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El Grande
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Store:  Strategy Games
Edition:  El Grande
Series:  El Grande
Format:  Board Games

El Grande

English language edition

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Product Awards:  

Ages Play Time Players
12+ 90 minutes 2-5

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Product Description

It is time of awakening. The position of the king is secure, but the high aristocrats, the Grandes, look to expand their influence. Thus, intrigue fills the country! Their primary weapons are the attendants to the king: the Caballeros. Each Grande has his favorites, recruited from the provinces, which he deploys to accumulate the power he so desires. Fencing, not with the sword, but with cunning and deceit, the Grandes struggle for power, sending the Caballeros openly into the regions and secretly to the Castillo. Although this strategic game requires subtle strategies, it is easy to learn and comes with an introduction that ensures a fast entrance into the game. We have produced a game that is both beautiful and practical, making the game a pleasure to play every time.

Product Awards

Games Magazine Awards
Best Family Strategy Game, 1999
Spiel des Jahres
Game of the Year, 1996
Deutscher Spiele Preis
1st place, 1996

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Wolfgang Kramer, Richard Ulrich

  • Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, Hans im Gluck

  • Artist(s): Doris Matthaus

  • Year: 1998

  • Players: 2 - 5

  • Time: 90 minutes

  • Ages: 12 and up

  • Weight: 1,502 grams

  • All-Time Sales Rank: #78

  • Language Requirements: This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Game components are printed in English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English.

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.6 in 33 reviews

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One of the best
October 18, 2003

My game group typically plays one new game every week. Sometimes a new game gets played just once - sometimes twice, just to check whether the game is really as bad as the players thought after the first session.

Rarely, a new game gets added to our list of 'classics' - those games that we play over and over for months. El Grande is one of those. It has become the second most popular of the new games we have tried this year (the most popular new one being Citadels).

A great game for people that enjoy games that require strategic thinking.

Well ... I was wrong.
October 06, 2003

I returned to El Grande recently after a long break ... and what can I say! My initial review was very wrong! Every game has been a winner: tense, exciting, tough decisions and of course that all important element: lots of opportunities to 'do people over'! Everyone who's played has enjoyed it and I've had no problems getting players to come back for more, in fact it's now enjoying an unusual amount of play (for a game that's over 7 years old) at my local games club! Each game is different as strange combinations of action cards force one to make unusual decisions and modify one's previous tactics.

How one's oppinions can change over time! Come back El Grande, all is forgiven, you're a true Classic!

One of the Top Five Games Ever Designed
February 12, 2003

A simply fantastic game. The rules are clear, easy to learn and easy to explain, but due to the game mechanics (described at length elsewhere), game play is deep and varies with each play. A tense, exciting, highly interactive, beautiful game. Worth every penny. Plays best with 4 to 5 players, though.

by Jake
Expensive, but fascinating.
January 30, 2003

After years of gaming, El Grande remains unsurpassed, in my experience, in its presentation, its charm and its beautifully complex design. It has everything that I like in a game: bidding, bluffing, an array of difficult decisions and mystery (the castillo is an awesome concept). For such a complex game, it excels in its balance demonstrated by the caballero-card system and the numerous come-from-behind victories Ive witnessed.

Initially, there is a lot to consider and new gamers may feel compelled to work through every possible sequence. That problem is easily circumvented with a timer, which adds to the pressure very nicely.

One thing I appreciate in a game is the opportunity for diplomacy. Usually, everybody is out to get the leader, which prevents any one player running away from the rest. It makes sense, then, to not appear youre in the lead until the endstages.

The bits are excellent: brightly coloured wooden blocks, an authentic-looking map of 15th century Spain, a big honkin castle on the board . . . no complaints there.

Theres plenty of nerve-racking decisions to be made throughout the game including the secret vote at the end of every third round. El Grande is deeper than most, but its also more satisfying. Any game with this many original ideas packed into it is sure to please.

El Grande, game of Balance and strategic precision
December 13, 2002

The Settlers of Catan (and its expansions) is maybe the best game I have ever played and I dare to say, really, in my opinion, the best game of all times (in family games genre, hard war games apart). Among other aspects, it gives specially a lot of fun, suspense and interaction, and you really feel like a settler (or a seafarer).

El Grande is not so fun and has not such an interaction among the players. On the other hand, is the most powerful game I can imagine, in terms of balance, strategic and precision decisions.

You dont have the excitement of Catan, its true. But you do have a different kind of excitement: the one which is based on think quickly and with precision, because one false step can cost you one point that can be decisive to win or loose.

