Between publishing and dentistry, I’ve been super busy lately.  So it’s been an entire month since my last post.  Fortunately, I’ve still had enough time to play plenty of new-to-me games that I’m eager to share.  And what better way to end my posting drought than with an all Knizia post?!?

No Mercy

No Mercy KR

2 Plays (4 Players)

Korean publisher, Mandoo Games, caught wind that I was a Knizia fan and generously sent me their three recent Knizia publications to explore and share my thoughts on.  We’ll start with No Mercy, which is another push-your-luck game by the good Doctor.  

Interestingly, 2022’s No Mercy has a lengthy history as it is a retitled edition of 2021’s Hit! by French Publisher Pixie Games, which is a slightly modified design based on 2021’s Family Inc by Austrian publisher Piatnik, which is itself a reimplementation of 2007’s Cheeky Monkey which has seen many editions over the years.

It’s unclear whether No Mercy or Hit! will become easily available for folks in North America, as it does not have English rules in the box (although you can find a fan translation on Board Game Geek).  That’s a bit of a shame, because I find myself preferring No Mercy over Family Inc. (although who knows… it’s possible that Cheeky Monkey is the best of the bunch).  

I already shared my full thoughts on Family Inc., and while I enjoyed trying the game, No Mercy has now rendered it obsolete.  Most notably, No Mercy does not come packaged in a disgustingly massive and airy box—rather it comes in an appropriately small card box for a fittingly fun filler.

I won’t go into the full gameplay here because it’s so similar to how I explained Family Inc.  But the gameplay differences are notable, as I find myself preferring them as well.

With Family Inc., you only steal from other players’ queued stashes when you conclude your turn without busting.  With No Mercy, you must decide to steal mid-turn, the moment you reveal a matching card, and sometimes it’s better to not steal from others if you wish to draw a second or third card without the chance of busting.

There is also no race to 100 points or awarding of swingy 50-point diamonds.  Rather, you’ll simply play through the entire deck and add up your collected cards at the end.  

At any rate, if you have the opportunity to track down a copy of No Mercy or Hit without much trouble, it’s certainly a quick and lively crowd-pleaser.  Players will enjoy the freedom of expressing themselves by playing it safe and collecting a few cards per turn or pushing their luck deeper into the draw pile to hopefully nab lucrative stacks from vulnerable opponents.  But at the end of the day, it’s mostly just a luck fest.  The important thing is that it knows its limits and stays well within those boundaries. 

Prognosis: Fair

Where to Acquire: I’m told that BGG will be selling this after Essen Spiel.


Gang of Dice


2 Plays (4 Players)

Unlike No Mercy or the next Mandoo Games title (Treasures of Nakbe), Gang of Dice is a Knizia design with no history that I’m aware of.  It’s also admittedly the Mandoo game I was most looking forward to trying precisely because it is the most unique of the bunch.  

If I had to give this design a nickname, it would be Ego Yahtzee.  And I love a push-your-luck game that puts players’ egos front and center.

The challenge takes place over 12 rounds of players selecting any number of dice from their hidden supply to roll and attempting to roll the highest sum with the winner claiming all of the dice that were invested in rolls that round.  The player with the most dice at the end wins.  The catch is that you must accomplish this without exploding.

Each round, a new card is revealed that displays a dangerous combination or threshold that players must avoid.  There are two types of cards: Immediate Explosions and End-of-Turn Bombs.  If an immediate explosion displays a threshold of 10+, then that means a player explodes the moment they roll a dice total of 10 or higher.  If an End-of-Turn Bomb displays “2 Odds,” then a player explodes if their final result has 2 or more odd numbers among all their dice.  Other possibilities include rolling a 4 or 5, rolling a pair, rolling three different number results, etc.  While the differences are outwardly subtle, they feel surprisingly unique when deciding how many dice to roll and knowing whether there is the risk of an immediate explosion or not.

Every player gets one turn to roll their dice, exploded dice end up in the middle, and the highest roll that did not explode takes all of the dice that were rolled (whether they exploded or not).

