Menu

ALHAMBRA

Reviewed by Herb Levy

ALHAMBRA (Queen, 2-6 players, about 60 minutes; about $30)

 

The designs of Dirk Henn are no strangers to the readers of GAMERS ALLIANCE REPORT. We did a feature on Showmanager (way back in the Winter 1999 issue) and, more recently, Wallenstein (Fall 2002 GA REPORT). Now, the designer returns to an older design, revamping it and elevating it to a higher level of play, in Alhambra.

Alhambra is Henn’s reincarnation of Stimmt So!, a stylized share-trading game he designed years ago. Although the basic mechanism of the game remains the same, the Picture of ‘Alhambra’theme is given a Middle Eastern flavor and a new concept: the construction of the marketplace called Alhambra. It’s this “something extra” that makes this game something special.

Within its deep box, you will find building tiles (and a bag to hold them), 6 starting tiles, a deck of cards representing the four currencies of the game, tile reserve boards, a currency board for placement of building tiles and a score board.alhambra

The currency deck contains four “suits” in values ranging from 1 up to 9. To begin, the deck is shuffled and players are dealt, Las Vegas blackjack style, cards totalling 20 (or more) creating their “starting hands”. Now the remainder of the deck is seeded with two scoring cards. (This is done by dividing the deck into 5 approximately equal stacks of cards and shuffling in the scoring cards in stacks 2 and 4.) Four cards are then flipped to form a community pool of currency cards available to all. Each player gets a starting tile (from which other tiles will “grow”). The remaining tiles are placed in the accompanying bag with four randomly drawn and placed on the four spaces on the currency board. The player who holds the fewest currency cards (and, if a tie, the one with the lower total) goes first.

Players have two basic choices each turn. They may take a currency card from the community pool. (They may take more than one card if the total of cards taken is less than or equal to 5.) Alternatively, they may purchase a building tile.

A player with matching color currency greater than the number value on the building tile (which may be anything from 2 to 13) may exchange the card (or cards) and claim that tile. He may then place it and expand his marketplace (Alhambra) OR he may place the tile in reserve for later use. Should a player buy a tile with currency matching the tile’s value EXACTLY, he gets another turn and may buy another tile or take currency. (If he can buy a second tile by an exact amount, he keeps on going!)

The building of Alhambra is what separates this game from its predecessor as tile placement is the key to scoring.

Tiles come in different colors (blue, red, white, green, brown and purple). The starting tile is wide open without walls. Tiles added to the starting tile must match the borders. For example, open edges must abut open edges; walls must abut walls. In addition, any tile played must leave a path that can be traced back to the starting tile without crossing a wall or going off a tile.

When the two scoring cards appear, players earn points based on how many of each color tile they have. (In the first round, only players with the most of a color score. In the second round, points are earned by the players with the most and second most.) When no tiles remain in the bag so that it is not possible to refill the currency board, the final round is triggered. At that point, any remaining tiles are claimed by the player(s) with the most money in each of the currencies where tiles are still available. In the final round, points are given to players first, second and third in each color. Ties are rounded down. Points are also scored for walls. The longest continuous wall (that is, each side of a tile with a wall that connects to each other, NOT counting branches) scores one point per side.

The player amassing the highest point total wins!

Alhambra is not brain surgery but it does offer interesting choices. Sometimes, you are able to buy a tile but cannot place it. You can either refrain from the purchase (picking up a currency card or two for later play) or buy it anyway and place it in reserve, either for later use for yourself or to prevent this tile from being bought and used by an opponent. (The downside to this is that placing a tile in reserve – or swapping one tile in your Alhambra with one in reserve – counts as an action.) Which colors you purchase can also be a factor. Do you buy a purple tile to keep your opponent from having the most or do you buy another color to ensure that your plurality stays safe? Another important consideration is that building walls to score points also encloses your Alhambra! You can’t build on the “outside” of a wall! Awareness of this should dictate how you place your tiles and acts to balance play as you simply can’t buy tiles wildly. If you do, you’ll find yourself closed off from proper placement (and scoring opportunities) with a load of tiles in reserve! (Tiles in reserve do NOT score!) And because exact purchase of tiles give you an extra turn, the lower valued currency cards, making exact totals easier to achieve, take on greater importance adding yet another balancing factor to play.

Although the game is supposedly good for 2 to 6 players, we’ve found that four is the optimal number. With four, down time is lessened and the jockeying for position in colored tiles is at just the right level of intensity. The biggest flaw in the game is in the color scheme. As printed on the currency board, the orange and brown colors are virtually identical. Fortunately, the color on the cards themselves are more easily discernable and both the cards and board use icons (although the icons are VERY small) which minimize the problem. Be aware as is typical with Queen products, English rules are NOT provided. Fortunately, a translation is available on the net (www.boardgamegeek.com).

