Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Alhambra: A Moorish Bore?

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In this climate of a board gaming hobby being inundated with massive numbers of new games every year, to continue to be a prominent game in the culture after ten years is an impressive achievement. Alhambra has managed to do so. This Spiel Des Jahres winner continues to be discovered by new gamers and maintain its place in the annals of board gaming.
But with a decade of innovation in game design, does Alhambra’s tile-laying mechanic hold up? Or does it suffer from the advancements made in what gamers expect, such as mechanics mash-ups, increased player interaction and decreased down time? Is it too dry for today’s time, or does it still have a lot of spice? Lets find out.

Gameplay

Alhambra involves tiles which represent six different types of buildings. The purpose of the game is to buy these tiles and add them to your personal Alhambra complex. However, you must manage the spacing of these tiles, since there are strict rules with how to place them. Placing these tiles, and recognizing which types of tiles to buy to enhance your structure, provides a lot of ownership to the game and is probably the driving force behind its popularity.
The other main mechanic of Alhambra is the way that currency is handled. There are actually four different currencies which you must collect, since building tiles will only be available in one of the four types. Therefore, you must try to collect the right currency cards depending on what buildings are available in what currency. This is what separates it from a straight up auction game and adds a set collection aspect to it as well.
The scoring happens in three different phases throughout the game, which is more engaging than just at the end. Points are scored for who has the most of each type of building as well as for the longest complete wall in your building. It’s not the most exciting scoring system in the world, but it works.

Components

Alhambra has a rather plain, sandy look, which seems to make sense given the theme of building a castle in the interior or Spain. The tiles are good quality, each with a picture of a building on it, but they certainly aren’t anything special. The cards are just cards with pictures of different currencies on them. There is a score board with the same type of building drawings on them. Overall, the components are a little on the boring side, but they do fit with the theme.

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Conclusion

First I will say that Alhambra is a good game. The tile-laying aspect where you build your own Alhambra gives a sense of ownership and control. The four currency system is quite interesting and provides a lot of tension through trying to get the buildings that work for you.
The problem with Alhambra is that it isn’t overly exciting and it doesn’t provide a lot of energy at the gaming table. It can be a little on the dry side. One thing that I always seem to notice when we play is how quiet the table is. Everyone seems a little too focused on their strategies and there’s not a lot of interaction happening between the players.
This may not be a problem to some gamers who like a quiet game of concentration, but to those who prefer a more talkative gaming experience it may. And even though it is certainly less exciting than other games brought to the table, a lot of friends I play it with (especially one whom I’m married to) really do love it. So it certainly has a hook to it, just don’t expect the table to erupt in the sights and sounds of having a loud, raucous time.

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