You’re always allowed to choose as many dice as you wish to start your roll, then you have 3 Yahtzee style rolls to get the best result (unless you explode immediately).  That decision of how many dice to roll is layered with plenty of nuance on its own—more dice means you’ll have more options to work with, yet you also have a higher risk of exploding and losing those extra dice than if you had chosen less.  Wise players will know when to cut their losses in a round and roll the obligatory 1 die rather than risk it big.  

But the one trademark Knizian wrinkle that really seals the deal for Gang of Dice is the fact that the sixth side of every die displays a Boss rather than a 6.  This Boss face has no value, ever, meaning it will never trigger an explosion, only the other faces (1-5) can do that.  Furthermore, ties are fairly common, and the tiebreaker always goes in favor of whoever rolled more dice.  So a sum of 9 from three dice (a 4, 5, and Boss) always beats out a sum of 9 from two dice.  

Boss’s are great to roll in terms of explosion avoidance and tiebreakers, yet they contribute nothing to your chances of having the highest sum and outright winning the round.  So do you keep a boss result from your first or second roll, or reroll it?!  Arghh!

Turn order plays a key role as well.  The winner of one round starts the next, and they have the pressure of setting the bar and hoping nobody else clears it.  If you’re last to play, then you know exactly what result you need to win—all you have to do is muster the guts to shoot for it and hope it doesn’t blow up in your face.

Although it only supports 2-4 players, Gang of Dice seems poised to be my favorite Knizia dice game since Rapido/Excape and LAMA Dice.  It’s a worthy addition to his noteworthy push-your-luck titles.

Prognosis: Good

Where to Acquire: I’m told that BGG will be selling this after Essen Spiel.


Treasures of Nakbe

Box_Top final

1 Play

The final Mandoo x Knizia collaboration is yet another design with a storied past.  This one is a reimplimentation of Ravensburger’s Drachenhort (2015).  Notably, Ravensburger never brought this title to North America despite it being a solid family game.  But I suppose that doesn’t matter any more, because Treasures of Nakbe (1) does include English rules, (2) will hopefully make its way to the US, and (3) features some interesting new twists to the gameplay.

These gameplay additions are not only important for one-upping Drachenhort, but they also serve to differentiate the experience further from the similar shared-incentive Knizia racing game, Winner’s Circle.  Both of these designs take the infamous roll-to-move mechanism and make it engaging and enjoyable by giving players the freedom to decide which figure to move with that die result.  In both games, each figure can only only be moved once per round (usually).  So players aren’t just assigning their high rolls to their favorite horse or explorer, but they’re also bullying the easiest targets with their low rolls to lock them up for the rest of the round.

In Winner’s Circle, this experience is much more strategic and calculating.  Horses are racing around a track and their individual cards display the odds of their movement.  Players make bets based on the horse cards and starting positions, and then they strive to support the horses they bet on while sabotaging the rest.  

Treasures of Nakbe streamlines and simplifies the strategy of Winner’s Circle by simply dealing one secret card to each player that displays the three explorers they are invested in.  The goal is to help those explorers race to stay ahead of the competition as they run from the dreaded guardian who ever closes in on them.  With no bets being made and no probabilities to analyze, this game offers a much more family-friendly experience while still keeping things interesting with the game board interactions along the way.

The movement in Nakbe comes with plenty of opportunities for leap-frogging, bonuses, and traps that players must navigate.  Rolling a 4 might actually allow you to move an explorer more than 4 spaces, because you only count empty spaces (meaning you’ll skip a space occupied by another explorer).  Furthermore, you might decide to move one of the seven explorers that you aren’t invested in, even with a high roll, particularly if they stop on a space that earns you a bonus point token.  Or if you have a beef with a particular explorer and manage to get the right roll, you can send them right into a trap which resets them to the very back of the race (3 spaces in front of the Guardian).  Like Mario Kart, there’s a lot of thrillingly chaotic rubber-banding to be had here.

But regardless of who you move or where they land, the moved explorer always gets placed on the dark side of the space they occupy.  This means they cannot be moved again… unless you roll a 2.  A 2 lets you move any explorer 2 spaces (even one that is currently in darkness), and there are 2 faces of the die can give you this result.  