Alhambra is an excellent game that combines the “share buying” strategy of Stimmt So! with the tile laying mechanism that has proven so popular with games like German Game of the Year Carcassonne (Summer 2001 GA REPORT). The combination works exceedingly well making Alhambra worthy of an honored place on your gaming shelf. Highly recommended. – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


Summer 2003 GA Report Articles

 

Reviewed by Herb Levy ALHAMBRA (Queen, 2-6 players, about 60 minutes; about $30) The designs of Dirk Henn are no strangers to the readers of GAMERS ALLIANCE REPORT. We did a feature on Showmanager (way back in the Winter 1999 issue) and, more recently, Wallenstein (Fall 2002 GA REPORT). Now, the designer returns to an older design, revamping it and elevating it to a higher ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy AMUN-RE (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 3-5 players, 60-90 minutes; $34.95) Ancient Egypt seems to have a strong hold on the imagination of Reiner Knizia. Among Knizia's creations are Tutanchamun (Spring 1997 GA REPORT) and Ra (Summer 1999 GA REPORT). This time, the banks of the Nile serve as the inspiration for his new release: Amun-Re. Amun-Re comes bookshelf boxed with ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy BALLOON CUP (Kosmos/Rio Grande Games, 2 players, about 30 minutes; $19.95) One of the hallmarks of European games is their use of unusual themes. When American game companies do sports, for example, you can generally expect a game based on the Big Four of American sports: baseball, football, basketball or hockey. Not so in Europe. It seems that the sport of ...
Read More
Reviewed by Craig Massey CARCASSSONNE: TRADERS & BUILDERS (Hans Im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 2-6 players, 30-45 minutes; $12) Carcassonne: Traders & Builders is the latest expansion in what has turned out to be a very successful franchise for Hans Im Glück. The original game hit a sweet spot, appealing to the more serious game hobbyist as well as family and friends looking for a casual ...
Read More
Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser DOMAINE (Mayfair Games/Kosmos; 3-4 players, 1 hour; $45) When I first heard about Domaine, this new reincarnation of Löwenherz, I was excited. Löwenherz is one of my favorite games and, for the most part, it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. My initial vision was of designer Klaus Teuber taking the game to another level, which sent a rush of ...
Read More
A Little Bit of Redemption In life, if you're very very lucky, you sometimes get a second chance, a chance to make up for mistakes, a chance for redemption. It seems like our friends who comprise the jury deciding the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year Award) have earned themselves a little bit of redemption. Last year, in our Summer 2002 editorial, we ...
Read More
(In this issue, we featured Carcassonne:Traders & Builders, the latest addition to the Carcassonne family of games, by Craig Massey. Craig is no stranger to this line as he was the one who gave the original the feature treatment back in the Summer 2001 issue of GA REPORT. So, we thought it might be interesting to "FLASHBACK" to Craig's original look at what turned out ...
Read More
(In this issue, we featured Domaine, a new version of Löwenherz. So, we thought it might be interesting to "FLASHBACK" at the feature treatment we gave Löwenherz way back when - in the Spring 1998 issue of GA REPORT to be exact. So, here it is!) Reviewed by Steve Kurzban LÖWENHERZ (Goldsieber, 2-4 players, 60-90 minutes, 1997; out of print) After the tremendous success Klaus ...
Read More
THE GAMES WE PLAYED: THE GOLDEN AGE OF BOARD & TABLE GAMES by Margaret K. Hofer (Princeton Architectural Press, 159 pages, $24.95) Reviewed by Herb Levy The New York Historical Society has hosted a wonderful array of antique games from the Arthur and Ellen Liman collection. If you are a GA member, you read about the exhibit in our Information Center. The exhibit was also ...
Read More
THE TOY AND GAME INVENTOR'S HANDBOOK by Richard C. Levy and Ronald O. Weingartner (Alpha Books, 560 pages, $19.95) Reviewed by Herb Levy The world of toys and games is an odd one. It's a milieu where hard headed business decisions combine with almost whimsical creativity. In The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook by Richard C. Levy and Ronald O. Weingartner, those of us interested ...
Read More
Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser KING’S BREAKFAST (Abacus Spiele/ Rio Grande Games, 3 – 5 players, 20 – 30 minutes; $10) This is one of the gazillion games released this year by designers Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum.  Although this is certainly WAY down on the complexity scale and so light it practically floats away, it is the one that I will likely play the ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy MYSTERY RUMMY #4: AL CAPONE AND THE CHICAGO UNDERWORLD (US Games Systems, 2-4 players, less than an hour: $12) Of all the card games out there (and there are plenty), the Mystery Rummy series is unique. First off, it's a series of games that combine the basic mechanics of rummy with a recurring theme of crime and mystery. It also has ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy NEW ENGLAND (Goldsieber, 3-4 players, 60-90 minutes; about $40) One of the better releases coming out of Germany this year is another concoction by the design team of Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum. Here, players are transported back to 17th Century New England where they seek to settle and become the most prosperous. New England comes with a mounted board ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy PHOENIX (Eurogames; 2 players, less than 30 minutes; $19.95) There has been a surge in the amount of two player games released from a variety of European publishers. Surprisingly, many of them are quite good. Astonishingly, the curve of quality continues to rise. And that curve continues with Phoenix, the latest release from Eurogames. Phoenix is designed by Zach and Amanda ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy QUEEN'S NECKLACE (Days of Wonder, 2-4 players, 30-45 minutes; $24.95) Royalty has long been the source for game themes. But rarely have the jewelers of the royal court served as the main characters in a game. That "oversight" has been corrected in Queen's Necklace, designed by Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti, as players become jewel merchants trying their best to be ...
Read More

If you enjoy games, then Gamers Alliance is right for you!