A to Z Gaming: Alhambra

Progress in our A to Z play-through of our gaming shelf! We played our last “A” game – Alhambra.

Basic Info: Alhambra
Players: 2-6
Time: 45-60 Minutes
Designer: Dirk Henn
Artist: Jörg Asselborn, Jo Hartwig, Christof Tisch
Publisher:  Queen Games (our copy)

 

 

In Alhambra, each player is constructing a palace full of towers, gardens, arcades, pavilions, seraglios and chambers. This is done by hiring the best teams of builders using their native currency.

Each turn, you have the choice of taking currency from a bank, buying a building (paying the correct currency for the artisans involved), or rearranging your alhambra. At the beginning of your turn, there are four currency cards available from a deck containing four different types (colors) of currency, with three sets of  the denominations of 1-9 for each color.

At the beginning of each turn, there are always four buildings available for purchase from one of the four different types of builders. You must discard at least face value for the buildings you purchase, but if you play exactly change, you get to take another action.

There are three scoring rounds. Two are represented by cards that come up in the currency deck at about 1/3 and about 2/3 of the of the way through the deck. The third scoring comes at the end of the game. At each scoring round, the players with the most of each type of building get points – only the player with the most in round 1, the first and second place players in the second round, and the first three places in the final round. Each round players also get points for their longest continuous outer wall. The player with the most points wins.

For some reason, we don’t pull this game out very often. It’s odd, because we are often seeking 6-player games for our game nights.

I like the puzzle-y part of the game that comes from building your alhambra while following the tile-placing rules. The rules are simple – you must be able to “walk” to any building from your center tile (i.e. you can’t wall-off a segment of the palace) and walls must match up to walls. However, despite being simple, there is a fair bit of consideration for how you build. For example, you want to maximize the outer-wall bonus while leaving open enough building possibilities no matter which building tiles come up.

I also like the push-your-luck aspect of taking currency and buying tiles. I often find myself thinking something like, “If I just pick up that 6-blue currency, I could buy the blue-artisan building for exact change and pick up another building in the deal.” But, how do I know that the building will still be there when it gets back to my turn?

The game also requires paying attention to what the other players are building. It does you little good to build your fifth arcade if everyone else has only one. In that case, you might want to pass on the arcade available for purchase in favor of buying a building that is more in contention.

In the two-player version of the game, you remove one of each color and denomination of the currency deck and there is a dummy player named Dirk.  The dummy player gets a set number of tiles at the beginning of the game and just after the first two scoring rounds. The dummy player is in the running for points during each scoring based on the tiles he holds. Theoretically, he *could* win the game if you aren’t careful, though he wasn’t even close at the end of our two games. He does not get a bonus for outer walls, since his tiles are simply set aside, not built into an alhambra.

 

How is it as a 2-player game? Alhambra plays pretty well as a 2-player game. At first it seems unfair that “Dirk” gets way more tiles at the beginning of the game and after the first scoring than either real player could possibly purchase by then. However, the addition of the dummy player makes the game more interesting. There is a lot more to pay attention to if you aren’t going to give up points to the dummy.

How about the art and component quality? The components are good quality – heavy cardboard that feel substantial. And the art is pretty – I like to detail on the building tiles. My main complaint is that it is very easy to confuse the colors on the currency with the colors on the buildings.

Will this stay in my collection? Definitely!

 

 

 

2 Replies to “A to Z Gaming: Alhambra

  1. I feel like I should like this game more. I agree with you about the puzzle-y aspect. That makes it interesting but requires watching what your opponents are doing and being careful about tile placement (which I seem to get wrong half the time – or at least I feel like I do). I don’t recall ever playing this game with more than 4 people. I didn’t realize it’s a 6-player game. Something to try again next game day.

    1. I wonder how it will play at those higher player counts. I expect it will feel a lot tighter, since you’ll have to pick which building types to go for, since it will be impossible to have a majority in more than a couple. We’ll pull it out the next time we need a game for more players!

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