(2015 – Passport Game Studios, Rock Paper Scissors Games)
Passport Game Studios publisher has quickly built a reputation for partnering with smaller-independent publishers as well as foreign-based publishers to bring all sorts of unique board and card games to the U.S. Earlier this year, they partnered with small, Seattle-based publisher Rock Paper Scissors to publish Fool’s Gold, a board game based around the infamous mid-1800’s gold rush, designed by newcomer Joshua Balvin (whose next design, Salem will also be published through the Passport/Rock Paper Scissors partnership).
In Fool’s Gold, players take on the role of investors, funding gold mining expeditions in the years between 1849 – 1853. Using a hybrid-worker placement/die rolling mechanic, players will send their miners out amongst five different mines, attempting to dig up gold and gems; gold nuggets being worth 1 point a piece and gems collectively worth a certain amount depending on how many different gems the player can find over the course of the game. Each miner at a particular mine will be able to take an action at that mine, whether it be to collect a Mine card (gold and gems), reap additional income for the investor, or rest for the winter month.
During Winter, rested miners will be able to draw new Mine cards to possibly collect gold and gems with, though they are limited only to that action. At the end of the game, players will separate their collected gold into different piles according to which mine the gold came from. The gold from the mine that produced them the most gold is considered Fool’s Gold and can not be counted towards their Victory Point total. All remaining gold and gems are totaled together, and the investor with the highest total wins.
– Fool’s Gold game board
– Mine cards (separate decks for Forest, Hill, Lake, Mountain, and River mines)
– Prospecting (blue) & Winter (white) dice
– Player Screens (one in each player color)
– Miners (a set in each player color)
– Gold coins
– Start Player marker
At the beginning of the game, each player receives a Player Screen of their chosen color. They will then place 6 Gold coins and a number of Miners matching their player color (depending on the total number of players in the game), behind their screen. Four miners are placed behind each player screen in a 3-player game, three miners in a 4-player game, and only two miners in a 5-player game.
A remaining miner of each color is placed on the 1850, 1851, 1852, and 1853 spaces on the left side of the game board, along with a number of Gold coins next to each space equal to the number of players in the game. These spaces represent each year of the game, and players will receive these additional miners and gold once that year’s Round is active. Gold coins will be used to fund miner’s expeditions to the various mines in the area. When a player spends coins, he places them in front of his player screen. However, they will then be returned to him for the next Round. Therefore, its always to a player’s advantage to spend all of his gold coins form Round to Round. Since players have already received their starting number of miners and gold at the beginning of the game, the beginning Round’s 1849 space is left blank.
There are five different types of mine areas in the game; Forest, Hills, Lake, Mountain, and River. Each type has its own individual Mine deck that have differing combinations of gold, silt, gems, and hazards. Each Mine deck is shuffled and placed on the space on the game board that corresponds to that mining area.
Finally, the Prospecting (blue) dice are placed in the center of the board, and all other components (white Winter die & Gold coins) are placed next to the board. Players will then choose a player to go first, and that player receives the Start Player marker. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
A game of Fool’s Gold takes place over the course of five years (1849-1853), also considered Rounds. Each Round is comprised of four phases; the Hiring Phase, the Prospecting Phase, the Mining Phase, and the Cleanup Phase. Let’s take a look at how each phase and how they resolve.
I. The Hiring Phase
At the beginning of each Round (except for the 1st Round), players will hire 1 additional miner and receive an increased income of 1 gold coin and place them behind their player screen along with their other miners and coins. These are removed from the 1850-1853 spaces that correspond to the current Round.
II. The Prospecting Phase
As an investor, you have control over which locations your hired workers will take their mining expeditions each year. Each mine contains specific die number as well as a path leading from the miner’s camp (space in the center of the board) to the mine itself, represented by a series of numbered boxes (0 through 6). At the beginning of each Round, the Start Player will roll all of the Prospecting dice, placing the initial dice of a particular number on the pictured die space of the mine, then each additional die of that number on the spaces leading up to the mine.