First, players must manage their power cars the best they can, because thats the way to choose the action cards before your opponent do. And, at some stages of the game, it can be decisive. Second, players need to also manage their reserve with care, because they can end out without caballeros to place in the regions. Third, players must distribute those caballeros very well along the board, so they can get influence (and earn points) or knock the opponent down in a certain region. Choosing the right action card to play in the right moment is also very important. You can score a lot with it. And there are many, many more aspects you need to care to. I would say that all the details are equally important to victory. And victory can be obtained with one single point.

I just had my fourth game half an hour ago, always scoring at the front, and my wife ended up tie with me because of one mistake that costed me a point.

Until now, I just have played with my wife. And I can say that its a great game for two players. I imagine that it is also a great game for 3, 4 or 5 players.

It is an extremely well balanced game that you cant win with luck, because luck cannot lead you to victory. Its neither a game that you may feel, from the beginning, youre going to win or loose (this is the negative aspect that happens in Catan, when you choose your first two villages and roads). Each round you fight for victory. And each round you can be more close to it.

El Grande is also a very good looking game, with a perfect design and quality of materials.

I do recommend. High value for the money. A must have. Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich are, indeed, two geniouses guys.

The 1996 German 'Game of the Year' deserves the award
December 03, 2002

If you are a hard-core wargamer whose stomach turns at the sight of any game that does not include hexes and cardboard counters, then dont give El Grande a second look. If, however, you appreciate games with strategic decisions, beautiful components and loaded with FUN, then El Grande, designed by Wolfgang Kramer, is for you. And now, it is available totally in English from Rio Grande Games.

To quote the games historical background: The game is set in 15th Century Spain, where there were twelve different kingdoms, one Duchy, one Earldom and the Basque provinces. Five different races had spread themselves across the land - the Spanish, the Basques, the Galicians, the Catalonians and the Moors.

Players each represent one of these five races and must spread their influence across Spain by establishing a majority of their pieces in as many provinces as possible. From here, most of the resemblance to history vanishes and the game becomes very abstract. Dont let that bother you, though. As Ive said before, this game is FUN.

Each player begins the game with their Grande and two Caballeros in one of the nine provinces. This is their Home province. Another province contains the King, which plays a major role in where players may place their pieces during the course of the game. Players also receive a set of 13 Power Cards, ranging in value from 1 to 13, and a Decision Disk, which will be explained later. There are also five stacks of Action Cards which can give players certain powers and/or temporarily alter the rules of play. .During their turn, players choose one card from one of the five stacks based on the strength of the Power Card they played during that round.

At the beginning of each of the nine rounds, each player plays a Power Card face up. Once played, the card is discarded for the remainder of the game. The card played determines two important things:

The player order for the round: The player who played the highest Power Card plays first that round and gets the first selection of one of the Action Cards.

Caballero recruitment: The number of head symbols on the Power Card played determines the number of Caballeros that the player may recruit into his personal stock that turn.

An interesting decision must be made when playing the Power Card. The higher the number value on the card, the lower the number of Caballeros it allows a player to recruit. Thus, the decision has to be made if you would rather go early in the round and get an early choice of Action Cards or would you rather have more pieces to recruit into stock? I just love these agonizing little decisions that must be made!

The Action Card provides two actions:

The number of head symbols on the card determines how many Caballeros a player may place on the board from his stock.

The text and picture on the card conveys a special action or power that may be utilized that turn by the player.

This, of course, poses another dilemma when choosing the card. Usually, the more potent Action Cards allow placement of fewer Caballeros. Does one go for a more powerful card, or a lesser one to allow placement of more pieces? Again, another agonizing decision!

In placing their pieces on the board, players are usually restricted to provinces which border the Kings location. Once per turn, the King may move, altering the provinces eligible for placement of pieces. The ultimate objective is to build up majorities in as many provinces as possible, and to be second or third in the others.

Players can also place pieces in the Castle. At the end of every third round, these pieces are redistributed to a province which was secretly dialed on the players Decision Disk. Thus, a player can alter the status of a province before majority status is tallied.

At the end of every third round, after the Castle pieces have been redistributed, each province is scored. Points are scored for having a majority, secondary or tertiary status in most provinces. Bonuses are also given for having the majority of pieces in the Kings province as well as your own home province. A running tally is kept and at the end of nine rounds, the player with the most points is the victor.

The game plays rather quickly - usually about two hours with five players. The rules are very simple and the English translation is very good. Although the cards are printed in German, they are easy to decipher with the translations and the clear pictures describing the special actions printed on the cards. And as mentioned earlier, there is now a full english edition available, published by Rio Grande Games. The board and cards are gorgeous - very colorful with nice artwork. Im also fond of the pieces - wooden blocks (ala Diplomacy). So not only is it fun to play, but it is also makes a nice appearance. This is in keeping with most of the recent German games Ive played.

