El Grande was designed by Wolfgang Kramer, a German board game designer who is also responsible for creating Heimlich & Co., Corsaro and Torres. All in all, Kramer has designed over 100 games. El Grande was made in collaboration with Richard Ulrich.
Illustrations were done by the famous German game illustrator, Doris Matthäus.
The game was first published in 1995 by Hans im Glück in German, by Rio Grande Games in English and by 999 Games in Dutch.
The Decennial Edition was released in 2006, ten years after it received the Spiel des Jahres prize (the Game of the Year).
- 1 Game Board;
- 5 Grandes (1 x 5 Colors);
- 155 Caballeros (31 x 5 Colors);
- 1 King;
- 1 Round Marker;
- 65 Power Cards (1-13 x 5 Colors);
- 45 Action Cards;
- 9 Region Cards;
- 5 Secret Disks w/Pointers;
- 1 Castle (Castillo);
- 2 Mobile Scoreboards;
- 1 Sample Game Sheet;
- 1 Game Rules;
Gameplay of El Grande is set in the political intrigue of 15th century Spain. During that time, the country was divided into a dozen of kingdoms, vying for leadership. The power belonged to the aristocracy. The country was mostly run by the Grandes, or high aristocracy. Strong influence also came from Caballeros, the middle aristocracy. In all regions, Caballeros and the Grandes struggled to expand their power and influence.
El Grande builds the game out of this situation. The board presents the map of Spain. Players make their moves by placing their figures on different parts of the board, which stand for different Spanish kingdoms.
The intrigue of El Grande is that everything you do affects all the other players, and you can never relax, even when it is not your turn.
The design of the game is relatively simple: you mostly deal with cubes of different colors and sizes. The simplicity of the design is what makes it appealing and clear for the players. Everyone’s favorite piece in the game is the Castillo (the castle) – it is a dark tower where you can put some of your knights.
The rules are not difficult to explain, and even a new player can start playing immediately, but to really feel what you have to do in the game to win, you have to spend a lot of time playing it.
Every player has a set of small cubes. Those are your Caballeros. Then you have one larger cube of the same color – this is your Grande.
Caballeros can be moved around the board and put into different kingdoms. There is one special cube – the King. He belongs to no one. You cannot put your pieces into a region occupied by the King, but you can move the King himself if you get the action card that allows it.
At the beginning of every turn, the top card in each stack of action cards is uncovered. Players decide which actions they want and which they wish to avoid. Then the power cards are played. During one round, all power cards must have different values. They decide two things: your turn order and how many Caballeros you will move. The higher your place in the turn order is, the fewer knights you can introduce, thus making a decision can be really challenging here.
A turn of one player consists of the following:
Move Caballeros from the provinces to the courtyard
Select an action card
Each action card has one special action and decides how many knights you can bring on the board.
Move Caballeros from the courtyard to the board
Caballeros can be put on any territory adjacent to the one occupied by the King or inside the castle, where they will be deposited for a future invasion.
Take the action from your action card
The game lasts for nine rounds. The points are scored after the third, the sixth and the ninth rounds. You get points if you have the most, second most and third most Caballeros in a region– regions are counted separately. Then you decide where you want all your cubes from the castle to go – they all go into the same place. The intrigue here is that nobody knows for sure how many Caballeros were put inside by their opponents. When you put your knights inside the castle, you have to say how many go there, but when there are many players, it gets hard to keep in mind how many Caballeros of every player are there.
Also, you get a bonus for dominating in a region occupied by the King and your Grande.
The winner is someone who has the most points after the third scoring.
Examples of action cards
- Move all your Caballeros to one region;
- Move 2 Caballeros from the courtyard to any region;
- Move up to 5 Caballeros to one region;
- Move any 3 foreign Caballeros on the board;
- Move any 4 Caballeros on the board.
- Veto (prevent one special action);
- Your opponents send all their Caballeros from courtyards back to the provinces;
- Each opponent sends 3 Caballeros back to the provinces;
- You send 1 Caballero from each opponent back to the provinces.
- Score all the regions with the fewest Caballeros;
- You may choose any region to score;
- Score only the first place in all regions.
- Move the King into a neighboring region;
- You choose a region, out of which all your opponents have to go;
- You may move your Grande into a different region;
- Put the King into any region.
Highly competitive, full of tension and challenge, El Grande often gets compared to Risk. Doing something against your opponents as opposed to doing something in your own favor can be a huge part of both games.
Despite the similarities in the atmosphere of the game and the general feeling, the mechanics of the two games is quite different. There is no dice in El Grande: players make more decisions, less is left to the chance. At any time of the game, a player can dramatically change the situation on the board by making an unexpected decision.
Another game you can compare with El Grande is Tammany Hall. The sense of rivalry here may seem even stronger than in El Grande. El Grande is easier to plan than Tammany Hall because it has fewer possibilities. In Tammany Hall, you have almost unlimited freedom and endless options every time you are to make a move. You may say that El Grande is more merciful to the players, it is less competitive: in Tammany Hall there are no second or third prizes.
The Decennial Edition comes with a number of expansions:
The expansion was distributed by Rio Grande and Hans im Glück free of charge. It contains a deck of cards, the purpose of which is to augment the five basic actions.
Grossinquisitor und Kolonien (Great Inquisitor and Colonies)
This expansion adds colonies, ships and the Grand Inquisitor.
König & Intrigant (King & Villain)
Here, the action cards and the turn-order cards are replaced with a single set of cards. Before the start of the game, players select thirteen cards from their personal decks to play with them. During each turn then, they take one of the cards and get their turn order priority, the number of Caballeros to move and the action.
König & Intrigant – Player’s Edition
It is a 55 card addition to the El Grande: König & Intrigant expansion.
König & Intrigant – Unverkäufliche Sonderkarten (Special Cards not for Sale)
It is a 50 card addition to the El Grande: König & Intrigant expansion. A complete set of these cards was sent from Hans im Glück on demand and a prepaid envelope.
Q: How many players can play El Grande?
A: From 2 to 5. With only 2 players, the game may seem to be moving too fast. The more players you have, the more suspense, the more intrigue is introduced to the game, the more difficult it is to control the gameplay.
Q: How long does a game of El Grande take?
A: It takes approximately 90 – 120 minutes. But the time depends highly on the number of players and how much time each of them spends thinking.
Q: Is El Grande a good family game?
A: Although some families might enjoy it, some might not. Choosing this game, keep in mind that it is highly challenging, tense and may be filled with spice – probably not the best choice for families with kids who get upset when they lose all the time.
Q: If I like Risk, will I enjoy El Grande as well?
A: Most probably, you will. But you have to be prepared that in El Grande more depends on your decision making, less on luck, and once you get behind, it can be very hard to even the score.
El Grande is a classic. It is not new, but it firmly holds its place in the market. The rules of El Grande are quite simple, but do not let it deceive you: the game is really hard to master.
If you and your friends are up to a really challenging gaming experience with lots of plotting and bluffing, El Grande might a perfect choice for you. You can buy it on Amazon.