Review – Alhambra

2 to 6 players, Ages 8+, 60 Minute Playing time
This review will provide a brief overview of the rules (to give a flavour of the game), why we liked it and who we think it might appeal to.
Alhambra - The box and the Builders Market board

A classic Eurogame and Spiel des Jahres winner from 2003 Alhambra was designed by Dirk Henn and published by Queen Games. The game sees you in the role of one of the master builders at the time of the Moorish Sultans of Granada competing to build the most impressive walled palace or Alhambra.

Building your Alhambra you will have to manage your resources and outbid the others as you seek to add extravagant pavilions, beautiful gardens, long arcades, richly furnished chambers, comfortable seraglios and high watch towers whilst always paying attention to the wall that will protect your
riches and women!

6 Starting Tiles – showing the Fountain around which each player’s Alhambra will be built.

54 Building Tiles - showing Arcades, Chambers, Gardens, Towers, Pavilions and Seraglios. Each tile has either no walled sides or up to three walls (denoted by dark brown lines along the edges) and a number showing the purchase price when the tile is in the Building Market.
Alhambra - Examples of the 6 differant types of Building Tile

1 Building Market - with four squares each associated with a different currency, denoted by colour (blue, green, orange and yellow). The Building Tiles will be randomly placed on these squares and players will have to hand over Money Cards in the relevant currency equal to or greater than the Building Tile's purchase price if they wish to acquire them.

Alhambra - The Builders Market with 4 random Building Tiles
108 Money Cards – in the four coloured currencies and denominations of 1 through to 9.

1 Scoring Board – used at the three scoring points of the game to record players scores

12 Scoring Counters – 2 in each of the available player colours (red, white, blue, orange, green and yellow). One counter is placed on the Scoring Board whilst the other is retained by the player to remind them of their colour.
Alhambra - The Starting Tile, Money Cards and Scorring Counters

2 Scoring Cards – these will be inserted into the deck of Money Cards before the game starts at roughly two fifths and four fifths of the way through the deck

6 Tile Reserve Boards – used to store Building Tiles that have been purchased but which a player cannot or chooses not to place in their developing Alhambra.

1 Cloth Bag – this is supposed to be used to hold the Building Tiles however we feel these are better piled up (face down) to the side of Scoring the Board.

1 Set of Rules – obviously!

Game Set Up
Each player chooses coloured scoring counters and is given:

A. A Tile Reserve Board

B. A Starting Tile

C. Random Money Cards are dealt face up from the top of the money deck equal to a minimum of 20

The 2 scoring cards are then inserted into the money deck, Building Tiles are placed (face-up) on the four spaces in the Building Market and four Money Cards are dealt face up next to the Building Market. Since the game ends when the market cannot be replenished we preferred to stack the spare Building Tiles (face down) next to the Building Market (rather than use the bag) so that all players can clearly see when the end is imminent.

Alhambra - The Builders Market showing the available Building Tiles and Money Cards
Game Play
In turn each player can either:

1. Take one of the face-up Money Cards or multiple cards adding up to no more than 5.

2. Buy and position a Building Tile (either in their Alhambra or on their Reserve Board)

Alhambra - An example of how the Building Tiles might be placed to connect the walls legally. The Arcade will need to be placed on the Reserve Board
3. Redesign their Alhambra by either moving a tile from their Reserve Board into their Alhambra or from their Alhambra to the Reserve Board or exchanging tiles between the two locations.

In the event that a player can pay the exact money for one of the available Building Tiles then they can then take another action which if it were again buying a Building Tile with the exact money would give them yet another go.

The Building Market is replenished at the beginning of the next players turn from the face-down stack (or the cloth bag).

As the Building Tiles are laid out in your Alhambra you have to pay careful attention to ensuring that rules for connecting new tiles are complied with. Essentially, all tiles must face the same way, you must be able to travel between the tiles without jumping over a wall, adjoining sides must be the same i.e. they must both be walled or both be open and each new tile must be adjoined to your Alhambra on at least one side.

Scoring as previously mentioned occurs at three points within the game with only the player with the most of a particular type of building e.g. Pavilions scoring at the first of these scoring points, the first and second players on the second and the first, second and third on the final scoring point. On each occasion all players also score one point for each external section of their longest wall - this is an important aspect of the game and potentially the clincher!

What Did We Think?
Alhambra - The Scoring Board
We liked it; we thought it was simple enough to understand quickly yet with enough depth to satisfy our group of social gamers. A key aspect of the game is getting the layout of your Alhambra’s encircling wall right. If this is done well it will score highly and if through bad luck or poor planning badly then it will act as a constant distraction and frustration as you have to juggle your Building Tiles in order to ensure the tiles connections are legal.

As you would expect with a game from Queen Games the components are of a high quality and it is attractive in the way the tiles build up allowing each player to focus on different building styles, should they wish. Certainly it is important to keep an eye on what other players are including in their Alhambra as the game nears its scoring points because a judicious purchase even if you have to place it on your Reserve Board may stop another player from exceeding you in a given type of Building Tile and so protect your scoring opportunity.

The interaction is limited and this is perhaps a more thoughtful game than some of our group like but all agreed how much they had enjoyed it and that they would happily play it again; there are a number of expansions that can be added extending the longevity / replayability of this popular game.

The only negative was that either because of the colour combinations and / or my style of play it seemed to take me (and I thought some others as well!) longer to make decisions about what action to take and I note that in another article and on BoardGameGeek this game is recommended as being better with 3 players (it will handle up to 6) because of the potential for ‘Paralysis by Analysis’.
Alhambra - The game components

Who Will It Work For?
In short I think it will work for:
  • Families and social gamers i.e. players who are looking for a little mental stimulus around an attractive theme and components but nothing too heavy in terms of game play. 
  • The minimum age is set at 8 and, as is the way with most Eurogames, there is no direct confrontation so it should work well with younger children whose parents want to challenge them with more stimulating games than can be found in most toy shops. 
  • Anybody who has played and enjoyed Carcassonne as this is another tile-laying game but one which introduces the need to manage your money in order to buy the Building Tiles you want and so brings a little greater depth and complexity. 
  • Non gamer adults as a gateway game - it has simple game play but with enough tactical depth to make it interesting interesting alternative to the classic and oft quoted three gateways games Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. 

If you liked this review then other games I have reviewed can be seen here

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