But where most of the dice results only let you move explorers still in the light, you’ll eventually reach a point where all explorers are in darkness.  This triggers the end of the round where explorers are pushed into the light side of their space and the Guardian plays catch up in an attempt to catch a straggler.  Most rounds do result in a new victim (that Guardian is a quick one), and that explorer comes off the board and will score invested players the lowest number of points still available.  If your explorer survives longer during the race, or if it escapes the dungeon, then it will score more points.  

But the dungeon is only the first half of the game, as another race takes place on the jungle side of the board.  This is where Treasure of Nakbe stands out from its predecessor.  Where Drachenhort’s second map merely rearranged the number and placement of traps, Nakbe brings in three optional modules that add to the wacky theme and experience.  We of course opted to include all three.  One corner of the board has the dreaded river that acts as double darkness, meaning it takes an extra round for explorers who stop there to be even be able to move again (unless a 2 is rolled which will land that explorer in a trap and set them back near the guardian… for better or worse).  Another space has a shortcut that goes both ways, meaning an explorer that stops there has to take this passage which will set them further behind or further ahead and potentially even swap spots with another explorer.  Finally, another corner of the board is a one-time land mine, or more accurately a snake pit, that instantly eliminates that explorer and every other explorer in that column!

Despite how much luck is involved in terms of which explorers everyone is randomly invested in (it’s possible for multiple players to be supporting one explorer while only one or even no players support another), how many points you get from a face-down bonus token (0-3), and what dice result you roll each turn, Reiner crams the game with plenty of clever considerations between who to move with your die result, what type of space they will land on, and which explorers are most important to help or hurt across the two races.  The luck-driven features not only add to the silliness, but they also make the game more competitive and approachable for younger or more casual players.

Treasures of Nakbe presents yet another compelling case for why Reiner Knizia is my most trusted designer.  He understands what makes games enjoyable and consistently injects them with the right blend of dramatic luck and meaningful decisions for the game’s intended audience.  In this case, I now have a Chutes and Ladders style of game that is actually good and perfect for any combination of family, friends, gamers, and non-gamers.

Prognosis: Good

Where to Acquire: I’m told that BGG will be selling this after Essen Spiel.


Great Wall of China

uncaptioned image

1 Play

You know what’s surprising?  According to Board Game Geek, there is only one game in existence that goes by the title “Great Wall of China.”   You know what’s less surprising?  It’s designed by Reiner Knizia ?.

Here we have a classic Knizia card game from 2006 that honestly feels like a card game version of Samurai… only Samurai got its own official card game 3 years later which is even more faithful to the source material.  Great Wall also mimics the auctions, hand management, and card ability chaos of Condottiere, but it admittedly does so in a more reserved and balanced manner.

Like Samurai, players have identical supplies that are individually shuffled and enter each hand in a unique order.  The key is to make the most of your current opportunities while you wait for the right cards to come at hopefully the best times.  If you can manage to sort of keep track of what other players have left to play, then that can offer huge advantages as well.

Players are competing to earn point tokens by contributing to various segments of wall.  If you start your turn as the single largest contributor in a particular row, then you get to claim a point token in that row.  But there’s a catch!  That point token goes onto one of your cards in that row and weakens your contributions by the value of the points on the token, meaning it’s much harder to claim the second token if you’ve greedily snatched up a high one.

The weakening of the first player and rewarding of the second player is an important incentive that often convinces folks to give up on the first dibs prize and wait for the remaining one.  The row will be cleared out and refreshed, and both point tokens will finally be earned if the second player can maintain their new position at the top until their next turn.

When one player commits big to a row, all hope is not lost for the others.  A small subset of your card supply will let you play a dragon to swallow up (and replace) an opponent card, another will erase the values of all cards in a row and transform the competition into most cards played, and another will ramp up in value as you play more of that type.  Where your special cards are rare, it’s best to be cautious as you decide where and when to commit them.

