König & Intrigant
King & Villain

Hans im Glück
Designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich
Reviewed by Ronald Olszewski

3-5 players
90 minutes

When I ordered the new El Grande expansion set, König & Intrigant, I expected to get just that - an expansion set. Most games that have some kind of card-based mechanism just scream out for the player to tweak and add to it, and El Grande is no exception. After a few playings, most gaming groups will start to say "Hmmm, wouldn't it be cool if we added a card to do this?" My playgroup has the Talisman game-from-hell. We've added more cards than are included with the game (suffice it to say the mere mention of a game of Talisman nowadays is enough to inspire any member of our group to bodily harm). We had already thought of a few things we could add to El Grande and wondered if we would see some of the same ideas included with the new set. After checking out Konig & Intrigant, however, we realized that it was not so much an expansion as a completely different way to play El Grande.

The expansion comes in a miniature version of the El Grande box. Inside are 103 cards sized similar to a regular playing card. There are 5 Cabellero cards (each depicting from one to five Cabelleros on it), 1 Konig card, 1 Intrigant card, and 5 sets of colored Action cards, numbered from 10 to 180 by tens. Each of these Action cards has on it an action that the player must perform and also depicts the number of Cabelleros that player can move from his Provinces to his Courtyard. All of these cards replace the 1 through 5 Action Card piles that come with the original game, as well as the 1-13 Power Cards each player gets in that game. Play proceeds as in the original, with a few exceptions. These few exceptions, however, completely change the game.

At the start of each round, starting with the player who went last in the previous round and continuing clockwise, each player plays one of his action cards. Player order is determined by the numbers on the cards. The player who played the highest numbered Action Card plays first and so on down the line, with the person who played the lowest playing last. Each player can then perform the action stated on the card they played - with one catch. The player who played the highest numbered Action Card is declared the King (Konig), and the dastardly cad who played the lowest numbered card is declared the Villain (Intrigant). They are given the Konig and Intrigant cards, respectively. These cards now take the place of the card they originally played, which means that they can not perform the action on the card originally played. What makes this all the more painful is that this card is discarded and can not be used again. Once each player has his Action Card the Cabellero Cards are distributed, with the King receiving the 5 cabby card and the lowly Villain getting the 1 cabby card. These Cabellero Cards are what determine how many of your Cabelleros you can move from your Courtyard to the board. Each player then takes his turn, placing his Cabelleros on the board and performing the action on his Action card (or vice-versa).

The Konig card allows you to move the King, similar to the "5" card in the original game. The Intrigant card lets you move all of your cabbys in one region to another region, or move one of the opponents Cabelleros on the board. The other Action cards let you perform a wide variety of actions, some similar to the original game, and some quite different. For instance, the 130 card allows you to choose a region in secret; during the next scoring round, that region counts double. The 140 card allows you to take 2 Cabelleros on the board from each player and put them in the Castillo; yours, however, can come from your Provinces. We've only played it 4 or 5 times now, but it seems that the designers have carefully paired the actions and the numbers. The higher and lower numbered cards are useful, but are generally not the most powerful. The 60-130 cards are strong, but by playing one of them you have forced the other players to play numbers higher or lower than you so as to force you to be the King or Villain. By doing that, though, they have to play the weaker-effect cards. This leads to a nice play balance and keeps the game close.

What this all means is that you'll have to rethink your El Grande strategies. Having the actions tied explicitly into the turn order mechanism completely changes how the game is played. No longer can you hoard your 13, waiting for that "Score all 6 Regions" card to come up. There is a card that allows you to perform that action, but you can rest assured that your fellow players will do all they can to ensure that you become the King or Villain when you play it, thereby negating it. One interesting twist is that the actions on the cards are no longer optional unless explicitly stated on the card. This can lead to some real nightmares! If you play that "Score all 6 Regions" card and the player after you plays a higher card and becomes King, he can drop some cabbys in the 6 regions and then move the King so as to lock those regions down or make them otherwise inaccessible. When your turn rolls around, you must score all the 6 regions. Ouch!

While it was always important in the original game, with the expansion it is now even more imperative that each player makes the best play both for himself and for the "good of the game". Playing the card that most benefits you is not always the wisest move now; instead it is oft-times better to play a card so as to force another player to be the King or Villain. If your gaming group has one of those players who is into "petty", tit-for-tat gameplay then you'll have problems with the expansion. It has some cards that can be too powerful if left unchecked (the aforementioned card that lets you score a region twice being a good example of this). It is similar to the problem often seen in Modern Art, where one player who doesn't know what he's doing can skew the whole game. Of course that's a problem in a lot of games (including the "old" El Grande"), but it bears mentioning since it can be particularly devastating with Konig & Intrigant.

All of this leads to some interesting decision making each turn. Should I burn my 130 card and risk it being turned into the King? Should I become the King by playing the 180, thereby giving the players after me free reign to play whatever card they like without fear of it being transmuted? The expansion has made the card playing phase of the game much more exciting and thoughtful, full of tough decisions. The placing of Cabelleros, as in the original, is also a nail-biter. Should I stock up in the Castillo for a last minute "airstrike"? Should I go for the points in my home region or make sure my opponent doesn't get them in his? Konig & Intrigant is one of those games where one seemingly insignificant moves turns out to be a game winner (or loser).

One of the things included with the game is a variant rule for two and three player play. Hans Im Gluck suggests making the play of the King or Villain cards optional; the recipient of one of these cards can use his original card or the King/Villain card. This seems to take some of the strategy in the play of the Action Cards away, making play of your higher or lower numbered Action Cards less risky. We have yet to try a three (or less) player game, so I can't really comment anymore on the variant other than to say it would seem that the original rules might be better for a smaller number of players.

Hans im Glück has also included two blank cards for you to create your own cards. While two is an odd number to pick (if you created a new number card you'd want to have one for each player, for a total of five blanks needed), it is still a nice touch. They also state that you can mail your ideas in, with a chance at winning some prizes in a monthly drawing; not surprisingly, your ideas become their property. This seems to indicate that the Gluckmeisters have big plans for El Grande and will continue to bring out more expansions. If they're all as good and as innovative as this one, then we're all in for a treat. What Hans im Gluck has given us is an enjoyable new way to play El Grande. If you enjoy the original, you won't be disappointed with Konig & Intrigant. Recommended.

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ronald Olszewski