Dale Yu: First Impressions of Fool’s Gold



Fool’s Gold

  • Designer: Joshua Balvin
  • Publisher: Passport Games
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 14+
  • Times: 60-90 minutes

fools gold

Fool’s Gold takes gamers back to the era of the California Gold Rush – trying to see who can make the largest fortune in the years of 1849 to 1853.  There are five different areas where you can prospect (Forest, Lake, Mills, Mountains and River).  Each of these areas has a trail of 8 action spots that snake up to the deck of cards which represent the exploration potential in that site – the five decks all have slightly different distributions in the types of gold cards that they contain.  In a 4 player game, each player starts with 3 miners, representing their workforce in 1849.  Each player will receive an extra miner in each of the next 4 rounds.  Players also start with 6 coins which are kept behind their player screen.

example of a player screen, front and back

example of a player screen, front and back

The game is played over five rounds, again each representing a year of exploration during the Gold Rush.  There are 2 phases in each year: the Prospecting Phase and the Mining Phase.


In the Prospecting Phase, the first thing that happens is that the start player takes the 10 Prospecting dice, rolls them and then sorts them and places them on the tracks – starting with the image of the die, and then next on the “0” space and increasing in number.  If there are more than 4 dice rolled of any value, you place the first 4 onto the matching track and then change the rest of the dice rolled to that number to the value of “6”.   Any “6” values on the Prospecting dice are considered wild and are placed in the center of the board.

the only light blue dice that i own

the only light blue dice that i own

Then, players take turns taking one action per turn until all players have passed.  There are four options to take:


  1. Place a miner on an available space – you place your miner on any unoccupied space at any of the mining spots AS LONG AS there is at least one die on that track, and pay a cost in coins equal to the number printed on the space you just occupied.  The coins that you spend are moved from behind your screen and placed in front of your screen.
  2. Add a wild die to any track – take a “6” from the center of the board and place it on the lowest numbered unoccupied space.  You must pay one coin for each die previously placed at that location.
  3. Trade a miner for three coins – take an unused Miner from behind your screen and put it in front of your screen.  Then, take 3 coins back from in front of your screen.  The Miner cannot be used for anything else this turn.
  4. Pass – when you pass, you are signaling that you are not going to take any further actions this round.  You do get to place any currently unused miners in the “reserve” area at any of the mines.  These reserve miners will not take any actions, but they might help decide when your miners on the tracks get to take their actions.  You can split them up amongst the mines as you wish.  You then collect any miners and coins from in front of your screen and place them behind your screen to ready for the next round.

fools gold board


When all players have passed, you then move into the Mining Phase.  All of the mining decks are shuffled to start this phase.  Then, each mining location is resolved one at a time (going from the lowest numbered mine, the Hills) to the highest numbered (Lake).


You first have to calculate how many cards are revealed at the mine – to do this, you multiply the number of dice on that track by the number of miners on the track.  Cards are flipped over from the deck one by one until you reach the calculated number.  The possible card types are: Gold (varying in value from 1 to 5 nuggets), Silt cards, Gem cards, Foul Weather Cards, and False Alarm Cards.

different type of gold cards

different type of gold cards

However, if you flip over a Foul Weather card, you reduce the target number of cards by one for each Foul Weather card revealed.  Then, you resolve any False Alarm cards.  You count up and remember how many False Alarm cards were revealed.  Then you take all the revealed False Alarm, Gem and Gold cards, shuffle them face down and put one card on the bottom of the mine deck for each False Alarm card that was revealed.  The remaining cards are then revealed and placed with the other cards on the board.