In each round, players must make several key, and agonizing, decisions, while at the same time keeping an eye on the population of each province on the board. Decisions must be made as to what Power Card to play, which Action Card to select, where to place ones pieces, etc.

Every three rounds, a tally is done, allowing each player to take stock of the leadership situation and adjust accordingly. Usually, no one player can dominate and everyone is in the hunt entering the final rounds.

Lets see - a reasonably easy game, beautiful components, lots of strategic decisions to make, special actions to alter the rules, very competitive throughout, playable in two hours or less and loads of FUN. Gee, in my book, that would make any game a winner. And El Grande is that -- a winner..

Excellent now for 2 players!
October 05, 2001

This has always been my favorite game, but recently we have had trouble getting the absolute minimum of 3 players. (Although the box says 2-5 players, the game wasn't nearly as good with 2 players.) A great 2-player variant has been placed on BoardgameGeek that now makes this one of my favorite 2-player games as well. Check it out!

Lovely placement/majority game. Lightly spiced with a theme.
October 04, 2001

I owned this game three months ago and hadn't gotten a chance to play it until last weekend. While the box is huge and it seems like it would be a complicated game to play, it actually is a rather easy game to explain to first-time players!

The placement rules are capped by an excellent scoring mechanism, allowing diverse play strategies.

Well recommended to fans of abstract placement games like Torres or Web of Power. Definitely not a crash course on Spanish history.

Lives up to its Name
October 02, 2001

I bought my copy of El Grande more than 3 years ago and have not played a game that seriously rivals it since! To me, El Grande is the quintessential German gaming experience: strong interaction or interdependence between players, an interesting array of crucial choices to make throughout the game, and opportuntities for amusement even during the times you may thoroughly disrupt your opponent's plans! The variants or add-ons make El Grande a new game--not necessarily better but rather to tailor the mechanics a bit for those who are even more serious gamers. You just cannot go wrong owning and playing El Grande.

The Quintessential Game of the 90s
September 06, 2001

When I ordered this game I was looking for something new as Settlers of Catan was getting too much play. Being a new German gamer at the time, I was shocked to hear Bob say, 'You will probably like El Grande even better than Settlers.' He was very correct.

El Grande just keeps on appearing at my kitchen table. It has solid graphics, nice components and an innovative clock-like device to secretly vote on. Complexity is medium, but it has very strong replay value (most mid-complexity games fade with time).

Several factors give it high replay value. It scales well between two and five players (though four- or five-player games bring an added dose of volatility and excitement to Caballero placements). The strategy involved in the Castillo (a region where Caballeros are placed but hidden until a scoring round) can wildly alter the best laid plans. When understood properly, all of the action cards have wonderful potential to either advance your cause through increased Caballero presence or by thwarting the work of your opponents. In short, good game play includes both offensive and defensive strategies--a great indication of the wonderful balance this game has.

I am usually not a big fan of add-ons but I recently took a chance and added the English El Grande expansions. This has turned a great game into a fantastic one. The expansions add two new ways to play the game. Intrigue and the King quadruples the amount of action cards. In regular El Grande, players pick action cards in each of the nine rounds. In I&K, action cards are selected before the game begins (imagine equipping your hand with subterfuge and tricks to thwart your opponents before you know how they are planning their strategy). Grand Inquisitor and the Colonies add new regions, but I have not yet tried this one--I am still enjoying Intrigue and the King too much.

Overall, this has been my favorite gaming purchase.

Can you stop the leader in El Grande?
August 27, 2001

El Grande came out when there were very few good 5-player games. It's not only a good 5-player game, but one of the best games period. It combines strategy, tactics, and psychology, and our games are usually very close at the end.

When you read a description of this game, you might think it's one of those games where everyone gangs up on the leader, and the winner turns out to be the player no one was trying to stop. (I tend to dislike that type of game.) The funny thing about El Grande is that, for some reason, it's not quite as easy to stop the leader as you might think. The leader's advantage is not so great as to be insurmountable, but, on the other hand, if you can grab the lead in the early or mid-game, you should do it.

This makes for a game where you need to think about the long-term situation, and you need to manage the perceptions of the other players. On the other hand, you just can't pass up the opportunity to make a sneaky tactical move that gains you a decent stash of points. The resulting tension is what makes this game great. I've found it can be a good plan to go for second in a place like Sevilla, since second is almost as good as first and draws far less attention. You also need to avoid over-committing caballeros to a single target, especially since your opponents will surely take any opportunity they get to increase your over-committment by piling more of them up with every chance they get.

