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Monday, 3 February 2014

Alhambra

| April 4th 2016 | 
Thanks for checking out my blog. I have a new, much better looking version of this review here: http://www.boardgamebarker.com/blog/2015/8/22/alhambra

Recently my regular group of 3-4 has been 5 or even 6, as so some of my favourite games have not seen a lot of action of late. Instead we have been playing a lot of games that support 6, my issue is that most of them are too light. So I decided to bust out Alhambra since even if it is just as light it feels like you are accomplishing more to me. Below you will learn how to play basic Alhambra, and since I now have more experience with more players I will spell out my feelings on how well it scales with 2-6 players.



Objective:
Your goal is to construct the most valuable Alhambra, you do this by collecting and constructing different types of buildings and walls. Scoring cards will come up semi randomly at which point players score points based off majority control of the different colours/types of buildings. At this time each player will also score points for the longest section of wall they have built.


How to play:
Playing Alhambra is very easy but winning and "doing good" is actually quite challenging. On your turn you will have your choice of the following three options.

Take Money: On your turn you may take 1 face up money card from the available market of 4. Alternatively if there are two money cards available that total 5 or less you may take both of them. Which money you take will determine which section of the game board you are allowed to buy buildings from.
You could take the Green Two and the Yellow Three or Any 1 single card. 
Buy Buildings: On your turn you may buy one of the available 4 buildings. The colour of the building is the determining factor for how many points it will be worth, which section of the board you are buying the building from will determine which type of currency you use. Now this is the mechanic that makes Alhambra fun, you do not get change when you buy buildings however, if you use exact change you are allowed to take another choice of the three actions.
The player buys the Green building from the yellow section, the exact value of the building (8) is paid so the paying player may now take another action.
**New Buildings do not become available for your extra actions, they are not replenished until the very end of your turn

When you buy a building you are given the option to construct it right away or place it in your reserve.
Your reserve also doubles as a scoring reminder letting you know how much each type of building is worth in the respected rounds.

If you wish to place the tile there are two basic rules that must be followed. The first is you must be able to reach your newly placed building tile from your starting tile (cannot cross walls). The second is you cannot create holes.
This shows a hole/void above the starting tile as well as a wall that cannot be crossed, none of these buildings are legal placements.
Rearrange Your Alhambra: You might be adding buildings from your reserve or just rearranging the ones already built, either way you want to do this to get the most points you can out of your walls. When a scoring round comes up, buildings in your reserve do not count to your total number of buildings and you will only score points for the longest section of wall around your Alhambra.

Scoring Rounds:
Before you begin you will add the two scoring rounds to the deck of money cards. When one of these cards if turned face up as you are replenishing the available money, immediately stop and players are awarded points based on the layout of their Alhambra.

In the first round of scoring, only the player with the majority number of each building type will score points. 
If players tie for a majority then the all of the points are added together and split among the tied players rounded down.

Next players will score points based off only their longest section of wall.

You then continue with play as usual picking up where you left off by refilling the available money cards.

Game End: 
The game ends immediately when you must refill the available buildings but cannot (the bag of buildings is empty). At this point the remaining buildings are given to the player who has the most corresponding currency. These final buildings can be constructed as if they were just purchased regularly. The final round of scoring now beings.

* If players tie for most currency neither is awarded the building.
* If you can replace part of the building market you must even if you cannot fill all 4 spaces

My Thoughts on Alhambra:
Although it is not my first choice of game to play Alhambra hits the table more than a few times a month. It comes out often as a burnout game or recently as a 5/6 player since my group has grown a couple people. My single favourite part of Alhambra is that is gives you the accomplishing / doing something feeling even when you are not. This is both a blessing and a curse and I will go into detail about that below when I talk about Alhambra with different numbers of players. I am a sucker for simple games with a second layer or deeper strategy and Alhambra definitely fits that bill although not as deep as it presents itself.

What do I mean by that? Alhambra is a good intro or light game mechanically, but not so much visually. If you know nothing about Alhambra and took a look at a game in progress or even at the pieces and you might start to get that overwhelmed feeling. But as you can see from reading the above that you could jump in a game of Alhambra and play without really even knowing how. Alhambra is probably the best example of learn by playing in my collection, not only is it easier to explain the actions as you play but Alhambra is fast and broken into rounds so you could very easily play an entire game or just one round so new players get a feel. What I enjoy about showing Alhambra to new players is that even before the end of the first game they are already starting to develop their own strategy. A lot of games, even ones that I tend to like that tend to have simple rules to learn don't really let you develop your strategy until your second play through. I really enjoy the theme in Alhambra although I dislike how the theme is generally portrayed in the board game market, I mean that other games with similar themes are also presented as over complicated, see Kairo also by Queen Games. If I could change one thing to make Alhambra easier to understand and it seems like such an obvious oversight but I would make it so at the very least no money or buildings share colours, I would take it one step further and make the colours used for each be grouped such as primary for money secondary colours for buildings but definitely no green for both as it is visually distracting and confusing at a glance.


Alhambra says 2-6 players, how well does it scale between those? 

