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Casa Grande

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Ravensburger, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; $39.99)

casagrande2Subtitled “a Strategic Construction Game”, Casa Grande lives up to its name as players compete to build as many structures as they can in a relatively small area where the sky is the limit!

Casa Grande, a Günter Burkhardt design, comes with building blocks, building platforms and player markers (in sets of four colors), a regular six sided die, money (in the form of Casa Grande Lira) and a board. The board consists of an 8×8 central grid surrounded by a track along with a bonus scale ranging from 0 to 9+. Each player takes a set of pieces in his chosen color and places one of his markers on step 5 of the bonus scale and the other on one of the corner spaces of the board’s track. (These spaces have a sun motif and no two players may start on the same sun space.)

A turn consists of three steps. First, the active player rolls the die and advances that number of spaces on the track. (A player may move further ahead on the track by spending points on the bonus scale, 1 point per space advancement.) He then MUST place one of his building blocks on any available space on the 8×8 grid adjoining the space he occupies on the track. Once done, a player MAY place one of his platforms on top of his played building blocks providing they match the requirements of a platform to form a “storey”. Placing platforms is important because that is the major way you generate money and money means victory.

Platforms come in varied shapes and sizes (cross shaped, L-shaped etc.) and may only be placed if your color building blocks match the specific alignment required of specific platforms. These alignments are noted by white outlines on the platform pieces. When a platform is placed, the bank pays that player money equal to the number of spaces covered by the platform multiplied by the level of the storey. So, for example, a platform covering five spaces placed on the second story will generate (5 x 2) 10 Casa Grande Lira.

As the game continues, blocks will be placed on higher levels. If put on their own platforms, placement is free. But if a block is placed on another player’s platform, that player receives remuneration by having his marker advance on the bonus scale, bumping one space up per storey of that platform. When landing on one of the sun spaces on the track, a player may opt to stay there (and not place a block) and move his marker UP the bonus scale three spaces. (Or, he can spend bonus scale points to advance one, two, or three spaces ahead.) Why is this bonus scale so important? Because that is another way to gain sizeable cash. When a marker hits the 9+ position, that player immediately gets 9 Casa Grande Lira. (However, his marker immediately falls down to 0 and must make the climb upwards again if you want to earn another 9 Lira from the bonus scale.)

Play continues until one player has placed all of his blocks. (There are 24 for each player but you may play with less if you wish to shorten the length of the game.) That round is finished so that all players have had an equal number of turns. Now all money earned is totaled. The player who has amassed the greatest fortune is proclaimed the Master Builder of Casa Grande and the winner!

Production values in Casa Grande, as you might expect from a company such as Ravensburger, are quite high. Building blocks are colorful and pleasing to the eye, especially as Casa Grande gets more and more grand, gaining height. On the other hand, the rulebook (at least in the International Edition we played) is solely in black and white. Understandable considering the cost of four color printing but a full color rulebook would have made the rules clearer. The different geometrical shapes of the platforms are reminiscent of Fits by Reiner Knizia (another Ravensburger release, featured in the Summer 2009 GA Report) in the sense that you need to fit the configurations of pieces to the demands of the situation. This spatial aspect of play might not be to everyone’s taste but is a key component to the game’s strategy. And Burkhardt has borrowed the track movement mechanism from his previous design, Kupperkessel & Co. (Spring 2002 GA Report) to good effect.

As the board gets filled and storeys built, you need to be careful in arranging blocks and prudent in placing platforms. Since the height of the platform serves as a multiplier to the amount of money platforms earn, you have to consider when to turn your platforms into profits to generate maximum funds. You need to be careful on another level too. Nothing can ruin the game quicker than a mini-earthquake due to a slip of the hand. That caveat aside, Casa Grande is an excellent family game with the kind of appeal that works well with all ages.


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