Board Game Review of Alhambra

We’ve got a new contributor to the game reviews section – Heath. An avid gamer, he’s probably played more games than the two of us and is sure to have a lot of interesting insights. To start off with, he’s providing a review of Alhambra.

Alhambra Game Review

As winner of the 2003 German Game of the Year (Spiel des Jahres), Alhambra has a lot to live up to. The concept of the game is simple – you are the architect of Alhambra, the Moorish palace overlooking Granada, Spain. To win you must build the most impressive complex, making sure not to spread your resources too thin.

Appearance:

I for one am a big fan of a game that not only plays well, but looks good too. Alhambracould have been better, but what it lacks in appearance it will certainly make up for in gameplay. The quality of the pieces is excellent. The tiles are thick and well sealed, and the currency cards are certainly durable.

The cards are the most attractive part of the game, as they have a good looking design. The tiles themselves look rather plain, although I commend them for putting any image on there, lesser games might have just written “tower” and left the rest to the imagination. I wish they could have used nice artistic renderings of 12th century gardens and manors, but such was not to be.

Score: 6/10 – Alhambra provides good quality pieces but it is not the most awe-inspiring to look upon.

Rules/Gameplay:

Alhambra is another one of those games that you can learn in 20 minutes but offers a good deal of room for improvement as you play. There are two primary mechanics to this game – drawing cards and buying/placing building tiles. Each player starts with a centre to their Alhambra – a water source that must remain connected to any future additions to the palace. Each player also starts with at least 20 points of currency.

Here’s the first little hurdle – to buy tiles that expand your palace, you must purchase them from a builder, but there are four builders. Each builder in Alhmabra has their own currency – Denar, Dirham, Dukat, and Florin. These are colour-coded, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble there. Each tile will be placed next to a coloured symbol, which matches the colours on the currency card. So if you want to buy that 12 point Tower, and it’s sitting on the blue builder’s space, you need blue currency cards that add up to at least 12.

There are two ways of drawing more currency. There are 4 community cards which are placed face up next to the building tiles. You may either take 1 card valued at 5 points or greater, or you may take any number of cards that add to 5 or less. For example, if the 4 community cards out are valued at 5, 3, 2, and 8, you have 3 options: take the card valued at 5, the card valued at 8, or the cards valued at 3 and 2 (which add to equal 5).

As stated above, in order to buy building tiles, you must pay the appropriate currency. If you do not have the exact amount required to purchase the tile, but have more, you do not get change. In fact, here lies the true beauty of Alhambra’s gameplay. Each player has one action allowed on their turn. That player may either draw currency, buy/place a building tile, or rearrange a select number of pieces within their Alhambra. However, if, when purchasing a building tile, a player pays the exact amount required for that tile, that player is given a free action. That player may then go on draw currency, or buy a second building tile. If that player happens to have the exact amount required for that second building tile, they are given a further free action. As such, Alhambra generously rewards the player best able to efficiently plan their tile purchases.

Placing building tiles is the final dynamic of the game. First, every tile must be placed face up, so you are restricted in your decisions. Problems arise because some buildings have walls. As a result, in order to stay connected to your central water source give to you at the beginning of the game, a player cannot place a tile where a wall would block off any connection to that central tile. Therefore players must be careful not to purchase too many tiles containing walls because they can end up blocking themselves from any further construction.

Scoring comes in three separate rounds. Each round players receive points based on who has accumulated and built the most of each distinct building type, as well as individual points for walls (they’re not all bad).

Score: 8/10 – For rewarding efficient play and providing multiple dynamics to gameplay

Overall:

Alhambra is an absolutely wonderful game for those who want their games simple but with some level of challenge. I especially love the feeling of planning several turns ahead and hoping desperately no one ruins my plans of getting all four buildings in one fell swoop. Watch for later reviews on the expansions as they add some very good twists to the game.

Score: 7/10 – I can definitely see why Alhambra won Game of the Year.