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EL GAUCHO is the latest (as of Spiel 2014) game from this Köln based company. It is designed by Arve. D. Fühler - designer of the 2014 release Scharfe Schoten from Zoch Verlag and the 2014 release Pagoda from Pegasus Spiele. Argentum verlags are an established company with a good range of top-authored games in their catalogue. This is a short list of a few of these games:
Hansa Teutonica: A game by Andreas Steding for 2 to 4 players aged 12 and up: Yunnan: A game for hard boiled tea traders by Aaron Haag for 3 to 5 players aged 12 and up: Desperados: A cooperative western game by Florian Racky for 3 to 6 players aged 12 and up
Coney Island: A game by Michael Schacht for 2 to 4 players aged 10 and up: First Train to Nuremberg: A game by Martin Wallace for 2 to 4 players aged 12 and up: Santa Timea: A card game by Dirk Liekens for 2 to 5 players aged 10 and up
Wind River: A game by Dirk Liekens for 3 to 4 players aged 12 and up: Lifeboats: A game by Ronald Wettering for 3 to 6 players aged 12 and up
EL GAUCHO is a 2-4 player tile collecting game aimed at 10 year olds and upwards and it takes about an hour to play with a full compliment of players.
As with all games involving dice and a random draw-mechanism there is a certain amount of luck involved.
There are elements of skill required in choosing which dice to take or leave, which cattle to collect and when to cash in a collection.
Very well produced throughout. The tiles are sturdy for the amount of use they will get. The board is colourful and not quite as I would have set it out - it is a bit unnecessarily muddly due to the inclusion of the Corral (aka the Dice Rodeo) which although being a neat gimmick takes up space that could have been better occupied on the board. The remaining components are player meeples and 9 six-sided dice.
The idea of the game is to collect Cattle by breed, sell them off and make money - it's all about the money. The cattle in question are cartoon-style illustrations of cows in different shapes, sizes, positions and colours on heavy duty tiles. These are placed randomly (drawn from a face down stack) on the board in rows which are specifically marked out as separate fields - the top row has 6 fields, the 2nd row has 5, the 3rd also has 5 but only 4 are used unless you have 4 players and the bottom row has 4 fields but again the last one is only used in 4 player games.
The basic mechanic is simply rolling some dice and selecting 2 to use. Players always get to choose 2 dice and there is always one extra die than there are enough for each player to hav 2 so depending on the number of players (in a 3 player game there would be 7 dice 2+2+2 +1) the first player rolls all the dice into the Corral. They then select 2 of them which they immediately use, either as separate numbers or the total of both, but not a selection of possible numbers from the total. So if you chose a 4 and a 5 you could use the 4 and 5 separately or use the 9 total but you couldn't, for example, use 3, 3 & 3 (which equals the 9 total) on separate options.
The first and most important part of the game mechanic is selecting your dice for the Round. There is a slight advantage in going first as you have all of the dice to choose from; so in our 3 player example it would be 7 dice. The second player then has 5 dice to select 2 from and finally the third player has 3, still a choice but obviously not so much of one. First Player is moved round the table after each Round so each player gets several turns at going first during the game.
The chosen dice cannot be rotated or changed, they must be placed face up in front of the player as soon as they are removed from the Corral and then immediately spent/used. There are a couple of ways in which they can be utilised. One is to use them to place one of your Cowboy meeples onto a Cow tile and the other is to place a Cowboy meeple onto one of the 6 Action spaces that form the lower half of the board's decor.
Each Cow tile has 2 numbers on it, a large number (as in large type) and a small number (small type and also roughly half the value of the larger number). If the player has chosen dice 6 and 4 he could place a Standing Cowboy meeple on a Cow with a large number value of 10 (usually this will have a small number 5 on it also). The Cow value is 10 the dice value is 10 so he would use both dice to place the Cowboy piece and that would be his turn over. Other choices he has are to place a Laying down Cowboy on a Cow tile with a small value of either 6 or 4, thus using one of the dice and laving the other for a second action, which he must take immediately. Or he could use one or both of the dice on the Action spaces placing a Cowboy on the 4 and the 6 Action space, but note each player may only have one Cowboy on each space at any time.
The Actions give you advantages on your Next turn, not the turn in which they are placed.
