The Island of El Dorado Review: Putting the Rock ‘n’ Roll back in roll and move

A four player game.

The Island of El Dorado is a strategic game for two to four brave expedition leaders. The aim of the game is to control all four of the island’s shrines before any of your fellow gold diggers, claiming glorious eternal rulership over the island.

Each player is an intrepid explorer racing to discover and control the four shrines of El Dorado. Three of these are found on the island’s surface, while the fourth is hidden within a mysterious and spooky cave (jinkies!).

Gameplay revolves around a dynamic combination of roll and move/roll and gather. On your turn you roll both gold dice (Yes, both. Both is good), choosing one to represent your explorer’s movement for the turn, and the other to be the total number of resource cards you can gather (of any combination you have access to).

Once the dice rolling/choosing has concluded, it’s time to gather some delicious resources! These come in three flavours: food (standard noms), wood (splintery noms), and gold (nuggetty noms).

The choice of flavourful resources you can gather from are determined by two things: the type of tile your explorer is currently on and the type of tile your villagers are on while adjacent to one of your farmhouses. We’ll get to villagers and farmhouses momentarily.

Once you have gathered your resources, it’s time to blaze that trail and get explorifying!

Giddy up!

When you explore, you can do three things in any order: you can move (up to your rolled movement total), you can buy, and you can attack. Buying and attacking can be done multiple times in a turn – even while moving your explorer.

Buy: Time to make it rain with those resources you just gathered! As long as you can afford the cost and can legally place it, you may buy whatever you wish (as long as it isn’t already on a tile).

Villagers you purchase must be placed on a tile next to one of your farmhouses, and purchased farmhouses (and forts) must be placed on the corner of a tile occupied by your explorer. You can also buy movement from each of your ‘army’ of one to five villagers to move them one tile (that’s right, those villagers don’t get out of bed for less than one gold card!).

Lastly, you can buy an offering to a surface shrine when your explorer is adjacent to it, and gather that fight-tastic shrine power!

POWER! UNLIMITED POWER!

Move: the movement die you choose will determine the number of tiles you can move. Note: you cannot move onto water and surface shrine tiles (no swimming or climbing on the shrines, you tourists!).

Attack: Of course people will fight over an island full of gold! Whenever your explorer or villager(s) land on a tile occupied by an opponent’s explorer/villager/fort, you initiate an attack. Now before anyone picks up dice to settle this like real geeks, both players may pay to move their villager armies (with the defending player allowed to buy movement to withdraw their villagers to avoid an attack entirely).

During combat, both players involved tally up their total strength on the tile where the combat occurs, then roll that many black battle dice. Each explorer, villager, fort, farmhouse (only if attacked) has a strength of one. Explorers also add one strength for each offering they have made to a surface shrine, and an explorer in possession of the cave shrine adds two strength. Highest roll wins combat.

Combat in the cave!

All defeated villagers and buildings are destroyed. A defeated explorer is moved onto an unoccupied tile adjacent to a shrine they control, as chosen by the winner. If the defeated explorer controls no shrines, the winner may place them on any unoccupied tile that isn’t water or a shrine. The defeated explorer then chooses half (rounded down) of their resource cards to fork over to the winner. Also, if the defeated explorer is the player that attacked, their turn immediately ends.

You can also fight cave dwellers when spelunking. If your explorer defeats them, flip them over and treat them as empty cave tiles (except for the thieves – where you also deal out some karmic justice and rob them of their resources). If a cave dweller defeats your explorer, however, you retreat one tile, choose half your resources (rounded down) to throw away, and end your turn (the thieves instead keep resources they take). In a tie, you simply retreat one tile.

And before I forget it: trading! Trading is totally a thing you can do. You can trade with or give resources to opponents at any time, and you can trade resources with the supply at a ratio of five-to-one.

Fight of the Tiger

Winning

As soon as a player controls all four shrines, they immediately win and are crowned eternal ruler of The Island of El Dorado!

To control a surface shrine, a player needs to buy an offering (once only) while their explorer is on a tile adjacent to it. To control the cave shrine however, an explorer simply discovers/moves onto it, then moves off and takes it with them.

But there’s a catch! The cave shrine can be stolen in two ways:

  1. Other explorers can steal the cave shrine by defeating the shrine-holding explorer in glorious combat.
  2. Cave dwellers can steal the cave shrine if they defeat the shrine-holding explorer in less-glorious-but-more-cavernous combat. If this happens, shuffle the cave shrine back into the cave stack and lament (lamenting is optional).

Shiny shrines

What I liked

The artwork is incredi-ball. The Island of El Dorado features images of actual 16th century artwork, bringing an extra layer of immersion to the game.

The components are very high quality. I love the individualised explorer meeples!

Each explorer gets their own special power – this adds some nice variety to the game, so long as players regularly change up the explorer they choose.

What I didn’t like

Losing a battle to an opponent with your explorer feels pretty punishing, yo. You lose half your resources AND potentially the rest of your turn AND your explorer can get thrown across the island. In a roll and move-powered game, that has the potential to hurt your chances to stay in the race in some circumstances.

Some explorers’ special powers seem to be a lot more special than others; this can lead to a potential for imbalance in the game as they become clear ‘every-play’ choices. I recommend mitigating this with a house rules like “you can’t play the same explorer two games in a row.”

What I would love to see

  1. Some revised/more balanced character powers, e.g. maybe something like ‘may re-roll one of their battle dice during a combat’, and/or ‘add one to their gather die.’
  2. Optional ‘less painful’ alternate consequences for losing combat as an explorer (when fighting an opponent).

The Historical Suspect-meeples

Recommendations

  • First-Timers: This is a solid gateway game, using straightforward yet strategic mechanics to help new board gamers transition into the wide world of tabletop games.
  • Family: Considering trading and also the strategy involved with combat/pre-combat set-up, I think anyone from their lower teens and older would thoroughly enjoy this game.
  • Friends: Definitely worth playing with your friends, but I would recommend getting everyone to regularly cycle through explorers to keep gameplay fresh and exciting.

Conclusion

The Island of El Dorado offers a refreshing take on roll and move, mixing it with a ‘roll and gather’ feature that gives gameplay a nice strategic feel, without adding much to the weight of the game. It also kneads in a good amount of resource management coupled with light elements of worker placement and area control that really add well to the overall feel and (the good kind of) tension within the game. Turns are smooth and straightforward, and the artwork gives a real immersive sense of discovery as though you are exploring a wondrous new island teeming with gold, mystery and danger.

The Island of El Dorado will make a welcome addition to any board game shelfie!

BTW Disclaimer: I backed The Island of El Dorado on Kickstarter. This review featured the Kickstarter edition of the game, and may include components and/or component quality not seen in potential future retail editions of the game.

PS. Daniel Aronson has just finished up a completely stretched-goaled second Kickstarter campaign with a reprint of the base game featured above & an expansion called The Thieves of El Dorado! Peeps can late pledge for the base game’s Kickstarter edition and/or the expansion here.

View the BoardGameGeek link here.

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