EL GRANDE- Reviewed by John
A subtle strategic game from Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich published by Rio Grande Games. The game is based on 15th Century Spain. Each player is the Grande in one of the nine regions and has 30 Cabelleros to work with. The aim is to control the majority of Caballeros in as many regions as possible, a strategy which should win the game. The Game board depicts the 9 regions, has a space for the Castillo (special type of region), a success track round the edge of the board and a track which controls the 9 game and 3 scoring rounds.
The game is for 2 - 5 players, aged 12+, and lasts 2 hours when playing the 9 rounds. The game starts with the Castillo being placed on the board in its region, the king being placed in a region and each player having a home region where he places his Grande and 2 Caballeros.
Each player has 7 Caballeros immediately available to him (In his Court) and a reserve of 23 Caballeros for use during the game (In the Provinces). Every player also has a secret disk on which are depicted the 9 regions (see later) and a set of Power cards ( values 1 to 13) which also indicate a number of Caballeros (1 to 6). (The higher the power then the lower is the number of Caballeros).
The 45 action cards are placed by the side of the board in 5 piles according to the number of Caballeros depicted, each pile being shuffled and placed face down. (11 cards in piles 1 to 4 and 1 in pile 5). Two mobile scoreboards are also present.
A Game round, of which there will be 9, consists of the following -
Move the round marker to control the game (Note - scoring occurs at the end of rounds 3, 6 and 9).
Turn over the top action card of each stack.
Each player lays a power card to determine turn sequence.
In the first round a player is selected to lay the first power card and the others follow clockwise, always playing a card of a different value. In subsequent rounds the player who played last in the previous round starts. Once played, a card cannot be re-used, (unless a special action permits).
The power cards determine the turn order and the number of Caballeros that can move from the Provinces to your Court.
Each players turn is made up as follows -
Move the number of Caballeros shown on the power card from the Provinces to the Court.
Choose a displayed action card from one of the 5 action piles. Then perform two actions in either order -a) Move the stated number of Caballeros from the Court to the board.
b) Execute or prevent the described action.
When moving Caballeros onto the game board they can only be placed in regions adjacent to the King’s region and/or hidden in the Castillo.
Action cards are discarded. In subsequent rounds a new set of action cards is revealed, any unused cards from the previous set being discarded (less than 5 players) (Obviously pile 5, which only contains 1 card, is always available at the start of each round).
The King’s region has 3 meanings -
It determines the placing of the Caballeros, as they can only be placed in adjacent areas
It is always frozen (No actions/movements can take place in that region)
A King’s bonus (2 points) exists for any player in total control of that region when it is scored.
The Castillo is used to ‘store’ Caballeros for later use. During a scoring round the Castillo is scored as a region but then each player’s Caballeros are secretly moved to another region, the destination being dialed up on their secret disk before the contents of the Castillo are revealed. Using this technique the balance of power in the various regions may be altered before the 9 regions are scored.
Scoring - Each region including the Castillo contains a scoreboard. Points are awarded using these scoreboards according to who is currently strongest in that region (1st, 2nd and 3rd), along with 2 points bonuses for controlling the region containing your Grande and/or the King.
The game ends after the third scoring round, the player who has progressed furthest along the success track is the winner.
Strategy To win the game the player has to carefully ‘balance’ the options presented to him at each stage.
e.g. Which of the five action cards displayed is the most beneficial / detrimental to my cause, is there more than one that I would like to play or prevent?
If I obtain my preference will I be able to place enough Caballeros on the board?
To obtain a required action which Power card should I use? - Cards can only be used once and higher Power cards may achieve the selected action but will restrict movement of Caballeros from the provinces- only Caballeros in your court can be moved to the board.
How much use do I make of the Castillo?
How do my actions and my opponents likely actions react with each other - who is the person I have to beat?
Here are some examples of the Action cards to give a flavour of the game: -
Action Card from stack 1 (permits movement of only 1 Caballero from the court).
Intrigue: Move any 4 Caballeros on the board.
Action Card from stack 2 (permits movement of only 2 Caballeros from the court)
Veto : You can prevent one action during this round or the next.
Action Card from stack 3 (permits movement of only 3 Caballeros from the court)
Special Scoring : Score the First positions in every region immediately as an additional scoring.
Action Card from stack 4 (permits movement of only 4 Caballeros from the court)
Grande: You may move your Grande into a different region
Action Card from stack 5 (permits movement of 5 Caballeros from the court)
King’s Card - Put the King into any region. (NB: this card is always available at the start of each round as it is the only card in this stack).
Summary This game is not difficult to play but cannot be won without some degree of thought. Go and buy it is an essential part of any games collection.