El Gaucho – Round ’em up and move ’em out!
I was raised on a cattle ranch on the edge of a one-horse town in the Valley of the Sun. My dad was a cowboy: an accomplished rider, handling everything around the ranch from sowing and bailing hay to breaking and training horses, to herding, cutting, and branding cattle. So, when I opened a door in my Brettspiele Advent Calendar and discovered cattle feed bags for a game called El Gaucho, I was intrigued. I immediately looked it up on Board Game Geek:
In El Gaucho, you take the role of a cattle baron sending your gauchos to the Pampas to collect as much and as stately cattle as possible… Be smart and get in your opponents’ way with mean tricks by snatching the most valuable cattle from under their noses, or swing your lasso to abduct one of their animals.
The last line immediately put me off: I’m not a fan of “take that” games or games with a lot of direct conflict. So, I decided to pass.
Eight months later I ran across El Gaucho again. This time I was feeling rather nostalgic about my western roots and took a longer look, reading gamers’ comments on play. I really liked the artwork, I loved the theme, and the worker-placement dice mechanism sounded promising, so I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. I’m glad I did.
In El Gaucho, designed by Arve D. Fühler, your goal is to earn the most pesos by acquiring and selling cattle. There are five different breeds: Aubrac (golden), Jersey (reddish-brown), Longhorn (white), Holstein (white with black splotches) and Serrano (black). There are 12 cows of each breed, numbered 1 to 12. Ok, so the game doesn’t actually provide names for the cattle breeds, only colors. My name choices may not have been what the designer intended, but I like using names for things in games – it helps me get more into the theme. But I digress. Back to the game description.
As you acquire cattle in El Gaucho, you must place them in separate herds by breed, arranged in either ascending or descending order. Should you acquire a cow whose number would break the order, you must sell your current herd of that breed, earning pesos equal to the number of cows in the herd times the value of the highest. The newly acquired cow starts a new herd of that breed.
For instance, acquiring the 9 Holstein at the end of a round in the example shown on the left, would force me to make an immediate sale of my Holstein herd, earning 2 x 10 pesos (number of tiles in herd times highest value tile). The 9 Holstein then starts a new Holstein herd. The Jersey herd above it is currently worth 36 pesos (4 tiles x 9).
You acquire cattle using dice from the corral. Yep, there’s a corral. It’s one of the coolest components of the game. A 3D corral you roll the dice into so they don’t stampede across the board knocking down your cowboy meeples or jostling cattle tiles. Brilliant!
There are four pastures (rows) for cattle tiles in the Pampas (top right corner of the board). Set up is simple. Shuffle the cattle tiles. Beginning with the smallest pasture (bottom row), add cattle tiles one-at-a-time until the total of the tiles’ big numbers is greater than or equal to 20 or the pasture is full. Continue until all of the pastures have cattle. Only use the river pasture spaces in a 3- or 4-player game and the forest pasture space when 4 are playing. Finally, place 4 tiles face down on the Steppe space.
Give each player 3 cattle tiles (5 in a 2-player game, 4 in a 3-player game). Players can keep 1 tile valued 9 or more, 2 tiles 8 or less, or all three if they’re all 4 or less. Choose a start player. Then beginning with the last player, place one of your cowboys on an action space. No two players may choose the same action space in this preliminary round.
The start player begins the round by herding (rolling) all of the dice into the corral. He then chooses 2 dice to use either individually or together to catch cattle, or singly to prep actions. You have three options when using a die/dice to catch cattle:
- Stand a cowboy on a cattle tile whose large number matches the value on one of your dice or the combined total of your two dice.
- Lay a cowboy on a cattle tile whose small number matches one of your dice.
- Stand up a reclining cowboy using a die matching the small number on that cowboy’s cattle tile.
You can also take as many prepped actions as you want, before or after using your two dice to prep special actions and/or catch cattle.
There are a couple of rules to keep in mind regarding the special actions available on the board. You may not both prep and use a particular action on the same turn or vice versa. Some actions can only be used during certain phases of a round.
Here’s a rundown on the actions you can take or prep to take later:
Estancia – Immediate Sale: Sell one of your herds of two or more cattle for the usual price, plus an extra five pesos. You need a die numbered 1, 2 or 3 to prep this action.
Hero of the Rodeo – Wish: Take an action as though you have an extra die of any value (1 to 6). Requires a 1, 2 or 3 to prep.
Stall – Sort: When collecting cattle at the end of a round, you may activate this action to place one tile just acquired anywhere in a herd. Prep with a 1, 2 or 3.
Cattle Rustler – Steal a Cow: Steal a cattle tile of your choice from one of your opponent’s herd. Your opponent immediately receives the cow’s value in pesos. It takes a 4 to prep this action.
Overseer – Raise/Replace Gauchos: Either raise two of your reclining cowboys or replace one of your opponent’s reclining cowboys with a standing cowboy from your supply. You’ll need a 5 to prep the Overseer action.
Steppe – Secret Cattle: Look at the 4 tiles on the Steppe. Choose 1 with a value greater than 4 or 2 whose values are 4 or less. Place the tile(s) on any empty pasture space in the Pampas with one of your cowboys standing on it. You need a 6 to prep this action.
End of Round
After all players have used 2 dice from the corral, check the pastures. If all of the cattle tiles in a pasture have been claimed by a cowboy, whether standing or reclining, distribute the cattle claimed by standing cowboys to their respective players. Leave the tiles with reclining cowboys in place, then refill the pasture to capacity by adding cattle tiles one at a time until the total (large numbers) of the tiles is greater than or equal to 20. Pass the start player cowboy and play another round.
When the cattle draw pile runs out, players play on each final normal round, then one round using any actions prepped on the board. Distribute all tiles with standing cowboys. Sell off your herds. Player with the highest score wins.
The artwork is adorable. I love the cow illustrations by Dennis Lohausen. The cattle tiles are nice and thick. Any meeple lover will appreciate the cowboy meeples. Everything is quite well made. The 3D dice corral is brilliant! Not only does it enhance the theme, it’s practical, too. I want one for all my games.
Game play is quick and straight forward. There are more strategies I have yet to try, like selling cattle more often, replacing gauchos with the Overseer action and cattle rustling. I told you I avoid conflict. At least in El Gaucho, if someone steals your cattle, you get paid for them, so I don’t feel too bad cattle rustling. There’s no compensation for having your gaucho replaced, though. Still the “take that” can be pretty minimal. It depends on who you play with. I’ve played games in which no one rustled cattle or replaced gauchos and others in which one or two players did both as often as they could.
Overall, El Gaucho is a light set collection dice game with worker placement that supports 2 to 4 players ages 10 and up and plays in less than an hour. Younger kids could play without much help.
Copyright © 2016 by Tina G. McDuffie. All rights reserved.
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