The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Alhambra Revisited

Another updated review:

April 23rd, 2003.

A running joke:

"What's Alhambra like?"
"Have you played 'Stimmt So?'"
"It's just like that."

If you’ve played Stimmt So, you are done. It’s just like that. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.

For those poor few of us who have no frame of reference, a description is in order. In Alhambra, you are trying to build up a city in the desert. Each player starts with some money (in various currencies) and a fountain tile. Four tiles are available for purchase (one tile in each currency) and four money cards are available. Money comes from 1-9 and in four currencies, which I conveniently label “Blue, Yellow, Orange and Red”, although they have names. Tiles come in a variety of colors and wall configurations.

Most turns, a player either takes some money or buy a tile. Taking money is simple: You take one of the face up cards. But, you can also take multiple cards, so long as the total value is five or less. You purchase a tile by paying the appropriate amount of the correct currency. Overpaying is accepted, but you get no change back. The tile must then be placed in your city with the following rules:

  • No rotation,
  • Wall must touch wall, open edges must touch open edges (at least one edge must touch an existing tile,
  • You must be able to trace a path from that tile back to the fountain, without leaving the city (water is life!)
  • No surrounded gaps

If a player can’t (or doesn’t want to) place a tile in a legal position, he can put it into the reserves. Later, a player can skip a turn to add a tile from the reserve to his city.

One other rule: if a player buys a tile exactly, he gets another action! So a turn could be buy a tile exactly, buy another tile exactly, and take some money. Only after all purchases must the new tile(s) be placed, a nice side benefit.

Shuffled into the deck of currency are two scoring cards (they are put in the second and fourth of five roughly equal stacks). During the first scoring, the leader in each set is paid out. During the second scoring, first and second place in each set pay out. There is a final scoring: when there are not enough tiles to make a full set of four, then players reveal their money and highest in each denomination gets the remaindered tile to add to his city (if desired), and first, second and third in each set pay out. Also, during each scoring, players receive points for the length of the longest external section of wall. What’s the point of building up a nice city if barbarians are at the gates? Most points wins.

Alhambra is a nice tactical game. Snagging a tile that you can buy exactly is easy, but when to buy other tiles or take money is a tough choice. Do you want to buy an expensive Palace, or wait and hope for a cheaper one to show up later? Do you take a Red ‘9’, or take two cards that total ‘5’ that let you pay for those tiles exactly and hope that they’ll be there next turn?

Alhambra looks fine. Players build up their cities, which are on sturdy tiles. The components are fine, and the game graciously includes two markers for each player: one for scoring, and one to let everyone know who’s who! [Thereby avoiding a pet peeve]. One the downside, the “Red” and “Orange” currencies are tough to tell apart, but they at least gave each currency its own symbol (albeit a small one).

A big complaint against Alhambra was that with five or six players, it’s too random. In fact, anyone whose first game had five or six dismissed the game. After playing a few times, I understand completely. How can you plan ahead if anything you don’t buy is likely to be gone on your next turn, and you have money in four non-exchangeable currencies? No, Alhambra should be played with four or three. [There are special rules for two players, but I can’t speak to those as the rules were in German]. Three works very well, since you get more turns. And since you have more tiles, getting a nice long wall takes on more importance; players even struggle in finding locations to play their tiles, which doesn’t seem to happen much with four players.

So I think that as long as you have a small game (three or four, maybe two), Alhambra certainly delivers the enjoyment. A little better than Stimmt So, or so they tell me.

Bonus: Stimmt So Rules, as they were explained to me.
Just like Alhambra, but no tile placement (You just collect sets) and only one currency card (no taking multiple cards that add up to five). So you could play Stimmt So with an Alhambra set. Personally, the new rules seem much more interesting to me.

Alhambra hasn’t hit the table recently, but that’s a function of many new games. It certainly deserved the acoolades. However, I still don’t recommend playing this with more than four. The newer sets have much nicer color scheme, so much so that I was mildly tempted to upgrade. I greatly prefer Alhambra to Carcassone, but both games are light enough that I’d rather play something meatier most of the time.

Author 	  Dirk Henn
Players   2-6 (3-4, IMO)
Company   Queen
Time 	  45 minutes
Cost 	  $30


Written by taogaming

February 16, 2005 at 7:52 pm

Posted in Reviews

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One Response

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  1. Nice summation of Alhambra, Brian – but not so good on Stimmt So. There are three changes from Stimmt So to Alhambra (of course, I’m referring to the “basic” version of Alhambra without any expansions):

    1. the intial draw of currency
    SS: random draw
    AL: draw cards up to 20
    the better rule is from Alhambra

    2. the draw of currency during the game
    SS: one currency card
    AL: one card OR any number of cards with a total value of 5 or less
    again, the better rule is from Alhambra

    3. the wall
    SS: doesn’t appear in Stimmt So
    AL: tiles have walls &can only be placed if they fit
    this is my main objection to Alhambra, as the wall scoring mechanism (rewarding you for creating long stretches of wall) and the walls themselves make the “main” part of the game (the stock collecting mechanism) more difficult to play intelligently. In the mid- to late game, there are tiles you need to buy to keep another player from locking in a majority or challenging you for the lead, but can not/should not because they will not fit into your city. (Yes, you could choose to buy the tile and not use it, but it’s a waste of money &time.) In addition, the design of the tiles makes it more difficult to figure who is leading in what color, as they are spread around the table on the basis of where they fit in the wall structure. (Granted, Stimmt So used graphics that are less than helpful, but at least you can organize your stocks so that others can easily see the current board situation.)

    BTW, we play Stimmt So with the 1st two rule changes from Alhambra.

    Mark Jackson

    February 17, 2005 at 11:31 am

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