Posted by: gschloesser | August 2, 2011

El Grande

Design by:  Wolfgang Kramer
Published by:  Hans im Glück / Rio Grande Games
3 – 5 Players, 1 ½- 2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

If you are a hard-core wargamer whose stomach turns at the sight of any game that does not include hexes and cardboard counters, then don’t give El Grande a second look.  If, however, you appreciate games with strategic decisions, beautiful components and loaded with FUN, then El Grande is for you.  And now, it is available totally in English from Rio Grande Games.

To quote the game’s historical background:  “The game is set in 15th Century Spain, where there were twelve different kingdoms, one Duchy, one Earldom and the Basque provinces.  Five different races had spread themselves across the land – the Spanish, the Basques, the Galicians, the Catalonians and the Moors.

Players each represent one of these five races and must spread their influence across Spain by establishing a majority of their pieces in as many provinces as possible.  From here, most of the resemblance to history vanishes and the game becomes very abstract.  Don’t let that bother you, though.  As I’ve said before, this game is FUN.

Each player begins the game with their ‘Grande’ and two ‘Caballeros’ in one of the nine provinces.  This is their ‘Home’ province.  Another province contains the ‘King’, which plays a major role in where players may place their pieces during the course of the game.  Players also receive a set of 13 ‘Power Cards’, ranging in value from 1 to 13, and a ‘Decision Disk’, which will be explained later.  There are also five stacks of ‘Action Cards’ which can give players certain powers and/or temporarily alter the rules of play.  .During their turn, players choose one card from one of the five stacks based on the strength of the ‘Power Card’ they played during that round.

At the beginning of each of the nine rounds, each player plays a ‘Power Card’ face up.  Once played, the card is discarded for the remainder of the game.  The card played determines two important things:

·  The player order for the round:  The player who played the highest ‘Power Card’ plays first that round and gets the first selection of one of the ‘Action Cards’.

·  Caballero recruitment:  The number of ‘head’ symbols on the ‘Power Card’ played determines the number of ‘Caballeros’ that the player may recruit into his personal stock that turn.

An interesting decision must be made when playing the ‘Power Card’.  The higher the number value on the card, the lower the number of ‘Caballeros’ it allows a player to recruit.  Thus, the decision has to be made if you would rather go early in the round and get an early choice of ‘Action Cards’ or would you rather have more pieces to recruit into stock?  I just love these agonizing little decisions that must be made!

The ‘Action Card’ provides two actions:

·  The number of ‘head’ symbols on the card determines how many ‘Caballeros’ a player may place on the board from his stock.

·  The text and picture on the card conveys a special action or power that may be utilized that turn by the player.

This, of course, poses another dilemma when choosing the card.  Usually, the more potent ‘Action Cards’ allow placement of fewer ‘Caballeros’.  Does one go for a more powerful card, or a lesser one to allow placement of more pieces?  Again, another agonizing decision!

In placing their pieces on the board, players are usually restricted to provinces which border the King’s location.  Once per turn, the King may move, altering the provinces eligible for placement of pieces.  The ultimate objective is to build up majorities in as many provinces as possible, and to be second or third in the others. 

Players can also place pieces in the ‘Castle’.  At the end of every third round, these pieces are redistributed to a province which was secretly dialed on the player’s ‘Decision Disk’.  Thus, a player can alter the status of a province before majority status is tallied.

At the end of every third round, after the ‘Castle’ pieces have been redistributed, each province is scored.  Points are scored for having a majority, secondary or tertiary status in most provinces.  Bonuses are also given for having the majority of pieces in the King’s province as well as your own home province.  A running tally is kept and at the end of nine rounds, the player with the most points is the victor. 

The game plays rather quickly – usually about two hours with five players.  The rules are very simple and the English translation is very good.  Although the cards are printed in German, they are easy to decipher with the translations and the clear pictures describing the special actions printed on the cards.  And as mentioned earlier, there is now a full english edition available, published by Rio Grande Games. The board and cards are gorgeous – very colorful with nice artwork.  I’m also fond of the pieces – wooden blocks (ala Diplomacy).  So not only is it fun to play, but it is also makes a nice appearance.  This is in keeping with most of the recent German games I’ve played.

In each round, players must make several key, and agonizing, decisions, while at the same time keeping an eye on the population of each province on the board.  Decisions must be made as to what ‘Power Card’ to play, which ‘Action Card’ to select, where to place one’s pieces, etc. 

Every three rounds, a tally is done, allowing each player to take stock of the leadership situation and adjust accordingly.  Usually, no one player can dominate and everyone is in the hunt entering the final rounds. 

Let’s see – a reasonably easy game, beautiful components, lots of strategic decisions to make, special actions to alter the rules, very competitive throughout, playable in two hours or less and loads of FUN.  Gee, in my book, that would make any game a winner.  And El Grande is that — a winner..

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Responses

  1. El Grande is stunningly simple and deep. It is the best area majority game for everyday Americans and their gamer friends. (10/10)

  2. Best area control game around. The game is greater than the sum of it’s parts. The tiny bit of unknown from where the Castillo points will go shouldn’t be that important but it can ruin the best laid plans. (9/10)


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