26 October 2020
The perfect family-weight Eurogame
If you’re looking for a family-friendly European-style game, there are plenty of options to choose from: the evolving landscape of Carcassonne, the ruthless route-building of Ticket to Ride or the Tetris-like construction of Copenhagen, to name just a few.
Great family games require a precise and delicate balance. They come with simple rules, but enough depth to open up interesting tactical possibilities. They employ a dash of luck and unpredictability, but never enough to make it impossible to plan ahead. And perhaps most importantly, they give players the sense that they’re developing something over time, whether it’s a continental rail network, a burgeoning market town or a towering ancient monument.
Alhambra does all of these things. Set in medieval Spain, it’s inspired by the majestic complex of palace buildings near Granada, renowned around the world for its breathtaking blend of Islamic and Christian architectural influences. Players become architects working on different sections of the project, each competing to construct grander and more luxurious buildings than their rivals.
To do this, you’ll need to employ skilled craftspeople, and the construction effort brings masons, sculptors and carpenters flocking from the surrounding regions in search of work. The tricky part, though, is that each wants to be paid in their own currency – guilders, dirham, dinar and ducats – and to secure their services you’ll need to build up your reserves of each type of money.
On your turn you’ll choose from one of two options – buy a building tile from a selection in the centre of the table, or take some currency cards from the bank. If you’re able to pay the exact amount required for a building, you’ll immediately get to take another turn. It’s a process that prizes efficiency, but it also introduces the central tension that runs through the game: while it’s useful to spend time building up your cash reserves, it risks letting other players snap up buildings while you’re sorting out your finances, giving them a head start that can be difficult to catch up on.
You’ll score points for each of the various types of buildings present in your section of the palace – gardens, towers, arcades and others. But you’ll also have to pay attention to how you arrange the tiles you buy, ensuring you leave paths open and building long stretches of defensive walls for valuable bonus points.
It means that at any one time you’re likely to find yourself mentally juggling the types of buildings available to you, the ones your opponents are focussing on, the cash you have at your disposal and the evolving spatial puzzle of your own personal grid of tiles. But the genius of Alhambra is that it breaks these interlocking elements of strategy into a succession of dirt-simple decisions – take a tile, or take some money. It makes for an ideal introduction to the hobby, but also a game you’ll be happy to return to for years to come, and it’s easy to see why it’s regarded today as a classic.
Alhambra is an award-winning and much-loved family Eurogame which deserves a place in almost anyone’s collection.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED CARCASSONNE...
It offers a very different take on tile-laying for anyone dipping their toe into the hobby.
Words by Owen Duffy
Designer: Dirk Henn
Publisher: Queen Games
Time: 45-60 minutes
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
- 6 Starting tiles
- 54 Building tiles
- 1 Building market
- 1 Score board
- 2 Scoring cards
- 12 Player counters
- 108 Money cards
- 6 Tile reserve boards
- 1 Tile bag
This review originally appeared in Issue 43 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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