Alhambra – Review

I’ve been a bit busy the past few weeks and I am falling even further behind in my game reviewing. Today, thankfully, is a bit slower than some (I don’t have to work through lunch today for a change and I should even get out on time!) so I figured I should finally get around to writing up the long anticipated review of Alhambra.

Overview

The story of Alhambra is that you and the other players are competing to build the best Alhambra. An Alhambra, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “a palace and citadel of the Moorish kings in Granada, Spain: built chiefly between 1248 and 1354”. Thus not to be confused with a Lasombra which are the leaders of the old World of Darkness Sabbat.

To achieve this goal you will need to acquire four different kinds of currency and purchase six different types of buildings. Players score points during the scoring rounds for having the most of each different type of building (the second most becomes important during the second scoring round and the third becomes important during the third scoring round) as well as for having a large wall on the outside of their Alhambra.

How to Play

Players begin the game with a starting tile depicting a fountain and a number of money cards (numbered 1 – 9 and found in four different colors). Players are dealt money cards until their total is 20 or more and the player with the fewest starting cards goes first. Four money cards are also played down onto the table to represent the money market that players can take from and four building tiles are removed from the bag (where the rest of the tiles will remain until needed) onto the board, one building tile available for each kind of money.

Before play begins the scoring cards are shuffled into the deck, one two fifths of the way through the deck and the other four fifths deep.

While Alhambra is a very simple game I did manage to miss a rule for the first few weeks we played it. I didn’t notice that you could take more than one money card as long as the total was five or less. This often lead to a lot of low numbers being all that was left in the money market and resulted in players being upset when they took a one or two only to give the player following them an eight or nine. After playing the correct way, players liked to see two low numbers as it would often allow them to purchase things for an exact amount later on.

On a player’s turn they have a few choices. They can take a money card or cards equaling five or less, they can purchase a building tile or they can rearrange their Alhambra. Taking money cards is simple and always ends your turn. Purchasing a building tile is only made more complicated by the fact that you need to make sure you are using the proper kind of money to purchase that tile. Also, if a player pays the exact amount for a building tile they make take another action (purchasing another building tile is still an option and that player could again pay exact and, again, go again).

The final choice is to rearrange your Alhambra. When a building tile is purchased it is either added to your Alhambra or placed on your reserve board. When rearranging you may take a tile from your reserve board, put a tile into your reserve board or switch a tile from your Alhambra with one from your reserve board. The new tile must fit legally into the place it is being switched to.

Building your Alhambra is not very complicated but there are some rules. Walls can only be placed next to other walls, no open space can be made in the middle of your Alhambra and no wall can separate the fountain from any other tile.

Scoring happens when a scoring card is pulled from the money deck. Players score by having the most (or are tied for the most) of a particular building tile. The tiles must be in your Alhambra to count and cannot be on your reserve board. There are six different colored tiles and each are worth different amounts of points. Players also score one point for every wall segment in their largest contiguous wall.

A word on expansions. Alhambra already has five expansions out. As the game has been around for a number of years and is fairly popular this is not entirely surprising. The interesting thing about the expansions is that each comes with four modules that are not connected to one another. These modules can be added or removed easily from the game and generally only alter play slightly. I currently have the first two expansions, thus eight modules, and I have played a bit with most of them. I really like the fact that they can be easily used and then removed as it allows for the game to play slightly differently each time and I don’t feel the need to play with all modules in every game.

An interesting thing is that there are a number of ways to choose which modules you will be using each game. You could roll some dice or just let each player choose one module. As each module only changes the game slightly, (though some certainly have more impact than others) each player can play with a module they particularly like, without it being a severe advantage.

My thoughts on this might change as I play with more of the modules but so far I really like the way they did the expansions.

What I Like About Alhambra

Like many of the games I have purchased and played lately Alhambra is fairly fast-moving. The game is also conceptually simple, so almost any new player can be taught the game with minimal confusion.

I also like the fact that the interaction between players is fairly indirect. Sure, when someone grabs up a tile you need you may be annoyed but they are not exactly hurting you when they do it. Still, the game does feel like it has more interaction than some our group has been playing lately as players really do need to pay attention to what color money cards the other players are grabbing as well as what color tiles they have in their Alhambra.

I also enjoy the building aspect of the game quite a bit. While this game is occasionally, in my group at least, compared to Carcassonne I think that the comparison is fairly weak. While both games involve tiles and building, the mechanics for the two are very different. Still, both games are fun for me in part because I enjoy creating things and seeing how they fit together, and Alhambra does offer this.

What I Don’t Like About Alhambra

Occasionally Alhambra can be a bit frustrating in that the random tiles that come down are not what you need and will feel like you are not doing much in the game. This is likely true with most games but Alhambra really does not have many options for big risk/big reward situations and often you can easily tell just how badly you are doing in a game and it is hard to dig yourself out of that hole.

The only other thing I could say I don’t like is the fact that it really is a very simple game. If you are in the mood for something involved, Alhambra probably will not fit the bill. This is only really a problem in that the game does seem to take about ten or fifteen minutes longer than its complexity warrants. While I do like the game a lot, I find that toward the end of some games, especially those I am not doing very well at, I start to get bored.

Conclusion

Alhambra is a solid Play It in my mind. The game is good and worth playing but I can’t recommend that people rush out and grab it. If you like it after a couple plays, you will probably keep liking it but it doesn’t feel like the kind of game people are going to want to play again immediately, more of a once-per-session kind of joint.

I hope you found this review helpful. Feel free to contact me with any specific questions and as always leave your comments below!

  1.  
    avatar
    Colin Says:

    Curse you Alhambra!!!

    Either that, or missing rules probably hurt it. Might have to play again now that we can do more than one buy in a round. Oooh…

  2.  

    The structure of the expansions you mentioned sounds cool; I like it when games with optional components and rules make it easy to incorporate the mix that you like. It also seems like it’s potentially a good method for avoiding the problem of expansion fatigue.