Some rows offer a polarizing pair of points, like 8 and 1, which drives players to get entrenched in an epic battle of unyielding wills that quickly drains their hand of cards.  You can always spend one or both actions of your turn drawing a card, but then you might be letting opponents slip away with easy points.  Other rows may offer a very uniform pair of points, like 4 and 4, where a pair of players can more easily and efficiently give way for one to claim the first token so the other can secure the second.

There’s plenty of tactical nuance here that I’m impressed and engaged during play.  I’m just not sure that Great Wall of China does quite enough to stand out from the Samurai & Condottiere crowd.  Most critically, it’s not quite fast enough to justify playing this over more meaty strategic games that also play in under an hour.

Prognosis: Fair

Where to Acquire: Board Game Geek Market

The Great Battle of China

Heckmeck am Karteneck

Heckmeck am Karteneck - front cover

2 Plays (4 & 5 Players)

Reiner Knizia loves to revisit his strongest brands with designs that put a spin on what makes them shine.  It’s smart from a business perspective, as these brands already have a built-in following, and it’s fun from a fan’s perspective, as you get to see a designer riff on the concept.  Yet as I’ve mentioned with other lines (Azul, Super Skill Pinball, Keyflower), they also run the risk of intimidating newcomers or burning out fans.

Last month I explored the roll & write version of Lost Cities, which was enjoyable even it it didn’t quite live up to the original game’s tension.  I own the original LAMA and newer LAMA Dice (and actually strongly prefer LAMA Dice), as well as Modern Art and Modern Art Card Game (although the Card Game didn’t land for us), as well as Battle Line (Schotten Totten 1) and Schotten Totten 2.  And of course I plan to acquire everything in the My City line including the upcoming roll & write and big box sequel, My Island.  I also own a couple standalone (or combinable) experiences from The Quest for El Dorado line.  Then Reiner has sibling designs like Tigris & Euphrates and Yellow & Yangtze, or Ingenious & Axio, or pseudo-sibling designs like Through the Desert & Blue Lagoon, Samurai & Babylonia, and so on.  And none of this accounts for when publishers retheme or revitalize an older design where Reiner has reworked the rules (such as our upcoming Zoo Vadis, which was originally Quo Vadis).

Existing fans of Knizia already have a lot to keep up with, but new fans find themselves quickly falling down a bottomless rabbit hole of over 600 published games.  No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot to chew on ?.  As a fan and explorer of Knizia games, I’ve taken it upon myself to play every noteworthy (and acquirable) title in his ludography and I’ve been having a blast doing it.  Hopefully my shared impressions serve to guide newcomers to some reliable classics while uncovering hidden gems for Kniziaphiles.

So where does the 2021 release, Heckmeck am Karteneck, fit into all of this?  Well, it’s a spinoff design of Reiner’s popular dice game Pickomino (aka Heckmeck) that doesn’t have a single die in the box.  But it’s also arguably a hidden gem from among the at least 12 solid games that he put out in 2021 alone.  Part of the reason it’s hidden is that the US market has yet to see Heckmeck am Karteneck localized in our market.  Yet it’s still easy enough to obtain from a European Amazon website (and the rulebook has an English translation).

I’ve enjoyed Pickomino Deluxe well enough and actually think it is one of Reiner’s better Yahtzee style or push-your-luck games, even if it can sometimes overstay it’s welcome and tends to be best at lower player counts (2-4).  The thing that interested me about Heckmeck am Karteneck is that it replaces the push-your-luck dice rolling with hand management card auctions similar to some of my favorite Knizia auctioning games and, unlike its predecessor, it plays best at 4-6 players.  In fact, HaK feels like a blend of Taj Mahal’s game of chicken card auctions (also found in Beowulf and Karate Tomate), Pickomino’s domino claiming and stealing, and For Sale’s auction rounds.

Just like in Pickomino, each decision you make comes down to whether to keep going or call it quits, and if you keep going then you have to select a different number from the numbers you’ve already committed to.  But, in a shift that many hobbyist gamers will probably appreciate, rather than rolling the dice to find out of you succeed or bust, you’re simply deciding which cards to play from your hand.  You still need one or more worms among your played cards in order to qualify for the best prizes of the round, but you’ll always get a tile regardless of whether you raise your bid or pass.

