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Subject: "In English it means...'The Grande!'" (an iSlaytheDragon review) rss

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Jonathan Schindler
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The box is ugly, there's no disputing that. Even after reading about the game, reading about the mechanics, and seeing the reassuring "Spiel des Jahres" pawn on the cover, I was almost convinced by the box art to turn my back. If I had done so, I would have missed out on one of my very favorite games. Well, now you know how I feel about it. But keep reading for a more in-depth review.

How It Works
The goal of the game, like most Euros, is to end the game with the most points. Like many Euros, there is a scoring track around the outside of the board to show who is in the lead. And stereotypically Euro, the game comes with lots and lots and lots of cubes.

In this case, each player has a stockpile of small cubes, which represent caballeros (knights). There are three areas for cubes: the provinces (reserve stockpile), the court (ready stockpile), and regions (individual territories on the game board). The board is a map of fifteenth-century Spain, and points are awarded based on who has the greatest number of caballeros in each region on the map. You score bonus points if you have the most caballeros in your home region (represented by the big cube of your color, your Grande) or in the region where the king happens to be. The game is played over nine rounds, and regions are only scored after the third, sixth, and ninth rounds. After the ninth-round scoring, whoever has the most points is the winner.

Each round begins with revealing five new special action cards. These cards, first, show how many caballeros the player who chooses that action may move from his court into the regions. They also allow players to do things they wouldn't otherwise be able to do, for example, moving other players' caballeros, moving the king, changing the number of points scored for a region, or scoring a region out of turn. The card that allows a player to move the king is available in each round (and also allows the choosing player to place five caballeros on the board). Special action cards are available to only one player each round.

Then, starting with the person who went last in the previous round, players bid for turn order. At the start of the game, each player is given thirteen "power cards," numbered 1-13, 1 being the least powerful/13 being most powerful, and each power card may only be played once during the game. On each power card, there is also a number of caballeros pictured, from zero to six. Your bid not only determines turn order but also how many caballeros you may move from the provinces to your court. The 13 shows no caballeros; the 1 shows six. The less powerful the power card, the more caballeros you can mobilize. The game is a delicate dance between going first when you need to and letting other players do so when most advantageous to yourself. You won't be able to go first every turn because you'll run out of caballeros in your court.

After bidding, players take their individual turns in the new player order. First they move the number of caballeros pictured on their power card from their provinces to their court. Then they choose their "special action," which they may take before or after moving their caballeros onto the board, or they may choose not to take it. Caballeros may only be placed in regions adjacent to the king's region, and nothing—nothing, nothing, nothing—can ever change in the king's region. The rules reiterate this fact again and again. This rule is fixed, hard and fast, firm as anything, no exceptions. This is why moving the king is such an important point of strategy.

There is also a special region on the board—the castillo—a tall, dark, and secret place where players can drop their cubes and forget about them. At the start of the scoring round, each player secretly chooses a region, then the castillo region is scored. Players then place their caballeros that were hidden in the castillo in the region they chose (but, as always, never in the king's region—it's taboo!). The castillo can swing things quite a bit, as the region you choose does not have to be adjacent to the king, and no one knows where the other players will send their caballeros.

Points are scored by who has the most, second most, and third most caballeros in a region. Whoever has the most points at the end of round nine wins.

My take:
There is no secret about my opinion: I love this game. Love, love, love it. My only regret is that I don't get to play it more often (mostly because it can take up to two hours to play).

The rules I mentioned above may seem like a lot to take in, but really, this game is pretty easy to teach. The thing new players get tripped up on the most is that new caballeros may be added to the board only in the regions adjacent to the king, and nothing whatsoever may ever change in the region where the king is, even with special cards that may seem to break this rule (they don't). This forces player moves to be more subtle—they can't just add cubes wherever they want them.

Which leads to the next point: I love the secrecy involved in this game. Each player has a dial depicting all the regions on the board that allows them to make choices, and those choices have a huge impact on the game. (The dials are used most commonly in the scoring phase for the castillo, but they are used with some special actions as well.) There is a large element of bluffing in the game—which regions do I want other players to think I care about, and which do I actually care about? When do I make a play for a region through my caballeros in the castillo? And when do I abandon a region to my opponents? Some regions are higher scoring than others and are thus more hotly contested; is it worth committing your forces to these regions, or is it better to try for the lonely low-scoring regions?

