I have become my own island state. A ravaged, war-torn land where nothing grows and the horizons are bleak.
The wife and I sat down for our first playing of Alhambra. I just picked up the German edition for about $10. We played a 2-player game.
My first impressions of the game are great. I love the design and artwork. The components and design are top notch. My German edition came with an English set of rules (not just photocopy, but an actual, glossy ruleset). We read through the rules and everything was very clear. Many games take 2-3 reads through the rules then a playing or practice round or two, but Alhambra rules are simple and clear.
So, off we went. I had the fewest money cards in the beginning (though I had the most money), so I got to go first. Right away we were trying to pay with exact change to get extra turns. We found that we used exact change a little less than 50% of the time. So, we tried to use exact, but would also overpay for some purchases just to keep building. If you wait for exact change every time, you may lose ground. It seems like you lose turns by just picking up money in order to get that one extra turn. So, exact change is nice when you have it, but not necessary (I don’t think).
Since, it was our first playing, we had no idea of the pacing of the game. We were both a little surprised when the first scoring round came up. I was ready for it, but it did feel like it came sooner than expected. Kelly got caught with tiles on her reserve board that she could have played. Once we get a better vibe of game pace, we will probably not get caught so unaware. We were tied at the end of the 1st scoring round.
Dirk (the non-human 3rd player) stocked up on brown and white buildings. Kelly bought 2 browns and 2 whites during the first round. After Dirk got his tiles before the 2nd round, he had 4 brown and 3 white. So, in this case Dirk was hurting Kelly, but not me. I had plenty of purple and green (the 2 highest valued buildings) and Kelly and Dirk only had 1 of each.
In round 2 we hit stride—buying tiles, picking up money, rearranging our Alhambras. We felt comfortable with the game mechanics. I continued to stock up on purple and green as well as a few of the each of the other colors. We ended 2nd round scoring with me up by about 6-8.
During the 3rd round, Kelly felt that I was running away with the game. This being the first playing, I did not play with much strategy. I bought what I could and used exact change when I could. I did not pay much attention as to which color the building was. I just bought whatever I could. Kelly said she put some thought into trying to pull ahead in certain colors (a strategy I am sure is standard once one is familiar with the game).
Despite Kelly’s prediction and consequent disheartened defeatist comments, she won the game. In the end, she pulled ahead in green and a few other colors.
My first impression of this game is very strong. It has some drafting elements (a la St. Petersburg) that I am very fond of right now. It also has tile-laying elements (a la Carcassonne) that is less complicated but much more fresh than Carcassonne. This game does suffer a little from the common complaints that it is multi-player solitaire, but in this case I’m not so sure it detracts from the game. There is enough competition as far as buying buildings of certain colors before you opponent and taking money of certain currencies before your opponent. It is not entirely solitaire. This is, to date, the best $10 game I ever purchased and one of the top 10 games (of my admittedly small collection).