You don’t even have to bid higher than the previous player, and often you don’t even want to, and there’s a few reasons for that.  For one thing, the moment you pass out of a round is the moment you get to draw two cards to replenish your hand, but the last player to pass draws nothing.  For another thing, just like in Pickomino, you can steal the top tile from an opponent if you pass when the sum of your cards equals the value of the domino on top of that opponent’s stack.  

Once everybody passes, the display of new dominos is awarded out where the highest bidder gets the best tile, the second highest bidder gets the second best domino, and so on.  But if you pass during a round and don’t have a worm among your played cards, then you immediately have to take the worst tile in the display and you don’t get to steal from another player (even if your played sum equals their displayed domino).

As always, there are subtle layers here to the strategies, like passing early to immediately take a domino—not because that new domino is good but because it covers up and protects another domino that you can see your opponents are scheming to steal.  Or you can bluff your early card plays with weak numbers to give opponents a false sense of security so they pass early only for you to drop a fat stack of 5s and exceed their bid.

Just like many other Knizia designs, Heckmeck am Karteneck is so sneakily clever and surprisingly solid that I’ve simply given up trying to understand how he does it.  At this point, I’m just along for the enjoyable ride.

Prognosis: Good

Where to Acquire: Board Game Bliss

Heckmeck am Karteneck - game situation


Box cover

2 Plays (4 players)

Aristocracy is an interesting title in Reiner Knizia’s ludography.  It was released in 2019 by publisher Tasty Minstrel Games—one of their last titles to be released before they went bankrupt.  Obviously (and unfortunatly) Aristocracy wasn’t a big enough release to save that sinking ship.  

Although I’m a major Knizia fan, this big box game has been living in the shadows of his other more successful or more interesting releases during that same time period including 2018’s Blue Lagoon and Yellow & Yangtze, 2019’s Babylonia and Tajuto, and 2020’s My City, among others.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t do enough to justify its escape from the shadows of those giants.  On top of that, I’m not a huge fan of the art style for Aristocracy which makes it look like a 15-year-old game rather than a 3-year-old game.

Despite the fact that the publisher is now extinct, the game itself was actually pretty easy to find online.  And while it’s quickly been forgotten by the masses, I was curious to give it a try.  I’ve come to find that even a sub-par Knizia tends to be more engaging and worthwhile than many of the hottest flash in a pan games in our cult-of-the-new industry.

Aristocracy is smooth and simple, as expected… at least after setup.  First, you must painstakingly lay out a bunch of square land tiles facedown on the 111 spaces of the board, put out 59 more fish and point tiles in their designated spaces, separate the 120 player markers into the four colors, and then you are ready to get to the smooth and simple gameplay.

On your turn you’ll merely reveal 3 land tiles and then select any face-up land tile to activate.  There are 3 types of land tiles—resources, buildings, and royalty—and those types are further split into subcategories (making for 8 unique tiles total).  Whatever face-up tile you select will activate all the tiles of that subgroup.  If it’s a resource like wood that you’ve chosen, then you’ll collect all of the face-up wood from the board.  If it’s a building like the castle you’ve selected, then cover all the face-up castles with your player tokens.  If it’s the king or queen that you’ve selected, then remove all of that chosen royalty and then place your markers onto a number of empty spaces equal to the tiles you removed.

In other words, gather up resources to collect sets and score points OR play your markers onto the board to establish connections and race to earn points.  There are enough ways to score points here (building a line that connects cities, placing enough markers in one district, placing a marker in all districts, collecting lots of resources and sets of resources) that you’ll always have a decent strategy to work toward.  Whether that strategy pans out or not is going to heavily depend on how the tiles are revealed and how tempting those tiles are to your opponents.

In our 4-player games, Aristocracy was a roller coaster of delights and frustrations.  Delights when a player revealed the perfect tiles for them to immediately claim on their turn.  Frustrations when opponents relentlessly steal resources and claim royalty and block paths right out from under your nose.  It seems that at 4-players, you rarely end up getting what you want, and anything you pass on in one turn is all but guaranteed to be long gone by the next turn.

