This review will only attempt to cover one of the expansions you can play with El Grande, namely Intrigue & The King. However, this variant can be such a wonderful twist on the original game that I believe it fully deserves a separate review from the other expansion scenarios. In fact, I've gotten sucked in so thoroughly by Intrigue & The King that I haven't even tried out the other expansion possibilities. The public must be warned!
At first glance, Intrigue & The King appears to be a fairly simple twist on the original El Grande rules: there are more actions from which to choose, and each player gets his own deck of cards from which to choose them. Furthermore, the power cards and action cards have been ingeniously combined so that each action card also contains the bid number you must use when bidding on your turn order. That means that when you bid on the turn order with your power cards, you're also revealing the action you'd like to perform. You're no longer merely bidding to determine the order in which five randomly drawn action cards will be chosen and used.
But there's one final, cruel twist, and this is what makes the Intrigue & King so magnetic for me: the highest and lowest bidders don't get to perform the actions they hoped. Instead, the highest bidder's desired action card is replaced with the King's action, which works just as it does in the original El Grande rules. As for the lowest bidder, his desired action card is replaced with the Intrigue action, which I'll explain below. In either case, however, the player doesn't get his desired action/power card back--he's burned it! Therefore, if you want to perform the action stated on your card, the bidding number on that card must fall between the highest and lowest bid. The bidding strategy created by this change is both deep and delicious.
When you start leafing through these new "action/power" cards for the first time (each player gets his own deck in his own color, and all the decks are identical), it strikes you like a bolt from the blue--there are way too many cards here! So you start reading the cards, and most seem familiar enough. Many let you perform pretty much the same actions that the original game's action cards would allow--Score The Castillo, Score The Region Of Your Choice, Move The King To Any Adjacent Region, etc. Yep, these are your old friends. So why is this deck of cards so darned thick? Then you stumble across the freaky new stuff that you can do. There's a card that lets you throw all your opponents' Grandes into the Castillo?? What the hey?? Finally, you break down and lay the whole deck of cards out so you can check them all out. But more on the cards later….
The bidding round twist that makes the game so wonderful also imposes one unshakeable limit--the game plays wonderfully with five players, but loses a huge amount of fun with any other number. Of all the games I own, this one is the most unforgiving if you play with any number of players but five. I can play Goa with 3 or 4, I can play Puerto Rico with 3, 4, or 5, and I can play History Of The World with anywhere from 2 to 6 players, or even solitaire--same great games with any number of players in my book. But for Intrigue & The King, give me four opponents or play something else. Call it the price one pays for a great 5-player game.
Why is this? You'll quickly see the problem if you try playing the game with five, and then with four or less. If there are only four players, and the highest and lowest bidders have their desired actions replaced by the King and Intrigue actions, that means only two players get to do what they want in each round. That turns too many bids into coin flips for my tastes, especially for the early bidders in each round. With three players, a special rule makes the King and Intrigue actions optional rather than required, but in my opinion that takes all the tension out of the bidding. With two players, well, I think the first step in playing any version of 2-player El Grande is to find three more players. With five players, however, I think that the odds of getting to perform the action you want and the strategy involved in each bidding round are just right.
As in the original game, everyone bids on the order in which their turns will occur. As I mentioned above, the card with your bid on it also has your proposed action on it as well. But the player with the highest bid doesn't get to perform the action he played--he becomes the King mover instead, which works just as it does in the original game rules. But this player doesn't get his proposed action card back--he's burned it! Conversely, the low bidder in each round also loses his proposed action. Instead, he must play the Intrigue action, which lets him do some cool things, but never the things he had probably hoped to do when he played his action/power card.
