El Grande Remains My Favorite Game
Welcome to the 10th and last in a series of reviews of 10 of my favorite board games. For the finale I’ll regale you with the wonders of the grandest game I know, El Grande.
El Grande was the first Euro board game that I really fell in love with. I had played The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and a few others, but they were nothing compared to El Grande.
In this game you play one of five colors of cubes – red, blue, yellow, green, or brown. The smaller cubes are technically known as caballeros, but since that’s too long to say all the time, we simply refer to them as dudes. You also have one larger cube which is your Grande.
The overarching goal of the game is to place your dudes so they have majority control in as many of the 9 regions of Spain as possible. You especially want control after rounds 3, 6, and 9 when each of the regions is scored.
Most of your dudes start the game in the provinces (in our case, a Plano box). You play a power card to determine turn order and to move some of those dudes from the provinces to your court (the area of the table in front of you).
From your court, you’ll promote from 1 to 5 of them to the board based on which action card you select. The action cards optionally throw all kinds of twists into dude placement and scoring.
The one rule that is never broken in El Grande is that the King, a tall black figure, has total control over the region in which he currently resides. Nothing can go in or out of his region. Therefore, controlling which region the King is in is a very significant part of game play. Therefore, gaining control of the one action card, which also allows you to promote 5 dudes to the board, is very important. Therefore, playing a high power card (numbered 1 through 13) from time to time is a very strategic move. The catch is that high power cards allow very few, if any, dudes to be moved from the provinces to your court. Another catch is that you can only play each power card once during the whole game.
El Grande is a game where you need to pick on the leader. Obviously you don’t want that player get too far ahead. However, it is possible to catch up even when there’s a big gap on the scoring track, which is located around the edge of the board. What helps is that the other trailing players will usually help each other gang up on the leader.
We have played El Grande with just 2 or 3 players, but it really shines with 4 or the full complement of 5 dude-placers.
Our copy of El Grande is the Decennial Edition which includes 2 expansions. We tried one of them once. It was a good game, but we haven’t gone back to it yet because there’s just so much goodness in the base game itself. And we’ve never even attempted the other expansion. There’s even a third option which is playing with all the expansions at once!
With the many and varied options you have each turn, you’ll enjoy coming back to El Grande again and again. I’ve played it over 60 times as of this writing. The only reason I haven’t played it more is that personal preference for 3 or 4 opponents.