I'm fortunate to have some friends who enjoy board/card/dice games and will sometimes invite us over to their home to share their games with us. This week we played three card games: Incan Gold, Pirate Den, and Red Dragon Inn. The links lead to the write-ups for each game on Board Game Geek if you'd like more details. Here I'll detail a brief overview of how each game works and my impression of it.
Since we started with Incan Gold, I'll start there, too. Incan Gold, like all three games described here, is a "push your luck" style of game. Players are Indiana Jones-style adventurers exploring an Inca site. The card deck details the treasures, artifacts, and hazards they encounter during their exploration. One game consists of five rounds, with each round made up of any number of turns. The three types of cards are drawn randomly from the deck, one card each turn.
Treasure cards have a numeric value represented by treasure tokens. When a treasure card is drawn, the treasure value is distributed evenly between the players. For example, if the card is worth 12 treasure tokens and there are 5 players, each player is given two tokens, and the remaining tokens stay on the treasure card. If the treasure value is less than the number of players, all the treasure stays on the card. Players store their treasure at their camp, which is represented by a little paper tent each player is given at the start of the game. If a player chooses to go back to camp, they can pick up treasure tokens that are still on the cards.
Artifact cards are specific items, such as golden idols, that are worth 5 treasure. Since there are far fewer artifact cards than treasure or hazard cards, these aren't automatically given to the players when they're drawn. Instead they stay on the table until one of the players decides to go back to camp. At that point the player can pick up an artifact on the way back and take it to their tent.
Hazard cards represent things like cave-ins and mummies that can block the way for the adventurers. There are five types of hazards, and three cards for each type. If a single hazard card of any type is on the table, it has no effect. But if more than one card of the same type is drawn, all of the players must flee back to camp, abandoning any treasure or artifacts that are still on the table. A hazard card that sends all the players back to camp ends the round.
Each player also receives two cards to represent the actions they can take in a turn: go forward, or go back to camp. The cards have no text on them, just images of either a woman with a torch entering a doorway, or a man exiting. Players lay out the card for their action at the beginning of the turn, face down, and then when everyone is ready all players turn over their card.
The game doesn't give any options for players to have other actions besides go forward or go back. They can't steal treasure or artifacts from each other, or play a card to have more than one card drawn from the deck. or negate the effect of a hazard card. The players also aren't given any characters to play; unless they choose to name themselves or try to incorporate some roleplaying elements into the game, the game provides none. My final complaint is that players who choose to go back to camp to store their treasure are out of the game for the rest of the round. The rounds are short, but that's still more time than a player should be out of play. I found Incan Gold the least entertaining of the three games, although it wasn't entirely without fun.
Not surprisingly, in Pirate Den you play a pirate. Each player gets a character card, which has a picture of a pirate on it. There are both female and male characters. They don't have names and the character you choose has no practical effect, but it's still a fun touch.
After choosing your character card, you are given a stack of cards which are numbered 1 - 4 and have one, two, or three different colors: red, blue, or yellow. There is also a 0 card, which has no color. This is the "bury" card.
Each round, one person draws 15 gem tokens at random from a bag. These tokens are red, blue, or yellow, like the colors on the cards the players receive. After the gems are drawn, the players choose to play one card, based on how many of each color gem is on the table. The effects of the cards are resolved in order by the numbers on the cards, from smallest to largest. If a person plays a blue 1 card and there are 10 blue gems on the table, that player can claim them all, as long as no other player has also played a blue 1 card. If two players play the same card, they split the gems between them. If no gems were drawn of the color that player chose, but other players have claimed gems of that color during previous turns, that player can steal gems from the other players. Should no one play a 1 card, then any 2 cards on the table are resolved next, followed by 3 cards and then 4 cards, if any. Should anyone play cards that have multiple colors, they can claim gems of all the colors on their card, if there are any unclaimed gems of those colors.
The object of the game is to get five Gold tokens. Gems can be exchanged for Gold tokens. Once a player has acquired five Gold tokens, the game ends. But if no one has that many Gold tokens, the game continues, even when the players run out of cards. This is where the "bury" card comes in. A player can play the colorless 0 card at any time. This card allows the player to "bury" her treasure, by converting five gems of the same color into one Gold token. This card also allows the player to reclaim all the cards from her discard pile. It's not necessary to have any gems to convert to Gold tokens for a player to play the 0 card.
Pirate Den is a quick, fun game. Even though players are stealing gems from each other, it can be played in a way that is fun for someone like me who doesn't like competitive games.
Red Dragon Inn
Red Dragon Inn was the most fun for me of the three games. It's also the most complex of the three to play.
The premise of the game is that the players are fantasy adventurers who have returned to their favorite watering hole to drink, gamble, and relax. Each player chooses a character, such as Zot the Wizard, Dierdre the Priestess, or Dimli the Dwarf, and receives a deck of cards and a tile to track their chosen character's only two stats: Fortitude and Alcohol level. As they drink, gamble, and fight their way through the game, the characters lose Fortitude and gain Alcohol, which is tracked by moving a token along the numbers representing each stat. If one token passes the other, or the two tokens meet on the same number, the character passes out and is out of the game.
The player starts with a hand of seven cards drawn randomly from that character's deck. If they don't like the cards in their hand, at the beginning of their turn they can discard any number of cards, even their whole hand, and draw more cards from their deck up to a maximum of seven. The cards are divided into several types: Action, Anytime, Sometime, and Gambling. Action cards are typically to make other players do something, such as lose Fortitude points or take an extra drink. Anytime cards can be played at any time, most often to negate the effect of a card played by another character. For example, if one player plays a card that would cause another player to lose 2 Fortitude, the victim can play an "I don't think so" Anytime card to negate that effect. That's actually the name of the card, by the way. Sometime cards are similar to Anytime cards, except that they are playable under more limited conditions. A Sometime card might be used to avoid anteing up in a round of gambling, for example, or to avoid the effect of a Drink card.
Drink cards are not character-specific cards. Instead there is a "Drink Me" deck that sits in the center of the table. Each turn the players must choose a card from the top of this stack and give it to one of the other players. Other players can use Anytime or Sometime cards to avoid taking more Drink cards. At the end of their turn, each player has to turn over the top Drink card on their own character tile, if they have any Drink cards on their tile, and take the effect written on the card. Most Drink cards cause the character to increase their Alcohol level, but some can also cause Fortitude loss, and occasionally there are cards that have no effect or actually return Fortitude points or reduce the character's Alcohol level.
Each character also has some Gambling cards in their deck. A Gambling round can be initiated by playing an "I'm in!" card, which is a card that appears in every character's deck. Once one of these cards has been played, the gambling continues until resolved before play moves to the next player's turn. Other Sometime cards can affect the result of gambling, such as a Winning Hand card that allows a player to take control of the gambling, or a Cheating card that has a similar effect.
Players also have gold. They start play with five gold pieces, represented by five cardboard tokens. Gambling can cause a character to lose gold, or they can spend gold to make certain card effects happen. If a character loses all her gold, she is out of the game.
Red Dragon Inn is obviously slower to play than Incan Gold or Pirate Den, since it has more actions that players can take each turn. You can play a game of either Incan Gold or Pirate Den in less than half an hour, while Red Dragon Inn takes at least an hour to play with five players. But it offers more opportunities for humor and roleplaying since you are playing an actual character with a certain amount of personality implied by the text on the cards.
If I had to choose just one of these three games, I would definitely pick Red Dragon Inn. But if your time is limited, try Pirate Den. I would give Incan Gold a pass. It just doesn't give players enough effect on what happens in the game.