Greatest secret agent in the world!!!
El Grande: Brian had expressed an interest in playing this as he'd read all the good press it's gotten, and I wanted to revisit it (I'd only played twice and took up the "sucking hind tit" (a Marty expression) position in both plays). Marty and Dan were unsuspecting victims, and Dave was a wily veteran (despite never winning) with a handful of plays under his belt.
Dave and I brought the others up to speed and then we pushed off the newbie's canoes and climbed in a couple ourselves. The ride down the rapids was fun, albeit confusing, for most of the participants.
I started off in the lead after successfully scoring my hometown (El Grande'd) 7 value (New Castle?) region twice early on. Thus I was the early leader and started to take some heat. Dave chose to do the two turns in a row strategy (play the 1 power card (PC) in one turn, followed by the 13 PC in the next) for the first scoring session. He gained and then passed me, but not by a large enough margin as he wished.
Marty chose to do the 1/13 PC combo for the second scoring session and he and Dan climbed into contention for the win. After two scoring rounds the field was crowded at the top, I believe I had a slight lead followed closely by Dan, Dave, and Marty.
Marty had recouped his 1 PC, and then played it on turn 7. This allowed me the opening I needed to do the 1/13 PC combo on the 8 and 9 turns as Marty was the last person with a 1, and furthermore I was to his left and got first shot at laying my 1 in turn 8 anyway.
As the final scoring round approached it was me in the lead by about 4 points over a tied Dan and Dave, and then Marty. Brian was out of the race. But Brian chose to use the "Score the Castillo" tile on turn 9 which actually favored me as I had 8 cabs in there to Dan's 6. I pulled ahead another 2 points on Dan.
We then did the final scoring; I won in the Castillo again (surprise!). We disbursed the caballeros there into the regions and somehow we didn't catch Dan throwing his into the King's region (which I'd locked up plurality in). We didn't catch that until we went to score that region and I noticed the new horde of green cabs. An "asterisk game" was called (see notes). Dan was forced to place them somewhere else, we actually put them in a spot he probably should have, but it didn't effect his or anyone else's score.
In retrospect I don't believe the misplayed cabs at game end actually would've impacted the final standings. Dan could've denied me a few points, and gave himself a few, but I don't think he could've overcome the difference in our scores. Although it certainly might've been a closer game, depending on where he sent those cabs.
I think the reactions from the 3 new players were about the same as I had after my first play. "What the hell just happened?" I don't think the strategies in El Grande come clear until after a few plays. At least not for me anyhow. The canoeing metaphor is probably apt. It feels a bit like a ride you're not in complete control of, especially if you're inexperienced.
The only thing I took from my previous gaming sessions with El Grande is that I should try to setup the 1/13 PC combo at some point. I set sights on the end game for that maneuver after Marty and Dave took their shots earlier. The other thing I had learned was not to become fixated on fighting over any one particular region. I tried to have a cab or two in most regions, content to take the leftover (3rd or if lucky 2nd place pts) in most cases. I concentrated on the castillo during the last 3 turns, mostly because I was the leader and folks would fight me anywhere I tried to focus on. The castillo hid my efforts a little bit. The opening 9 pt (followed closely by another 9 pt) barrage in my El Grande region helped also.
I like El Grande, but despite the win I still came away with that vague feeling of unease that I really don't know what the hell I'm doing.
An "asterisk game" is a very old term from way back in our college or high school guy stuff days. It jokingly refers to a game who's outcome has been influenced by some "illegal" maneuver by one or more participants (usually the guy(s) about to win). The "illegality" of the maneuver is obviously in the eyes of the beholders (usually the losers). Infractions can range from knocking over an irrelevent game piece to taking a potty break at an inconvenient time. But usually they refer to some rules misunderstanding or a simple mental error.