"Don't call it a comeback
I been here for years"
LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out"
For about a year and a half, my feelings toward El Grande have been somewhat ambivalent. I said on Wednesday night that the way I feel about playing El Grande is probably the way that bands like Taco, Soft Cell or Thomas Dolby feel about the 1980s; it's something that I was good at once but haven't had a hit with for years and would likely never have again.
Never say never.
Celebrating the triumphant return of Shemp, we played an oldie but goodie, the third true Euro introduced to the group after I brought Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan one fateful weekend, El Grande.
As I alluded to earlier, once I was quite good at this game. I applied my personal experience with strategic wargames, building up powerbases and defending them tenaciously. For about three or four straight gaming sessions of this (and we didn't play it all that often), I was winning consistently and by a fair margin. It was... glorious.
Then it went downhill. My fellow gamers cottoned onto the fact that the game isn't about (well not entirely about) powerbases, and a fluid/dynamic style of play would more often be rewarded with victory. Slowly I slipped down the VP tree, eventually reaching my usual spot of fourth or fifth out of five players, often by quite a wide margin from the first place player. There I have remained for the better part of two years or so, never really managing higher than a third place finish. While I appreciate the skill and challenge of the game, I haven't really enjoyed it very much during most of that period.
Wednesday night, all that changed.
I've abandoned my previous, methodical approach, to adopt what I call the "smash and grab" approach. Most of my bids and moves are aimed at grabbing quick points and spreading my caballeros across the board (but not too thinly) so that all of my resources aren't tied up in the aforementioned powerbases. I defend my Grande, of course, but I also know when to cut losses and either shift the Grande or otherwise abandon it's extra two points to concentrate elsewhere.
Special scoring, mobile scoreboards, and tower scoring are important to this approach. A careful watch on the VP track is also important, as your moves must be geared to giving the least aid to the leader(s) while giving the most to yourself or lower score players.
I'm still no El Grande "Grande", but I've finally pulled myself out of the doldrums of fifth place finishes. Last night's game was very close, with 2-3 points separating each place, and a total of 7 points (I believe) separating the first place player from the last.
Our second game of the evening, Theophrastus was also very close. I came in first with 60 or 61 points, the last place player was 54 (?) - not much wiggle room there. The game is quite different but equally enjoyable with two, three or four players - more strategic with two, much more back-stabby and rapid with four. As I commented last session we played this, Theophrastus has a lot of rules which are easy to forget - for example, in the so-called "scoring round" (which is actually a limited play round before scoring occurs), you are not permitted to discredit other students' or Theophrastus' work, or change any aspect of Theophrastus' formula. In the heat of alchemical battle, this is easy to forget.
Still a very enjoyable game with a lot of opportunity for optimization as well as player interaction. Solid without being stellar.
I believe our generous host Shemp snapped some pics of the VP tracks to commemorate the closeness of the games. I'd also like to thank Shemp for hosting and welcome him back after a long summer hiatus.