This game isn't hard to learn. All the tactics make sense even to beginners (though it's a challenge to anyone to come up with the right tactics for a given situation). But stringing together a coherent set of moves in a way that brings victory always seems like a huge accomplishment to me.

We'll keep playing this one
August 26, 2001

I've played this game twice now with a group of non-gamer friends, and each time it has been great fun. The game is quick moving, colorful, not too complicated, and it has enough direct and indirect competition to keep it interesting. We'll keep playing this one, I'm sure of it.

by Jacob
This is an incredible game.
August 17, 2001

When I made the decision to start my board game library, I wanted the first game to be a perennial favourite. I've only owned El Grande for a week now, but it's enough to assure me this game is a winner.

It's a beautiful looking board, the Spanish theme and names make the game more authentic, the game mechanics are unlike any I've seen in a board game before, and the strategy--wow! Did I mention the strategy? This is what makes the game for me. Intense, yet subtle, strategies that change every time (I've played it twice now) you play the game and CONSTANTLY keep you thinking.

I'm just really impressed with El Grande's creators. Living in Canada, I paid quite a bit to have it sent here from the U.S. and I've already been satisfied with my investment. Thank you.

by B Sham
Lots of fun for youth and adult
July 29, 2001

I have been hosting some board games sessions for youths whose ages are around 12 to 13. El Grande is one of the games (the other two are [page scan/se=0044/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]RoboRally and [/page 11110]Carcassonne, which they also enjoy) that they find interesting and challenging.

This game surely brings lots of fun to both young and mature gamers. I have played this games a few times with my friends. Although one or two people may find it hard to follow the first time, my group thinks this game is not only fun but also provides a very high replay value. I also notice that the younger players can learn the rules pretty fast to my surprise! (The rules are not too complicated anyway.)

This game is excellent for 5 players, but not so good for 3 or fewer players. I usually play this game when we have at least 4 people. The reason for this is with fewer players, there will be fewer conflicts and less 'chaos factor'. We all like games where players have chances to ruin others' well considered plans, and we can see lots of this in El Grande (as well as RoboRally).

Many people say this game is dry. Try to encourage more talking among players. There can be lots of player interactions! We usually encourage fellow players to try to hunt down the top scoring player. Providing suggestions, persuading others to take action cards that also favor you, all of these make up a loud, fun and challenging game.

Here're a few suggestions for those who are going to play this game for the first time:

(1.) Have someone read the complete rules at least once. I have heard that someone can go straight into their first game without having any problems by just holding the simplified rule sheet. I don't suggest you try this. Although the rule sheet is undoubtedly a plus for the game design, you probably don't want to stop at the middle of the game and try to figure out what the text in certain action cards means (yes, the English translation is not perfect).

(2.) For your first game, try a shorter version with only 6 rounds (skip rounds 1, 4, and 7). This is essential, especially if you are trying to introduce this game to someone who doesn't like heavy and long games. Well, I am not saying El Grande is a very heavy game, but there are many different possible strategies in every round. A complete game (9 rounds) will perhaps scare the new players who prefer lighter games. My first games with the youths (6 rounds) take 2 hours, as I need to explain the possible strategies for different action cards.

This is my favourite board game. It is not hard to name a few titles that copy the idea from El Grande. Up to now, I have seen no one fail to enjoy this masterpiece. A 5-star game with no doubt!

Best of Show
July 19, 2001

Normally, the Spiel des Jahres award goes to a good middle-weight game. Somehow this game slipped under the radar, and a heavyweight made it to the crown of German gaming. El Grande is a classy, deep, satisfying game that is one of the best games I have ever played.

As usual with my reviews, if the mechanics have been covered elsewhere, I will stick to my opinions and observations instead.

There is a sub-genre of strategy games in which players vie for influence in several board regions. El Grande is the granddaddy of this genre, which includes Wongar, San Marco, Big Boss, Carolus Magnus, and several others. Often imitated, El Grande has never been duplicated. With its smoothly interlocking subsystems, it comes across as a rich and rewarding gaming experience.

The game has also spawned its share of [page scan/se=0040/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]expansions, which add nicely to the game experience. These have been collected in The El Grande Expansions, as well as the free Grandissimo. The base game is very nearly perfect the way it is, but the expansions allow the experience to be altered to suit your gaming tastes.

This is one of those games that you should have with you if you are going to be stranded on a desert island with gaming friends. It stays prennially fresh, with new strategies emerging each game. Very highly recommended.

by Luca
THE game
June 11, 2001

El Grande is my favourite boardgame.

