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Al Rashid

Reviewed by: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

(Yemaia, 2 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, about 100 minutes; 65€)

alrashid1Sometimes it looks like we have reached the limit of new companies/designers and it is always great to see someone still interested in trying to make a mark in the boardgames market. Yemaia’s target is clear from their web site – “We decided to produce the games we would love to play”- and they decided to start with a deep and strategic Euro game designed by Pierluca Zizzi and Giorgio De Michele: Al Rashid.

In Al Rashid, players are transported to the Middle East in the time of the Great Caliph Harun al-Rashid as they control a family trying to win over the favor of the sovereign, getting as many Prestige Points as possible. The way to acquire all these PP is to spend time (using family members in something close to a classical worker placement mechanism) or gold coins.

The currency of the game is one of the first great ideas in Al Rashid as you don’t have coins, per se, but rather goods and the value of these goods is in their variety. One type of good gives you 1 gold coin, two different types 3 coins, three different types 6 coins, four different types 10 coins and one of EACH different type 15 coins. I find this mechanism brilliant and new. Gold coins are virtual (you can’t accumulate them but just get and spend when needed). Of course, how to get the needed goods is one of the first things to think about in a typical game.

Al Rashid is played over a map displaying the city with 6 palaces and the land with 7 different areas. The game last five turns and in each turn there is a placement phase, a resolution phase and an end of turn phase.

In the placement phase, players will allocate one of their family members to the leftmost space of a game area and that goes on until all players place all their family members. There are three kinds of family members: Pasha, Merchants and Sages with different values/abilities. Each game area (land or palace) has space for only five family members and, of course, where and when you place members is where most of the strategy lies.

There are restrictions to placement. Every area can host just a single Pasha and a single Merchant from each family. Sages can be added in any number and can also be stacked under your Pashas, Merchants or other Sages. Players will try to get dominance in an area over other families and dominance is evaluated using a point system. Each Pasha is valued at 5 points, 3 points for a Merchant and 1 for a Sage. Ties are resolved in the favor of the family occupying the leftmost area which means placing first is better. Of course, there is a limited amount of family members and all players start the game with just a Pasha, a Merchant and a Sage. There is another important aspect of dominance: only the first 3 players in each area will have the option of taking the corresponding action. This rule is great and really important in 4-5 player games. With 2 and 3 player games, I think something is missing. That doesn’t mean Al Rashid is not a good 2-3 player game but I really consider it much better with 4 or 5 players. So what can dominance do for you?

Every land area offer goods, usually in three or four kinds. The first player (the one that has higher dominance) can take all the goods of a single type or three goods of his choice; the second one two goods and the third one just one. Land areas are usually defended by one or more mercenaries valued from 2 to 4 each. Mercenaries are of two different kinds: land-fighting (red) and sea-fighting (blue) and the higher dominance player needs to battle before getting goods. To win the battle you need to discard mercenaries of the proper color of your own that total at least the defender’s value. Having in your hand enough mercenaries is another thing to consider in plotting your strategy.

City areas are resolved in a similar way. In the five guild areas, you can get Services, Titles and Favors. In the Al Rashid palace, only Pashas are admitted and you can get Benevolence or Caliph’s Titles.

Without going into the details of each guild, let’s just say that from city areas, you mainly get Mercenary tiles, Sages, Merchants and Pashas. A title is a sort of special power/ability you can use in the following turn before/after taking an action in the resolution phase and will range from things like Smugglers (that allow you to change a single good) to Strategist (all your mercenaries tiles are worth one more point) to Politics titles that will give you points at the end of the game.

How the game areas are resolved is another clever mechanic. In turn order, as long as a player has at least one pawn on the map, players resolve a single occupied area that could have (or not have) a pawn of his/her family. Usually, it is better to resolve land areas first to have the needed goods to pay the costs related to city areas. On the other hand, it could be useful to activate a palace area before opponents have time to collect goods.

Al Rashid can be highly contentious. The fighting is not just in the placement phase but also in the resolution phase. Interaction between players is really high and to win, you often need to “put a hurt” on your opponents, something pure, “non-violent”, Euro gamers often shy away from but this is one of the things I really like about this game.

alrashid2You need to fight for land areas to get goods to have enough coins to pay for the titles and services in the city areas. Getting more family members will offer you points and more possibilities in the following rounds while titles are beneficial in giving you PP and special abilities. Some titles and the Intrigue guild services make dominance in areas not a sure thing, allowing pawns to exchange positions. I really like how the need for different types of goods causes fighting for control of the land and how city areas and land areas interact. I find the resolution phase a quite innovative twist to the worker placement genre with the different tile powers and abilities adding variety to play.

To win you need to plan, getting the right goods and taking the right actions in the palaces. You need to look what other players are doing to be able to stop their plans while resolving areas in a way that is good for you and bad for opponents. Since all the titles are always available. you need to know their abilities in advance. I really recommend reading all of the effects before starting play. There is a lot here and I think you will get the most out of Al Rashid after three or four plays. Yemaia told me there is a second edition in the pipeline with better graphics and improved rules: nothing really new (the game is the same) but a better map and tile graphics to make the rules clearer and the game flow better.

So what is Al Rashid? Al Rashid is a great, highly interactive, Euro-game with a nice setting, interesting game mechanics and with enough depth to be highly replayable in a reasonable amount of time.


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