One game that I have had a chance to play mo of lately is Hacienda. It is a game that I had never heard of until it was one of the games that you could get at the CABS room at Origins a few years back and one of my friends got it.
It is a Kramer, which is usually a good sign. I personally have yet to play a Kramer design that I have not at least been able to appreciate, although some friends of mine still talk about throwing a copy of Top Secrets Spies down an incinerator chute.
While it seems to be well respected, it is not one his rock-star designs. El Grande and Tikal and Torres are his games that people talk about when they want to talk about his meaty games and the Six Nimmit! family is what comes up when you talk about his lighter works.
That said, I would have to say that my group probably gets more play out of Hacienda than any of the Mask trilogy. It is a bit lighter than those games, perhaps, but it offers enough choices to still be a very enjoyable game that makes us think and gives us a chance to cut each other off at the knees.
In theory, the theme of Hacienda is that you are competing ranchers, developing the prairie landscape. In all honesty, it is much more of an area of control game that offers several paths to victory, including the option of actually changing the board.
I like to describe Hacienda as a multiple-player Go where you have to buy the stones before you can place them. That isn't quite right, of course, but I think it gives the right impression.
The central mechanic of the game is that you buy cards and play those cards as a separate action to place tiles claiming spaces on the board, either in the form of land or animal. Since I am not actually giving a repeat of the rules, I won't go on about the ways that you can improve your score with water and haciendas.
The game requires you to be very careful managing your money. In theory, land claims are where the real points are and my group likes to heavily develop land chains. In fact, we have run out of land markers at least once.
However, you need herds in order to connect to markets, which are an important source of points and, even more importantly, money. I have seen players manage to go bankrupt. If you have no cards or money, you can end up with nothing to do. (Yes, they had harvest chips on all their land already by that point and, yes, they lost)
In the end, though, balancing the various ways you are getting points but also getting money so you keep on going is what makes Hacienda so good. You will always be starved for money, cards, and moves. Between how the cards come out and what the other players do to pen you in, it has a lot of replay value just with the two boards the game comes with.
I know that people have made home brew boards for Hacienda, just like they have for Steam and Powergrid and Ticket to Ride and, well, most games where you can do that. I hope that I get a chance to try some of those out in the next few months.