(Eric, Dan, Rich, Evan, Anton)
Anton arrived as we were finishing Liar's Dice, and we discussed what to play next. Evan had been wanting a shot at El Grande, a game he hasn't had many chances to play, and the rest of us were happy to play a game that's near the top of the favorites list for many. El Grande is the grandfather of cube placement games, with the added feature of an auction for action cards using bidding cards that also regulate a player's cube supply (the higher you bid for an action, the fewer cubes you have to work with.)
We drew cards for setup. Evan wound up in Old Castile, Eric in Basque Country, Rich in Valencia, Dan in Sevilla and Anton in Catalonia with the King in Granada. The first set of action cards included the "score all 6 and 7 regions" card. Evan was the first player to bid, so he laid down his 13, took that card, dropped some caballeros in New Castile, and racked up 15 VP on the first card, with no one else getting anything. We all teased him about the danger of being an early leader in El Grande, but it was hard to pass up a 15-point windfall. Later in the round we had more fun as Eric played the "fellow players remove all caballeros from one region" card at a time when no one had a throw-away region yet. At the end of the round the action card "each player secretly chooses one region to score, but if two players choose the same region it doesn't score" card was played. We dialed our regions, and when we revealed our choices, Evan and Dan had both chosen Sevilla, where Dan was the leader. Dan asked Evan "what were you thinking?" and Evan had to admit "I was thinking I was green!" Of course, Evan was not green, but red. This left Dan at 0 and somewhat put out, with the rest of us well down the VP track toward the first corner.
Rich usually pursues the "cubes on the board, lots of second places" strategy in El Grande, but Eric stole Rich's strategy in this game, taking the "move the King" card several times and gaining a cube count advantage in the mid-game. This allowed Eric to shoot past Evan and Rich (who had made up a lot of ground) to gain a lead of as much as 15 in the middle of one round. Rich began to close the gap methodically, partly by means of the "score first place in all regions" card that is so harmful to Rich's strategy (the strategy Eric was using, if you're still with me.) It's not as easy as one might think to reel the leader in, but if the trailing players work together, as they did in this game, it can happen.
As we played through the final three rounds, Anton and Dan began to make up ground in large chunks, as their earlier positioning took hold. Anton had moved the "good" scoreboard to Catalonia, his home region, and was scoring 10 and 12 VPs there. He had also moved the "bad" scoreboard to Valencia, and Evan spent cubes to threaten Rich in Valencia and Eric in Basque Country. Though Rich and Eric were scoring in their home provinces, Evan's attack was consuming most of their resources.
In the final round, Evan stuffed enough cubes in Valencia and Basque Country to grab first place. Eric parachuted his 4 caballeros into Catalonia, taking 4 points from Rich, but Rich had no strong option for his 2 caballeros, and this made the difference. Evan's attacks allowed Anton and Dan back into the fight, but they proved costly for Evan, who finished well behind the pack.
Final scores: Eric 104, Rich 100, Anton 98, Dan 94, Evan 75.
Eric's rating: 10. El Grande is one of my favorite games. Success requires tactics, strategy and careful manipulation of your opponents' choices. I'm trying to play it more often.