If gamers aren’t familiar with set collection, they should throw a rock in a game store sometime. Chances are, unless they’re in the Avalon Hill or miniatures section, they’ll hit a game that has set collection as one of its mechanisms. However, it’s a challenging mechanism to get just right.
The Golden Sails is a game that has set its course straight on to the lands of set collection. It also has card drafting and plays 2-4 players with a 30-45 minute playtime.
Players take the role of naval merchants based out of the city of Waardam. Playing and then selecting cards from a display represents their overseas deals with the selected cards being the cargo brought back to the city.
Each round starts with a display of Goods cards equaling the number of players. Also in front of each player are five “Experts” of different types. Each player will then play an Expert card next to one of the Goods cards. The Goods cards are divided into five parts and when an Expert is played, this identifies that Goods card as one of the five types. For example, playing the Weapons Master next to a Goods card identifies the Weapons section on the card as the card’s type.
After Experts are assigned, beginning with the last player and returning around the table, each player selects one Goods card. This has the effect of the last player being the only one to play an Expert and immediately take a card. Other players might choose the card they identified with an Expert or something another player played. Each Goods card taken is added to the player’s area as a good of the indicated type.
Then, the cycle repeats. At the end of each round, the Experts are discarded and players must choose different Experts for the next round. At the end of the game, each Goods pile of cards has a different scale for scoring points, including Weapons goods which deduct points from neighboring players.
Only at the end of the game are points tallied to decide the winner.
The main thing that should be at the heart of any set collection game is the path of choices that players must make to acquire items in their sets. In this respect, The Golden Sails does not disappoint. The use of Expert cards to identify types adds a layer of complexity and brinksmanship to what could be a perfunctory task. The level of strategy herein is high and is immensely appreciated.
There’s also another level, where each player must make choices about when to abandon a strategy or tank an opponent’s strategy when the cards are just not in their favor. In two and three player games, some cards are randomly removed making it harder to predict what will be available. Being able to pivot is also a key skill and players will find lots to mull over here.
Readers should also note that this reviewer’s biggest appreciation is for variety in play. In this case, The Golden Sails does not disappoint. Each of the five goods has a different scoring system. One of the goods also has a variable scoring system from game to game (orange section on the Goods cards for Animals).
There are orange reference cards that randomly determine which sets of animals will be valuable at the end of the game. Some of these cards can be really intriguing. The only complaint here is that there could have been more than just five.
A couple more Goods types are also of interest. Spells (purple section) modify points for other cards, allowing for some additional deeper options. Green gems are the hidden set in the game, keeping only the most observant players able to identify a player’s real score.
Finally, one of the core things that drives attraction to games like 7 Wonders is the tableau building aspect of laying down multiple cards and seeing a civilization develop. The Golden Sails drops the scale down to a merchant ship, but the similarity in play style is blatant. For gamers who are looking for something similar to a grander drafting, set collection game in a smaller package, The Golden Sails is the perfect choice.
It is very hard to find anything at fault with The Golden Sails. It may seem derivative and too similar to 7 Wonders with an equal play time, but the overall package is perfect for a gateway or filler experience. It’s an easy choice to leave in the game bag for many, many game nights.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – Despite its similarity to other drafting set collection games, The Golden Sails delivers a very satisfying experience for such a small package.
• Needs just a tad more options in the box