Thursday, July 22, 2004

El Grande becomes...Gigante

Last night we played the El Grande Expansions for the first time (both the "King and Intrigue" and the "Grand Inquisitor and Colonies" in two separate sessions). It was an interesting experience for a couple of reasons:
1) I remembered, and relived, how LOST I was the first time I played the game.
2) El Grande already ranks as one of my favorite games (top 2), so changing it for the better would be difficult to do.

The verdict? I had a good time, but I had the sense that the expansions are really targeted to people who have played the existing game and are looking for variety.

The first expansion changed the flavour of the game by giving players the opportunity to predefine the actions they hope to get during the game, which would probably be a great change if you really knew how every card impacted the game... but we haven't played enough to know that so it ended up being pretty random. The whole thing felt, to me, very different than the basic game... even though on the surface it seemed like the less drastic of the two expansions.

Shemp won this one, but to be honest I felt so "lost" for strategy when playing it that I can't really even guess how he won, or why we lost. It was all a bit of a haze... One thing was clear, he got way more caballeros on the board way faster than we did. He pulled out to an early lead and we never caught up. With only four players, only two "actions" ever happen (since the highest bid is always the king, and the lowest is always the intriguant). This made the turns go faster, but also made them a bit monotonous for me.

If the first expansion is about re-interpreting the basic game, the second is more about adding to it. New territories, goods, tables limiting the number of caballeros in a region and, last but not least, the grand inquisitor all extend the scope of the game. Personally, I felt that this expansion seemed like "El Grande Extreme"... A more complex version of the same game. Again, a good idea if you are bored with the original, but not necessary yet for me. The grand inquisitor was an interesting addition (a phantom exra player), but the goods seemed unbalanced to the point that I am left wondering if there could be a successful strategy other than racing to get them. Lastly, The limiting table was kind of a non-issue... if it wasn't refered to by some cards, I'm sure you could take it out and not feel much of an impact either way.

In the end, it boiled down to Kozure being the "Uber-Inquisitor" vs my race for gold and goods (Shemp and ????? were to busy fighting over Grenada).

I won! Go Goods and Gold!

Between the two, I preferred the Grand Inquisitor version. It diffused some aspects of the game that I enjoy (bidding for limited actions, fighting on a crowded board, properly using the castillo, etc) but added new opportunities and strategies at the same time. I'd play both of them again, but for a little while I think that I will stick to the basic game for most sessions...

No rating, for now.




    ...they probably do, in this case.

    I enjoyed both games, with the second expansion being more enjoyable in my view than the first.

    In some types of games, I find the range of possible choices available in a turn to be manageable. In the case of variant one, you have to start right away by choosing 13 turn cards out of 35. Then, every bidding phase, you must chose 1 out of the 13 to bid on. Curiously, in a four player game, depending on how you bid, you only have a 50% chance of actually getting to perform the action on the card that you choose, which always seemed counter-intuitive.

    In "vanilla" El Grande, you have to choose one of thirteen cards to bid for one of five choices. In essense, your choice is important and strategic, but can be decided upon quickly and without a lot of strategic agonizing. The attendent strategic paralysis (brain burn) is one of my few dislikes of El Grande and Tigris and Euphrates (which is why I also tend to dislike chess). However, it forces me to think in a pattern which I don't like thinking in, so it's a good thing for mental development.

    I enjoyed the flavour added in the second game. I monopolized the Inquisitor mostly as a experiment in strategy, realizing early on that having the inquisitor early could score a bunch of easy points, which it did.

    I saw that goods and gold were going to be important to the game, but somehow my strategy for securing them didn't work. I have to work on how to grab them quickly. Strangely, the special action cards which introduced the goods themselves often seemed to allow "insta-grabs" of goods in the Mediterranean and the Americas, which were frequently pilfered from under the noses of my waiting caballeros, who had labouriously sailed over the Atlantic or through the Med to get there in the first place. I think we should probably re-read very carefully how those special cards work. Despite my second place showing, I felt that I had played well and thus had a satisfactory second game.

    I enjoyed the goods and gold addition, as well as France and the inquisitor. Less thematic and somewhat "tacked on"-feeling was the Limit Table and the cards which controlled it. I think it probably should have been put to better use, but as we handled it, it seemed mostly irrelevant. I know that it will become more important with more players, but for the time being the strategic uses of the table were not fully appreciated.

    The Week of Shemp continues!

  2. Ah, I long for those golden days that were during the Week of Shemp.

    Uh, anyway...

    1) Intriguant. Fabulous word. I will strive to use it in the future, regardless of whether it is a real word or not.

    2) The first variation to El Grande, I think, is not that well thought out. The whole point of selecting cards with actions, and then bidding based on those actions, but maybe you won't get to do those actions, but maybe you will, you know, depending.... It is frustratingly arbitrary. I did win, but that felt like more happenstance than anything else, and what's the fun in that? Really, it was either a fluke, or the game is just that arbitrary in this variation.

    3) The second variation - I wasn't as keen on this as you guys. To me, it had the feeling of just throwing crap at the wall, and keeping what stuck. And everything stuck. I might feel differently if I had A WHOLE WHACK MORE experience at base El Grande, but I don't know that I would. I agree about the limiting table irrelevancy, I also think that the ship to the colonies doesn't seem appropriately balanced, and thematically, I don't like the limit on Caballeros in France - too many tacked on elements, with too many appparently arbitrary limits.

    4) Can you tell I have this problem with arbitrariness, in general?

    5) Both expansions corrupt the elegance of the original El Grande, rather than enhance it. I would be willing to give each another chance, but I am thinking that each expansion gets a provisional 4.75. Yeah, that's harsh, but the basic game is SO GREAT that I am grading the expansions on a stricter scale, you dig?