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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • High player interaction
  • Low luck
  • Simple rules based on familiar mechanics
  • Six expansions included in box

Might Not Like

  • Can be mean
  • Potential for analysis paralysis
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El Grande Review

el grande

Welcome to medieval Spain where you are trying to gain control over the various provinces without upsetting the king. Why? To gain victory points of course (historical note: victory points were the default currency in Spain until the mid 1600s when the peseta was introduced as a replacement).

Who doesn’t like a map in a board game? In El Grande you get a big beautiful map of the Iberian peninsula divided into provinces. Some might say El Grande is the grande (sic) daddy of area control games, or for the more pedantic area majority games - certainly its been around a while, winning the Spiel des Jahres in 1996. However don’t think this means it’s dated. El Grande has aged well and can hold its own against its more modern rivals of the genre - Ethos, Inis, Tammany Hall, for example. You can trace its greatness back to the simplicity of its rules - a classic case of simple yet deep.

Don’t Mess With The King

Your role is to manipulate your caballeros to control the various provinces. But you have to move your caballeros from the countryside to your court before placing them on the board - a similar mechanic to another old classic, Hansa Teutonica. Managing where you caballeros is a key tactic in the game. You’ll be restricted by which “special-power” card you get by way of an auction and where the all powerful king is - the king doesn’t like to be disturbed so you can’t place or move caballeros in the province where the king is located.

In a sort of medieval fixed-term parliament there’s an election every three rounds when each province is scored. As an extra twist there’s a secret province - the Castillo (or castle for those of you unfamiliar with the Spanish lingo) - where, in addition to scoring, the caballeros will burst out into the other provinces to add an element of surprise to the fixed-term elections. This hidden aspect of the scoring rounds can favour those with a good memory but its not a game-changer.

The game is a combination of well-know mechanics - meeple-management, hand-management, auction and area majority - but they combine to make a series of meaningful decisions. This game is quite thinky - but in a good way: the thinking is based on the game situation, not on deep understanding of complex rulesets.

Don’t Get Ahead Of Yourself

Set up is quick and the game is fairly straightforward to teach - uncomplicated use of well-known mechanics, helped by the clear theme and objective. People will pick up both the rules and the tactics quickly - though possibly not a gateway game, El Grande certainly a next step game. Like most area majority/control games, player interaction is unavoidable. It is also deliberate - you have to target provinces which means targeting players - some might say aggressive. This may not suit all players - it’s certainly not multi-player solitaire. Although the game can be played without negotiation, we find that persuading others to gang up on the leader can be good fun and add another dimension to the experience. Runaway winners are rare partly due to the openness of the game - you know who’s winning and you can try to reign them in.

Thematically the game stands up well, though one might say any election-style theme might work equally well. Visually its very striking with its lovely board, the imposing Castillo and the sprawling traditional wooden meeple-dudes. The component quality is excellent. The game is quite long 60 to 90 minutes and can be susceptible to analysis paralysis - there’s a lot to think about. Like many area control games, its better with more players (Its plays 2-5) but is quite an interesting cut-and-thrust 2 player experience. However the game draws you in - while Fred is pondering his move, you can be studying the three-way contest in Galicia or persuading Helen to consider placing her caballeros in Catalonia.

Luck? No, It Was Pure Skill

It is predominantly a tactical game, though having a longer term strategy will help - you have to respond to what other players are doing. There is luck in the game but it’s fairly low - the variability comes from the players. This idea of the players adding the variability to a game can be seen in Brass, Ride the Rails and many others and really makes you feel you’ve beaten your fellow players rather than just been lucky. Because of this replayability is high, but if you do need a bit of variety, the Big Box edition includes six expansions, the main one, King & Intrigue, adds a hand building mechanic reducing the luck element even further. The only issue is where to store the game - as the name suggests, it is a big box, though it’s incredibly well organised inside which definitely helps setup.

Final Thoughts

El Grande is an excellent area majority game with high player interaction. Whilst not a gateway game, It is fairly easy to teach and has a tremendous depth and replayability. Best played with 5 players who don’t suffer too much analysis paralysis.

That concludes our thoughts on El Grande. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy El Grande today click here!

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • High player interaction
  • Low luck
  • Simple rules based on familiar mechanics
  • Six expansions included in box

Might not like

  • Can be mean
  • Potential for analysis paralysis

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Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

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