Gameday First Play – El Grande Big Box
A classic area control game from 1995 repackaged in a Big Box edition.
A VERY Big Box edition!
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. After every third round, the regions are scored, and after the ninth round, the player with the most points is the winner.
The board is a layout of Spain and the King is played in a random region and looms over the rest of the board like some kind of henge…
Players also get a random area to place their Grande, represented by a larger Meeple as well as 2 Caballeros which are represented by mini meeples.
You don’t start with all your spare meeples available to you. Some stay to the side (I like to keep mine in the Bag) which is called the ‘Province’ and some are in your available supply or ‘Court’.
Play starts with Power cards.
The start player will play one of their 13 Power cards that are simply numbered 1 to 13. This determines player order but also the number of Caballeros you move from your Province to your Court this round.
As these cards determine player order you can’t play one the same as a value already played. The higher the card, the earlier in turn order you go but the fewer Caballeros you can bring out.
Once you play an Power card you lose it for the game so you can’t rely on playing 1 or 13 every turn.
You also need to consider the available action cards for the round. These action cards come in 5 piles. On your turn you choose one and in any order, take the effect on the card and put a number of Caballeros from your court to the board.
Stacks 1-4 have differing abilities and allow you to put 1-4 Caballeros on the board. Pile 5 is always ‘Move the King’ and place 5 Caballeros.
Once someone takes a card from a stack that stack is done for that round. This is where turn order becomes VERY important,. That card that will screw you over? You NEED to be the one who plays it (possibly choosing not to play the ability) but maybe you are short of Caballeros in your supply… argh!
Anyway, when placing Caballeros on the board they HAVE to go next to the Kings region.
The Kings Region is quite important. Nothing can ever go in or out of it, it’s protected. It’s also worth +2 points to the controller of that region… Moving the King into a region you control JUST before a scoring round is nice little trick. But, all 5 players are trying to do this too 🙂
Scoring rounds occur after 3 rounds of play…
Firstly, you score the Castillo.
When moving and placing Caballeros you can instead put them in the Castillo. This is scored in the same way as other regions except before revealing its contents, you each choose a region on a dial.
Then you score the Castillo and each player moves their Caballeros to their chosen region on the board. This is a good way of getting points from the Castillo but also dumping a load of Caballeros into a high point scoring region to hopefully steal control away form someone…
But, again, everyone else is doing this too. Usually if you gain a region, you lose one somewhere else 🙂
After 9 rounds, and 3 scoring rounds the game ends, most points wins.
It’s a very smooth and nice game. You can see why it’s still the go to area control game around despite being 20 years old.
I usually struggle to keep up with the tempo of the game for 9 rounds. I still struggle to focus and find it frustrating to constantly have to sacrifice a potential fun move to maximise each round. I feel the same playing Terra Mystica which is my favourite game still but sometimes I don’t want to have to Terraform and build a Dwelling, but it’s the best move so I have to do it.
For me, it’s closest competitor is Blood Rage where you fight over regions with mini’s where as this you control using political manoeuvres on cards. It’s a more fun theme but the game isn’t as good, it’s just easier to get people in to.
A friend said it reminded them more of Mission: Red Planet which is another card driven area control game and I can see that connection.
I own all 3 but I think they’re all different enough to keep in my collection.
The Big Box edition comes with 6 expansions so I’m looking forward to experimenting with them after playing the base game a time or two more. (After watching Tom Vasel’s review I think I’ll try expansion 1 on the next play)
But, despite the price and shelf space the box takes up, this one is going no where and I’m looking forward to playing it more.