Why? Because it has a luck factor reduced to minimum (effectively, only the initial shuffle of Event Cards, but handling it is part of the skill) and requires a lot of decisions. The intriguing part is that each decision affects two aspects of your strategy and improving one always worsens the other. So you can receive more reinforcements going later in the turn (that means reduced choice between the Event Cards) or you can apply a powerful event displacing only few men on the board, etc. All these 'contrasting decisions' are the core of the game. Scoring opportunities besides the fixed ones and the surprise effect of the Castillo add more interest to the game.

Of course, if you dont like thinking and strategy, this isnt your game; and be careful to play it with those persons who like to think eternally about their move.

A final note: try to find as many players as possible to play El Grande; the more players there are, the more youll enjoy it (5 or 4 is perfect, 3 is good, 2 loses too much).

May 17, 2001

Now here is a game I can sink my teeth into. It has all the elements of what I can quantify as a great game. You score points in several ways, and the Castille is absolute brillance. I do have one Disclaimer: PLAY THE SAMPLE GAME. We spent over 1-1/2 hours trying to learn the game and then finally went back and played the sample game... it was only then that the game became crystal clear--an easy game once you learn it, but at the onset looks complex. A must have if you like this type of game.

Subtle brilliance
November 10, 2000

I had this game sitting on my shelf for many months before actually sitting down to learn to play it with some friends.

It took a little while to learn to play, and during the learning phase myself and my friends thought it may be a very complicated game.

We were wrong--El Grande is a deep, rich game but playing it is actually pretty simple.

Battling it out to spread your men across Spain and claim victory points for regions in which you have a majority, this game also doesn't take hours

to play.

I have found the 2 player game takes around 45 mins, and it feels like a short 45 mins, leaving you with the 'let's just play one more time' feeling as you dream up new strategies to employ.

I'd put this right up there as one of the best board games ever devised.

The only thing I have to say against El Grande is that the board can only be read from one side, so

some players must stretch their necks to look at the board the correct way up. It might seem a very small thing to pick up on, but everyone I've played it with has agreed that it's a bit annoying. Who can find a design solution for this, in my opinion, the one-and-only-niggle?!

Overall, an excellent strategy game.

Intriguing, mysterious, and a whole lot of fun
January 06, 2000

After playing this game just a few times after receiving it for Christmas '99, I can tell it's going to be a favorite for many, many years.

I instantly fell in love the high quality and the feel of the game. Everything about this game conjures up a unique air of foreign aristrocacy and political intrigue.

Plus, it plays great! I found the instructions to be a bit difficult to get--they mention important things in passing and you need to be paying attention. Once played, though, the rules make sense and are intuitive. The other tough part is understanding what all of the cards do... we needed to refer to the rule book often to get the detailed explanations. Once you get used to each one, that shouldn't be a problem.

During the game, each round became more and more intense. This game is really about competition--taking away points as well as adding to your own. Even the bidding to get the order of play is all about outwitting your opponents. It feels cutthroat--and it feels great!

The final scoring round, especially the lifting of the Castle and the revelation of the 'secret regions' was just plain old political giddiness! And I really like the idea of scoring for 2nd and 3rd place in the regions--that adds another layer.

I can't wait to play this more and more, exploring the subtle strategies I can feel are there. Great game!

by Mike
The Gamer's Game!
December 10, 1999

El Grande is the Gamer's Game!

It can be compared with the 'great' games to come around in the last ten years: Modern Art, Tigris & Euphrates, Settlers of Catan... and in some ways it could be the superior of each.

The components are all first rate, as you have come to expect from Hams Im Gluck. The 'bits' include a heavy cardboard, easy-to-assemble castle, durable & rugged pinwheel 'secret selectors'. Heavy wood cubes, representing your main playing pieces. The supprting art work including the inside of the box is dynamite. Even the individual cards are handsome. (Special note: the original German edition included larger, square cards which the English language edition lacks. The English version has smaller cards which takes away from the aesthetics of the game. This is similar to the difference between the English and German editions of Medici)

Game play has been well described as a constant struggle between deciding what you can do for yourself, what you can do to others (the leader), and what others can do to you. Walking the line is tough, and with so many choices...

El Grande is also not one of those 'kinder, gentler' German games. The game play can be pointed, and 'ganging up on the leader' is not only accpetable, it's required.

One other feature that is tense is the scoring rounds in a close game. The last turn before scoring can be among the most agonizing/entertaining game play you'll EVER find.

The only complaint that I could have is that the game is not as accessible to the average game player as Settlers. But in the same way, those who enjoy competitive and subtle game play will LOVE El Grande. A must for anyone's game closet!

