This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
The squeeze is a big part of a lot of games. That feeling of not being able to finish all of your plans because time runs out, or you can't afford the piece you need, or the roll of the dice/draw of the card didn't go your way. This is a classic in modern board gaming. What happens when a game flips that on its head and lets you do all of the things and score boatloads of points each game? Silver & Gold is what happens! A game which has you searching for treasure on distant islands, and also palm trees are somewhat, but not super common!
I can’t stop playing this game. When I do play it I always play it multiple times. And I’ve been playing it at pretty much every single game night at which it has been present. What makes this one to four player game from Pandasaurus Games (in USA), designed by Phil Walker-Harding so addicting?
I’m going to spoil the punchline upfront. Silver & Gold is addicting because it is simple, quick, fun, and rewarding. The last part might just be the key to the treasure chest here (not apologizing for puns is my new year’s resolution). Silver & Gold is a polyomino game joining the ranks of Patchwork, Barenpark, Isle of Cats, Indian Summer, and a slew of others. Your goal is to take funky block-like shapes and use them to fill out larger, generally less funky shapes. It is also a flip-and-write ala Welcome To... and all of the rest. The crazy thing Silver & Gold does is sets itself up to be completely not punishing in your pursuit of polyomino, -and-write glory. You will fill out 6-8 (or more) cards over the course of four short rounds, a far cry from the "I don't have enough time to finish everything I want!" philosophy often employed by both polyomino and -and-write games.
The rules, briefly. The game features eight cards with Tetris shapes consisting of two to four blocks. Think “L”, square, “weird t-like thing” and so on. In a round, seven of these eight will be flipped over, one by one, and players will cross out boxes on one of their two active island cards in a pattern that matches the card. You can flip, mirror, or whatever else you want, as long as the basic shape is the same as the card, it’s valid. Should you be unable to cross out that pattern, you get to cross out any single space on either of your cards. Completing a card locks in its points and allows you to select a replacement card from a common purchase row. There are four different types of islands, the lowly grey islands only score eight points but are smaller thus easier to complete. The mighty 14 point purple islands are giant and full of bonuses.
Bonuses come in two forms: a card-type bonus to be applied at the end of the game or as icons on the blocks in your card. The card-type (which I’m going to call the “silver bonus” because that’s how it looks during scoring but I don’t know if that is actually correct). simply gives you two points for each purple island you completely, or one for each green, and so on. You must complete the card which has the bonus in order to score it at the end of the game. The block-based bonuses come in three flavors: an ‘x’, palm tree, or gold. The x, when crossed off, allows you to immediately cross off any single block on either of your cards (including another x to combo!) Palm trees score points based on how many palm trees are in the purchase row. Finally, each gold gets you a point and every four earns you a bonus which diminishes over time as more people earn them.
Play spans four rounds of seven Tetris cards each. At the end, players count up the points earned from their completed islands, coins, palm trees, and silver bonuses. The player with the most points is king of the island, or something.
I read/watched a decent amount about Silver & Gold without it ever striking me as something I needed to play. It wasn’t until I kept seeing it pop up on top 10 of 2019 lists that I decided I wanted to give it a shot.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the disconnect between how interesting this game looks at first glance (not very) and how much fun it is (very much). I keep going back to the rewarding nature of the game. You will do a lot of stuff in this game and even if your planning of what the next Tetris shapes might be falls completely flat, you still get a free block towards your goal. You will end up with a pile of cards you successfully completed and that is a good feeling even if you lost by 20 points because you played terribly. You still had fun and did something. There isn’t a single punishing aspect of this game aside from possibly the rule that forces you to at least cross out one block during every turn. (It could potentially be more optimal for you to wait for the piece you needed). The game wants you to succeed and score a ton of points and try to out-bonus your friends.
There is, to a point, no bad strategy in Silver & Gold. I’ve dominated in the silver bonus only to be crushed by somebody who nearly filled their entire gold section. I initially laughed at the thought of palm trees as a valid strategy as the ceiling for a single palm tree is almost always four points, but have been surprised at how many times a well timed palm tree or two has ended up being the difference between a win and a loss. You can also just grab every purple card you can get your hands on and see how it goes. Or maybe go the opposite direction and try to complete 12 of the grey islands.
Most games, especially flip/roll-and-writes tend to try to squeeze players by forcing difficult decisions. A common decision point in these games is “that would go well here, but if that other thing comes up next then this would be much better over there!” Silver & Gold throws that out of the window and rains points down upon you and results in an extremely satisfying experience from the first play through the 20th (and counting).
Potential drawbacks or warnings that this game might not be for you start with whether or not you like that squeeze. Is the penalty for not feeding your family in Agricola your idea of peak board gaming? Stay far away from Silver & Gold. There’s also the luck/randomness of any of these -and-write games, you can’t get away from that and you already know if that’s a deterrent for you or not.
I enjoyed this one so much that I combined two copies so I could play with more people. There’s nothing in the game that makes this not work, although you could justify adding a few more coin trophies if you want. If you plan to attempt this, make sure you combine the island deck as you will run out of cards rather quickly. A critical mistake I made during my first attempt. The game plays great with two, four, six, and probably more.
The components are good. The cards themselves have a small bit of thickness to them which is necessary allowing them to be dry-erasable. One gripe is that no eraser is included in the box. Super Secret Expert Reviewer Pro Tip: fold a paper towel and place it in the box after playing. Alternatively, a microfiber cloth, if that’s more your style.
Silver & Gold has become my go to filler and one of my favorites overall in a very short time. It is a joy to play and pile up those islands while crossing out bonus points and even earning some palm tree points every now and then. It flips the typical squeeze of -and-writes on its head and comes across as something entirely fresh in a very crowded genre. That’s no easy feat, kudos to Phil Walker-Harding on this impressive design, another one to add to his already impressive list.