It’s often hard to know which tiles to flip up and feel a strong sense of cleverness from this decision.  With there being 8 different tile types on the board, you’ll usually flip 3 entirely different tiles that infrequently reveal the type you were hoping for.  Players will also feel strongly incentivized to claim whatever tile type shows the most currently face up on their turn.  This can easily lead to the impression of inconsequential decisions for gamers who are used to less luck and more control.

But in reality, Aristocracy is a game of strong short-term tactics laced with a pinch of long-term strategies.  Sometimes it’s better to ignore snatching up corn for now and instead claim a building that blocks an opponent from making a connection that scores them 6 or more points.  Thankfully, the scoring also encourages players to circle back to a consistent strategy rather than aimlessly chase the tile trends.  

Yet the location and timing of the revealed tiles can absolutely favor one player over another.  If Aristocracy was much longer than its 45-minute playtime, then that amount of luck would be a major issue.  As it is, this one gets by just fine as an enjoyable and approachable little game.  Its biggest weakness is the fact that it competes in the same sphere as the much cheaper and more strategic and easier to setup Blue Lagoon which likewise features route building, set collection, various scoring strategies, and simple rules.  Even if it’s not a bad game, Aristocracy is fighting a losing battle—heck, this battle was lost before it even started.

Prognosis: Fair

Where to Acquire: Browse Prices Online

Three player game

Marshmallow Test

Marshmallow Test, Gamewright, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

2 Plays (4 & 5 players)

The famous Marshmallow Test is a funny theme for a game.  Even funnier is Reiner Knizia’s video about said test. But perhaps the funniest of all is the part that they leave out—the part that they don’t tell you about in the child-focused marshmallow experiment.  I’m referring to the part where the child who waits the longest to eat their marshmallow doesn’t get any at all.  Indeed, this experiment is not just a lesson that good things come to those who wait.  It’s also a warning that those who don’t seize the moment may watch the golden opportunities of life pass them by.  Well, perhaps the experiment doesn’t teach that, but Reiner Knizia’s Marshmallow Test certainly does.

Here you’ll find a bog-standard trick taking game.  5 suits or colors, each with cards the range from 1-12.  One player leads a trick, the others follow suit, the highest takes the trick and leads the next one.  If the others can’t follow suit, they can play a different suit—either a worthless card or a trump suit card.  Like I said, bog-standard.  But it wouldn’t be a Knizia game if it didn’t have a few tiny twists with massive ripple effects.

The object of the game is to earn marshmallows—the first person to 20 wins the game.  You’ll only earn marshmallows in a round if you can manage to win three tricks; at that moment, you’ll earn marshmallows equal to the number of tricks that your opponents have won and you’ll be out for the rest of the round.  So of course, you want to be the last player standing in a round, right?  Of course not.  You see, the round immediately ends when all but one player has gone out, and that player gets nothing.  You lose.  Good day, sir.  As compensation, they do get to choose the trump suit of the next round (after seeing their new hand).  But the real prize of the round is being the last person to earn marshmallows, as you’ll also be the one who earns the most.  A couple of late-round finishes will see you well on your way to the victorious 20.

So this dynamic brings the first magical touch to the experience—one of nail-biting decisions for when to sit back and let a trick pass you by and when to throw down your best cards.  Time your wins wrong and you may find that you’re too early to earn anything good or too late to catch up to your opponents and earn anything at all.  But the second magical touch comes from the game-ending objective—race to 20 marshmallows and win instantly (even mid-round).

Once players are two or three hands into the game, the entire aura changes as the table’s objective transforms from earn the most marshmallows for myself to stop the winning player from reaching 20.  Suddenly, the losing players form an unspoken alliance as they force the lead player to win all three tricks early (gaining them little-to-no marshmallows) or keeping them from winning three tricks at all (gaining them absolutely nothing).  

Where so many modern trick-taking games bend over backwards with wonky rules or entire board games grafted onto them—all in an effort to try and stand out—Marshmallow Test simply tosses a couple simple ingredients into the tried-and-true recipe.  But those key ingredients successfully add a tactical tension to each hand and a refreshing arc to each game.  Marshmallow Test likely won’t become anybody’s all-time favorite card game or even trick-taker… it’s too reserved for that.  But it’s another strong case in a compelling argument which proves that Reiner Knizia is one of the most talented and versatile game designers of all time.  