In other words, if you want to perform the action listed on your bidding card, your bid has to land in the middle--don't be either the high or low bidder. The strategy this simple concept adds to the game is simply incredible. As in the original El Grande rules, players bid one at a time, and are prohibited from matching previous bids. That makes figuring out what to bid so that you don't get stuck with an unwanted King or Intrigue action a fascinating challenge. Of course, bidding strategy is much easier for the 4th and 5th bidders, who are able to see what will probably constitute a high or low bid for the current round. But if you bid first or second in the round, it's extremely difficult to find an action in your hand that is both worth performing and a safe bid that probably won't get turned into the King or Intrigue actions. Of course, sometimes you want to be the high or low bidder, and times like that make the bidding much easier. But if you've got a cool action card you want to use, playing it early in a round of bidding can be very frightening. Finally, the number of caballeros you get to move from your court to the board is set strictly by the turn order--the highest bidder gets to move 5 caballeros on to the board, the next highest bidder 4, and so on down to the Intrigue player who only gets to add 1 caballero to the board. Of course, you still must have caballeros in your court in order to move them on to the board.
Each round works pretty much as it does in the original rules--players bid for their actions and the order in which they take them, the actions are taken, and then the next round begins. But compared to El Grande's original rules, the strategic choices just explode in Intrigue & The King. The bidding is much more nerve-wracking because there's so much doubt as to whether you'll get to use the action you're risking when you bid, and the new actions provided in the card decks add a lot of interesting twists to the board play.
The heart of Intrigue & The King, of course, is the new deck of action/power cards that each player gets to use. Each player gets a whopping 31 cards, but must discard 18 of them before the game even starts, putting him down to the same number of bidding cards (13) provided in the original El Grande rules. But since these 13 cards also will contain all the actions a player can take as well as his bidding numbers, the choices get much trickier. Keeping the 13 actions you like best just might leave you with a lousy bidding hand, making your favorite 13 actions hard to use. Keeping a better hand for bidding, however, may leave you with a weaker hand for actions, or even require you to dump actions you find very attractive. Finding the balance that works for you is, well, really quite impossible! But searching for that balance anyway is half the fun!
Of course, every game with different players will be totally different because of the variables offered by the 31 cards with which each player starts. Even games with the same group of players can vary wildly as players change their "keeper" choices and learn how to use the actions more effectively. The game is easy enough to learn, but fairly impossible to master. The bid numbers on the 31 cards range from 10 to 180. One suggested variant in the rule book is that you limit your choices to the 18 cards with numbers evenly divisible by 10. That leaves you with only five cards to eliminate, which greatly speeds up the game's setup time. However, the actions offered by the other 13 cards are so fascinating that I've never been able to bring myself to play a game where they're not available, so I've never tried a game with this variant. The games of Intrigue & The King that I've played have always offered all 31 cards, forcing us to eliminate 18 of them, and that can take quite some time, especially for new players. We'll easily spend 15 or 20 minutes simply deciding which cards to keep in our hands for the game. However, it is hoped that this review may make this part of the game much easier for you. Just send me ten bucks for every game you win, and we'll call it even!
Even though I've never tried it myself, I'd strongly urge your group to use the suggested "divisible by 10" variant the first time it plays Intrigue & The King. If you try the 31 card variant the first time out of the chute, I can promise you that everyone will soon be bitching about how hard it is to eliminate 18 cards from their hand, as well as complaining about how long it takes. Besides, one game of the 18 card variant will be enough for you to get the hang of the game and what it does to the bidding strategy and board tactics. After that, I think diving into the full deck of 31 cards will be much easier.
So let's get into what makes Intrigue & The King really tick--the action/power cards and some of their possible uses. Listed here are both the bid numbers and the actions for each of the 31 cards that each player gets at the start of the game. In parentheses after each card's bid number is the number of caballeros each bid allows you move from the provinces to your court. Last but not least, I'll describe some of the good and bad situations I've experienced with each card as it gets used:
10: Intrigue (moves 6 caballeros from the provinces to your court)--this card is exactly the same as the Intrigue action which replaces the lowest bidder's desired action card. Playing this card simply guarantees that you'll be able to execute the intrigue action when you want. During the Intrigue action, you can move one of each opponent's caballeros from one region to any other region on the board. You have to move all the caballeros from the same region, so you don't often get to zap each opponent because it's not that often that all five players will have at least one caballero in the same region. However, you can land each caballero you move anywhere on the board except for the Castillo and, naturally, the King's region. This maneuver can really change the score of the game as you create ties for your opponents, break ties between yourself and your opponents, or even boot a foe's only caballero out of a region! If this option doesn't wreak enough havoc to suit you, the Intrigue action gives you one other option: you can remove up to all of your own caballeros from any one region and do the same thing with them--place each of them anywhere but the Castillo or the King's region! That option is a wonderful way to rescue that large group of non-scoring caballeros you've been stuck with in Aragon. They just sit there in a jam-packed region, scoring nothing for you because there are three other players with larger groups there. Well, this action lets you redistribute those caballeros to your advantage!