These dice represent how productive each mine will be for players during the current year, allowing players to determine which mines may be more beneficial to send their miners to. As we’ll see during the next Mining Phase, the number of miners at a particular mine will be multiplied by the number of prospecting die at that mine to determine how many Mine cards the player will draw when mining at that location.
Since there are only five mines, any 6’s rolled are placed back in the miner’s camp space in the middle of the game board. Also, each path to the mine contains certain boxes (specifically boxes 3 through 6) where dice can not be placed during this step of the phase. Therefore, if a dice were to be placed on the 3rd box of a path at this time, it would instead be switched to a 6 die result and placed in the miner’s camp space instead.
For instance, the Start player rolls all 10 of the Prospecting dice, resulting in 1, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5, 6. The 6 die would immediately be placed back into the miner’s camp.
– The 1 would be placed on the #1 die space attached to the Hills Mine.
– The first 3 would be placed on the #3 die space attached to the Mountain Mine, and the second 3 would be placed on the 0 box on the path leading to the Mountain Mine.
– The first 4 would be placed on the #4 die space attached to the River Mine, then the next three 4’s would be placed on the 0, 1, and 2 boxes on the path leading to the River Mine. The final 4 could not be placed since no dice can be placed on the 3 – 6 boxes on a path during this part of the phase. Therefore, it would be switched to a 6 die result and placed back in the miner’s camp.
– The 5 would be placed on the #5 die space attached to the Lake Mine.
– No dice are placed at the Forest Mine, as no 2’s were rolled.
Player Actions – After all Prospecting dice have been placed, each player (beginning with the Start player) may perform actions in clockwise order. This will continue until all players have decided to pass. Let’s take a look at each of the actions available to players on their turn during the Prospecting Phase:
1.) Place a #6 Die – Dice valued at 6 that were placed in the miner’s camp are considered “wilds”. On a player’s turn, he can choose to take one of these die and place them on any of the mine paths, setting it on the next available space. Player’s must pay a cost in gold equal to the number of previously placed dice at that location, so if the player was placing a #6 die on the River Mine from the previous example, he would need to pay four gold, since there are already 4 dice at the River Mine. Remember that gold coins spent are placed in front of a player’s screen.
Mines that contain no dice (the Forest Mine from the previous example) are considered inactive until a dice has been placed on the picture die space attached to that location. Therefore, a player can take this action to place a die on a previously inactive mine, to open that location. Since it is the 1st die placed there, it will cost the player 0 gold coins.
2.) Place Miners – On a player’s turn, he can place one miner on the next box on a Mine’s path by spending a number of gold equal to the number on the available space. For instance, if the player wanted to place a miner on the Mountain Mine path seen below, it would cost him 1 gold coin. However, if he wanted to place it on the River Mine, it would cost him 4 gold coins. Miners can not be placed on a mine path that is inactive. The mine must have a dice on its pictured die space before player’s can start placing their miners along its path.
3.) Fire a Miner – As with any business, there are times when you’ll have to cut jobs to save money. If a player has found that they are low on money and need additional funds, they can place one miner in front of their player screen to retrieve 3 gold coins.
4.) Pass – When a player has decided not to take any more actions this Round, he will choose to pass. When passing, the player will take any remaining miners from behind his screen and place them next to the Mine decks on the game board as “reserves”. A player can place all miners next to the same Mine as reserves, or split them amongst multiple Mines. Miners that he had fired during this Round and gold coins that were spent during the Round are then placed back behind his screen, and his Prospecting Phase ends.
III. The Mining Phase
Once all players have passed and placed any available miners as reserves, the Mining Phase begins. During this phase, each active mine will reveal what is available to the miners there and players will resolve actions in an attempt to gain any gold and gem cards, earn money, or rest for Winter.