As a two player game: Alhambra is an excellent two player game although sometimes you will see an argument that because it uses a "dummy" player it is really a 3 player game. Personally I hate this argument, especially in Alhambra where the dummy player doesn't follow regular rules. What I mean is a 3rd player would change the game in a way vastly different than using "Dirk" the game's dummy player. My favourite part of 2 player Alhambra is the size your palace becomes. There is more emphasis on walls and sometimes you will take a building based off its layout rather than its colour, you can do this because you will have more turns and a better chance to acquire the other colours before a scoring round comes up. This to me makes 2 player Alhambra not only a very different game from 5/6 player but more fun as it builds off of the satisfaction feeling that Alhambra leaves you with by constructing your palace. I do a lot of 2 player gaming, and I like what Alhambra offers in this aspect, it combines some mechanics from other games I enjoy but has enough that makes it different.

As a three player game: Three player Alhambra is often said to be the best, how could it not be if two player is so great and 3 players doesn't use the dummy well how could 3 not be better? Three player Alhambra is dubbed the best for a reason it most certainly does shine with 3 but it is not simply 2 player without the dummy. You get the good parts of two player Alhambra, the ability to control what is going on better than with more players, your palace will still be grand and give you that feeling of satisfaction what I like best about 3 player is the need to play your opponents. You have to keep a close eye on what they are both doing and formulate a plan to score more points than them, you can clearly see who has the advantage and you have the ability to impact them. I especially like the speed at which the money market circulates with 3 players. The reasons this is an improvement from 2 player is simple and easy to summarize, in 2 player Dirk will never win but will still collect game pieces. You still get some of the AP that comes with 2 player although its not as bad, three player is still a deep game.

As a four player game: This is the tipping point, with 4 players I find Alhambra starts to lean towards the social/light side. The buildings you were wanting to buy have a good chance of not being there by the time its your turn again. It doesn't happen often but you can totally get screwed by the money market in a 4 player game, what I mean is sometimes there is just no good option. I find 1 person tends to get a lot more double actions than the rest of the table in a 4 player game. We have probably only played 4 player Alhambra around 10 times mostly because for the time / thinking commitment required there are endless options of better games. I have found that our 4 player games have the largest gap between 1st and 2nd place. My main problem is that 1 player is almost always able to go by unnoticed while the others battle over the expensive buildings. I find that with 4 players there is a lot of unnecessary AP, people still feel like they have a lot of control over the decisions you are making but really you can't execute turn long plans without a little luck.
As a five player game: This is the one player amount that I do not have a lot of experience with. This is because on most nights that we have 5 people we also have 6 people. I have not played enough to tell you what I like and don't like specifically but I can say that 5 players is a light game for a lot of the reasons 4 players is. There are some main differences, mainly your Alhambra will be small and not very satisfying but that at least gets rid of some of the AP. That being said I have played 5 players enough to tell you that I like it better than six players that is because 5 players captures the "light" aspects the best, I can't really describe what I like without describing what I don't like about six players so see below. In one sentence 5 player Alhambra is a great light/social game.

As a six player game: I do not like six player Alhambra. I find it to be random and luck based and it takes a lot for me to say that about a game. I believe that you can always mitigate luck in games by changing up your strategy, maybe I am missing something but I say you are pretty much left to the draw with six players. Prepare to be frustrated as any of the buildings or money you wanted will not be there on your turn. It leaves a feeling of getting constantly screwed over with me while playing. That being said I have played Alhambra with six players more than any other number than 3, this is because other members of my group do enjoy it. The same person places first more often than not so I am convinced there is a game hidden in 6 player Alhambra but my track record speaks otherwise. Even as someone who doesn't win often or play to win it is frustrating to never place second but it is more furstrating to feel like you have no control over what place you come in, I am now in the business of avoiding six player Alhambra.

Who would enjoy Alhambra the best?

Family Gamers: The rules in Alhambra are easy to grasp, there are some problems with how it is laid out but seeing as you are playing with your family one person (whoever does the most gaming) is probably going to do the indepth explaining anyways. Keep in mind this is not one kids can play on their own but is definitely one you can play with them or with other relatives. The satisfaction feeling that I've talked about above works great with families and makes playing feel rewarding.

Casual Gamers: Easy to learn rules, fun theme, and lots of replay value. These are the things that make Alhambra casual friendly, it also scales well from most peoples perspective. Also very important to mention that the setup / cleanup time in Alhambra is next to non existent. Although not as good to hook new players on as the "addicting" feel some games give, the satisfaction feel is a strong second and I think an important factor when trying to sell someone on board games as a hobby.  

Gamer Gamers: You will want Alhambra in your collection to play with non gamers, in my opinion Alhambra is aimed at a specific audience and if you consider yourself an avid gamer you should have no problem deciding who will enjoy playing before it hits the table. As long as you play with the right number of players I think you will also find yourself enjoying Alhambra when playing against other serious gamers.

2 comments :

  1. I wrote a longer comment, but your comment system was not happy when I went to preview it.

    Just wanted to say, great review!

    The only aspect that I didn't really see mentioned is the importance of tile counting, and the overall knowledge of which types of wall tiles are left (and how many they are), and a rough idea of which value tiles are still left. At least, for more competitive play. .

    Luck is still too large a factor, with random tiles and random to have skill always win out, but it definitely will win out against people not playing at the same level. Especially in larger games (IMO).

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  2. That is such an important part of most board games, but I agree, if you can manage to keep an eye on the money too you will have a better idea of how many low value cards are left, I find this harder to do with more players though. Have you played Jaipur by any chance, sounds like you would enjoy it.

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