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Subject: An introduction to area control rss

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Hertzog van Heerden
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Overview

This is a review of the Decennial reprinting of El Grande, and covers only aspects of the basic game, not the expansions. El Grande is a lightweight euro style game for 2 to 5 players and can be played in roughly 90 minutes or so. It's theme is renaissance Spain with players assuming the role of 'Grandes' and trying to influence the country by placing their 'caballeros' or knights across the country's provinces. The main game mechanic is area control, with smaller elements of auction and hidden information. The game's mechanics are simple to explain and thus make it ideal as a gateway game for new players and for introducing the concept of area control.

Components

The game includes a game board, 5 player discs with dials, wooden cubes in 5 colours, a plywood cube tower, a giant wooden king playing piece, mobile score boards, auction cards in 5 colours, turn marker, action cards and rule book. The board is a beautiful representation of Spain and its provinces, with clearly marked borders, scoring track and clear scoring options. The rest of the components are generally also of a good quality. My only complaints would be that the scoring track around the perimeter of the board can be confusing when players start to lap the beginning position, as the start location doesn't join to the end of the track, and that the cube tower seems to be of cheaper quality and more lightweight than the previous edition's.


Game play

The game is played over 9 rounds, with three scoring rounds occurring once each after the 3rd, 6th and 9th round. The player with the most points at the end of the game is declared the winner. Players take starting province cards randomly that determine their home territory. These cards also have a handy rules summary at the back. The king playing piece is similarly placed in a random province. Players then place their big Grande block on that province with two starting caballeros, place one caballero on the scoring track and place 7 caballeros in their 'courts' - ready to be deployed. Players start the game by auctioning with their cards for starting player and play order.

The players play cards in a clockwise fashion, and can only play unique cards each round (i.e. they can not play a card already played). The cards are numbered 1 to 13 and the higher numbers indicate initiative, while the lower cards indicate planning. Each card has on it a certain number of caballeros, which are moved from the 'provinces' (outside play area) to the 'courts' (ready to be deployed area); the lower the number, the more caballeros will be readied. The play order proceeds from the highest card to the lowest. In each player's round, he starts off with moving the indicated number of caballeros to his court, and then decides on the remaining action cards available. The action cards are numbered 1 to 5, and correspond to the number of caballeros that can be played that round. Each card also has an associated ability, and, generally speaking, the less caballeros to be placed, the better the special ability. These abilities are always optional, but if chosen can be activated before or after moving caballeros. Some sample abilities include scoring a region of your choice, moving the king, or manipulating existing caballeros on the board (your own and / or other players'). The person that played last will start the auction for player position in the new round.

When placing caballeros, the only legal provinces are any surrounding the king, or into the tower, making them somewhat hidden and adds a memory element to the game. The province that a king occupies can never be the target of new caballeros, nor can caballeros be moved out of it for any reason.

During the scoring phase, all players secretly dial a province on their wheel and reveal them simultaneously. The tower is then lifted, scored, and the players' caballeros that was inside are moved to the players' secretly selected provinces. The rest of the provinces are then scored in a systematic fashion. This influx of new caballeros from the tower adds an element of uncertainty and surprise just prior to scoring - players quickly learn to have some of their own caballeros in the tower before scoring after a few nasty surprise invasions.

3 scores are indicated for each province, and represent points awarded to the players with the most, second most and third most caballeros present in the province at the time of scoring, respectively. Ties are resolved by reducing the standing one tier; tied for first place moves both players to 2nd place, ties for 2nd to 3rd, and ties for 3rd place are not scored. Additional bonuses are awarded for the majority of caballeros in the king's province (+2 points) and having the majority in your home province (+2 points).


Summary

El Grande has to be one of the most popular games available today and it's easy to see why. With simple, clean rules that are easy to understand and remember, beginners can quickly grasp the fundamentals of the game and develop effective strategies. For this reason, it is an outstanding gateway game. Most of the fun of the game is in preventing a runaway leader situation, unless you happen to be that leader : be prepared to face other players' wrath for being greedy though. This game will see our table once every third gaming session or so.


