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88. Area Influence Series - El Grande

The area influence mechanic (aka area control) is one where there are several regions shown on the board, and the main goal of the game is to gain a majority of influence in those areas. You've seen this mechanic several times before on this blog - Twilight Struggle, 1960: The Making of the President, and Small World are all games that use the area control/influence mechanic. Though those games are relatively recent, the mechanic has been around and popular for quite a while. The first game I'm going to talk about in this series is the oldest game currently in the BGG Top 10 - El Grande.

(BGG image by user samoan_jo)

El Grande is a 1995 game for 2-5 players from designers Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich, with art by Doris Matthäus. It's published in the United States by Rio Grande. It currently sits at #9 on the BGG Top 10, same as it did in Expansion #17 when I told you that this was coming (promise delivered!). In the game, you are a Spanish lord of the 15th century (also known as a Grande) and are attempting to spread your influence across Spain. You'll do this by controlling the majority of Caballeros (knights) in the various regions.

(BGG image by user robinlam)

The game comes with a nicely illustrated board that shows a map of Spain. There are a number of cubes, including 5 large cubes that represent the Grandes in the game, and 155 small cubes that represent the Caballeros. Each cube comes in one of five different colors for one of the 5 possible players. There is a large black pawn that represents the King, and a small black cube that will be used as a round marker. There are 119 square cards in the game, including 65 power cards, 45 action cards, and 9 region cards. There are 5 secret discs, one for each player, and 2 small mobile scoreboards that could change the point distribution on the board. Perhaps the most famous component of this game is the Castillo, a black tower that will be set up to the side of the board. You'll see a picture of that later.

(BGG images by users simonh and big-chad)

To set up the game, lay out the board and place the Castillo in its spot (marked on the eastern border of the board). Shuffle the region cards, then flip the top card. This is the starting spot for the King. The nine regions are Valencia, Seville, Catalonia, Granada, Galacia, Basque Country, Aragon, Old Castille, and New Castille. Next, give one region card to each player. This tells them which region they will be in at the start of the game. In their region, each player will place their Grande and two Caballeros. You can see examples of these starting positions in the example above.

Each player will get a secret disc, 13 power cards, and 10 Caballeros. The Caballeros you take are your court, while the remaining Caballeros should stay by the board in the reserves.

The action cards should be sorted by number. There are eleven 1 cards, eleven 2 cards, eleven 3 cards, eleven 4 cards, and one 5 card. Each separate pile should be shuffled, then placed next to the board, face down. At the start of each round, the top action card in each pile gets flipped over. The 5 card is the King card, and will come back at the start of each round, even if it was taken in the previous round. This is the only card that will reappear.

The small black cube goes on #1 on the round track. If you'd like to play a shorter game, place the cube on #2 - you will be skipping rounds 1, 4, and 7. Normally, there are nine rounds in the game.

(BGG image by user queequeg)

Now we're ready to play. Each round will follow this sequence: flip the action cards, play power cards, and take your turn.

FLIP THE ACTION CARD - I told you about this. Take the top card of each action stack and flip it face up. If the King card was taken in a previous round, replace it in its spot face up.

PLAY POWER CARDS - Look at each action card and decide which one you'd most like to execute (or prevent). If there's something you really want to do, you're going to need to play a high power card. In the first round, a starting player is chosen at random, but in subsequent rounds, the player who came in last in the previous round goes first. Play your power card, which must be a different number than any power card already on the table. The player with the highest number chooses the first action, and so on down to the lowest number.

Before moving on, I'd like to point out that each power card has a number of Caballeros on it. This is the number of Caballeros you may add to your court on your turn. Keep that in mind. Also, once you play a power card, it is gone for the rest of the game (unless you play a card that changes that).

(BGG image by user Pum_)

TAKE YOUR TURN - On your turn, you first take the number of Caballeros shown on your power card and place them in your court. Next, take one of the face up action cards. Each action card has two pieces of information - an action you may or may not take, and a number of Caballeros you may move out of your court and into Spain. These things can be done in any order.

First, the actions. There will be some text that tells you what you can do. You can do it if you wish. If you only took the action to keep someone else from taking it, you can choose to not perform the action. These actions will allow you to do several things - move Caballeros around on the board, send opponent Caballeros to the provinces, retrieve power cards, score points, move the King, etc It is important to note at this point that you may not move any Caballeros in or out of the region that the King occupies. By moving the King into an occupied region, you effectively freeze that region.

Another possible action is the ability to move one of the mobile scoreboards around on the board. This could get you more points for having a majority, or could give your opponents less points.

Each card has a number of Caballero symbols on them. You can take that number of Caballeros from your court and place in any region that is adjacent to the region currently occupied by the king. You could also dump them in the Castillo.

(BGG image by user matthew.marquand)

To put your Caballeros in the Castillo, just announce how many you're dumping, then do it. Keep track of how many of your opponent's Caballeros are going in the Castillo, because it could shift the balance of power in scoring.

It is important to note that you can split up your Caballeros. If you can place four, you could put them all in a region, or put one in each of four regions, or put two in regions and two in the Castillo, or all in the Castillo, or whatever.

Once you are done with your turn, discard the action card. Once everyone has gone, discard all remaining face up action cards. Replace the King card if it was taken, then advance the round marker.

(BGG images by user Thommy8)

As you can see, after every third round, there is a scoring round. The first thing you do in this round is take your secret disc and select one region. Once everyone has chosen, reveal simultaneously. Next, lift up the Castillo and count the Caballeros. Score according to the scoreboard printed on the board, or the mobile scoreboard if it has been added. Initially, the points for the Castillo are five points for the player with the majority, three points for second place, and one point for third (in a two-player game, only use the first number; in a three-player game, only use the first two). If there is a tie, all tied players go down a rank and then get points. So if red and blue tied for first, they would each get three points, and whoever came in second would get one. If yellow, green, and red tied for second, they would all get one point. If brown and green tie for third, neither gets any points.

Once the Castillo has been scored, each player may take their Caballeros and place them in their secret region that they chose earlier. This could tip the balance of power in a region. If a player chose the King's region, they must send all their Caballeros back to their court. Finally, score all regions in the order shown on the round track following the same rules as the Castillo scoring.

If the King is present in the region being scored, whoever has the majority gets two bonus points. If there is a tie, no bonus is awarded. Also, if a player had the majority in their home region (where their Grande sits), they get two bonus points. In case of a tie, no bonus. Note that the Grande does not count in determining majority, it only marks your home region.

(BGG image by user victoryywt)

After the ninth round, whoever has the most points is the winner. Simple as that. Read more at BGG, and expect to pay $65 in an FLGS. Join me next time for another area control game. Happy gaming!

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This blog is all about board and card games. Look around and find out about some games you may not have heard of. For a complete table of contents, click on the supplements tag and look for Supplement #4.

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