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Subject: Father-daughter review of Alhambra rss

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Lorin Silver
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This is the third in a series of reviews of board games that I have played with my 10-year-old daughter. After playing the game, I’ll write the review, and then I’ll read it to her and add any comments she has.
This time we are joined by my oldest daughter (12) Brianna.



Every month I take my daughters Shannon and Brianna to a local board gaming club (De Bokkensprong in Beveren). This is a family-oriented club: grown-ups can play a board game with their kids, or the adults can play a more complicated game together while the young ones have fun playing an easier game.

This time we started off playing a few games of Dixit, and then we tried playing Forbidden Desert with five players (a LOT more difficult than the two-player game, check out my other review on BBG).

Shannon: Way more difficult, you can say that again!

Later that evening we set out to find a game to play among the three of us, and Shannon suggested trying out Alhambra. We hadn’t played this game yet, although we had played the card game once.

Brianna: Actually I wasn’t in the mood to play Alhambra.

Me: Why not?

Brianna: It was getting late; I wanted to go home, really.


The game

The players have to show off their skill in building a new Alhambra, for the Grand Vizier I guess.

Shannon: What’s a Grand Vizier?

Me (after looking it up): It’s like a prime minister for the king.


An Alhambra is a complex of gardens, palaces, towers… And to build these, the players hire the best builders from the four corners of the world. But everybody wants to be paid in their own currency!

Shannon: And what’s a currency?

Me: Well what do you think?

Shannon: Does it mean they want to be paid in their own city?

Brianna: Or does it mean you have to pay exact change?

Me: No no, currency just means the sort of money your country uses, like dollars, pounds, euros,...

Brianna & Shannon: Ahhhh…


There are always 5 money cards visible (in one of four colors), and 4 buildings (there are 6 types), each one a colored square.
When it’s your turn, you have three options. You could take a money card worth 1 to 9 points in the currency of that color. You can choose to take one of the five visible cards, or draw a blind card from the stack. If there are several cards that add up to 5 or less, you can take them all.

Brianna: This hardly ever happened!



A second option is to buy a building. You have to pay at least the amount that’s on the building card, with money cards that have the same color as the square that the building is on. If you manage to pay exact change, you gain an extra turn.
The buildings you buy have to connect to the buildings in your Alhambra: a wall has to be built against another wall, and an opening has to be put next to another opening. Also, you have to be able to reach the new building from your starting tile.

Brianna: I had the longest wall..

Me: That’s very interesting, but we’re not getting to that part yet. Hang on, I thought I had the longest wall!

Shannon: No, Brianna’s was one longer.


The third and final option is to move a building to or from your spare buildings (or switch them). This could be handy if you have locked yourself in somehow, or if you’re trying to extend your outside wall (see below).

Shannon: Wait, does that mean you have to use a turn to switch buildings?

Me: Yes, you can’t just do that whenever you want. If you want to exchange a building or place one from your reserve into your Alhambra, you can no longer buy a new building or take a money card.

Shannon: And it’s one turn per tile?

Me: Right, if you want to place two buildings form your reserve, it’ll take you two turns.

Shannon: That’s stupid!

Me: Well, otherwise everybody could just put all the buildings into their reserve, and then build everything at the very last moment.


Twice during the game and once at the very end, you check who has the highest scores in every building color. You also get points for your longest outer wall. Whoever has the highest score at the end (when all building cards have run out), wins the game.

Brianna: I came in last…

Me: We’ll get to that later, this part is for explaining the rules.


Gameplay

It didn’t take long to set up the game. Hand out cards, put the two in-game score cards at the right place in the stack of money cards, and off we go!

Shannon: You’d put them all at the bottom of the stack!

Me: Hold on, I’ll mention that later in the review.


The rules weren’t too complicated, and it didn’t take long to pick up the pace. I was trying to grab as many different money cards as I could, and only buy buildings if I could pay the exact amount and get an extra turn. Brianna and Shannon also bought buildings if they could use them, even if they have to pay more for them.



A short while into the game, we started to notice that the money cards hadn’t been shuffled very well: too many cards of the same color followed each other. So I got the genius idea to shuffle the cards…

Brianna: Super genius!

After a while the game started to drag on a little and the girls asked me how long it would take for a score card to appear. Over half the money cards had been used! And then it hit me… I’d shuffled the cards, forgetting that the score cards had been put at set places in the stack! As it happened, they’d both ended up near the bottom of the stack!

