Ben had next choice, and he went with what we had long known he was dying to play: El Grande, his favorite game.
After explaining the rules to Kelly and Rick, we were off. Ben immediately put his "13" bid card down in the first round, which proved to be a mistake. He didn't come out well after the first plays, inaccurately predicting what the rest of us would do, and blowing his 13 card in the process.
In the second round, Rick took a lead by precipitating a special scoring round. I did the same in the third round, scoring the "6" and "7" regions.
At the first turn -- after three rounds -- the score stood: Chuck 55, Rick 43, Kelly 30, Ben 25. An unusual situation. I usually stink at the game, and holding a lead is rare for me. It is even more rare for Ben, our best El Grande player, to be trailing the pack.
I must have gotten complacent, because in the fourth round, I screwed up, failing to place in the Castillo when I could and should have. Rick followed in the fifth round by scoring the "4" regions -- he was alone in Catalonia -- and taking the lead. On that turn, I made up for lost time by placing in the Castillo, and wished I had done it the other way round, placing in the Castillo on round 4, and in a better on-the-board region in round 5.
Still, after six rounds, I held the lead: Chuck 88, Rick 83, Ben 59, and Kelly 58.
In the final three rounds I really started to suffer from the game's "gang up on the leader" element. I had taken a nice move forward in round 7, scoring the "5" regions and increasing my lead. But in round 8, Ben nailed me by deliberately selecting my best region when it came time for each of us to pick a region for scoring. I had guessed that someone might do that, but didn't want to overthink it by going to my second-best region and giving up the points without true cause. But it didn't work out for me -- I'm not so good at these rock-paper-scissors situations. Should have known better -- Ben likes to be aggressive!
That probably turned out to be the difference in the game. Ben moved first in the final round, and there wasn't a good enough card left for me to overtake Rick on my last move.
I also blew it on the final castillo placement. This time I did overthink it, and didn't go into the most lucrative region, figuring others would do so.
The final scores:
I like El Grande, but I rarely come away with a great feeling about it. It's very much a game about appearing not to be the leader, which is not really my favorite thing to focus on during play.