These Actions are associated to the dice selected as follows. If you hold (and use) a 1, 2 or 3 (any 2-die combination) there are 3 Actions to select from (only one for each die naturally). You can use SORT, which allows you to misplace a Cow Tile you have won this turn (although the action is actually used out of turn as cattle collecting only occurs after all players have had their go).. You can use WISH which gives you a virtual die of any value up to 6 for this turn only or you can use the die to force an Immediate SALE which you may wish to do as it gives you an extra $5 on the value you receive. Then we have the 4, 5 and 6 die results. Each of these has one specific action associated with it. the 4 allows you to STEAL a cattle tile from an opponent and add it to your herd (or start a new herd) - note this is not an action compatible with the SORT action due to the phase in the game when it occurs. a 5 allows you to stand up 1 or 2 of your laying down Gauchos (on Cow tiles) which is extremely useful as it is as if you had the necessary dice results (equal to the lower number) or you may an opponent's laying down gaucho with a standing one of your own. The difference between a laying down and a standing Gaucho on a Cow tile is significant in the latter part of the Round.
Finally the 6. This isn't always as good as it may appear because it allows you to look at the stack of 4 Cow tiles randomly placed face down on the space and then select 1 or 2 of them to place in empty field or fields on the pasture (the rows). I say it isn't as good as it seems because if you want to place 2 tiles they each have to have a high number value of 4 or lower and also because there has to be a space on the board where they can be placed and in a 4 player game each space is filled at the beginning of each new Round. Also you must begin with the lower field spaces and work up so there is no guarantee you will even place the tile where you want it.
So that's the dice and Actions understood, what about Cow tile collecting? As I said the Cows are in rows and you place gauchos on the tiles during play. After all players have had their turn (any die not chosen is not used and if any player has a die they cannot use then it is just a lost die) the rows are checked from the bottom one up. If every Cow in the row has a gaucho on it then the players who own theose Gauchos that are standing up get their pieces back and the tile on which they were standing (only one Gaucho can ever be on a tile). If the Gaucho was laying down, he and the Cow remain in the row. Once all rows have been checked the players have to sore their cattle into rows in front of them. Cattle must be of the same breed in each separate row and the large number must either ascend or descend from the previous Cow in the row. So if you put a White cow in your first row with a 12 value you could only place another 12 value White cow or any number White cow lower than 12 next to it. The first Cow tile placed in each of your rows is the anchor. If you placed a Brown Cow valued at 6 as your anchor you could place a 7 (or higher) or a 5 (or lower) next to it. Once you have chosen to ascend or descend you cannot change your mind. The SORT Action allows yo to place a Cow anywhere in your row (even making it the new anchor tile) as long as it remains true to the flow of numbers.
If you find you have a spare Cow and you don't already have a row of that Breed then you simply start a new row but if you do have a row of the same Breed as the spare Cow then you have to sell the row. You get from the Bank (as points on the track round the board) money to the value of the highest Cow tile you own multiplied by the number of tiles in that specific herd (row). So if your Brown Cows were 10, 7, 6, 4, 2 and you have just captured a 5 Brown Cow (and you don't have the SORT action available to you) you must sell your herd of Brown Cows for $50 (5 cards x $10) and start a new herd with the Brown Cow number 5.
The game is fun and there is interaction between the players because you can steal from each other (I think Rustle is a better cowboy word than steal) and you can determine what others may be able to do by your choice of dice you take from the Corral (ie a clever player will try to ensure he doesn't leave too many useful dice for the next player). Speaking of the Corral. This is made up of 4 card fences that fit together and slot into holes on the board. While it looks nice and it gives you somewhere to roll the dice so they don't disturb the board it also takes up a big chunk of board space which, in my personal opinion, the Action spaces could have used by making them better spread out. Also we have introduced a House rule whereby when you place a Gaucho on an Action space you lay him down to show he has just been placed this turn. During housekeeping at the end of the turn you stand up all the Gauchos laying down on Action spaces to show they can be used in the coming turn. This prevents confusion with gauchos already standing on Action spaces. (The rules mention using a counter to represent this but no counters are included and laying them down works within the rules and the components available). You must remember to only stand up the Gauchos on the Action spaces and not those on the Cattle tiles.
We fell hard for this game on the first time of playing and after many more plays it still holds its appeal. It is fast, clever, thought-invoking and fun. Towards the end of the game there is a minor element of King making, especially if the scores are tight, by the choice of dice and the choice of which Cow tiles you place your Gauchos on, but overall each player usually plays to their own strengths. It is one of those games where your actions can upset another player's plans but by doing so you do not advance your own possibilities of winning. Lots of choices and options throughout. You can see the game end coming as the tile stack runs down and you can plan accordingly, though of course your plans may be foiled and Plan B (or C) may be required.
EL GAUCHO is a great family game but it is also a great gamer's game, and that makes it quite a rare commodity. One to play until the cows come home.