Shannon: And that’s why it took so long for us to score any points! We all stayed at zero!

I had to rectify my error (the first score card was played immediately, the second one was put in the middle of the remaining cards), and then we could finally score points for the first time.
Brianna was trailing behind a little, while Shannon and I were about even. I had a very long outer wall, while Shannon had the better buildings.



The game stayed exciting, with a little begging now and then (“No, please don’t buy THAT building!”)…

Brianna: I KNEW you were going to put that in your review!

Shannon: We weren’t REALLY begging!

Brianna: Actually we were.


…and in the end it was Shannon who won. During the final scoring the buildings are worth a lot more points than the outer wall, and that’s what did me in.

Shannon: Winning wasn’t easy!

Conclusion

The theme of Arabian palaces should captivate the minds of the players… and yet I found it hard to be inspired. We weren’t really master builders trying to build a grand Alhambra, we weren’t attempting to build the highest towers or the most overwhelming gardens, and we weren’t really hiring the best craftsmen from the furthest corners of the real, enticing them to show off their skills.
No, we were simply players trying to buy colored cards with the number cards we’d drawn, then trying to fit those cards into the puzzle in front of us.

Brianna: I agree!

I don’t know if it was us, but we just couldn’t get into the right atmosphere. That doesn’t mean we weren’t having fun; when I play chess, I’m not imagining that my knight on his horse is attacking a bishop.

Brianna: That would be fun though!

But still…

The game was fairly enjoyable, but I started to get the feeling that it wasn’t all that varied. Of course my error with the score cards didn’t help!

Shannon: And all the buildings of the same color looked exactly the same.

A lot of expansions are available though, and I’d like to play it with one or several of those expansions next time.

Shannon: Like?

Me: I don’t know by heart, but some expansions probably give you extra types of buildings that can do something special, other expansions have special rules and new cards to use… In any case, there are a lot of different things.



Brianna: That sounds a lot more fun!


For now I’m giving it 6.5 out of 10, but I’m willing to review my opinion and give it a higher score at a later date.

Shannon: I think it deserves 8 out of 10. They could give you more turns, because you can’t do all that much in one turn, except if you pay exact change. I also thought the game lasted a bit too long.

Me: But you still think it scores 8 out of 10? Then what DID you like about it?

Shannon: It was kinda fun to play…

Brianna: I give Alhambra 6 out of 10. There wasn’t anything special to do, really. It could use some extras, and if you want them you have to buy an expansion.

Me: The good thing is: if you buy an expansion box, it contains several expansions. Like the first expansion box has four different expansion in it. Then you can choose to use one or more of those additional tiles, rules, etc. or all at once.

Brianna: I still think they should have included all of those extras in the basic game.

Want to read more father-daughter reviews?
Check out our Geeklist!
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I love this review format! And it's a good review of the game - I don't disagree with any of your criticisms, although some of them are part of the game design. For example, it's very deliberate that you need to balance the shopping spree of paying exact change with paying extra to get exactly what you need when it comes up, although one of the expansions softens that a little by letting you draw a chip worth 1 of a random currency for every 2 that you overpay for something by. I do agree that it would be nice to be able to play more than one tile from your reserve at a time, and especially to be able to do that when someone's triggered game end.

I've played with a few of the expansions, and none of them are amazingly awesome but many of them add a single nifty mechanic - like getting change when you overpay, or the Vizier's Favour which occasionally lets you jump in and buy something out-of-turn if you can pay exact money, or the scoring tiles which change the pattern of which buildings are worth points. Otherwise, it's still a bit dry.

Also, technically the original Alhambra was built in Spain, not Arabia. But it's a mistake everyone makes (including me!) because it was a Moorish palace and so has a very "Arab" look to it.
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Lorin Silver
Belgium
Nieuwkerken-Waas
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Thanks for the comment! I'm glad you like the review format and hope you enjoy my previous father-daughter reviews as well.
I've been asked a few times if I write the review, "pretending" that they're commenting on what I write. In fact, it actually happens the way I write it. I start by writing a full review, read it out loud, and add all the comments they make.

I already bought two expansions, they're hidden away in my daughters' "birthday present cupboard"... I'm sure they'll make the game more enjoyable!
And thanks for setting me straight about the Alhambra being in Spain, I never would have guessed that.
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Alison Mandible
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It's surprising just how much information about the 'feel' of the game comes through in the dialogue! I like your review style.
 
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