Score : 7.5 / 10
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Wade Broadhead
United States
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7.5 seems low for a game with such a great review that will show up very reguarly. 7.5 to me is a decent game I'll always play but won't really suggest week after week.
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Hertzog van Heerden
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You have a point Wade, but there is not a big board game community where I live, and we are constantly introducing new players to the hobby. That's why this game (amongst others) will always see play.

Personally speaking, 7.5 is a high rating; well above average. I think if I only started playing this recently it would have scored an 8 or even an 8.5

But since I'm usually playing this game with new players and thus have to explain the rules continually it often takes a little lustre off of the game for me.

This is of course compensated for by an influx of new members, discovering the joy of our hobby all over again
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
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My rating of this game went up the more I played it
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Hertzog van Heerden
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Hmmmmmm

Everone's making some good points. I think I'm going to phone up my friends and have a game right now!
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Devin Smith
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Nice review. Reminds me that I haven't played this in quite some time.

However: one caballero, two caballeros. The apostrophe doesn't get used to form plurals. Ever. It's a minor detail, but it bugs me.

Edit: It's been fixed. Awesome!
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Hertzog van Heerden
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Whoops!

Thanks for the tip - I wasn't sure. Fixed all of them
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Mark Farr
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Nice to see a South African review, and also that you didn't mention the misprints on some of the cards (omissions, really, but "misprints" seems to have stuck). I really like this game, but those issues bug me. I envy you, that they don't matter. I have a set of cards on their way to me from the US (the smaller English ones, sold all over) to make things perfect.

If I may ask, where do you purchase your games? I picked this up at Wizards in Craighall (in the Colony shopping centre), where I get most of my games. Just wondered, as I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find the games on my wishlist in SA.
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Hertzog van Heerden
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I've also bought a lot of games from Wizards, Outer Limits in Melville and boardgames.co.za - I can also highly recommend a store near Westgate; I think it's called 7th Level? If you're travelling westwards on Beyers Naude you should turn left at Blueberry if I remember correctly and immediately right into the small shopping arcade.

The owner is a fun-friendly-fanatical gamer and always has tables and chairs set up for playing games, and bringing along anything you want to play and some friends is welcomed, with coffee flowing at all times

I have to admit that the games I buy locally are to satisfy an immediate impulse and the limited titles available plus the ludicrously inflated prices has prompted me to order shipments from thoughthammer.com - they are very helpful and offer fantastic service.

As regards the cards : it is a pity that the quality of games components seem to be on the decline in general I only started playing boardgames again in 2003/2004 so with a lot of the games I wanted to own, I had to wait for a reprint (El Grande is a good example).

Besides the obvious small flaws, I had the good fortune of playing with someone else's original set. And comparing the reprint with the original I feel that there is a general decline in quality - I don't know if this is just my perception or a selective memory, but I would love to see the older set again and directly compare them.

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Mark Farr
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I have been to that store - 7th Generation I think it is. The guy's name is Sean/Shaun, I think. I got my copy of Tigris & Euphrates (among other titles) from him, at a time when nobody else had stock. His passion for the hobby is nice to see.

You got back into the boardgaming before I did, as I only rediscovered this hobby around June last year (2006). Since then though, I have purchased more than 100 games, so I am going strong.

I share your sentiment regarding the decline of boardgame components. Some new games are fantastic, but there are too many featuring errors, warping boards, cards that wear out too quickly, etc. I must say that the support is generally excellent. Fantasy Flight, Jay from Rio Grande Games, and Days of Wonder have all been awesome in sorting out problems. I cannot argue with their commitment.

El Grande is one of my very favourite games (I even have the computer version), so I wanted the Decennial edition to be perfect. I know it's picky, but the errors bother me. When a game is this good, you don't want anything detracting from it. There are those who will say that, if the game is good, the card errors shouldn't matter. I think they are quite right, but I battle to accept it myself.

