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Subject: Abstractly, we played 1 1/2 games rss

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Mendon Dornbrook
United States
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We sat down to play El Grande (the decennial edition) after I bought it for a friend of mine. Neither of us had played before, so we set up the game and played out the first few turns on the player tutorial. Later, we played two thirds of a game, improperly. And, finally, we played a full two player game.

The tutorial gave us a general sense of how to play the game. It is an area majority game where players try to control regions by having the most pieces in a region. The twist is that other players can move your pieces around. As well, players can hide caballeros in the Castillo, and deploy them later, secretly. The game is random without being random. Each turn, action cards are revealed and players bid to go first. In this way, what is revealed is random, but each player has the opportunity to think about what she or he wants and which actions will be desirable for other players to have.

Besides the basic turn order. Here we also learned that there were a number of misprints in the game. As far as I know, Rio Grande is good about sending replacements for misprinted pieces.

Bungled Game
Because the tutorial uses a four player game as an example, it does not note the change in scoring rules for a two or three player game. As a result, we scored the first and second positions of each region. This doesn't seem to have had an enormous impact on the outcome of the game, though, as each of us tended to earn an equal amount of points from the second scoring positions.

What really screwed up the game was the rule about the king that we hadn't yet read. About half way through our game, we realized that players may only place caballeros in regions adjacent to the king. We finished the second scoring round and declared my friend victorious.

I noticed in this game that my opponent took an early lead and then was able to win by playing a maintenance game, making sure that I couldn't catch up quickly. This helped me in the second game.

Real Game
This game was stikingly similar to the first game except that when we chose our home regions randomly, I was rewarded with Catalonia while my opponent received Valencia. Valencia is a higher scoring Region but Catalonia is more isolated. This gave me an advantage when moving the king from more meaningful regions in the early game to Catalonia to earn the additional two points and keep him from making meaningful plays elsewhere.

In the first scoring round I managed to give Catalonia the mobile scoring board that made it worth 8 pts. With my Grande, the King and a special scoring card, I pulled down 12 points early in the game. I also managed this on the first scoring round immediatly after turn three. This put me ahead almost twenty-points. After that, I was able to play a defensive game, keeping my opponent from gaining anywhere. After my early lead, the game was boring for me and frustrating for my opponent who was desperately trying to catch up but unable to oust me, despite his best efforts. Also, my opponent tended to bid higher power cards in order to get the best actions. As a result, I was able to play a largely reactionary game, also frustrating.

I won by about 20 points but it wasn't satisfying. I definitely can see the potential for this game to be an outstanding multiplayer tactical game with some limited strategy. We played without any of the expansions, I suspect that they will make the game more interesting, too. I hope that included in them is a way to make a two player game a little less of a runaway. Perhaps, because this was very much a learning game, we'll both get better for our next 1 on 1 match.

My Opinion

I enjoyed the prospect of this game as a four or five player game. I can see that each person is likely to construct his or her own strategy for victory and attempt to fulfill that each turn with scarce resources. When playing with two players, it was too easy to unload a lot of pieces on the board where your opponent just reinforced themselves. In a multiplayer, I don't think that that will be as feasible. Plus, it will be more challenging to keep track of how many caballeros are in the castillo and guessing where they are going will be more challenging.

I'm pretty enthusiastic about this game even though I didn't have the best first gaming experience. My rating: 8
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