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Subject: Alhambra: The Card Game - A Detailed Review rss

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Mr T.
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May 2018 be all you dreamed it would be and be all that you dreamed...

Image Courtesy of W Eric Martin

This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.


Game Type - Card Game
Play Time: 15-25 minutes
Number of Players: 2-6
Mechanics - Set Collection
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in under 10 minutes)
Components - Good
Release - 1992

Designer - Dirk Henn - (All things Alhambra, Atlantic Star, Colonia, Eketorp, Granada, Metro, Rosenkonig, Shogun/Wallenstein, Show Manager, Speculation, Timbuktu)

Overview and Theme

Alhambra is a family game that I really enjoy with its set-collection and tile placement mechanisms. But it has become something of a franchise in the late 2000s as all manner of versions and spin-off ideas have been published.

This the card game version is no exception although it is worth noting that the original design harks back to 1992 in the form of Al Capone and has now been adapted to the Alhambra theme.

This review will try to keep the basics of Alhambra to a minimum and I suggest you check out my Detailed Review of the parent game here -

Alhambra - A Detailed Review

What I really want to do here is cover the play very briefly and focus more on the differences and what (if any merit) this adaptation has.

Let's check it out...


The Components

Prepare for minimalisation people (which isn't always a bad thing)...

d10-1 Building Cards - As the name would suggest, the game is pretty much cards. The Building Cards basically replace the tiles from the original game. They feature the same colours, illustrations and I assume costs (I'm not getting too deep here) as the original.

The only thing different is the name of some of the building types. Well they are different to my early 2000s edition, perhaps they have been brought into line with more recent print runs? Either way it is no biggie.

Like the Money Cards of the base game there is no matte/linen finish for the cards, which I always find inexcusable...especially in a game like this which would cost very little to produce. But the original game doesn't feature this quality standard either so I guess it was too much to ask for.

Image Courtesy of EnigmaProphet

d10-2 Money Cards - The Money Cards are an exact replica of the cards found in the parent title. For those not familiar the game offers up 4 types of money in 4 colours, that range in value from 1-9.

Image Courtesy of EnigmaProphet

d10-3 Scoring Cards - The game only offers up 1 Scoring Card that summarises the 3 rounds of scoring and how many points are on offer.

The 1st and 2nd scoring rounds are represented by an 'A' and 'B' card. I really don't know what they do better than having the original scoring Summary Cards but they work just as well I guess.

Image Courtesy of EnigmaProphet

d10-4 Construction Yard - The original game uses a Marketplace Board to hold the tiles. Here this is replaced with a horizontal Construction Yard Template. The template shows the four types of currencies and an indent against each coin allows for the 4 Building Cards to be placed.

This is quite a good solution and the template comes in two parts that are joined together in jigsaw-like fashion. For me though the template requires the oversized box, when I think a better solution would have been to simply include 4 coins of each colour and the Building Cards could have simply been placed below each coin. That would have allowed the game to fit into a box of about one-third of the size.

Image Courtesy of EnigmaProphet

d10-5 Rules - Like many a Queen Games release, here a variety of rules booklets are provided in multiple languages.

The rules themselves are well written and up to the usual quality.

Image Courtesy of EnigmaProphet

For me the components on offer here are pretty good but the lack of a matte/linen finish and the unnecessary large box are both wasted opportunities. Because there is no scoring track, the players need to simply record their scores on paper.


The set-up is exactly the same for the card game as it is for the original game. Each player is dealt Money Cards until they have a total of 20 or higher.

Four Building Cards are dealt to the Construction Yard and 4 Money Cards are dealt to the table ready for the taking.

The remaining Money Cards are dealt into 5 piles and the Scoring A and B cards are inserted at random into the 2nd and 4th piles. The piles are then added together to create the money deck.

The player who was dealt the lowest number of cards starts the game.

The Play

I could summarise the play of the Card Game by stating that it is exactly like the original game without the tile placement and the construction of walls. But that would be a little lazy. So for those unfamiliar with the base game I will cover it in brief here. If you would like more detail please refer to my review link above and at the end of this review.

A player has only 2 options on any given turn -

d10-1 Take Money - A player can take a money card from those on offer and add it to their hand. Multiple cards can be taken if the total is equal to 5 or less.

There is no hand limit and any cards taken are replaced at the end of the player's turn. The more that Money Cards are taken, the closer the deck gets to revealing a Scoring Card.

d10-2 Buy a Building Card - The other option is to buy a Building Card. A player must pay at least the value shown on a building in the currency denoted by the coin at the given location on the Construction Yard.

A player is able to pay more than the total required (if they don’t have the exact total) but this will end their turn. The purchased card is added to their collection of cards and a new card is drawn from the Building Card Deck to replace it.

d10-3 Paying Exact Cost - Should a player manage to pay the exact cost of a building with the correct money, they gain a bonus action. This can be used to buy another building or to take a Money Card or cards instead.