I will have to start ordering from ThoughtHammer too, as there are a dozen or so titles that I want that I cannot get the guys to bring in for me. I have purchased a few games off eBay, which has worked well so far, but I have stuck to the smaller games for this (Babel, Mystery Rummy) to avoid the bigger postage charges. I suppose that, if you want good games, it's worth it to take the plunge and "go large or go home".

Do ThoughtHammer ship the games as insured/tracked? I imagine so, as they were charging $30 postage to our neck of the woods for the little $6.50 pack of replacement cards for El Grande. I got this shipped to me for under $10, with tracking, so there must be some extra value there to account for the high shipping cost. Of course, it could just be that ThoughtHammer have a flat rate that does not take the weight or dimensions of the item into consideration. This sounds more like it, as I just did a test and a bigger, heavier item gives me the same postage cost.

I have an order in for 5 games with Grant at Outer Limits in Melville (Lord of the Rings, Blue Moon, Torres, Kingdoms and Hollywood Blockbuster), and three games with Wizards (Shogun, Ark of the Covenant and Blue Moon City). I will give them another month or so to see if they come right. If they haven't by then, I'll go for an order with ThoughtHammer. How many games do you order (or recommend ordering) at a time? I understand that you save on postage by ordering a few at a time, but I also imagine that, if the order gets too large, you have problems with the size of the parcel when it gets here (not to mention customs).

Sorry for the long ramble, but it's good to find a fellow South African who shares the interest. There are not that many of us. Certainly not that many that order boardgames from overseas.
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Hertzog van Heerden
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No need to apologize Mark

I'm really pleased that you feel so passionately about our hobby - I'm sure your enthusiasm will spread through family and friends! Maybe one day South Africa will also have a thriving board game community.

Until then ... I found the ideal amount of games to ship to minimize shipping and import tax seem to be about 5 at a time, plus or minus another card or lightweight (physically speaking!) game.
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Andrew Tweddle
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I know this is 1.5 years late. But I have only just found the post, so I thought I'd chip in anyway...

I've bought quite a number of games from Wizards Craighall and a couple from Outer Limits, Melville. These are to satisfy the need for instant gratification.

On the whole though, I import from Games Surplus in the US. Their service is superb. They used to do USPS sea mail shipping, which was the cheapest way I had found to import to South Africa. The downside: having to order 10 to 15 games in a batch, and having to wait 7 to 12 weeks for the games to arrive.

Recently Game Surplus doesn't seem to offer the USPS sea mail shipping option any more. That means the games arrive within a week or 2, but shipping is more expensive. I found that the estimated shipping price was very high - but that the actual shipping price I was charged was quite a lot less than the estimate.

Of course, the Rand has now dropped horrendously against the USD. So I have bought a number of games from local games stores, because their prices are temporarily cheaper than importing... Actually the prices are only marginally cheaper than importing, but you get instant gratification, can check the box for damage, etc.

I have a spreadsheet which I use to estimate the price of importing various games (based on both the weight of the game and price). I generally aim to have 12.7 kg in an order, which equates to receiving a single large box without it being overpacked. Send me a message if you want me to send the spreadsheet.
 
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Mark Farr
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Hi Andrew,

I haven't imported anything for more than 6 months now, unless you count asking Chris (owner of Wizards) to bring back some stuff from this year's Essen for me (Krakow 1325AD, Le Havre and the Agricola ani/vegimeeples pack).

It's a combination of factors really, but mostly that I have just about everything I want at the moment. I am waiting for Pandemic to arrive in the next few weeks (through Wizards), but otherwise am content to pick up the odd game as and when it appears. I still have some 50 to 100 games that remain unplayed. I'd like to get all of them played before the end of 2009.

Good to see more South Africans here, and getting involved. Have a great 2009!
 
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