Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 21 July 2015

Getting exactly what you paid for:- Alhambra

Game Title: Alhambra

Designer: Dirk Henn

Manufacturer: Queen Games

Year: 2003

The construction of the Alhambra had called skilled masons from around the globe, but they all insisted on being paid in their local currency. Pounds!? Dollars!? Who had even heard of this stuff? What did they even think they were going to do with it when they were living in the south coast of Spain for the duration of construction? Not to mention they are all so stingy they want paying down to the ha'penny. I'll be damned if know if that's the big gold one or the small silver one anyway. Still if I can use them right then I'll create the most glorious site that the world has ever known, much better than that ramshackle 'construction' they have started up on the hill.

Alhambra is a tile laying strategy for 2-6 players, in it you will be competing to earn money, and then spending it on buildings to add to your ever growing Alhambra. Seems simple enough but with buildings needing to be bought in 4 different currencies, scoring rounds appearing semi-randomly, rewards based on your opponents buildings and restrictions on how you can build things soon get strategic.

The game consists of 3 main play areas. The money will be laid out over the centre of the board, there is always 4 cards face up on display to choose from in 4 colours and values ranging from 1-9. It might seem best to always take the 9's but if you take smaller denominations you can take multiple cards (up to a total value of 5) in addition there is a trick to spending money that makes what you take less clear cut. The second area is the Market, here there are 4 buildings assigned to the 4 currency colours. Each building is a tile which has a number (the cost) a building type and 0-3 walls which are important for placement. The final game area is your personal Alhambra, this starts from the famous Fountain of Lions and spreads out as you purchase and build new buildings, there is also a storage area for buildings you can't place/don't want to place right now, but bought to prevent other people from getting them.

The game gives you 4 action choices in your turn; take money, buy a building, remove a building and place a building. When you buy a building if you manage to pay in exact change then you get an additional turn (which can be any of the 4 actions), this is where the game really come into its strength. Grabbing those 1/2 money cards can help you pick up a range of building cards and get a free turn when it is most needed. Buildings on the market aren't replaced until the end of your turn, so a perfect turn could consist of buying all 4 available buildings and then taking an extra turn before flipping off your opponents as they bask in your strategic glory. After buying  building you get to immediately place it in your Alhambra, if you can't then you place it in your storage area.

An example of an Alhambra in play, they have a total continuous outer wall length of 11 but are left with relatiively few avenues to expand into.

Should you have made a mistake building then you can spend a turn removing a building from your Alhambra onto your storage area, you can even swap a building on your Alhambra with one in your storage area as one action. Alternatively if you have a stored building that you are now able to place then you can take it off your storage and place it. Building your Alhambra has a simple set of rules. In brief walls must touch other walls, open spaces must touch open spaces, there must be an open path from the lion statue to every building and you can't leave holes in your Alhambra.

Scoring occurs twice as money depletes and finally once all buildings are bought. Each scoring round has you score for every building type, the person with the most gets the points on scoring round 1, the person with the second most gets some points on scoring round 2 and the third player gets some points on scoring round 3. The amount of points increase as the game goes on so the points from 1st place on round 1 and the same a s the points for third place in the final scoring. After scoring for each of the 6 building types each player then scores 1 point for each length of their longest continuous wall.
The scoring card (and tile storage) Some tiles are worth more, but there are more of them so it's easier to lose your lead.

The game functions well but I do feel a special mention needs to go out to the two-player game, in this you create an artificial third player by drawing out a number of tiles at the start of each round. While I accept this is needed to make a two player variant work well with the scoring system it does feel contrived. The third player doesn't suitable replicate a human player, they have no semblance of strategy and their Alhambra doesn't need to obey any of the rules. It's fine, but it's simply not as good, even in a three player game every player should at least have a chance to buy most buildings (bar other players blocking them), in the 2 player game you might find that the perfect Garden you wanted was removed from the game before round 2 began. Similarly your monopoly on Seraglios can be completely undone and made unwinnable by the fake player happening to draw 4 of them out of the bag giving you no chance to counter it like you would during normal play.

Overall Alhambra is a solid game, but I find it hard to recommend above over games. There's nothing really wrong with it and it is staying on our shelves for now, but I can't see us choosing to play it when we are in a situation with a wealth of choice. I do think that it would make a good gateway game as the rules are pretty easy to pick up in play.


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