While I chuckled at the sub-title calling El Caballero “a refined strategy game,” (what makes a strategy game refined?), I really enjoyed this game. It reminded me a lot of Carcassonne but with more elements, more trade-offs, and more strategy. Basically, you play as explorers following Columbus as he discovers new islands. The Caballeros are your “minions” that you have at your disposal to assist in taking over territory, purchasing ships, or building Castillos. You have both a supply and a court which houses “activated” Caballeros. Disperse them wisely to take ownership of land or sea. While definitely not the most important element of the game, keep a close eye on the gold and fish tiles which increase the value of your area control.
There are many trade-offs in this game that are very balanced. Firstly, do you want to go first at the expense of receiving more Caballeros that round, or do you concede a tile placement to receive more Caballeros? Do you focus on hurting the other player(s) or do you hunker down and build up your own wealth (if you can figure out how to do both at the same time, you’ll be in great shape!). How far do you push to obtain ownership of land (which is worth double the value of sea)?
Tip: Really, really try take advantage of every opportunity you can to harm the other player while building yourself up. In order of priority, here is what I would focus on: 1. Destroy another’s tile while placing a tile that greatly benefits you. 2. Block another’s expansion while playing a tile that benefits you. 3. Place a tile that benefits your expansion. 4. Destroy or block another player. 5. Place a tile to protect your investment. I would say #4 and #5 are interchangeable. Recognize that the return on investment can fluctuate with all of these scenarios, but I would keep this priority list as a general guideline. Tip #2: The cost of protecting your investment with a Castillo is well worth it. Unless it’s completely blocked from being destroyed, I wouldn’t play a single tile (if at all possible) without a Castillo. Tip #3: While the land ownership is worth double points at the end, don’t overlook the value of placing ships to capture sea points!
Overall, I like this game. I did get frustrated at times at how easily my hard-earned investments could be completely wiped out at the play of a single tile. The game has a very “attack-or-die” feel to it which I like (but I know some don’t). I give it a 6.5 with a high recommendation to at least give it a shot.
Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review, but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.”