Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Game Review: Alhambra by Dirk Henn

Alhambra designed by Dirk Henn published by Queen Games

Alhambra is the game where you build your own magnificent palace full of towers, gardens, arcades, pavilions, etc. The only trick is the builders are from all over Europe and Arabia. They want payment in their own money. So you've got to collect dinars, ducats, dirham, and couronne to pay for the buildings they offer. Many buildings have outer walls built around them. They must be placed carefully in the Alhambra so that people can walk to every last part of your palace from your initial Lion Fountain.

A bit from the rules so you can see the good art (click to enlarge)

The game runs through three rounds. During the rounds, players can (1) take money, (2) buy buildings, or (3) reorganize their Alhambra (swapping around the purchased and placed buildings).  Normally, a player does just one of these actions. The exception is if the player pays the exact amount for a building, then the player may do a second action (including buying another building, which if bought for the exact amount means a third action, etc.). Once the player's action(s) are done, newly purchased buildings may be placed on the Alhambra or, if unplaceable because of their walls, kept in reserve for later. Any acquired money or buildings are replaced from the money deck and the bag of building tiles.

Roughly one third of the way through the money deck, a scoring card comes up and players earn points based on how many buildings they have in the various colors/types. Also they get points for their longest exterior wall. Play continues till the next scoring card comes up and then the final round ends once the buildings run out.

We've played this a few times and haven't been very satisfied. When we played two player it was possible to plan ahead a little for which buildings or money we would take and how we would build up our individual Alhambras. But with four or six players too many changes happen between turns for any long term strategy to be effectively implemented. The trick of placing buildings to have a long exterior wall and allow for future placement can be frustrating when it just doesn't work with the tiles you have. Reorganizing the Alhambra is very slow--if you chose that you must either remove a tile, place a tile, or swap one reserve tile for one on the board. Having to reorganize slows down a player too much.

The art in the game is really beautiful and the theme is a lot of fun, but the execution is a little too random for our tastes. Maybe some house rules could improve the game and make it more fun to play.

Zombie Apocalypse Appropriateness: This game is best played as two-player, so you don't need many other survivors to play it. The game is really impossible to play solo because of the players' hidden money. The game pieces are basically a bunch of tiles and a deck of cards, so they'd be easy to carry around without the box. But I don't think it'd be worth it, so I don't recommend this for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. It doesn't give any valuable skills, either.

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