Monday, July 13, 2009

Kill the Leader (El Grande, Beowulf)

It was Shemp's pick, but he couldn't decide what to choose so I brought along a big bag of games. His choices were El Grande and Beowulf, despite his earlier assertion that "kill the leader" would be the theme for the evening (El Grande works, but Beowulf does not).

El Grande

El Grande was up first. Our last play was november of last year, and I found myself unsure of some of the setup despite this being just about my favorite game. I was dealt Old Castille, Kozure was Valencia, Luch was New Castille and Shemp was Basque.

Our group typically doesn't go out of it's way to practice "Kill the Leader" tactics. This time, we repeated the mantra frequently in order to keep the objective clear. Unsurprisingly, it worked... Whoever pulled out to a lead was quickly pulled back. For example, I was starting to break away when my Grande's province was neutralized by a mobile score board and an influx of other player's cubes. It was never clear who was going to win, and everyone was a contender at one point or another. In the end, Shemp (who struggled in the first three rounds with very few points) managed to win by +/-5 points in a VERY close game for all involved. Maybe 10 points separated us all. I've always loved this game, but this one was particularly excellent and I hope we'll carry forward the aggressive play in future sessions. Kozure mentioned again that this isn't a game he favors, but in my opinion there isn't a game out there that can touch it when 4-5 players want to match wits in a meaty game that offers tough choices and opportunities for clever play in an hour and a half.

As an aside, I used to frequently glide into the last turn as the starting player with my 13 power card, move the king to my advantage and score huge points. Over the years, others have been trying to do the same, so we keep having to start earlier and earlier with the low power cards in order to control the bidding. This week, I managed to pull it off after several games where I failed (Shemp is usually the one who steals it from me), but I had to start in round 5 for it to work. Pretty soon, we'll start off the game with our power cards all planned out for the final round!


Beowulf has been a game that has sat on my trade pile for quite some time, despite the fact that I like it. I didn't think the group liked it much, and the odd pairing of theme and mechanics prevented me from introducing it to others. Turns out that many in the group did like it, but thought I had traded it away long ago so they never requested it. Since I had it in the bag of games, Shemp thought it was time to try it out again (the last time was January 2008).

It's hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I particularly enjoyed this session. The risking felt right, in the sense that it worked often but people who risked too often did get bit on occasion. The was an epic battle at the end at the dragon, which saw many players pull out all the stops and some engage in high stakes risking. Shemp and I where both in a tight spot because we both had two wounds and two scratches, so in order to not suffer the exorbitant penalty for ending the game with three wounds we both NEEDED to stay in longer than the other. When the dust settled, I made managed to stay in longer than he did (almost outlasting Kozure and Luch despite their substantially bigger starting hands), but ultimately luck didn't last quite long enough. When we tallied the score at the end of the game, it initially looked like Luch was the victor. However, Shemp pointed out how he would have won if he had been the start player for the last two endgame encounters, which prompted me to revisit the last few turns and I realized that he was, in fact, the starting player due to the result of that dragon battle. Shemp won.

It's worth noting that Shemp had SO MANY POINTS that he would have almost won despite the -15 point penalty even if we hadn't noticed the error. He had obviously picked up a lot of 3 VP scrolls over the course of the game! I've always assumed that if you had three wounds you might as well not bother counting points, I guess I was wrong.

Anyway, after such a fun session, I'll be removing it from the trade pile.

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