At the beginning of each Mining Phase, each Mine deck is reshuffled before any cards are drawn. Cards are revealed starting with the Hills deck (#1 die), actions are taken by players with miners at that location, then play moves to the next Mine location on the board in numerical order. The number of cards drawn is equal to the number of Prospecting dice multiplied by the number of placed Miners along the path. Any miners in reserve next to the Mine deck are not counted for this purpose.
For instance, there are currently 2 Prospecting dice and 3 miners located at the Lake Mine. Therefore a total number of 6 cards (2 x 3) will be drawn from the Lake Mine’s deck.
There is a particular hazard card entitled “Foul Weather” that when revealed will decrease the amount of cards drawn by 1. Therefore, it’s important to reveal one card at a time from the Mine deck. After the required amount of cards have been drawn from a particular deck, players will immediately resolve any “False Alarm” hazard cards. Any set of revealed cards that includes a False Alarm card is reshuffled. A number of cards equal to the number of False Alarm cards in the set are randomly drawn and placed on the bottom of the main Mine deck. The remaining cards are then revealed again to see what is left over.
Player Actions – As with the Prospecting Phase, players will be able to take a number of actions at each Mine location that they have miners at during the Mining Phase. Each miner on the mine’s path can take one action. The player with a majority of miners at the location has priority and will take his turn before all other players. When determining majority, players will total their miners located on the mine’s path as well as miners they have in the mine’s reserve area. If players are tied in this regard, the player who has a miner on the higher numerical space on the mine’s path will gain majority.
Player’s will take an action with the miner of their color that is the highest on the mine path (if they have multiple miners). After this action has been taken, majority is totaled again to see who will go next amongst the remaining miners, and so on until all miners on the path have taken actions.
For instance, the Blue Player has 1 miner on the Hill Mine’s path and 2 miners in the Hill Mine’s reserve. The Green Player has 1 miner on the Hill Mine’s path and no miners in the reserve. The Yellow player has 2 miner on the Hill Mine’s path and 1 miner in the reserve. Therefore for purposes of majority, the Blue and Yellow player both have a total of 3 miners, and the Green player has a total of 2.
Since the Blue and Yellow players are tied for majority, and the Yellow player has a miner that is higher on the mine’s path than the Blue player, the Yellow player will take his action with this miner first. After the Yellow player has taken this action, majority is totaled again, and the next miner takes its action, and so on until all miners on the Mine’s path have completed an action. Then play continues to the next Mine location, with drawing, revealing cards, and taking actions.
Let’s take a look at each of these actions and how they resolve:
1.) Take a Card – On a miner’s turn, the player can choose to take one of the revealed gold or gem cards from the mine. Each gold card is worth the number of gold nuggets on the card itself, while each gem card is worth a number of points based on how many different gems the player can collect as a set over the course of the game.
One gem type can be found in each of the five Mines, and a player can never take more than one of particular gem type:
– A set of 2 different gems is worth 3 points.
– A set of 3 different gems is worth 6 points.
– A set of 4 different gems is worth 10 points.
– A set of all 5 different gems is worth 15 points.
2.) Invest – Instead of taking a card, the player can choose to invest funds, which rewards them with 2 gold coins from the bank. These are added to the coins behind the player’s screen and are now part of his budget for the rest of the game. Other than receiving the extra coin at the beginning of each Round (year), this is the only way to increase a player’s budget.
3.) Rest For Winter – If the player does not care for the cards available and does not wish to earn two coins, he can choose for his miner to rest for the winter by laying him on his side. After all players have taken their actions (either collecting a card, earning money, or resting the miner for winter), players will resolve Winter.
Cards are a bit more limited during the Winter, but sometimes players may wish to rest their players if they don’t see the particular card they want during the initial draw. At the beginning of Winter, all remaining Mine cards available during the previous steps are placed on the bottom of the Mine deck. The player with a miner on the lowest priority space on the Mine’s path will roll the Winter die. The number rolled will equal the number of new Mine cards drawn from the Mine deck. As with before, cards are drawn one at a time in case one of them is a “Foul Weather” card. Afterwards, any False Alarm cards are resolved.