Es Muy Grande!
November 12, 1999

Me gusta El Grande muchisimo. Tambien -- oh sorry about that... I like El Grande quite a bit. It's a clever game with a beautiful board and pieces. The castle and secret-spinners add value to the package. My only complaint with the packaging is that it would have been nice to have card-wells for the action cards (sorted by action value) and the castle is just slightly too big to fit in the box assembled (although I've seen a friend's set and the castle seems to fit fine so I think something must have changed size at some point).

Back to the game! Each player strives to have the majority control in various providences (by placing pieces known as Caballeros) covering what is supposed to be medieval Spain (although the board could be from anywhere). There is additional potential for scoring 2nd and 3rd place in the regions. One key to the game, however, seems to lie in strategic use of the Castle which conceals a great many Caballeros -- which all 'enter' the playing board at the beginning of an official scoring round. Also, one must be aware of all the action cards and must bid appropriately during the game to maximize their use (or prevent others from using them against you!). The game takes a couple of plays before the action cards are well-known but it is quite fun learning as you go. A game of El Grande with 4 players takes hardly 90 minutes and I bet once all players are familiar with the game it would take even less. While El Grande will play just fine with 2 players, it clearly shines with 4 or 5. You must have four players to score for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each region. I'm glad to see the box suggest players 12 years and older as this game can be a bit heady for the very young. Highly recommended!

My pick for the best game of the last 5 years
October 07, 1999

Yeah, El Grande is a bit more complex than your average game -- and Settlers, the closest competition for me, does get more play. This game, though, has a depth and dynamicism, with incredible replay value (especially considering the two excellent [page scan/se=0040/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]expansions!), that puts it over the top.

Trying not to be to redundant with the other reviewers, I think the great thing about El Grande is the fact that the game always encourages players to compete. Games like Tikal and Union Pacific tend to discourage on-board competition, because in those games it is always a drain on your resources to compete with your neigbhors. In El Grande, the competition for control of spaces is so integral to everything you do, and the different resources you manage so subtle (unlike the simple action points of Tikal), that the players are always jockying with each other for position instead of trying to avoid competition, which is often the case in similar games. This makes the game very interactive and engaging, and it never plays even close to the same way twice.

Spiel des Jahres indeed
July 14, 1999

Who would think that a game about gaining influence in Medieval Spain would be such a hit? Not me, that was certain. Was I ever wrong!

El Grande is such a well-rounded game that I find myself wanting to play this more than anything else at the moment, including Settlers of Catan and Euprat & Tigris.

The mechanism for bidding for first choice of the action cards - playing a power card from 1 to 13 - is very clever. Bid high too often and you'll find yourself having little choice of action cards later when all you have are low-numbered power cards. Bid too low and all the good stuff is already gone. On top of that, the high-numbered power cards don't give you many playing pieces (Caballeros) to work with, whereas the low-numbered power cards give you plenty.

It's this kind of balance that crops up all over the place in El Grande. For instance, the action cards that let you place many Caballeros onto the board don't really let you do much else, whereas the action cards that only let you place one new Caballero on the board will usually allow you to get control of one or more regions through their special actions.

Not much is secret in this game. There is a hidden container (the Castillo) for storing Caballeros until the scoring round, when you can dump then into your opponent's home region and royally mess up their control. The real interest comes from when the next five action cards are turned up - always a different combination than you've seen in previous games - and you have to figure out how to use them best.

I've played this game several times and it usually has a close result, even with just two players. It plays even better with more players, where points are also earned for being second or third in a region.

My one complaint is that the scoring track around the edge of the board should have been marked in increments of five, not ten - I find that the only way to count is to step-step-step up the track one spot at a time rather than just doing the addition in my head.

El Grande is very grand indeed. Even if the theme of Medieval Spain doesn't appeal, try it. The game is so good that you soon forget its theme. If, on the other hand, the theme does interest you, that will only make the game more fascinating.

One of the best ever. Period.
April 17, 1999

There are not enough accolades that can do justice to this fine game. The uniqueness of this game provides a conquest theme without any combat! The interrelationship of strategy, planning, bidding, hidden moves, and ease of play, keep all players constantly involved in the game. Do I need more armies or to go first in the turn? Do I solidify one area or gain a presence in others? Which special action do I choose? How many armies are in that tower? Decisions, decisions.

Although the gain-the-most-influence-within-Spain motif is a bit shallow, since the map could be of anywhere, it in no way is a detriment to play. To complete the package, the graphics and components are top notch.

Along with Settlers of Catan, Euphrat and Tigris, and Tal der Konige, El Grande is a benchmark game to which all others will be compared. A must have.