15: Fiesta (0)--You move no caballeros from the provinces to your court when playing this card, but it does allow you to move 5 caballeros from your court to the board rather than the 2 you'd normally get when taking the next-to-last turn of the round. So if your court is stuffed with extra guys, this card lets you move them on to the board just as well as the King's action does. The drawback is that this action only comes into play if someone bidding ahead of you has already bid his 10 card. Remember, if you bid with your 15 card, and it ends up being the low bid, you don't get to use it--you're forced to perform the Intrigue action instead! This makes the Fiesta card very difficult to bring into play, so it's always among the cards I toss out of my hand during the game setup.
20 (moves 5 caballeros from the provinces to your court): This action/power card doesn't have a name on it like most of the others, but it does let you place your caballeros in any region except the King's. You're not restricted by the usual "adjacent to the King" placement rule. Again, the drawback is that you can't perform this action unless someone bidding ahead of you has already bid with his 10 or 15 cards. But here's what really guts this card: when you do get to use it, you're nearly always going to be the second lowest bidder, and that means you only get to move 2 caballeros on to the board. So while this action gives you more flexibility as to where you place your caballeros, this extended flexibility is very rarely going to apply to more than 2 caballeros.
25: Espionage (move only 1 caballero from the provinces to your court)--On the next general scoring round, you don't have to use your secret disk selection in order to place any caballeros coming out of the Castillo. Instead, you get to watch everyone else place their Castillo parolees in the usual way and then decide where to dump yours. That can be a huge advantage at times!
30 (moves 5 caballeros from the provinces to your court): All other players send all Caballeros in their courts back to the provinces. This is a filthy little action that always shows up in the first round of my Intrigue & The King games because everyone starts the game with 7 caballeros in their courts. I should know, because I nearly always play the bastard myself! It's amazing how easily you can catch your opponents napping with this card. And because the darned thing lets you move five caballeros from the provinces to your court, this card acts as a superhighway between the provinces and the courts--but yours is the only car going in the right direction! There's one trick to using this card, and it involves, as usual, the bidding round. If someone plays this card ahead of you, don't bid below it! If everyone conspires to make 30 the low bid, this action gets turned into the Intrigue action instead, saving everyone's courts. On the other hand, if someone bidding ahead of you bids lower than 30, and your opponents have courts that are stuffed with caballeros, I think this can be the most powerful action in the deck. The key to bidding with this card is never to do it too early in the bidding round--never bid with your 30 if it's the lowest bid on the table when you make it.
35: Coup! (moves 4 caballeros from the provinces to your court)--This action lets you put all your opponents' Grandes into the Castillo! They have to come out during the general scoring round just like regular caballeros do. Sometimes, however, pulling this action can actually help an opponent out by giving him a chance to move his Grande to a more favorable scoring region. On the other hand, bidding with this card lets you move 4 caballeros from the provinces to your court, so it gets played more often than you might think. I never played it after one try because I thought it helped my foes too much by letting them reposition their Grandes as they liked, but someone else always plays it during my games because they think it's fun to shove those big ol' cubes around. In my opinion, this card underlines an important fact about El Grande that most people who play it completely miss: the Grande is horribly overrated. Having the most caballeros in your Grande's region is worth only 2 extra points, but most players defend their Grande's region as if their very lives depended upon it. Personally, I think the Grande is far more useful as a decoy than as a point scoring weapon. I like to make my opponents think I care about my Grande, and then yank all of my caballeros out of its region with the Intrigue action at a key moment. I usually trade my Grande's 2 points for far more points that I gain elsewhere during the Intrigue redistribution.
