We’ve reached the Gs in The ABCs of Gaming. The winning game was nominated several times for E, but since articles typically get dropped for alphabetical lists, the game was a G. So, here we go: G is for…
El Grande was first published in 1995, and was designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich. It was published by Rio Grande in the US. The game is for 2-5 players aged 12 and up, and takes around 90 minutes to play. It won the SDJ in 1996, and is often credited as the father of area control games. The game is about the struggle for control of Spanish provinces during the 15th century. Despite yet another thrilling Euro theme, El Grande won the G poll with 20.9% of the vote, with second place going to Galaxy Trucker with 16.7%.
There’s a ton of stuff in the El Grande game box (even more since Rio Grande packaged an expansion with it for the tenth anniversary edition): a game board; 5 grandes (large cubes); 155 caballeros (little wooden cubes); one king (a large pawn); one round marker (used for marking rounds, but is in fact a cube); 65 power cards; 45 action cards; 9 region cards; 5 secret dials (no, this is NOT a Fantasy Flight game); 1 castillo (a cube tower); 2 mobile scoreboards; 1 sample game sheet; and the rules. I won’t be talking about the expansions in this post.
Each player starts with 10 caballeros in their color, the 13 power cards of their color, and a secret dial. The region cards are shuffled, with the king going in a randomly selected region and each player’s grande going in another random region (their home region). The action cards are separated by cabellero level (1-5), shuffled, and placed face down in five stacks. The fifth stack will only have one card, the King.
A game of El Grande lasts over a series of rounds. For the full game, you go 9 rounds. For a shorter game, you only go six, skipping rounds 1-4-7 on the round track. At the start of each round, you’ll turn over the top card of each stack, then everyone will play a power card. Based on the power cards played, each player will take their turn.
And now for some detail: there are eleven cards in each action card stack (except number five). Each card shows a number of caballeros – stack one has one, stack two has two, and so on. This number represents the number of cubes you can move from your supply onto the board or into the castillo. The cards also have specific actions that you alone will get to execute if you choose them. So, after the top cards of each stack are revealed, you’ll look at your power cards and choose one to reveal. In player order, you’ll play a card that is numbered from 1-13, with no one able to play a card that has already been played. Power cards also show a number of caballeros – the higher the number, the fewer the caballeros. The highest card will get to go first, but lower cards will be able to take more caballeros out of the general supply and put them into their personal supply.
When it is your turn, you’ll choose one of the action cards. You can then move the indicated number of caballeros from your supply and put them on the board. They must go in a region adjacent to the King (never into the region with the King), or into the castillo. You’ll also take the special action indicated on the card, which could involve moving caballeros around, making your opponents move caballeros, having special scoring, move the king, or other actions. You can take the special action before placing your caballeros.
After each player has taken their turn, they discard the power card they played. You won’t have access to it again, unless you get an action card that allows you to take it back into your hand. When everyone has played their cards, the round ends. After rounds 3, 6, and 9, you’ll score. The first thing you’ll do is indicate one region on your secret dial. Next, empty the castillo and score it. The player with the most cubes gets the highest points; second place gets the second place points; third place gets the smallest number. Tied players get the next rank down (so players tied for first get second place points).
After scoring the castillo, move the cubes that were there to the region indicated on your dial. You’ll then score each of the regions in the same way you scored the castillo. The region the King occupies gives a bonus two points to the player in first, and if you win your home region, you also get four points. After the ninth round scoring, the player with the most points is the winner.
El Grande is a pretty deep game. There’s a lot going on, and there’s a heavy element of interaction in what you’re doing. Part of the challenge is looking at the board as a whole, and trying to have a good presence everywhere rather than trying to win places. In the one game I played, I was able to score point in every single region during the final round and ended up winning by three points. As I’ve played more area control games, that has always seemed to be the secret. The mechanics used are very smooth, and all of the cards are well balanced, which helps. There’s not a lot of randomness – the card draw is just about the only element of chance. Each stack has a general theme, so even that is not too bad. I haven’t really enjoyed a lot of Kramer games, but this one definitely shines, and it’s easy to see why it has stood the test of time.
That being said, it’s not what I voted for. I have absolutely no problem with it winning, but I threw my vote to Go. I’ve never played Go, but it’s an ancient Chinese abstract game that really created the area control genre, if we’re being honest. It’s one I’ve always needed to play. From what I hear, it has enough strategy that it will be completely over my head, but in order to be a well-rounded gamer, Go is definitely missing from my geek cred.
Let’s look at the results from the rest of the poll:
- In second place, Galaxy Trucker. This 2007 game from my man Vlaada Chvátil is #2 on my all-time favorite games. The reason I didn’t pick it as my choice is that I don’t think it’s essential. In fact, I don’t think it’s for everyone. There’s a ton of chaos, and people who get easily frustrated by things spinning completely out of control will hate it. Personally, I love it. The next expansion can’t come quick enough.
- In third place, Glory to Rome. Designed by Carl Chudyk and published in 2005, this role selection game is another one of my favorites. I’m interested to see how the new edition looks when it is released.
- In fourth place, A Game of Thrones. This Fantasy Flight game from 2003 (designed by Christian T. Petersen and Kevin Wilson) has gotten some renewed interest lately thanks to the HBO series and a second edition that came out last year. I haven’t played it yet – might be a little too political for me.
- In fifth place, Go. I already said my peace on this one, so we’ll move on.
- In sixth place, Ghost Stories. I just recently got the iPad version of this 2008 cooperative game by Antoine Bauza. It’s very difficult, and I have not yet really figured out what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s in line with what I hear about it.
- In seventh place, Goa. Rüdiger Dorn’s 2004 auction game set in India has some devoted fans. I understand that Z-Man/Filosofia will be reprinting it later this year. Maybe I’ll take a look. Maybe not.
- In eighth place, Glenn Drover’s Empires: Age of Discovery (2007). In retrospect, maybe I should have put this in the Es. However, it recently got a name change when it lost the license for Age of Empires III. Ah well.
- In ninth place, Other. Nominees included A Game of Thrones LCG, Gears of War, Gettysburg: 125th Anniversary Edition, Gheos, Give Me the Brain!, Graenaland, Guderian’s Blitzkrieg, Guillotine, and Gunslinger. Seems like most people were happy with the choices in the poll.
- In tenth place, Glen More. I’ve heard a lot of good buzz about this 2010 game from Matthias Cramer. I haven’t played it, don’t know much else about it.
- In eleventh place, Genoa. Originally called Traders of Genoa, this 2001 game was also designed by Rüdiger Dorn. I played half a game of it once. It’s almost pure negotiation, and the intricacies were a bit beyond me.
So that’s it. Back in two weeks with H. Thanks for reading!