Mark's #4: El Grande
This was the first time I'd been in a store where EVERYTHING I had read about on r.g.b. (rec.games.board - the newsgroup that most newbies found their into when hunting information about German games) was on the shelves. I was like a kid in a candy store.
In the end, I couldn't go too crazy - but there was no question: I was taking El Grande home with me. (I heard the siren call of the Castillo...) I've never regretted that purchase.
Over the years, I've played many games of El Grande - and I continue to love how the game varies based on the timing of the various action cards. I enjoy the bluff & double-bluff that goes into trying to plan your based on what your opponents should (or shouldn't do). I like the way resources are limited by turn position... and I think the map is gorgeous.
As with some of my other favorite games, it really works best with only one number of players: 5. (It will work with 4, but you must avoid 2 or 3.) The expansions are interesting, though not necessary.