40: Veto (moves 4 caballeros from the provinces to your court) --this action works almost exactly as it does in the original game, but with one twist that isn't quite as unfair as it seems. In the Intrigue & The King rules, the veto card can't be held over for the next round. You must use it during the round in which you bid with this card. But that only makes sense, since players no longer draw their action cards only as the actions are performed. Remember, when you play a bid of 40 in Intrigue & The King, you're telling everyone up front that you're playing the veto card. But unlike the original game, each opponent must also announce his bid and intended action simultaneously, which means that by the time you bid to use the Veto card, you probably already know which action you want to use it on. You no longer have the problem of three or four actions already being taken before you finally get to pick up the veto card and use it, so you don't need the ability to hold it for the next round.
50 (moves 4 caballeros from the provinces to your court): All other players send 3 caballeros from their courts or regions on the board back to the provinces. Given that choice, most people choose caballeros from their courts. However, if you manage to use this action when everyone has thinly populated courts, you get to watch with glee as they try to choose 3 caballeros from the board to send home! One very effective strategy for using this card is to play it one round after burning down your opponents' courts with the 30 card's action. This combination can be devastating early in the game when everyone still has relatively few caballeros on the board.
60 (moves 4 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--score all regions with 6 or 7 points in the first position. A key difference between El Grande and its Intrigue & The King variant is this: in the Intrigue & The King rules, a player cannot simply choose not to perform his special action. You can only refuse to perform your special action if the action/power card says you "may" perform the action. In most cases, such as the special scoring cards, the word "may" doesn't appear on the card, so you are required to perform the action even if doing so hurts you. So if you bid for taking this action, you'd better be sure you'll be able to get in on the special scoring! The trick to this card is to only play it when you're certain it's going to be the second highest bid. You can't play it as the highest bid because that would turn it into the King's action, so make sure it's the second highest bid behind a King mover who will gain points along with you in the 6 and 7 regions. Otherwise, your turn will follow someone who moves the King to Catalonia, preventing you from being able to add any caballeros to the 6 and 7 point regions.
63 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court) : Bridge Building--this action is very different from the standard El Grande actions you're used to performing. You actually lay the card face up on the board, straddling two adjacent regions (neither can be the King's region, of course), and then move a single caballeros from the provinces to the card. He acts as a bridge guard, and the bridge itself lets you freely move caballeros between the two regions on either end of the bridge. You can only use the bridge in this way just before taking your action, but nobody else can use your bridge at all! Finally, you get an extra point during the general scoring round for having the bridge on the board. The bridge has one important weakness--it gets wiped out by the next player who plays his bridge card.
66 (moves 4 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Take 6!--This card can be a neat little thorn in everybody's side, including the player who plays it! You lay this card face up in any one region that has 6 or fewer caballeros in it. While it's there, that region is limited to no more than 6 caballeros. The strategy is to play the card when you are in first place in a region where you have only 3 or 4 caballeros. If more than one opponent is in the region with you, then 3 caballeros of your own is enough to guarantee first place. If there are just two players with caballeros in the region, then you need 4 of yours there to ensure first place points. Once you've got 1st place locked up, you lay this card in that region and nobody can take first place away from you! The Take 6 card stays on the board until someone plays his 125 card. I've seen at least a couple games where this card gets played early and lasts all game long, even in a high-scoring region like New Castile. Sometimes it lasts until game's end because everyone has discarded his 125 card during the pre-game discard, or because the players who have 125 cards in their hands keep using other cards they'd rather play. Sometimes interesting card play combinations can have weird effects. If there's a Quarantine (see card 93 below) and a Take 6 card on the board next to the King's region, all players can be forced to dump their caballeros into the Castillo because there are no legal regions on the board in which to put them!
70 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Send 1 caballero from every other player (from regions on the board) to the provinces. This dirty little card shows up with regularity, and it's amazing how the standings in a region can be altered by removing just one of each opponent's caballeros. This action is reminiscent of the Intrigue move, but this one lets you boot opposing caballeros right off the board. You don't get the option of moving your own caballeros (as with Intrigue), but you can certainly do some nasty damage to your foes with this move. And unlike the Intrigue action, this one lets you choose opponents from different regions to oust.
