5 of us tonight (Tel, Steve, Andy, Oggie and Paul), so it seemed a perfect chance to get an extremely under-played classic to the table.
Much to Paul’s relief (hailing from south of the Tyne) he didn’t have to call Newcastle his home this time round. So it came as a bit of a surprise to find him launching an extremely aggressive move to gain control of it. This started a battle that escalated throughout the game, culminating in him having 13 cubes in the region towards the end of the game. Andy and to a lesser extent Oggie also seemed keen on grabbing some parts of Newcastle. Tel and Steve decided to leave the others to this battle field preferring to instead concentrate elsewhere. In our first game of El Grande back in January Tel got off to a flyer and was never caught. Paul seems to be able to remember the details of every game he's ever played, so it was no surprise to see him grab the early scoring opportunities and open up a lead. Andy also benefited from some of the scoring. Tel was obviously trying something different (or couldn’t remember what he did last time) as we approached the first scoring round, he was the only player not to have scored, but had plenty of cubes in reserve in the Castillo. The first scoring found Paul still leading with a bit of a gap back to Andy who was just ahead of Steve and Tel tying for third with Oggie just behind.
Andy had the advantage in the 5 point territories so was delighted to see 2 of the next 3 rounds produce scoring cards for these territories. He was even happier to be able to claim both cards to ensure they were actioned, enabling him to overtake Paul for the lead. The build up in Newcastle seemed to take a break in the middle of the game as players seemed happy to concentrate on other areas. As would be expected within the group whenever cubes had to be moved or removed, it was always done in a way so as to stitch up as many players as possible. This usually meant forcing to opponents into a tie. Once again Tel had been putting a decent percentage of his cubes into the Castillo. As we approached the second scoring round Andy was still in the lead. So with Andy’s home territory all but empty it was no surprise to see 4 of us decide to move all our Castillo pieces into this territory. The scoring phase saw it being very close in the lead with Andy holding a 2 point lead over Paul. Tel and Steve were still neck and neck about 8 points behind the leaders, with Oggie dropping further behind.
Into the last 3 rounds, and Steve was grumbling that he’d played all his middling cards and was only left with cards at either extremity. Tel on the other hand seemed happy to play extremity cards laying the 2, 1 and 13. There were quite a few cubes of all colours finding their way into the Castillo. Paul eventually gave in to the inevitable and moved his home base to Newcastle (why didn't he get any stick for this??), prompting Oggie to finally decide to back out of the Newcastle fight, leaving it to Andy and Paul to battle over. Tel started the last round and moved the king into his home territory. Whilst this is usually a prudent thing to do, in this case it probably wasn't the best move as taking the score 4 points territories would’ve scored him at least 9 points on everyone else. The final scoring round saw everyone owning their home territory. As the scores were coming in it became obvious that it was going to be close. Even Oggie, who'd trailed everyone for most of the game, was only 9 points behind the winning score. Tel was fourth with a total of 83. Steve claimed third a point ahead, with Andy and Paul both a further point ahead to tie for the win.
This is one of the classics games in the genre, it seems to be in most people’s top 5 and plays within the 2.5 hour session we have available to play every week (but only just on tonight’s evidence). So the obvious (but so far unanswered) question to ask is why has it only seen the Piddinghoe gaming table on 1 occasion before? This is something that I think we will have to remedy, and get it to the table more frequently (I guess we just need 10 Tuesdays nights a week to address the same issue with all the other good games). With tough decisions aplenty, the game offers plenty to the fans of the heavier German style games. My only reservation with tonight’s game was the 2.5 hour playing time, but it is a great game and thoroughly recommended.
Paul 85, Andy 85, Steve 84, Tel 83, Oggie 76
Ratings / 10
Paul 8, Andy 8, Steve 9, Tel 8, Oggie 7
Will play any game... especially for wine or espresso.
An Australian in Africa.
I'd give your group a shake up rather than despair of the 2.5 hours playing time. Our group normally knock this one over in an hour or less.