When taking an action with a miner that had rested for Winter, the miner can only take a gold or gem card. He can not choose to invest and earn two gold coins. Therefore, by resting miners, players risk may not being able to take any actions with them, depending on the number of gold and gem cards that appear.
IV. The Cleanup Phase
After all five mines have been resolved, the current year ends and players return all miners remaining on the game board behind their players screen. Players will then begin with the Hiring Phase of the next year, adding a new miner and two gold coins behind their screen. Play continues until all five years have been completed and the game comes to an end.
As mentioned before, players will score gems according to how many of the five-gem set they’ve been able to complete (either 1, 3, 6, 10, or 15 points). Next player’s will score their Gold cards, be dividing them into separate stacks according to which mine they came from. A player will lose 5 Victory Points for every Mine the player did not collect a Gold card from. Then players will total the amount of gold nuggets found in each Mine individually. The mine in which the player totaled the highest amount of gold nuggets, is discounted. This is Fool’s Gold! It doesn’t count. All remaining gold nuggets on cards from his other Mines are worth 1 Victory Point each and added to the Gem total.
For instance, the Purple player has collected a set of 4 Gem cards, which would be worth a total of 10 points. He has then separated his Gold cards according to which Mine he got them from. He totaled 5 Gold in the Hills, 3 Gold in the Forest, 6 Gold in the Lake, 1 Gold in the Mountains, and 3 Gold in the River.
Since his highest total was the Gold he found in the Lake, that Gold is considered Fool’s Gold and not worth a penny. He would not lose 5 points since he had at least one Gold card from each mine. He would then total the 10 points from his gems with the 13 points from his remaining Gold cards for a total of 22 points.
My first impression of Fool’s Gold, and the thing that stood out to me the most, was the smooth incorporation of multiple mechanics within the confines of a fairly simple ruleset. Elements of worker placement, action selection, set collection, die rolling/placement, and risk/reward-based mechanics are all woven into a game that can be explained and taught in less than 10 minutes.
On a player’s turn, they will place workers out amongst the five mines on the board, then later will choose which actions to take with each. There are only a few actions to choose from, but players will have a range of decisions to make leading up to those actions. Based on the results and placement of the original prospecting die, which mines do players feel are more valuable to dig at this year? If you decide to send a worker to a mine where other investors are choosing to send their workers, will your team have sufficient priority to come back with gold and gems? Do you rest workers for the Winter and risk coming up empty during a Winter dig? When and where should you send workers to the reserve at a mine? And most importantly, how do you balance your digs amongst the five mines so that you don’t miss out on collecting from all five by the end of the game (remember, -5 points per mine not collected from). But you also don’t want to focus on collecting from one mine too much, since that amount is your Fool’s Gold (points from your Fool’s Gold mine are negated).
The game works well thematically, both in subject matter and presentation. Players feel the burden of racing against time to collect what they need from the various mines, competing with other investors for efficient expeditions. While at first glance, the game board and cards may look bland, I really connected with it during my first session. It was that worn aesthetic look, as if opening an old Sears Roebuck or flipping through a coffee table book based on a Ken Burns documentary. The look of the game helps to pull you into that mid-1800’s time period.
Another thematic note. It’s interesting that all Mines start out with a wealth of gold and gems. As players pick through and collect these cards year after year, a mine’s wealth will deteriorate and it becomes harder in the latter years to extract as much from a mine that players were able to in the earlier years. I find this absolutely fascinating. Not sure if that is coincidental function of collecting cards itself, or if this was an intentional design element. Either way, it adds to the overall gold rush theme.
Overall, Fool’s Gold is an impressive, surprisingly light strategy game. There’s a lot to like about how the various mechanics work together in a way that is both streamlined and intuitive. The presentation feels natural within the confines of the theme, producing a vintage, antique quality and feel.