75 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Move 1 caballero from the provinces to this card. Just before any scoring opportunity, you may move this caballero to any region. Of course, this excludes the King's region and the Castillo (which isn't a region). An odd problem that comes up: you lay this card face up by the board, and then promptly forget to use the caballero you place on it! Because this sort of action is so foreign to the regular El Grande game, it takes practice! With the board, caballeros, and fistfuls of cards taking up table space, this face up card with 1 little colored cube sitting on it is easily lost in the shuffle. You can save this card and caballero all game long if you like, playing it at the very last moment of the game. But as often as that happens, the darned thing sits there until the game is over because its owner forgets to use it!
80 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court): You may move your Grande and 3 caballeros from any regions to one other region. It sounds simple, but can be a very powerful move at times as well as giving you a chance to rescue your Grande from a region where maintaining first place is becoming too difficult. And the fact that the caballeros can come from different regions can make this action a real sneak attack that's impossible to predict.
90 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Place or move a mobile scoreboard onto the scoreboard in any region. This works exactly as it does in the original game, but combining this card with Bridge Building worked out very neatly for one of my opponents recently. Since he had to use his bridge just before his turn, he used it to shove all of his caballeros in New Castile across the bridge and into Valencia. Only then did he slap the 4/0/0 scoreboard on New Castile, hosing all the opponents he left behind! It was a beautifully elegant tactic to watch, and it almost broke my heart to crush him later in the game. Oh yeah, I felt real bad about that.
93 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Quarantine--This action is interesting, but the rules for it are written in a contradictory manner, forcing your gaming group to make the call one way or the other. The action lets you place a mobile scoreboard on the board in the usual places, but you place it face down. This quarantines the region, in effect giving it the same protection against changes as the King's region. The conflict? On the card, it says the Quarantine is in effect until just before the next general scoring round. But in the rulebook, it says you don't remove the Quarantine until after the next general scoring round. Since leaving it in place until after the scoring round would make that region a total wasteland until then, my group ruled that the Quarantine is removed as described on the card itself--just before the general scoring round begins. There's a quicker way to remove a Quarantine card, however--if someone else plays a Quarantine card before the one on the board has expired, then the earlier one gets removed from the board. Where this card gets interesting is when somebody plays a Quarantine next to the King's region. If the King is in Galicia, for example, and you Quarantine the New Castile region, everyone else has only the Basque Country to place caballeros in. Such a Quarantine can encourage a lot of people to dump their caballeros into the Castillo as a result. One other note--the number 90 card can't be used to move your Quarantine scoreboard.
95 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Royal Protection--this action lets you select a region to enjoy the same protection as the King's region. How is this different from, say, the Quarantine action? The Royal Protection only lasts through the end of the current round. This action has turned out to be very weak when I've seen it used because it only restricts the players who follow it, so giving your favorite region Royal Protection usually only protects it from one or two opponents.
100 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--Score all regions with 4 points in the first position. Again, the other side of this coin can be very costly--you don't get to choose whether or not you'll perform this action. If you play this card as a bid, you will score the 4-regions. Some rat who moves ahead of you will often move his guys to your 4 regions, and then move the King in such a way as to minimize your ability to add caballeros to these regions. These no-choice special scoring actions are murder in my opinion, often scoring more for others than for the player who takes the actions. All these special scoring actions are effective only as the second highest bid, and even then they require some cooperation from His Majesty The King.
110 (moves 2 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--score the Castillo. Same story--if you play this card during the bidding round, but three opponents overbid you, they'll all get to add caballeros to your Castillo before you do! Is that any way to run a self-respecting Castillo??
120 (moves 2 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--Score all regions with 5 points in the first position. I suppose the key to playing all these "forced" special scoring cards is to be sure nobody can steal too many points from you in these regions before it's your turn to take your action.
