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Bonus Review: Alhambra

Kristen McCarty
United States
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Today we continue our journey around the world of board gaming and head to the beautiful Alhambra of Granada, Spain. Alhambra is a Moorish fortress complex, dating as far back as the 13th and 14th centuries. In Arabic, Alhambra means Red Castle or the Red One. Poets have called it "a pearl set in emeralds." It has been a military complex, the residence of royalty, a citadel, a court, and a tourist attraction. It is also considered one of the greatest examples of Moorish architecture. Over the years it has been added onto, fallen into disrepair and finally restored and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fountains, gardens, orchards, nightingales, arabesques, and Islamic inscriptions can be found throughout.

Alhambra's artistry is certainly captured in the game that bears its name. In Alhambra you are one of the master builders of Europe and Arabia vying for a chance to prove your skill and artistry by building the most beautiful Alhambra possible. But you must be careful with your resources and currency. Everyone wishes to be paid in with their native tender before they will build your gardens, towers or pavilions.


There are a few version of Alhambra, so depending on your version you will have slightly different components. I own the Anniversary Edition so I'll focus on that edition.

You start out with six wooden lion fountains in the six player colors. Next you have six different colored meepels (player fissures.) Then you have the game board which has the scoring track, area for cards, and area for building tiles. You then have the fifty four building tiles in six different styles, one hundred and eight currency cards in four colors, 2 scoring cards, 6 point tables, and and the draw bag.

All the components are of high quality and artistically pleasing.

Object of the Game

The goal of Alhambra is to have the most buildings of each building type in your Alhambra during the scoring rounds. Players are awarded points for their buildings and wall around their Alhambra during each of the three scoring rounds. Points increase throughout the game and the player with the most points after three rounds is the winner!


Each player takes his or her Lion fountain and places it in their playing area. They place their meeples on zero on the scoring track. Next they receive a points table. Players are also given their starting currency. You do this by handing one card at a time to the player until the total is 20 or more. Four currency cards are also placed on the board.

The building tiles are placed in the draw bag. Four are randomly drawn and placed on the four numbered squares to form the building market.

Now the rest of the currency cards are divided into five mostly equal piles. The first scoring round card in placed in the second pile and the second scoring round card in placed in the fourth pile. The piles are place one on top of the other in numerical order (5th pile on the bottom.)

The player with the fewest cards is the start player or if players have an equal amount the player with the least amount of money starts.

Game Play:

During each player turn you may do one of three actions:

Take some money
Buy and position a tile
Redesign your Alhambra

Take Some Money: You may choose to take one or more money cards from the supply. You may take more than one card if the total does not add up to more than five. After taking your cards replenish the supply.

Buy and position a tile: Your second choice is to buy one of the building tiles from the market. Each tile has a price shown on it. You must play at least that price, but you may pay more. Unfortunately you do not receive any change. You may also pay with the correct color currency. The required color is the one shown next to the card. If you are able to pay the exact amount needed, it is still your turn and you may take another one of the three actions.

The market squares are not refilled during the players turn if they are able to take a second action. It is possible to carry out a maximum of five actions during your turn.

After buying a tile you may place the tile in their Alhambra. Tiles are not placed until the end of a players turn. Tiles may be placed in any order that you wish. You may also place the tile in your reserve for later use.

There are certain rules that must be followed to build the Alhambra. All tiles must be placed the same way as your starting tile. The roofs must all be facing the same direction. Sides that touch must also be the same. A tile that has a wall must touch another tile with a wall. You must also imagine that if walking in your Alhambra each new building tile must be able to be reached on foot; you can't walk through walls or go off the tiles. The last rule is that no spaces may be left.

Redesigning your Alhambra: You may find that during the game you will need to redesign your Alhambra. No you can't just move pieces any way you want, there are only three ways that this may be done, and all the building rules already discussed must be followed. First you may take a tile from your reserve and add it to your Alhambra. You may also take one tile off your Alhambra and move it to your reserve. Remember there is no limit of tiles for your reserve.

The last way you may redesign your Alhambra is by exchanging a tile from the reserve with a tile already in the Alhambra. The reserve tile must go in the exact spot.

At the end of your turn remember to replenish both the building tiles and the currency cards.


There are a total of three scoring rounds in Alhambra. The first two occur when the scoring cards are drawn from the pile of currency cards. The last takes place at the end of the game.

When the first scoring card is drawn the scoring round takes place. Players look at their Alhambra and determine who has the most of each of the building types. Each building type is worth a different amount of points so follow the scoring card to determine how many each building type is worth. Players may also check their own scoring card throughout the game. These points are recorded on the scorning track. IF players have the same amount the points are equally divided between them (rounding down). Next, players count the length of their longest wall and score one point per length.

During the second round players score points for having the most of each type of building and also for having the second highest number of buildings of each type. Walls are also scored again.

During the third scoring round first and second highest number of each building type receive points as before. Now the player with the third highest amount also receives points. And again, walls are scored. In all rounds building still in reserve do not count for the total.

End of Game:

The game ends when there are not enough building tiles to fill up the market up at the end of a players turn. When this happens the tiles from the market are given to the player who has the most money of that currency type. If two players tie no one gets the tile. Players may place these tiles in their Alhambra and the third scoring round starts.

The player with most victory points at the end of the game is the winner!

Special Two Player Rules:

Alhambra includes some special rules for playing with two players. First, you only put three of each money card so you are only using 72 money cards. You also have Dirk, the imaginary third player. (Dirk is the name of the designer by the way). Dirk does not build an Alhambra but does collect building tiles. He starts the game with six random tiles and is awarded points during each scoring round. He does not receive any points for his wall. After the first scoring round Dirk is given six more tiles. After the second scoring round Dirk is given a third of the remaining tiles.

Players are also given the option to give a building tile to Dirk instead of placing it in their reserve or in their Alhambra.

My Thoughts:

Alhambra is a very thoughtful game. You will find yourself trying to envision the best layout of your Alhambra to score the most points for your wall; looking at the other players Alhambra to determine who is in the lead for each building type; checking your currency; and the building tiles in the market place. Then you will also be checking the score card to see which building score the most points and trying to tally your score to help you decide on your next move. This isn't a game where you can just randomly take tiles and place them in your Alhambra. You will not win and most likely will be left far behind. But at the same time Alhambra is not a heavy game. You can still have a conversation with the other players and enjoy the game.

The game itself isn't as beautiful as the real Alhambra. But the artwork is attractive and detailed. I prefer the components of the Anniversary Edition because of the game board and the lion fountains.

I mostly play this game as a two player game with my husband and its nice to have Dirk along. He is pretty easy to keep track of and doesn't take anything away from the game play. I do feel he gets too many building tiles to start the game out and I'm find myself trailing him from time to time, but I have never lost to Dirk. We usually don't take advantage of being able to give Dirk extra tiles, it would probably make me mad if my husband did that! Well, not really. Dirk does make since in the two player game and of course it allows me to place this wonderful game.

Quick Stats:

Designer: Dirk Henn
Artists:Jorg Asselborn, Jo Hartwig, Christof Tisch
Number of Players: 2-6
Play Time: 60 minutes
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Subscribe sub options Tue Jan 17, 2012 4:29 am
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