A top of the list game
February 04, 1999

This game should be at or near the top of every player's best game list (right next to Settlers of Catan). Our play group just started playing this game within the last few months (we are language-challenged and waited for the Rio Grande version).

I like the mechanics of the game. The goal is to place your tokens (caballeros) strategically around the board (Spain) and score the most points. The challenge is that players bid each round on who goes first to pick an action card. The bids can only be used once and each bid also determines the number of tokens you can obtain to work with during that round. Scoring is done after the 3rd, 6th, and 9th rounds. There is little down time as every other player's moves will usually affect your plans. My only complaint is that only 5 people can play at once!

I look forward to trying the expansions. The board and pieces are of good quality and the game has a nice 'feel' to it.

Be Careful--it may become a way of life.
December 07, 1998

When I first got this game I read over the rules and put it on the shelf thinking that another round of Settlers would make a better evening. My friends wanted to try it so I agreed to one game. That night I didn't eat and didn't sleep as I completed several rounds of this fascinating game. The design, the flow of the rules and the well done graphics make this one a must. So many games win these top awards and when you play them you wonder what the shooting was about, this one has earned its praise and more.

A good game of strategic thinking and decision-making
June 13, 2002

El Grande gets a definite plus from me! I didn't give it 5 stars since it's not perfect, but if I could give it 4.5 stars, I'd gladly do so!

First, the positive things:

1. The craftsmanship is superb. The gameboard is great, the cards are a pleasure to hold, and the wooden game pieces are very nice, despite their simplicity. Oh, and I love moving the huge King piece around. :)

2. The rules are not too hard to grasp, after one game you'll get the gist of it. Strategy, however, is an entirely different thing! There are many ways to beat your opponents and emerge triumphant. El Grande isn't a very interesting 2-player game, but with 4 players it rocks. There is a number of different game mechanics, all of which you have to consider in your strategic planning:

a) the power cards - do you want to go first in the turn and grab the best action card, or do you want to go last and get the most Caballeros?

b) the action cards - most of them are good ones, and sometimes it's a very difficult choice - which one to use? moreover, you need not only to choose the best card by action, but also consider, how many Caballeros this action card allows you to move from the court to the gameboard

c) there is a number of ways to score, and timing is very important here - when to move the Caballeros, when to move the King, which regions are being fought over, and which ones are almost deserted; the mobile scoreboards may turn a rich region into a poor one; and Intrigue cards allow you to move not only your Caballeros on the board, but also your opponents'!

d) the secret selection disks allow players to make secret decision at the same time: 'I guess he will choose that province, so I'll choose it as well, and put more Caballeros there... but what if he's actually thinking the same way, and will put his men in one of my other, less popular provinces, taking my valuable points away? And that other guy has a devilish look in his eye... hmmm... decisions, decisions...'

e) and, of course, the Castillo is an awesome game piece, a stylized castle into which you drop your Caballeros, where they remain hidden until the scoring round, and you have to remember, how many of those dudes each player has in there - no looking!

3. The game doesn't take too much time - about 1.5-2 hours. On the one hand, it isn't too short to be make players careless (ah, who cares, this game will end in 10 minutes, and I'll win the next one, so screw this), on the other, it doesn't go on for hours, and hours, and hours, and... you get the point, don't you? :)

4. The historical background is interesting. I have never been a big fan of Spain in the past, but after this game I realized that the Spanish flavor of the game gives it certain spice. I have to add that the graphics are very stylish!

I can come up with only one negative thing about the game:

1. There isn't much social player interaction, though make no mistake - this is not one of those games, where each player works in his own little garden. You constantly have to try and outwit other players on the gameboard, constantly trying to guess, what's on the other players' minds. Psychology 101 is a definite plus here!

All in all, a great game that's bound to be fun for those, who like to give their brain some work. On the other hand, if you're not too much into making good tactical and strategic decision, this game might bore you. After all, it's usually boring to always be the loser. :)

Uninspiring At First
May 18, 2002

I bought this games and, after the first couple of games was left cold. But during the third I finally got it! And now El Grande is one of my favourite games. Subtle strategy? More like low cunning, which is nice. Beautiful components and a respectable playing time add tpo the experience.

So why only 4 stars? Well, there's still that problem ... getting people to play their first game is easy, the look of the game sells it, but getting them to play a second can be difficult. I played it a few times and now love it (well I did shell out 26 for the thing) but others can be unwilling to put in this much effort and leave the game thinking it shallow, contrived and just plain boring!

