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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Thursday 23 July 2015

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Alhambra

Game Title: Alhambra

Designer: Dirk Henn

Manufacturer: Queen Games

Year: 2003

We purchased Alhambra a couple of months ago as it was one of the games on Amy’s wanted list. It joins the list of Spiel des Jahres winners on our shelf, finding a spot amongst Ticket to Ride, Catan, Kingdom Builder, Carcassonne and Dominion. As we get more involved and invested in the gaming hobby, I am beginning to realise how this collection of games really does fall into the simpler, family games category, however I still enjoy playing them and they make great introductory games for some friends who are either non-gamers or less invested in gaming.

Alhambra is a tile laying game where each player is building their own palace to try and obtain points in different categories. There are six different types of tile which can be played; Pavillions, Seraglios, Arcades, Chambers, Gardens and Towers . Each building type is of varying value and scarcity and tiles are of varying cost depending on this and how easily they fit into an Alhambra. On each turn, players have a choice of 4 tiles to buy. Each tile must be purchased in the correct ‘currency’ (red, orange, blue or green cards) and the tiles cost must be paid. If a player pays exactly for the tile, they may take another turn. Alternatively on your turn you may take additional money or restructure your Alhambra.

There are three scoring rounds in which players are rewarded for having the highest number of tiles in each of the given categories and also for having the longest continuous wall around their Alhambra. The first scoring round occurs in the top 20% of the deck and only the player with the most tiles of any given category scores. The second scoring round occurs in the third 20% of the deck and the player with the most and second most tiles in any category scores. The final scoring round occurs at the end of the game when all tiles have been drawn and the top 3 positions score.
The game setup, showing the market place and the available currency. Note that this turn the player could take either the green 3 and 1 or one higher valued card (players may take 2 cards if they total 5 or less).

We have played the two-player variant and three and four player games of Alhambra. In the two-player game an artificial third player ‘Dirk’ has to be used to create a balance in the scoring rounds. Although this works to allow two-players to play it does prevent the full extent of the game strategy from coming to life, due to knowing exactly what cards ‘Dirk’ has throughout each phase and therefore being able to strategically avoid or collect certain colour tiles. In the three or four-player game there is a lot more interaction and it much more difficult to stick to a certain strategy throughout the game as the whole set of 4 visible tiles may have changed by your next turn, making it difficult to plan ahead. Each turn needs you to make difficult decisions about your strategy going forward.

At the beginning of the first round, 'Dirk' is given 6 tiles at random. As can be seen above, Dirk has three Chambers and so it is extremely unlikely that either of the two other players will score for Chambers in the first round as points are only awarded for the player with the most tiles of any building type.
Overall, the game is very easy to understand and teach. There are enough strategic elements to keep us interested in the game. The only luck elements are whether an appropriate tile is available to you on your turn, however I generally feel in control of my own destiny when playing the game which keeps me happy and avoids any player from feeling that the game is lost very early on. There are certainly better tile laying style games out there and we own a few, but Alhambra fills a gap for a relatively quick and easy to learn game which is fun to play although probably does not fill our need for two-player games. Overall, I would give the game 6/10.

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