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Subject: Alhambra Review rss

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Mitch Willis
United States
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Alhambra is a tile laying game that is a re-themed and revised version of Stimmt So. It’s designed by Dirk Henn and published by Queen Games. It did quite well in the 2003 gaming awards, winning the Spiel des Jahres and the As D’or, while finishing 2nd in the Deutscher Spiele Preis. The premise of the game is to collect more victory points than your opponent by building your Alhambra with the most valuable components.

Out of the Box
Along with multi-lingual rules, Alhambra comes with 6 starting tiles, 54 building tiles (with 6 different building types), 1 building market board, 1 score board, 12 wooden counters (in 6 colors), 108 money cards (showing 4 different currencies), 2 scoring cards, 6 reserve boards, and 1 bag (for the building tiles).

Alhambra is listed as for 2 to 6 players. Special rules are included for 2 players, but the standard rules seem to scale very well with from 3 to 5, while with 6 it’s a bit more chaotic and you can run short of tiles fairly quickly. Playing time is listed from 45 minutes to an hour. The majority of our games have taken about an hour. As in many designer games, the theme is not essential to the game; in fact, as stated previously, this is a re-themed version of Stimmt So, which had a stock market background. However, the card and tile art are very nicely done and complement the Arabian theme well.

The building market board is placed in the center of the table with the score board nearby. Each player take a reserve board, a starting tile and 2 wooden counters of the same color. The starting tile is place face-up in his playing area; 1 wooden counter is placed on this tile while the matching counter is placed on the starting point of the score board. Fill the bag with the 54 building tiles and mix the tiles; remove the 2 scoring cards from the deck and shuffle the remaining cards. Draw 4 tiles from the bag and place them on the 4 currency spaces (florins, dirhams, denars, ducats) on the market board.

For starting money, for each player deal one card at a time face-up and add its value (each card is numbered 1 thru 9) to the previous cards regardless of currency. Once the total value is 20 or over, the player will pick up those cards and that will be the money he/she begins the game with. After each player has their money, make a draft area next to the market board by dealing 4 money cards face up. Take the remaining deck of money cards and divide them evenly into 5 piles; shuffle the first scoring card into the second pile and the second scoring card into the fourth pile. Form the draw deck by stacking the piles on top of one another in descending order (fifth pile on the bottom, first pile on top). Place the draw deck to the side of the market board. The player who received the fewest money cards (not necessarily the least amount of money) will begin the game.

Game Play
During your turn, you may do 1 of 3 things: take money, buy and place building tiles, or redesign your own Alhambra. To take money, you simply select any 1 of the face-up money cards from the draft pile. However, you may take more than 1 money card if the total value of those cards, regardless of currency, is not greater than 5. For example, if the draft pile consists of cards valuing 1, 3, 6, and 9, you could draw either the 9, or the 6, or both the 3 and the 1 into your hand.

To buy 1 of the 4 buildings from the market board, you have to pay at least the value listed on the building tile in the currency of the space that the tile resides. For example, if you want to buy a tower that has a value of 11 and it resides in space #4 (ducats), you’d need to discard ducat money cards that equals or exceeds 11. There is no change; if all you have is a 6 ducat card and a 7 ducat card, if you wanted that card it’d effectively cost you 13 ducats. If you are able to pay the exact cost of the tile, you may take another turn. So, it is possible (but not highly likely) for you to take 5 turns back-to-back (buying 4 tiles at exact cost and either taking money or redesigning). Once you buy a tile, you may either add it to your Alhambra or put it on your reserve board.

To redesign your Alhambra, you can do one of several things. You can add a tile from your reserve board to your Alhambra. Or you may take a tile from your Alhambra and place it on your reserve board. Or, finally, you can exchange a tile between your Alhambra and reserve board; however, the reserve tile must go into the same space as the replaced tile. Normal building rules must be followed.

Play continues clockwise in the same fashion until the game ends.

