Martin Manning
Australia
Adelaide
South Australia
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My first post on the BGG forums :)

This is sort of a session report that has elements of a review, but towards the end I start discussing a possible variant to the 5 or 6 player game, so rather than pretend this fits under one of those three headings, I figured I'd best just file this under "general".

This was our first time playing Alhambra with any of the expansions. We've played the basic game several times with 2 to 4 players, but only once with 5 players. Playing the basic game with 5 players, one often feels like there are no good choices; it is almost impossible to plan/strategise, and one is left with simply buying whatever tiles one can, as soon as one can. We decided that this time, we'd try a 5 player game with some of the expansions mixed in, hoping that the extra options would provide more opportunities/room for strategy.

We have expansions 1 & 4 (Alhambra: The Vizier's Favor, and Alhambra: The Treasure Chamber), and decided to include 3 mini-expansions from each: The Vizier's Favour, Bureau de Change, and Builder's Huts from #1, and Treasure Chamber, Master Builders, and Bazaars from #4.

The Vizier's Favour got used quite a bit in the early game, but after the second scoring round, nobody was willing to skip an action to recharge it. Partly, I think this was because people were concentrating on maximizing their scores in other ways, and partly, a run of bad money cards (hard to pay exact amount) and awkward building tiles would have made it both difficult and undesirable to use the favour. Nevertheless, this expansion worked well, particularly with its first use being free, this can help get that one much needed tile - sometimes!

The Bureau de Change cards worked okay. I think the large number of players meant that at the best of times, the choice of good/strategic decisions was miserable. Players took the exchange cards when there was nothing else worthwhile, hoping they would eventually be useful (and they did all get used eventually), but they were never all that interesting. I had half expected to see some nifty tricks, such as taking an exchange card, and then immediately playing the Vizier's Favour to buy a must-have tile of a different currency to what the player has been collecting - this never eventuated. I suspect in a game with fewer players and more good choices, this expansion would have more of an impact.

The builder's huts actually proved to be more popular than I had expected, with the exception of the colour-blind player, who simply could not use them. The stars that are printed on the regular tiles mean colour differentiation is not a problem, but those stars are absent on the builder's hut tiles. A couple of the newer players seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the all the extra rules, and I expected that they would avoid using the builder's huts due to the added complexity in scoring. And in some way they did. Most players used the maximum three builder's huts, but in most cases, the tiles were placed not to score extra buildings, but simply to free up space for placing other tiles. This was unexpected to say the least, however when I think about it, this makes perfect sense, considering the high demand for useful tiles in a 5 player game.

The treasure chamber was another expansion that did not work well for our colour-blind player. The colour of the wooden chests is slightly different to that printed on the tiles, and this makes a world of difference to him. Every time it was his turn, we had to tell him which chests he could use, and which chest would be passed on (and to whom). I don't think we'd use this expansion again if he plays. Apart from that however, this was a simple expansion that added a bit of fun. In the last scoring round, buying chests became very popular. The fact that you can use any combination of currency to pay for the chests makes this a good option when there is nothing else to do, and in the late game, when people are thinking about maximizing their score, this was a far more popular option than recharging the vizier's favour.

The master builder cards never got much use - I think only one player actually played the gard to gain an additional rennovate action. Again, I think this is due to the nature of the 5 player game. Demand is so high for the regular tiles that most players spend their master builder cards long before they would use them to rennovate - sometimes, players used the master builder to buy a building without even paying the exact amount.

Lastly, the Bazaars were a bit hit-and-miss. Our colour-blind player felt it was too difficult to make out the colours and decided not to use them. There were three un-purchased bazaars left at the end of the game, and one or two were bought purely as a means to expand building placement options, but at least two of the players managed to use their bazaars very effectively.

Overall, while the game was enjoyable enough, I had hoped that the addition of several expansions would give players more good choices, but this wasn't the case. Sure, there were plenty of choices, but no-one ever felt the choices they made were doing anything more than just getting by.

I think the real problem with Alhambra when playing with 5 or 6 players is that there just aren't enough building tiles. It leads to a completely different play style from the 3 player game; players will overpay for tiles out of desparation, and the short-term need to have ANY tiles prevents any sort of long-term planning. Also, because players get fewer turns, they are much less willing to spend several turns rennovating their city, and tend to just work with what they've got on the table. I think the best solution would be to add a 7th and 8th building colour/type when playing with 5 or 6 players. This would enable players to try and specialize in a few colours, and provide scope for much more strategy, rather than the "grab whatever you can get your hands on" style of play that currently spoils this game with more than 3 or 4 players. Now that I think of it, Zooloretto (another SDJ winner that scales much more effectively) uses this same technique - more animal choices for more players, and it works really well.

I think all the expansions we used are good, and we'll use them again to add some variety to a 3 player game, but they don't do enough to fix the 5 player game.
 
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Gordon Stewart
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Excellent topic and thoughtful comments.
Curious to know the best expansions to use
per number of players.
I have one friend who will never play Alhambra
with 4 P; but I find Vizier allows jumping in
and makes 4P fun. With 6 you could split into two 3P games.
Be interested to hear if there is an optimum combo for 5.
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