Prognosis: Fair

Where to Acquire: Amazon

Marshmallow Test, Gamewright, 2020 — on display at NY Toy Fair 2020

Quest for El Dorado: Dangers & Muisca

Nordic edition cover

2 Plays (2 & 4 players)

Reiner Knizia isn’t really known for designing expansions to his existing games.  On the contrary, he’s known for keeping things pared down and streamlined.  And even though publishers push him to include advanced variants or additional modules to a design, he’ll usually say that he prefers to play the simplest version of the game.  I suppose that rather than pile more complication onto a pure design, his go-to philosophy has been to tweak the core concept itself and turn that into new game.  That’s why we’ve ended up with sibling games like Tigris & Euphrates and Yellow & Yangtze, Schotten Totten and Schotten Totten 2, My City and My Island, Ingenious and Axio, etc.

Despite all of that, The Quest for El Dorado has been an irresistible design that Dr. Knizia just can’t leave alone.  Yet if there is any game in his entire ludography that lends itself best to expansion content, it undoubtedly has to be this one.  This game features all the key ingredients for expansion content:

  • Deck Building with “the more, the merrier” card options
  • Modular map with an increasing variety of map tiles
  • Massive sales, universal acclaim, undying enthusiasm

Although North American publisher, Ravensburger, has sadly decided to stick with the status quo on this game (no updated art, no more expansions, etc.), we English speakers are fortunate that Lautapelit also has an English edition and even more love for the design.  Not only did Lautapelit update the production with larger cards and glorious Vincent Detrait art, but they’re also keeping us well fed with more expansion content.

Dangers & Muisca features two main modules that can be individually or collectively added in to the El Dorado experience.  One of them is a variety of map tiles (Dangers) that can be positioned adjacent to or overlapping the terrain, another is a small deck of 8 cards known as the Muisca tribe.

The Danger tiles include five types that can be implemented into your map in any assortment or combination:  

  • Dangerous Spaces are found on many of these tiles and display a skull symbol where players are allowed to pass through these spaces but never end their turn on them.  This element is interesting as it simultaneously prevents blocking on these spaces and forces players to rush through them in a single turn or go around if they are unable.
  • Mountains include a narrow pass surrounded by impassable mountain terrain, allowing players to create their own shortcuts or bottlenecks if they wish.  The catch is that this narrow pass also displays a skull (no ending your turn there to outright block others).
  • Rivers, Lakes, and a Water Vortex massively ups the water spaces of your map, putting a greater emphasis on paddle cards.  But more than that, the rivers and vortex feature arrows that push your explorer one space further if you complete a card’s movement on them.  So traveling along these spaces feels a lot like the moving walkways at the airport where you are moving faster and further than the steps you are taking.  It’s quite fun to string together a 4 space movement with a couple single paddle cards.
  • The crocodile infested Swamps are perhaps the most potent tiles of the bunch.  They are essentially wild spaces, but like a swamp they bog down your forward momentum.  Where rubble spaces (from the base game) require you to discard a certain number of cards, swamp spaces require you to play any card with an exactly matching value.  So to enter a space with one crocodile, you must play a single machete, paddle, or coin card.  To enter a three-crocodile space, you must play a triple machete, paddle, or coin card.  Those crocodiles are very particular about their quantities.  If you plan to traverse the swamps, then it’s important to be prepared with a deck that has a variety of values (trashing all your 1s or ignoring 2s or 3s can be detrimental to your success).
  • Finally, Shrines & Artifacts are a bit of a nod to the pickup and deliver expandalone game The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples.  Here, four shrines are placed out along the route to El Dorado, and players must stop at each one and sacrifice (trash) a matching colored card in order to acquire the artifact.  You must collect all four artifacts before you can enter the gate to El Dorado and win the game.  Rather than be a simple race to the finish line, this forces players to stop at four checkpoints along the way and be prepared with the right colored card in hand when they reach each checkpoint.  While our first setup of this was as simple as placing shrines beside or on top of the linear race track, I’m now realizing that this allows for maps that feature branching paths the players much travel down and backtrack from.