Silt, False Alarm and Foul Weather

Silt, False Alarm and Foul Weather

Once the card pool for the mine has been established, then the miner tokens that are on the track at that site have the chance to take actions.  Priority for actions is determined by the player who has the most miners at that site – both on spots in the track as well as in reserve (these are the Miners that were placed when players passed in the previous phase).  If there is a tie, the player with the miner on the highest numbered space gets to go.  When you take an action, you must always use your miner on the highest numbered space.  There are three options:


  1. Take a Gold or Gem Card – simply take the chosen card and place it behind your screen.  Note that you may only ever have one gem card from each Mining site.  Remove your miner and place him behind your screen
  2. Take 2 coins from the bank – you place these coins behind your screen.  You will be able to use these coins each turn for the rest of the game.  This is the only way to increase your supply of coins.  Remove your miner and place him behind your screen
  3. Wait for winter – you place your miner on its side – it will not be counted any further in priority calculations.  This miner might get a chance to take an action in the winter.


Once all the Miners have taken an action, the remaining Gold, Silt, Gem, Foul Weather and False Alarm cards are collected and placed at the bottom of the deck.  Then, if there are any miners on their side awaiting Winter, a single die is rolled, and the number on this die determines how many cards are flipped from the top of the mine deck.  Foul Weather and False alarms are still dealt with as above.  Then, if there are any gold or gem cards available, miners on their side choose them using the same priority rules as above. In the winter phase, you may not elect to take coins from the Bank, you have to choose a card or you get nothing.


Each of the five mines is resolved in this fashion, and then the game round (and year) ends.  All remaining miners are taken back behind their owner’s screens.  The next year begins – each player takes their extra miner from the round chart on the board and the process repeats itself for a total of 5 rounds.


After the fifth round, there is some final scoring.


First, you pull out your gem cards.  Remember that you may only have one of each type (i.e. one from each Mine deck).  You will score 1/3/6/10/15 VP for 1/2/3/4/5 different gem cards.  The gem cards can now be discarded.

the five different gem cards and their backs

the five different gem cards and their backs

Then you group your Gold cards by source (which deck they came from).  For each deck that you do not have any Gold cards, you take a 5 VP penalty.  You then sum up the number of gold nuggets from each site; the deck which provides you the most gold nuggets is Fool’s Gold – and all of those cards are discarded!  You then score 1 VP for each remaining gold nugget depicted on your cards.  The player with the most points is the winner.


My thoughts on the game


Fool’s Gold gives the player a lot to think about in a short playing time.  In the end, you’re vying to have the most victory points, but you have a lot of choices on how you are going to get there.


Early on, I think that players have to figure out how to get a few more coins into their supply.  You probably have no chance of winning if you’ve only got six coins to use each turn.  You simply won’t be able to afford to place enough of your miners each turn with that limitation (at least, that’s my opinion… I’m sure that someone out there will have a story to prove me wrong!)

The costs of placing miners in line can get quite expensive, and while you can always burn a miner to get 3 coins back (once you’ve already spent those coins), I think you’d rather be able to put more into play – if only to be in reserve at a site to help your choosing priority at that site.

But – you can’t ignore the early explorations of the mining decks because the best cards will be available only in the early rounds (because they will almost certainly be scarfed up as soon as they are revealed from the deck), and because the exploration will get harder and harder.  Scoring cards are constantly being removed while the silt, foul weather and false alarm cards are always reshuffled into the deck.

The five decks have slightly different card distributions, and you might also end up deciding to go for the lower-on-average locations hoping to have less competition for cards.

As the game progresses, it’s harder to get a good card out of the deck unless you are choosing very early in that location – and sometimes it becomes worth it to risk it all on a winter mining expedition just hoping that lady luck favors you!

The 5VP penalty for not having a gem of each type can get pretty painful, but it does take a lot of energy to go after one because there’s no guarantee that one will come up each round.  I have personally tried to vary my gold panning amongst all the sites so that my Fool’s Gold penalty is hopefully smaller at the end of the game – but I have seen others win while simply ignoring a mining site (or two)…  I feel like I still have a lot of exploring to do with this game, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far.

the player colors and the first player pickaxe

the player colors and the first player pickaxe

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor




About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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