125 (moves 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court): This card lets you remove a card from the board that has "Leave the card face up!" on it, but that only includes two stinkin' cards--66 and 75. In my personal opinion, this card should also remove Bridges, but I lost that argument in a recent game because the Bridge card doesn't
have the specific phrase "Leave the card face up!" on it. However, if this card doesn't effect Bridges, it is only useful for clearing off the two cards mentioned above, making 125 hardly worth keeping in your hand at the beginning of the game. This card lets you move 3 caballeros from the provinces to your court, but so do half a dozen other cards, so this one is pretty useless in my opinion. When somebody plays his Espionage card (25), it's usually left face up on the table to remind everyone of the general scoring round privilege that goes with it. If the 125 card could remove that card from play, 125 might be worth keeping, but that would render Espionage nearly useless, and it's already hard enough to use as it is because of its low bid number.
130 (moves 2 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Choose one region card and place it face-down. It scores double during the next scoring round. This card has led to some fairly wild results. If you play it just after a general scoring round, the region you target can change a lot before this card is applied, possibly screwing you out of a lot of points or unintentionally helping an opponent rack up some easy points. The trick seems to be to perform this action just before a general scoring round, which minimizes the ability of an opponent to accidentally outscore you in your chosen region. My wife inadvertently helped me win a game with this card. She picked Seville, where she had the only 3 caballeros in the region. My very last move on my very last turn of the game was to drop one caballero there for the cheap 2nd place points I thought I'd get. This action gave me 6 cheap points instead of the 3 I had expected, and that extra three points won me the game! Is it any wonder that I love her so?
135 (moves 2 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--score one region where you have exactly 2 caballeros, but not the majority. Do you realize what this means? It means "hey, have some 2nd place points at best!" If anyone can justify keeping this card in your hand, please step outside and sober up. With all the choices you've got for action cards in this game, I don't see any possible use for keeping this turkey. It's not even a decent court filler, allowing you to move just 2 caballeros from the provinces to your court. I should remove these cards from my copy of the El Grande expansions and just throw them in the trash.
140 (moves 1 caballero from the provinces to your court): This card lets you send 2 caballeros from each player to the Castillo. This includes your caballeros, too, but yours can come from your court if you wish, while your opponents all lose 2 caballeros from regions on the board. This card obviously isn't as mean as the ones that kick opponents right off the board, since the Castillo will eventually release its prisoners back to the board, but it can still swing some regional points your way. A drawback? It only lets you move 1 caballero from the provinces to your court. Personally, this card doesn't help me at all because I'm extremely weak at Castillo play in El Grande. I just plain stink at remembering who's tossed what into that darned thing, and cube-counting in order to figure it out seems like bad form at best.
145 (moves 0 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--Score any region you choose, but then boot all the caballeros in it back to the provinces. This card is actually a hoot! You move one guy from your court to a region that's chock full of opponents, but completely devoid of your own caballeros. Then you score the region, sacrificing some points to your foes. Then you kick every caballero back to the provinces, hopefully hurting your opponents far more than you. The hard part is deliberately scoring points for your opponents in order to kick them off the board, something that is very difficult to do in a close game. But if you're way ahead or way behind, this can be a neat card to play. It's also good for using early in the game, when you'll have more time to recover from any harmful effects the play might have on you. However, this card doesn't move anyone from your provinces to your court. Between that and the points you're sacrificing, this can be a tough card to use.
150 (moves 1 caballero from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--Score the region of your choice. Finally! A special scoring card that's actually worth playing! It also lets you move 1 caballero from the provinces to your court. The toughest part about using this card is playing it when it won't be the highest bid, which turns it into the King's action instead.
155 (moves 1 caballero from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--Select any 3 regions and then choose another player who must choose one of the regions to score. This action can have some very interesting effects, but it can also be very difficult to squeeze into a game effectively. A vicious opponent could also cross you up. You pick 3 regions, only one of which both you and he would gain points by choosing to score. Instead, he decides to ruin your day by choosing one of the other two regions just because you beat him at Goa that morning. I don't think I'll play this card on my wife in the next game we play; she might still be smarting over that Double Scoring Region thing.
160 (moves 0 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Move the King to any adjacent region. This is the same as the action in the original rules that allows you to do the same thing. However, this one doesn't let you move any caballeros from the provinces to your court, and it's another card that usually gets turned into the King's action.