Building Your Alhambra
There are some basic rules you have to follow when building your Alhambra. First, all building tiles must have the same orientation (i.e., all roofs must point upwards). Next, each tile must border with at least one other tile (not diagonally only); however no “holes” are allowed (no empty space surrounded by tiles). Also, the borders of all adjacent tiles must match (i.e., walls to walls). Finally, each new building tile must be reachable from the starting tile without going through walls and/or without completely leaving the tiles.

Scoring and End of Game
Scoring is accomplished 3 times throughout the game. Scoring is first done when the first scoring card appears from the money card deck. During this first scoring phase, points are awarded for who has the most of a particular type of building. There are 6 types of buildings with Towers being the most valuable and Pavilions being the least valuable. Whoever has the most of each type has their color’s scoring token advanced the number of victory point spaces on the score board that the scoring card designates. You also get VPs depending upon the length of the outer wall of your Alhambra; for the longest contiguous outer wall piece, you get 1 VP per wall section. The second scoring phase starts when the second scoring card appears. Scoring is done exactly as it was during the first scoring phase except that you now also get points for having the second most tiles for each type of building.

The game ends when you no longer have enough building tiles to fill the market board. When this occurs, you have one last scoring phase. This final phase is scored exactly like the second scoring phase except that you also get third place points for each building type. The player with the most total VPs wins the game.

Seeing as Alhambra involves both drawing cards and tiles, there is a certain amount of luck involved in the game. However, I don’t get the feeling that the luck factor is overwhelming; there’s a good deal of decision making in the game as well and I think that can counterbalance the luck element somewhat.

The first decision you have to make is what action you will take during your turn: will you take money, buy a building, or redesign your Alhambra? Of course, your needs will vary depending upon your current situation. Do you take some money in hopes of building up your currencies for the next turn so that you can pay exact building costs and get an extra turn or two? Or do you go ahead and overpay for a needed building tile thinking that it might be gone before your next turn comes back around? Or do you need to place a key tile from your reserve board to make you dominant in a particular building type? These are just a few questions you might face.

For what it’s worth, in my experience thus far I’ve found if there’s a tile you need and can afford, don’t wait around and try to get exact change for it; go ahead and buy it. Paying exact costs and getting an extra turn is nice, but getting and placing a valuable tile to your Alhambra is better; one of those “bird in the hand” things. Most times, when I’ve tried to wait, one of my opponents inevitably snatches it away from me. That being said, when you do draft money cards, take the multiple cards (if total value is under 5) whenever possible.

I’ve read some complaints that luck plays a huge factor in that some folks get counters and money cards where they get several extra turns but I haven’t seen that yet. In our experience, there’ve been many times where players have gotten 1 extra turn but I can only think of once when some one had 2. For that to happen, I’m thinking the player would’ve had to build up quite a healthy stockpile of money cards.

Another decision you’ll have to make is what building types to buy. Towers being the most valuable, they’re pretty much desired and fought after by all. I’ve had decent results going for slightly lower valued building tiles (i.e., Gardens and Chambers) while every one else slugged it out for Tower dominance. You also need to keep a close eye over other folks’ Alhambras, noting what type each player is powerful in. Some times you can pick up cheap 2nd or 3rd place points by picking up buildings that while one person may have a lot of, others may not have any at all. There have been a few games when I picked up cheap points by just buying and placing a single building tile of a particular type.

One last thing to consider for gaining VPs in Alhambra is your outside wall. Since you get one point for each section forming your longest contiguous section of outside wall, and it’s scored in each of the three scoring rounds, walls can be powerful point producers. Always be on the lookout for a tile to extend or connect your outer wall, even if it isn’t a building type you’re collecting.

Alhambra, in my experience, is one of those “grows on you” games; the more I’ve played it, the more I’ve enjoyed it. It’s fun, plays reasonably quickly, and, while it’s fairly light, there are some tough decisions to be made. While I enjoy Carcassonne, it’s a bit more chaotic, so Alhambra could possibly overtake it as my favorite tile laying game. I’ve read several posts from gamers who prefer the original Stimmt So. However having not played it (nor any of the recent expansions), I can’t really comment other than to say that I like Alhambra as it is. While I currently rate it an 8, with further play I could see it possibly rising to a 9.
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