Last year’s Spiel des Jahres should have hit our gaming table long ago but I shied away from buying it as I already had Stimmt So, on which Alhambra is based, and questioned whether it was that different from the earlier versions. Having now played it, I believe it is a big step up from what was already a good game and thoroughly deserves the SdJ accolade.
The game is about developing your village by purchasing buildings of different types and placing them in such a way as to enhance the value of the village. Many of the buildings also contain a stretch of city wall, which when connected to other walls add to your city’s value. There are four different markets which each offer one building for sale at a time. Each market only accepts one of four types of currency, so you have to obtain the right currency and in sufficient amount to be able to purchase the buildings. On your turn, there are three choices: firstly, you can take money cards from the four that are available at any one time: either multiple cards up to a total value of 5 or one single card of any value. Secondly, you can buy and erect a building. If you are able to pay the exact amount for a building, you may repeat a choice; otherwise your turn ends and no change is given for the overpayment. There are certain restrictions on how you build so it might sometimes be necessary to place a building in your reserve and later make use of the final choice, which is to rearrange your buildings. However, this should be avoided if possible as it means you forego one of the more direct and beneficial options. There are three scoring rounds: two rounds apply when a scoring card is drawn from the draw deck of money cards. The final scoring takes place when one of the markets is unable to offer a building for sale due to the building stock having been exhausted. In the first round, points are awarded to those who have built the most buildings of each type at the time of scoring. In the second round, first and second place in each building type receive points and, at the end of the game, the first three in each type get rewarded. Also, in each scoring round, every player receives VPs for their longest stretch of city wall, which spells out the importance of careful construction of buildings to try and extend your city wall.
In our game, things seemed to fall perfectly for me. I took a chance early on by building 6 walls, cutting off my expansion in two directions completely. However, I managed to jump in to get helpful tiles and continued my wall-building programme. I concentrated on two or three building typesand ignored one or two completely. Mark K took to accumulating a huge stash of money cards and we were expecting a couple of major spending rounds from him at some point. However, this never happened because he claimed the cards were always of the wrong value. The low value money cards are very helpful in giving some flexibility and he seemed to be missing these. Nige, as usual, had some difficulty with the spatial awareness aspect of this game, and this resulted in him wasting time re-arranging his Alhambra and this cost him dear. However, no-one was surprised when my 17 piece wall allowed me to surge to a comfortable victory.
Alhambra is excellent (and not just because I won). I have enjoyed Stimmt So whenever I’ve played it, but it is a bit dry, and adding the tile building aspect gives an extra layer to Alhambra that works very well. This is one that should see quite a bit of play. I’m keen to see whether a full complement of six players works as well as the game did with four.
Players Result Ratings
Garry 128 8
Nige 93 8
Mark G 84 8
Mark K 68 8