Fool’s Gold is a new gold prospecting board game for three to five players designed by Joshua Balvin with art by Ian O’Toole. It works for ages 13 and up and plays from 60 to 90 minutes.
Published by Rock Paper Scissors Games and Passport Game Studios, Fool’s Gold has a suggested price of $45 but can be found online for about $30.
Players take on the role of rich investors sending prospectors to mine in California from 1849 to 1853. They go to different regions, including, of course, the hills, and search for gold. They find lots of silt, encounter bad weather, and false alarms.
How it works:
Each player starts the game with two to four miners, depending on the number of players. They also get six coins and a screen to hide their miners, coins, and the cards they collect..
The starting player rolls 10 prospecting dice. Any with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 will be placed on the path to their corresponding location — hills, forest, mountains, river, and lake. Dice rolled 6 go in the middle of the board.
Players then take turns doing one of the following actions: putting a miner on a path to a location and paying the cost by putting the coins in front of their screen — the closer to the mine, the higher the cost; putting one of the dice that rolled 6 on a path to a mine and paying the cost by putting the coins in front of their screen, which is the number of dice already on that path; put one miner in front of their screen to take back three coins, which the player can then use again; or pass, putting any remaining miners in reserve at any location.
Then it’s time to mine. The number of miners on a path to a location is multiplied by the number of dice on the path. That’s how many cards from the mine will be drawn.
Each mine has gold, gems, silt, bad weather, and false alarms. Bad weather counts as two cards instead of one. False alarms are shuffled with the valuables drawn, and cards equal to the number of false alarms are placed at the bottom of the deck.
The player with the most miners at a location, including those in reserve, gets to choose from the gold and gems at the mine first. A player can also choose not to take a card and use their miner to take two cards from the bank instead.
And if a player doesn’t like the choices available, he can turn over his miner and take a chance on winter.
Once all the miners have taken their actions, the starting player rolls the winter die, which determines how many cards will be drawn from each location. Cards are drawn as before.
All the decks are shuffled and replaced on the board. Each round, players get a new miner and a coin.
At the end of five rounds, players total their scores. Gems multiply based on how many different gems players collect; they’re worth from 1 to 15 points.
Gold is added up from each location. The location that produced the most gold for each player is removed, as fool’s gold. Players lose five points for each location where they did not collect gold.
The player with the most points wins.
Why you might buy Fool’s Gold:
Fool’s Gold has a great gambling element to it, but you won’t lose your money, and you get to play with your friends. You are forced to make interesting and difficult decisions throughout the game.
There’s quite a bit of luck, but you also have knowledge of exactly what cards are in what deck, as long as you’re paying attention to what other players take.
It’s also different from any game I’ve played, but it’s easy to pick up, and the rulebook is clear.
You have to balance your need for coins versus your need for gold and gems. The more miners at a location, the more cards will be drawn. That increases your odds of getting gold and gems, but it also increases the odds of running into bad weather and false alarms. Plus, there will be more players competing for the same good cards.
The theme comes alive in surprising ways. In one game, the lake failed to produce any cards during the winter phase, and a player said, “It must have frozen over.”
The combination of dice and cards makes for moments of high drama — victories snatched with a great card draw and careful plans gone awry when a location simply isn’t available because of the dice.
It’s easy to blame the game when you lose and take the credit when you win. Let’s be honest. Most people like that in a game.
The game plays equally well, but quite differently, with three, four, or five players.
The art inside the box is very good, and the colors are rich.
Why you might not buy Fool’s Gold:
You do need three to five people to play, which is a little limiting.
The privacy screen tips over easily.
There’s lots of luck in the game, so if you like pure strategy, you’ll be frustrated.
You have to diversify to win the game; there aren’t multiple strategies that are equally good.
Honestly, I likely would have passed by this game because of the box art and the theme. Neither interested me much.
But I’m so glad I played Fool’s Gold because it’s special.
I play a lot of games for a lot of different reasons — to hang with friends, to push myself to think more strategically, to bring family together.
I play Fool’s Gold for all of those reasons, but even more for this one: It’s fun. It’s a wild ride of probability and luck, and every single thing about it works.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Fool’s Gold from Passport Game Studios. I wasn’t required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.