumulated in their loot bags, no one gets any of the treasure left on any cards, all the cards are shuffled into the deck, and the round is over.  (Players that had previously left the expedition and returned to their tents suffer no loss.)

The Jokers represent special artifacts.  When a Joker is turned up, poker chips representing ten gold are placed on the card.  An artifact can't be divided among players, so if more than one player is still in the expedition, the ten gold stay on the card.  Later, if exactly one player leaves the expedition and returns to his tent, he can retrieve the ten-gold artifact along with all the other treasure still on cards.  If two or more players leave the expedition simultaneously, none gets the artifact (because they squabble among themselves), and it stays on the card.

A round ends when all players have returned to their tents or when a second monster (face card) of a suit is turned up and scares everybody out.  After five rounds, the player with the most treasure in his tent wins.

My son Liam, my wife Kathy, and I tried out this home-made knock-off of Incan Gold yesterday evening, and Liam bolstered my working hypothesis on teenagers and risk assessment.  He was always still in the expedition when the second monster of a suit came up, so he ended up with no treasure after five rounds.  I ended up winning because I adopted a thumb rule of bailing out of the expedition when three different suits had turned up; in my mind, the risk of getting a second monster of any of those three suits was generally too high to justify hoping for more treasure.  Often, I was the only one to leave the expedition, so that meant I got all the leftover treasure on the cards at that point for myself as well.

As I looked at the card distribution, I noticed that most of the treasure cards are prime numbers or at most the product of two prime numbers.  I find that significant because the intent of the designer seems to have been to try to have some remainder to leave on the card after the treasure is divided among the players, at least more often than not.  (There is no six-, eight-, 12-, or 16-gold treasure card, which would frequently divide evenly among a typical number of expedition members.)  The interesting effect is that as the expedition progresses, the motivation to bail out becomes stronger; not only does turning back allow a player to keep what he has in his loot bag and avoid the risk of a monster, but it provides the added "carrot" of picking up some or all of the leftover loot on the previous cards.

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