After the success, or at least the sales, of the first box of mini-expansions for the SdJ winning Alhambra, Queen kept up the production engines and produced a second box. The City gates is a mini-expansion from the box of the same name, also found in the Alhambra Big Box compendium.
One of the key gameplay features is dealing with the city walls that appear on the cheaper tiles, both trying to form a long continuous outer wall and being frustrated by the placement rules that restrict how wall tiles can be placed. The city gates expansion adds just a touch more flexibility to this process.
Components and Gameplay
The City Gates is the wooden component of the boxed "City Gates" expansion pack for Alhambra. It seems typical that the cover-name expansion gets the interesting wooden pieces, now. The expansion contains 6 eastern-themed wooden gates gate pieces and 6 cards representing the gates which form part of the money deck of the game.
At the start of the game, the 6 city gates cards are shuffled into the middle part of the money deck ready for draw. The wooden gate pieces are left next to the board as as supply.
During the game, when the money cards are refreshed, if one of the gate cards is revealed, it is laid out face up next to the money cards (which is then refilled to 4 as normal). If a gate care is already available face up, the new card is discarded.
There is also an additional action that can be done during the turn, in addition to buying tiles or picking up money, which is taking the face up city gates card and one of the wooden gates from supply.
Using one of the city gates doesn't take an additional turn, instead they are consumed as part of tile laying. Alhambra permits tiles to be laid so that two adjacent wall sides are laid side by side, but does not permit a wall side to be laid next to an open side. Typically, the most annoying placement restriction when using a double-wall lay is that pedestrians still have to be able to walk between the central fountain and the new tile and they can't walk through wall. The city gate piece, changes all that!
The city gate piece is placed on the edges of two tiles which have back-to-back walls and permits pedestrians to walk through (and presumably to get to the new tiles). One twist is that the gate is permanent, once played neither of the two tiles it sits on can be moved again during the game.
It's nice to see an expansion which looks at the tile laying interactions rather than concentrating on scoring or money (as many of the others do). I do find that it's quite often the case that a player's boxed-in Alhambra needs a few extra tiles laid out to one side. This provides a relatively simple and straight-forward way of achieving this.
This is a nicely balanced expansion, obtaining the city gates pieces costs a turn, and actually using one of them to place a tile is very likely to punch a hole in your longest wall segment (and it's by no means easy to build around to get that back again) which provides suitable disincentive to use them wastefully. For all that, the expansion provides a nice way to make better use of those cheap tiles with too many walls for their own good on them, and making good use of those is a pretty key part of the game.
Like pretty much all the Alhambra expansions, I wouldn't suggest this is something to toss into a beginner game, but after even a few games, the pain of not being able to place tiles that can't be walked to should convince everyone that this small compromise can add some helpful flavour to the game. A good expansion.
I've created a Geeklist of all the Alhambra expansions including community polls on which are the most essential mini-expansions.