In this way a player can buy as many as 4 Building Cards in the one turn but any cards purchased are never replaced until the end of a player's turn.

d10-4 Scoring - The game allows for scoring to occur 3 times in the game. The first two scoring rounds are triggered when the A and B cards are revealed from the Money Deck.

In Scoring Round A only the player with the most buildings in each colour will score. In Scoring Round B both 1st and 2nd majorities earn points and the final scoring offers points to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. This round is triggered when there are no more Building Cards to completely refill the Construction Yard.

In this way the Card Game reveals itself as simply a Set Collection Card Game with one or two Alhambra rules added to the mix.

The 2-Player Game

The 2-player game is pretty similar but there are a couple of important differences.

The first change is the money deck. One of each denomination is removed, leaving 2 of each card to form a 72 card deck. This is essentially thinning the money deck by one-third to prevent the game from outstaying its welcome.

Then like the parent game, a dummy player called Dirk is used. At the start of the game Dirk is dealt 6 Building Cards, which the players must now deal with if they are to score the points offered for each building type.

After the 1st scoring, Dirk is dealt another 6 cards to boost his card totals. After the 2nd scoring, Dirk is dealt one-third of the remaining Building Cards (rounded down). This is a really good addition as it means the players really cannot afford to card hoard too much because the more buildings that remain at the 2nd scoring, the more buildings will find their way to Dirk (i.e. Dirk is able to score points if he has the most buildings in a given colour).

Then there is one last addition, which can make the game a little more strategic than it otherwise might have been. When a player acquires a Building Card they have the option to give it to Dirk rather than keep it for themselves.

In the early game this is unlikely to happen as the players are fighting for control of as many buildings (or high scoring colours) as possible. But as the game approaches the mid to endgame it is quite possible for a player to be too far behind their opponent. In this case they may find that Dirk is only one card behind their opponent and by buying that last card in a colour and giving it to Dirk they can force a draw at scoring time and force the points to be split between the two. This is of course a win-win for a player if they couldn't fight for the top points anyway. devil

Much like the original game, I find the 2-player format here engaging. I will always prefer to play Alhambra with 3-4 players but I am quite happy to play with two if that is the only option.

The Final Word

Alhambra: The Card Game can be viewed in a few different ways depending on one's personal preferences. Initially it may come across as a little cynical. Do we really need a derivative of the original? Not really as all this really ends up being is a set collection game and there are many better titles on the market that are more engaging than this. For me personally the removal of the tile laying and visual/spatial placement rules is a loss rather than an improvement and doesn't make for a better game than the original.

The reality is of course that we live in a time when companies will happily recycle a successful idea if it can make a dollar (may I introduce New York, the Netherlands/Belgium editions of this very version and Granada).

Personally I really don't feel that I need this implementation when I have the original in my collection.

But there are some points to make in the positive column for the game.

First is that the game is likely to appeal to anyone that finds the visual/spatial aspect and wall construction/scoring of the game a little overwhelming. Any gamers reading this will of course scoff (and I'm with you...I mean how light is too light?) but I can think of aunts and grandparents or simply non-gamers that would engage with the simplicity of the card game more than the original concept. This in turn could help a traditional card game player to discover something different and in time it may lead them to Alhambra proper.

Then there is the reduced time factor. There is no doubt that some of the time needed to play the original game comes from the players considering which tiles they need from the market and trying to visualise how they will fit into their growing design. Indeed, sometimes players can be forced to take money and wait for tiles because the market offers tiles that simply won't fit into their current structure. Time is also saved by not having to worry about reserve tiles and the extra option of restructuring.

With these considerations stripped away the play time for the card game can be reduced by 5-10 minutes per player. My girlfriend and I were knocking 2-player games out in 20-25 minutes and I could see 3-4 player games taking no more than 30-35 minutes at the most. At that length I think the game offers a pretty good time.

So that's it really. Alhambra: the Card Game doesn't try to be anything more than what you would expect. If you can pick it up cheaply enough and don't have the original then it might be a good title in your collection. If you already have a few good set collection games or you have the original and find it light already, then you definitely don't need this.

Till next we meet, may I got nothin'! laugh

Review Links

For a full list of my 300+ reviews in a search-able Geeklist -

My Review Geeklist for Easy Reference

Or for a direct look and greater analysis of the parent game -

Alhambra - A Detailed Review
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Kenny Owens
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Nice review Neil. I just picked this up used for $10 US. My son's 8 and 10 are getting more and more active in our gaming and I thought this would be a good way to teach them the bidding mechanic without having to worry about the tile placement. Particularly having to have the path lead back to the fountain and the wall scoring. That said I don't think we will play this more than 2 or 3 times to get them to that point, and they will come in to the main game with a clear understanding of the market place and how to optimize purchases to allow for another action.
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Gene Chiu
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I may consider getting this to bring on a trip. I played the original Alhambra. This version looks like a more travel friendly version that my non-gamer family may find interesting.
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