170 (moves 0 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Special Scoring--All players choose a region on their secret disk. Score any region chosen by 2 or more players. I've never seen this card played as written, and for two simple reasons--first, the rule book says that table talk is allowed when this card is played, but not binding. So nobody wants to play this card, reach an agreement with a couple of foes, and then get screwed when they double-cross him. On the other hand, I can easily picture some interesting deals being struck with this card. This card does have one handy use, however--its high bid number usually gives someone the King's action instead of the one listed on the card. So the tactic often used is to play this card only after you're sure that no one can play his 180 card and take the King's action, thus forcing you to use the one listed on this card. Naturally, this card doesn't let you move caballeros from the provinces to your court, either.
180 (moves 0 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Execute the King's Action. This is the highest numbered card in the deck, and is simply used to guarantee that nobody over-bids you and gets to move the King. It moves no caballeros from the provinces to your court.
Joker (moves 0 caballeros from the provinces to your court): Playing the Joker forces everyone else to commit to their bids before you have to reveal yours. After all others have chosen their cards, you get to choose a card from your hand. This card is extremely powerful as it can either guarantee that your action doesn't get turned into the King or Intrigue actions, or it can be used when you want to be sure that you are the King or Intrigue player.
So that's the card deck each player gets to choose from at the beginning of the game. While I find several of these cards a snap to eliminate, it's still very difficult to pare my hand all the way down to 13 cards. If I were forced to choose my starting hand right now, I'd keep 10, 25, 30, 40, 50, 63, 70, 80, 90, 150, 170, 180, and my Joker. But looking at that list of numbers, I fear I'd get stuck being the low bidder far too often. While I love taking the Intrigue action, being the low bidder too often makes it impossible to get caballeros moved from your court to the board. And if this hand makes me the low bidder too often, many of the cards in it would be denied their listed actions anyway. Does this give you any feel for how hard it is just to get Intrigue & The King started? Choosing your starting hand is simply murder! I could easily play twenty games just trying to figure out what makes an effective starting hand!
If you want a real challenge, try this twist: commit to playing two consecutive games of Intrigue & The King. Then you only have to eliminate 5 cards from your hand, but now you have to divide your 26 keeper cards into the two hands you'll use for the two games. Good luck ducking those darned Extra Scoring cards! Best combined score after the two games is the winner, so you could win the game without winning either "half" of it!
I think I like Intrigue & The King even better than the original El Grande rules, which I have always loved since first playing the game. The tension that is added to the bidding round as you fight to either become or avoid becoming the highest or lowest bidder is simply delicious. And watching later bidders struggle to get between the first couple of bids so that they can use their action cards as written can be a real hoot! Finally, when all the cards in your hand are assured of being either the highest or lowest bid no matter which one you play, it's tough to figure out which card you're willing to sacrifice to the Intrigue or King action you're being forced to take instead.
Be forewarned, however--until you get used to these cards and the various ways they can combine to mess each other up, Intrigue & The King will feel very chaotic compared to El Grande. The biggest difference in the actions, I think, is the loss of the standard El Grande option in whether or not you take them. This is especially true with the special scoring actions, but it applies to most others as well since only five action cards (15, 40, 63, 75, 80) offer any kind of "do it or not" options.
All I have to do now is find the time to try out the other expansion options that got packed into this little box.
This is an outstanding summary of The King & the Immigrant expansion. Not only do you summarize the cards, but you lay out potential problems and usefuls strategies for them. This should have been a spotlight article hands down.
Thanks for the kind words, Scott! As for the spotlight article part, I have no idea how that works. I've seen them around and read a few of them, but I have no idea how an article becomes spotlighted. I just try to be brilliant. I figure the spotlights will find me sooner or later.
I like the idea of controlling your powers, but his
criticism is deasd on.
So I really like the colonies expansion. They give power the poor smuck
with the 1 caballero card. And more places to go.
David "Davy" Ashleydale
Outstanding review. Super useful.
I have a question about the 20 card. I sort of thought what it meant was that the 5 caballeros that you get for playing it could be placed anywhere on the board, instead of putting them in your court. And the other caballeros that you get from the Caballero card (probably 2, as you mentioned) would be placed on the board as normal.
I don't have the card in front of me right now, but I don't think it has much text on it.