Hey folks, today we’re traveling to the Argentine Pampas, or grasslands, and becoming cattle barons. We’re hiring gauchos to herd our cattle and earn us the most money! Now, we’re trying to get the best herds of different types of cows to earn the most money, and we might use some dirty tricks to get the best cattle from other barons. We’re looking at El Gaucho. It’s a 2-4 player game designed by Arve D. Fuhler. I’ve reviewed a previous game designed by him called Pagoda. El Gaucho is a dice drafting, set collection, worker placement game with a little bit of take that. It plays in about 40 minutes.
El Gaucho comes with 60 cattle tiles, 32 gaucho workers, 9 dice, 4 score trackers, 4 money bags, 1 cattle fence, 1 first player token, the game board, and rules.
To set up, place the board in the center of the table. Construct the cattle fence. Then insert it into the slots on the game board. Depending on the number of players, you’ll have two dice per player plus one. So in a two player game, you’ll use 5 dice. In a 3 player game you’ll use 7 dice. There are 5 different types of cow. Each type numbers from 1 to 12. If you’re playing a two player game, take 12 cattle tiles of one type out. Shuffle the cattle tiles, and seed the pastures. To see the pastures, you randomly turn up the cattle tiles until you total 20 or more or run out of room for each row. Draw 4 tiles and set them face down on the bottom right of the board. Each player picks a color and takes the corresponding gaucho workers, score tracker, and money bag. Place your score tracker on the 0, your money bag in the spot next to the score track, and select one gaucho to start on the board. Next, each player draws cattle tiles. In a 2 player game, it’s 5 tiles. In a 3 player game it’s 4 tiles. And in a 4 player game it’s 3 tiles. A player may keep up to three tiles if each tile is valued 4 or under. They may keep 2 tiles if they are 8 or under. And any player may keep just one of any value.
Now, before we go into playing the game, I wanted to touch base on how you make money. When you take a cattle tile, it starts your herd for that type of cow. You can have a herd for each type. You start with a number and the second cow collected will determine if the numbers need to ascend or descend in numerical order. As soon as a cow breaks that chain, you must sell the herd up to that point. When you sell the herd, you take the highest number in the herd and multiple it by the number of cows in the herd. So if you have a 4, 8, and 10 cow, then add a 7 cow you have to sell the herd. It would then be 10×3. That would get you 30 points. Now that you know how you make money off your herd, let’s talk about game play and what the different areas on the board do.
The starting player rolls all the dice into the cattle fence. It’s a built in dice tray. Then, each player takes turns selecting 2 dice and placing gaucho(s) on the board depending on the dice totals. You can use the dice separately or add them together. The cattle tiles have two numbers on the tiles. One is larger and the other is smaller. If your dice total the larger number, you place a gaucho standing up. If you decided to use the smaller number, you place your gaucho lying down. If you use a die to pay the smaller number of a tile you have a gaucho lying down, it stands up. What’s the point of this? Well, you only gain cattle tiles once the row is filled with gauchos at the end of the round. The standing up gauchos bring the cattle home, the lying down gauchos stay on that row with the cattle tile. Only one gaucho per tile.
There are 6 spots on the board that show dice. Instead of claiming cows, you can instead place a gaucho here. You can’t have more than one of your gauchos at a single location and you can’t use that action the same turn you place your gaucho there. There is one exception to this, and I’ll get into that when we cover that location.
First up is the market. This is the large building with clay tiles. Use a 1, 2, or 3 die to place a gaucho here. When you decided to use this location, you remove your gaucho and you sell a herd for 5 more points than normal.
Next up, we have the Wish action. This is depicted as a rodeo with the gaucho having a dream bubble. Once again, it’s a 1, 2, or 3 to place a gaucho here. When you decided to remove the gaucho, you pick a number 1-6 and it’s like you have a third die for the turn.
Last of the 1, 2, or 3 die action spots is the stall. This is the only action that you don’t use on your turn. You use this when collecting cattle. It allows your to place one cattle you’ve collected any where in your line.
The next spot is for a number 4 die. It’s the steal cattle spot. Use this spot to steal a cow from another players herd and place it at the end of your matching herd. If this breaks the chain, immediately sell your herd. Don’t worry, the player you stole from has insurance, and moves their score tracker up how many points the now missing cow was worth.
The 5 spot is an overseer spot. This spot deals with gauchos who are lying down on the job. You can either raise one or two of your gauchos on cattle in the Pampas OR you can replace another players lying gaucho with a standing one of yours. Once again, this player had some insurance on that cow. They move their score tracker an amount equal to the number on that cow.
Lastly, we have the 6 spot. This is the secret cattle spot. You look at all the tiles here, and you can either pick two of value 4 or lower or one of any value. You place your gaucho standing up on this cow on empty pasture spots. Then, replenish the secret cows up to 4.
Rounds will go on until you run out of cattle tiles to fill the pastures. As soon as the cattle tiles are empty, you finish the round and then complete one more round. After that round, there is a round where players will only resolve the action spaces. After that, it’s time for final scoring. Players get any cattle tiles with standing gauchos on them. Anything else is just disregarded. You sell your remaining herds. Herds of just one cow are sold as the value of that cow. The player with the highest points wins.
So, what do I think about this dice rolling, cattle grabbing game? I found it light enough for my wife to enjoy, but thinky enough for me to enjoy. The components and art were really enjoyable. I found the art on the cow tiles to be funny and full of character. I always enjoy rolling dice, and I liked how the game came with a dice tray that was built into the board and fit the theme. The game length was nice too, it didn’t over stay it’s welcome. I liked that when you select the dice, you could decide to place two gauchos separately or combine those dice to pick a more desirable spot. I also liked how with the cow tiles, you could “save” the spot by paying half price and then paying that again later to wake your gaucho up. There was a little Take That in the game, which wasn’t too bad. When someone would steal a cow or your saved spot, you would still get points for it. I enjoyed the puzzle of setting up your herds and deciding if you wanted them to descend or ascend when collecting them. Now, I do have to comment on the first player token. After reading the rules, and looking at the components I did have to Google what was the white gaucho. It’s the same size as the other meeples, and I didn’t realize it was the first player token. It’s a little thing, but I feel like first player tokens should be something larger and stands out. Overall, I enjoyed this game and the theme of it. I recommend this if you’re looking for a dice drafting and worker placement game. I can see this as a game you can introduce to people new to modern board gaming, then using it as an example to get into some heavier games. El Gaucho will be staying in my collection for a while.