Not what I expected
January 16, 2002

I have only played El Grande a few times. The bottom line is that it seems overhyped and that the beautiful look of the game gives it more than it has. It wasn't terrible, but it didn't have the 'fun' that you get from some the best games. Since the first time I played, I have never wanted to play again. On my favorite games, I finish and want to play again right afterwards (even long games like Diplomacy, Titan, or Battletech). It has great components and is a decent game, but you'll never see it in my library.

Good but not Great
November 24, 2001

El Grande is a good game which seems to have been excessively over-hyped.

The components are beautiful and the mechanics are simple and effective, but the game doesn't leave a very strong impression.

Player interaction is minimal, and is mostly limited to coercing your opponents into making plays which will not benefit the current leader.

The bidding system is effective, but lacks any intrigue or drama.

There are strategic decisions to be made, but rarely is there an opportunity to out-play an opponent through some stroke of inspired brilliance. Most of your choices are plainly obvious and straightforward.

El Grande is a fine game that deserves to be part of any respectable game collection, but just don't expect anything extraordinary.

Too long for what it is
September 25, 2001

El Grande is a good game. Just read all the praise here and you can see that. However, it's nothing really special. It's much like most of the modern crop of games, in that you make a choice from a small amount of decisions and make your move. With a little luck (i.e., other players don't screw up your move when there's an obvious 'better' move for them), and a little memory (how many blocks did she drop into the castle?), you may well score more points and win the game.

So, the mechanics are simple, and the decisions, while sometimes a bit difficult (agonizing is overstating it), are not great in number. But there is a bit of downtime whilst you wait for your fellow gamers to have their way with the board. Add to that the fact that the board will have changed a good bit by the time it's your turn, and this game can easily slip into the 'bogged down by pondering' category.

So, while a decent game with some not-so-new mechanics, it crawls along. And it does so for nine eternal turns.

Even playing the short game (6 turns) doesn't make the game move along swiftly enough to be considered a classic. Give it three stars and play it once a year.

Not universally appealing
November 29, 2002

This game has been reviewed fairly extensively and the stengths of the game are well known. Before I say anything else I want to say that the components are top-notch, it has great graphics and a neat theme. The action cards are tricky and require smart usage, and the mechanics of the game work well together. I can understand why people who like this kind of game think it is one of the best games ever made. The problem for me is that I really dislike this type of game, often referred to as an 'influence' game.

When making a Funagain order, a lot of people purchase games on the strength of the reviews, and I have done the same in the past. The problem is that you can get stuck with a few games that you just don't enjoy much. Based on the reviews for this game, I thought I'd enjoy as much as everyone else, but that hasn't been the case.

Influence games revolve around a the central mechanic of 'influence'. What that means, generally, is that each player has a supply of cards/markers/cubes that he is able to add to different sections of the board somehow. The board is often divided up like a map into regions or provinces or the like. Usually there is a way to, at some point, move some cubes from one region to another, but most of the placement comes from your supply. More than one player may have cubes in a region, so when scoring time rolls around, whomever has the MOST cubes will get a certain number of points, and whoever has second most usually gets a few points less, and sometimes points or awarded for third or fourth. So the level of influence you have in the region determines how many points you get.

And I really don't like this kind of game. I can't tell you why exactly, but I've now played El Grande, San Marco, Urland, among others, and all these influence game I find very dry and uninspired. The games tend to build very slowly with a lot of tit-for-tat cube placement, and stealing majorities through clever play of action cards or whatnot.

There are a lot of people who like this type of game, and so El Grande has a place in the Top Games of all time, and I will not dispute that, but its appeal is not universal. Of the people I have played it with, every non-gamer has had the same reaction as me, and several more gamer types didn't care for it too much. At the same time, several of my TCG game group buddies name it as one of the best games of all time (see my friend, Jeff Suderman's review below.)

So beware. If you end up with this game, based on the reviews, 60% of you will think it is one of the better games of all time, 30% of will like it a lot, and 10% will wish they had bought something else. Pretty good odds though. =)

Strategic but rather dull and slow paced
February 26, 2001

I hate to say it, but after playing another slow-paced 2 hour game of this I think it'll be shelved for good. I just don't see the appeal! It's great that the game has zero elements of luck but this detracts greatly from the enjoyability factor. Every game I've played so far takes way longer than it is supposed to as everyone thinks eternally about the best move. Yawn! This is one of two games of mine that players actually got up and watched TV in another room until it was their turn and didn't really miss a thing! (The other is History of the World, a much more enjoyable light wargame.) Of the five or so games I've played of this, only one or two actually kept my interest to the end. Oh well; I guess I'll just play a better Game of The Year like, ummm, Taj Mahal!!!

(It's too bad, too, cuz the bits are so nice!)

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