I also love that there is a lot of player interaction without much direct conflict (though there is plenty of "take that" in the game, but this is generally directed toward the player in the lead). Many of the special action cards directly affect other players: you can veto their special action, force them to remove caballeros from the board, or move their caballeros, or you can select a special action card that other players might want just to prevent them from getting it. Choosing the king's card is often a defensive move rather than an offensive one. And you have to constantly monitor who has the most caballeros in each region and guess at which regions matter to your opponents. If you're not careful, they might make a back-door play through the castillo to claim your home region!

The game works better with more players—at least four makes conditions ideal—but I find even the two-player game fun, if a little different. The components are fairly basic (at least the caballeros, which are the ubiquitous Euro cubes), but the game is so enjoyable that this is a minor concern. The gameboard map looks nice, and the castillo is top notch. I acquired the decennial edition, which also contains all the expansions, so quite a bit is packed into the box. (I haven't played the expansions yet—I love the base game so much.)

What all this boils down to for me is a game that is quite easy to teach yet while retaining strategic and tactical choices and a strong Euro flavor, even for newbies, and that is enormously fun. There are few games I enjoy playing as much as this one. If you don't have a copy, I recommend you track one down (and soon: it's recently out of print!). This one shouldn't be missed.

This review originally appeared, with pictures and another take, on iSlaytheDragon.com.
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Shane Walsh
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Nice review and you are absolutely correct this is a great Euro with sufficient take that moments which makes it one of my top 10's .

If only circumstances allowed me to play it more often ...

Oh yes the box does look like it's been touched up by the ugly stick but it's what's inside that counts isn't it ? ....
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Jonathan Schindler
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I'm with you. I'm almost always itching to play, but I don't often have the opportunity.
 
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Dan C
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This is my favorite game... And I haven't played it in over a year. To bad we don't all live in the same town to get this one played!
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Adam Kazimierczak
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I'll have to give El Grande another look. I passed because of the box, but now after actually reading the rules I think I'll like it.
 
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Jonathan Schindler
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The box is definitely ugly. The game itself is fantastic.
 
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Hank Meyer
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El Grande is MY #1 favorite game....from someone who owns more than 60 games (of the'German' variety) and has played almost 100 different ones over the years....this game set the stage for others involving placement, territorial occupation and short term and long term screwage...the basic game is great; the second level (with the actions and power cards combined) is equally fantastic....the game generates tremendous competitive enthusiasm, replays so well you will never be bored, and makes believers out of skeptics in a majority of cases....IMHO there is no better game out there that provides so much in a relatively short time span ( 2hrs generally, but teaching the mechanics is a breeze)..
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Davido
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Let me add to the love fest here. I can tolerate EG with 4, but it is my fave area majority game w/ 5. It is a perfectly balanced game that I have no reason to try the expansions. Cabs from the provinces to the court, court to board/castillo is such an elegant flow. The dynamic between initiative vs. cabs deployed to the court is tense. Likewise the tradeoff between the ability of the card/few cabs to the board vs. the less manipulative cards w/ more cabs to the board is freakin' brilliant.
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boardgamemuse
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Thanks for this..
I might keep an eye out now for a copy and I am DEFINATELY going to try the upcoming Sage app !


Maybe this is a GREAT opportunity for a re-theme or at least spiffing the existing version?
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Jonathan Schindler
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pratchettfan777 wrote:
Thanks for this..
I might keep an eye out now for a copy and I am DEFINATELY going to try the upcoming Sage app !


Maybe this is a GREAT opportunity for a re-theme or at least spiffing the existing version?


There's an app?! It probably won't be on Android...

And this game could totally be rethemed. Part of its charm for me, though, is in the rules the line "The king's region is taboo!" appears time after time. When playing with n00bs, the thing I say most often in the game is, "The king's region is taboo!" They don't get the joke necessarily, but I have a good chuckle on my own.

(This might be why it's so hard to find people to play...)
 
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boardgamemuse
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I don't know if it's been officially announced yet, but here is the pic with Codito's head honchos and just look at what is on the table in front of him.

http://fb.me/1Tk0Ct7Hj

Doubt they would have it there if it wasn't in the works...



Goatcabin wrote:
pratchettfan777 wrote:
Thanks for this..
I might keep an eye out now for a copy and I am DEFINITELY going to try the upcoming Sage app !


Maybe this is a GREAT opportunity for a re-theme or at least spiffing the existing version?


There's an app?! It probably won't be on Android...

And this game could totally be rethemed. Part of its charm for me, though, is in the rules the line "The king's region is taboo!" appears time after time. When playing with n00bs, the thing I say most often in the game is, "The king's region is taboo!" They don't get the joke necessarily, but I have a good chuckle on my own.

(This might be why it's so hard to find people to play...)
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Jonathan Schindler
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surprise
 
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