First Among Champions ...
Barb Flaxington is deep in thought
as she contemplates her caballeros.
Haim Hochboim and Sean Vessey ponder
where to move the Castillo next.
When teaching El Grande to new players, one often asked
question is "What's a winning score in this game?"
This is difficult to answer because so much depends on when the
scoring action cards come out and how they are used. This year,
however, the preliminary rounds proved to be pretty consistent
with the top score usually between 90 and 110, with a few higher
outliers in games with heavy scoring.
However, then there were the semi-final games, where no winner
scored over 94, and the lowest victory was a 77-point effort
by Rob Flowers, beating out Barbara Flaxington by a mere point.
Many experienced players manned the semi-finals, including
former champions Geoff Pounder, Robb Effinger, Greg Thatcher,
Rob Flowers, and Jay Fox, along with an equal number of former
laurelists. The extremely competitive field, combined with the
somewhat chaotic flow of the game, have conspired to prevent
a repeat champion in the entire history of the event, until this
Three of the past champions were eliminated in the semis,
leaving Rob Flowers and Robb Effinger to contend with with Curt
Collins, Mike Kaltman, and Nick Henning for top honors. Unfortunately,
the GM didn't expect to make it to the Final, and so the following
is reconstructed from notes by one of the assistants, who soon
learned it's hard to keep up with all the action!
Rob bid high (12) on the first turn having mistaken the 2
card for the King Returns action, but then instead worked on
getting lots of people onto the board into good scoring positions
and the Castillo. Robb played his 1 power card on Turn 2 but
the Royal Advisor came up on Turn 3. Nick got a good score on
Turn 3 with a Score the Firsts card, but he was hampered by poor
board position and had placed no men in the Castillo. Rob and
Curt managed to steal each others' home provinces during the
Castillo phase, basically costing each of them a couple of points.
At the end of the first scoring round, Rob had opened up a three-point
lead, but the overall spread was only six points.
In the next few rounds, Rob fell out of first as more scoring
cards came out, many which did not favor his board position.
Nick, having lost his home province, relocated his Grande to
Galicia and later placed the 8/4/0 scoreboard there to shore
up his points. Rob played the 1-13 combo but was having trouble
getting additional men on the board, although he did manage to
create a scoring opportunity that netted Curt and Rob about five
points over the other players, which was sorely needed by both.
Rob had no men in the Castillo, but his board position allowed
him to regain the lead over Robb, with the overall group within
Round 7 brought out a "score the 5's" which allowed
Robb Effinger to take the lead by four points. Then in Turn 8,
Nick set up a score for Mike which allowed him to score two provinces,
giving lots of points to Mike, Nick, and Robb, and very little
to Rob and Curt. Two more scoring cards in Round 9 helped put
Mike and Robb out in front by several points; however, the tradeoff
was not getting as many men on the board, especially the Castillo.
Curt and Rob tied for most cabs (nine each) in the Castillo,
and Rob finally managed to retake his home province, winning
by a single point over Mike. The entire group was within six
points at the end, a close finish.
Other tournament highlights include this year's high score,
achieved by Matt Peterson in the preliminary rounds at 137. The
narrowest win was a 1st place tie between Nick Kiswanto and James
Pei in the first round. Alex Bove was the only double winner
in the preliminary heats, but with only 23 games in the three
heats, there was enough room for all winners plus a few alternates.
The bad luck award goes to Curt Collins who has made the semis
three years in a row, finally making it to the Final this year
and then losing the tiebreaker for 3rd place. The GM is considering
changing the tiebreaker rules for next year, possibly to solely
relying on remaining power cards in hand.
Many thanks to assistants Greg and Eric whose help allowed
the GM to play. Players shouldn't expect any major changes for
next year, but there will be some off-season work to better clarify
the discrepancies between different printings and translations
of the game rules.