Review – El Grande Big Box
An Area Control game.
Title: El Grande Big Box
Year Published: 2015
Designer: Wolfgang Kramer, Richard Ulrich
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Game Time: ~90 mins
Set-up Time: ~3 mins
Theme: Renaissance Spain
Mechanic: Area Control, Card Drafting, Hand Management
How to win: Score the most points.
In El Grande, players take on the roles of Grandes in medieval Spain. The king’s power is flagging, and these powerful lords are vying for control of the various regions. To that end, you draft caballeros (knights in the form of meeples) into your court and subsequently move them onto the board to help seize control of regions.
This is the Big Box edition so it comes with a tonne of expansions but I’m just going to go through the base game here, the rest I will leave up to you…
Setup involves placing the double sided board ‘El Grande’ side up with the round marker on 1 and the big cardboard Castillo in its space. Shuffle the 5 (purple backed) Action Card stacks in 5 piles, put the mobile scoreboard next to them. Draw a random location card and place the big purple King there, this is his starting position.
Players take a disk, power cards, Grande, (Big Meeple) Flag Bearer token and 9 Caballeros (Little Meeples) of their colour. Each player draws a random location and places their Grande and 2 Caballeros in that region and puts the Flag Bearer token under one of these Caballeros.
Youngest player Starts, but first, a bit of terminology..
The Court is your supply of available Caballeros you have to use as pictured above.
The Province is your supply of currently unavailable Caballeros, I leave them to suffocate in the bag. (to keep them separate obviously!)
A Region is an area of the board, that’s an easy one. The Kings Region is, as you would expect, the region with the King in it, nothing can ever be added or removed from the Kings Region without Exception!!!
The Castillo (That cardboard tower) is not a Region, Caballeros can move into it but can’t move out of it and no player is allowed to look inside it… ever, even after the game has ended. (That’s not true)
The Flag Bearer breaks Ties in its region, the flag moves with the Bearer and the flag is passed to another Caballero if its holder is removed from the board or moved to the Castillo.
Game play is very simple, at the start of a round you Flip over the top action card of each stack so people can actually read them.
Then, in player order, play any Power card from your hand face up. You can play any card except one with the same value already played by another player so far this round. The player who played the highest value power card gets the start player token and turns will continue clockwise.
Once played, a power card is out for the rest of the game so choose wisely.
The first action you perform on your turn is to Take Caballeros from your Province to your Court equal to the number shown on the Power card you selected. If there are not enough in your Province, you can take them from a Region but you can choose to take fewer than the number shown if you want.
Then you Take an Action Card from those available face up and perform the complete action if possible, or even if you want to. The Action card shows how many Caballeros from your Court you place into Regions adjacent to the King.
You may also place some or all in the Castillo instead, declaring the number added to it at all times so people can (try and) keep track. Remember Don’t Look In It Ever!
Once you’ve done this the next player clockwise takes their turn, when all players have gone you do a little end of round clean up phase.
Put all played and revealed but un-played action cards to the bottom of their stack. The player who played the lowest value Power card takes the start player marker. Power cards played on the previous turn are discarded face down and will not be used again this game. Move the round marker.. If it hits a scoring round, score now…
Firstly, players secretly choose a region on the board with their dial which shows where your Caballeros are moved from the Castillo. Then lift up the Castillo to reveal all the Caballeros trapped inside. Score the Castillo with the player with the most scoring 5, second most 3 and third most 1. Tied players all score the next lowest value.
Then players Move Caballeros to the Region on the board chosen on the dial and you Score Regions on the board… Regions are scored in order of a region track printed on the board and are worth different points values but score in the same way as the Castillo with Flag Bearers breaking ties if possible.
You get a bonus 2 points for having the most in the Kings Region or a region containing your Grande. Note that the Grande does not count towards total of Caballeros you have, because he isn’t one, obviously.
The game ends after 12 rounds and the player with the most points wins.
There are no tie breakers so if you want to win alone, play well 😉
This game is 22 years old and is still not only a great game, but it the world of area control games is still the Grande.
It’s very… simple? It’s easy to play and it’s even easy to play well… But the player that plays best will win. No luck here.
You have to balance going first in a round, which power card to sacrifice, how many Caballeros to pull from your Province to your Court, how many Caballeros you put into Regions AND which Action Card you want to take… EVERY ROUND.
Yes, it looks bland and yes it looks 20 years old despite this version only being 2 years old, but the game is fantastic.
Despite the HUGE box, this is staying on my shelf.
I give it 8/10