And that’s really the crux of the modular Dangers expansion—it gives you loads more tools for adding refreshing challenges, obstacles, and routes to the map.  My only complaint is that this toolbox doesn’t come with any suggested setups.  Players with a basic level of game design sensibilities should be able to figure where these dangers will fit best.  But I could easily see some folks arranging maps the result in painfully slow segments, blatantly obvious strategies, or both.  On the other hand, the absence of suggested maps in this expansion means that I’ve finally discovered that part of the fun of Quest for El Dorado is in the setup itself—embracing your inner game designer and concocting a thrilling journey for everyone to enjoy.

But new space types and increased map customizability aren’t the only killer addition that this expansion offers.  Have you ever had the experience where you draw a super strong card from your deck at the most inopportune moment?  Like when the triple paddle in your hand is useless because you are completely surrounded by jungles and villages?  Me too.  Let me introduce you to Muisca cards.

The Muisca tribe is a deck of 8 cards that gets placed next to the market board.  Two cards are drawn from the top and displayed beside the market, increasing your card purchase options from 6 to 8.  And a purchased Muisca card is immediately replaced with another until they are all gone.  These cards don’t look too different from your standard market options: 1 wild, 2 wild, 3 machetes, 3 paddles, 2 coins, etc.  Yet they cost more money to purchase compared to the matching market cards—what gives?

I’ll tell you what gives: Muisca cards are bankable cards.  When you draw one into your hand, you can either play and discard it like normal or you can set it aside and save it for a future turn (where it doesn’t take up space in your hand).  This allows you to call upon a stored Muisca card at precisely the moment when you need it most, rather than hope to draw it into your hand on the right turn.  Players are allowed to store 2 Muisca cards at a time, and these cards add yet another layer of strategy to the experience.

While the first expansion to El Dorado (Heroes & Hexes) is one that I’ve held out on due to its mixed reception, Dangers & Muisca seems poised to be much more universally praised.  It cleverly blends unique ideas and fresh variety without losing the purity of the deck-building race experience.  In other words, it’s Reiner Knizia doing what he does best—riffing on the brilliant formula while keeping it smooth and streamlined.

Prognosis: Excellent

Where to Acquire: Publisher Lautapelit

Note: This expansion is not compatible with the North American edition of The Quest for El Dorado (from Ravensburger).  

Next year Bitewing Games will be launching two big box Knizia games via crowdfunding.  The first one will be Zoo Vadis, launching in January!  It’s going to be epic—we can’t wait to share more.  Be sure to subscribe to the Bitewing Games newsletter where we’ll keep you up to date on our Knizia projects!

Prognosis: a forecast of how the game will likely fare in my collection, and perhaps yours as well.

Excellent– Among the best in its genre.  This game will never leave my collection.

Good– A very solid game and a keeper on the shelf.

Fair– It’s fine. It’s enjoyable. But I’m not likely to seek it out or keep it around.

Poor– Really doesn’t fit my tastes; not one I want to revisit… but hey, that’s just me.

Hopeless– Never again. Run & hide. Demon be gone.

Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the upcoming Zoo Vadis by Reiner Knizia. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share experiences that, much like a bitewing x-ray, provide a unique perspective and refreshing interaction.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Dan

    Thank you for this write up, Nick. How solid is your source that No Mercy! will be available in the BGG store. If that’s true, it would save me some work tracking it down. Best wishes, Dan

    1. Nick Murray

      Hey Dan,

      Mandoo Games themselves told me their Knizia titles would end up in the BGG store. But I do wonder if they only meant Gang of Dice and Treasures of Nakbe simply because they don’t even have an English edition of No Mercy. The box has No Mercy on it in English, but there are no English rules inside. So that one still feels like a maybe to me.

  2. Dan

    Thanks! Not having English rules in the BGG store has happened before (and with a Knizia): my Ludonova version of Hollywood Golden Age only had Spanish rules. Fingers crossed.

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