Fresh from my last game of Tigris & Euphrates, I was looking forward to playing again, but also curious if my new, slightly greater appreciation for the game would hold, or if I just liked the last game because I was lucky. I was able to win again, and this time I felt I did it without great tile luck, when viewing the game as a whole. But there were still some dramatic turns of fate. This particular match hinged on a number of rather improbable conflicts: I lost a major red conflict when Rich made a perfect red draw from the bag, but then turned around and won a huge blue one because I had been lucky enough to draw 4 blue tiles in my last refresh. If these two conflicts go the other way (both times the attacker was up 4), it’s a whole different game and Rich probably wins. I think Tigris & Euphrates is an excellent and absorbing game, but this sort of thing is why I don’t rate it as an absolute top-tier game, as many do.
Next up was Traders of Genoa. I really like this game, maybe even my favorite in the alea line, but negotiation games don’t seem to get quite as much play as straight tactical games, so I’m always glad to get a game in. And I won; I think for the first time in a serious game, and Traders of Genoa came out in what, 2001? Usually I am drawn to games I have a hard time winning out of the box, because I found them challenging; but there is a point at which this stops being the case. Puerto Rico, for example; I won a few of the early games, but then must have gone at least 15 games without a win, and it just got frustrating and annoying. Traders of Genoa, though, I almost always enjoy it seems. And now I finally have a win (although the game was extraordinarily close). Play tip: the Privileges are not very lucrative, but they’re high-profile. In both my recent games, the player who based his strategy around privileges has been hosed. I’d stay away from them – this game I only picked up one, and only because I had nothing better to do that turn and aimed to trade it away. Pick them up to sell to the player(s) collecting them at a markup. I won on a pure good/contracts strategy, emphasizing small orders; but as always, it depends on the quirks of the group you are playing with, what they are over- or under-valuing. Another thought I had, since owning those central buildings which compliment your strategy is so helpful, but getting to the Cathedral is such a pain, it might be worthwhile to use those 1:1 trade tiles to trade a good or something for an ownership marker as soon as possible – it would be a little more expensive in terms of actions, but might be easier than the expensive trip to the middle ring.
I also played El Grande with the King & Villain expansion. Back in the late 90s, I used to use this expansion much more often, but since then I’ve played mainly “straight” El Grande. On the one hand, the customized player decks don’t seem quite as elegant as the basic game, and you can really hose yourself by picking a bad mix of cards (usually, this means clumping your choices at one end or the other of the number spectrum, not picking enough variety). On the other hand, this expansion eliminates one element of basic El Grande that can seem awkward: the 1-13 play. Since going first on the round before a scoring round is rather powerful, you find El Grande develops into a rhythm where people try to player their “1” cabellero card one round followed by the 13 to go first and lock up the King. In King & Villain, going first before the scoring round is far less of a big deal, because the 160 card (move the King one space) is always out there, ready to undo the King’s advantage. This means the game seems to have a slightly smoother texture, without the emphasis of setting up to go first before the scoring round. This can make the game much more interesting. It gives a bit of these gains back because the single combined caballero/event card play isn’t quite as interesting as the “bidding” for event cards, though. But all in all a very nice expansion. The deck construction aspect does require some skill with the game, though. If playing with relative El Grande newbies, or the first time you play with this expansion, I’d recommend throwing out all the cards not divisible by 10, and then telling people they basically have to take the 10, 160, and 180. I actually have a complete set of all the cards published for this format in my box, including some German-text cards that were only published in the Player’s Edition and the promos, but some of those cards get really, really weird.