02 April 2022
A diamond in the rough
I always love when a game takes me by surprise. I opened this box, poured through its components and expected a fun but forgettable experience. Since playing I’ve been trying to get as many people as I can to play it, because it’s just that good.
Almadi is a tile laying game for 2-5 players, tasking everyone to plan the greatest realm in the world as tribute to the Sultan’s storytelling spouse, Scheherazade.
Each turns players choose from one of eight available tiles to add to their city, with two tiles available to place in each of the four rows. Each tile must be placed in its matching row, connected to at least one other tile.
Once a tile has been placed, if any of its sides now have an arrow pointing to a symbol, you perform that action, gaining new goods stalls, mosaics or rubies, claiming objectives or even magically transporting any tile to a new position thanks to a genie’s wish.
Each of the four types of tiles score differently; markets provide a wealth of goods, each worth a point if you can create a long enough connected train of caravan tiles. Oases score points if connected to at least one other oasis, but can also be worth points if it and/or a market is adjacent to a palace tile.
With that I’ve basically explained every rule in Almadi, but knowing is half the challenge. Winning the game requires a perceptive eye and quick reaction to your opponent’s placements. Each type of tile has an even chance of showing up, but when you factor in the row placement restriction and other players grabbing what you want, the puzzle comes from finding a way to manipulate your arrangement to best score points.
Players will constantly be shifting and repositioning tiles for the best advantage. The combination of a tiles core use with its four action sides ensures a multitude of uses with any single tile. Being able to trigger one movement action, which then slots a tile into a space with all four sides activating, captures the same sense of satisfaction found when putting the last piece into a massive jigsaw.
Knowing when to pivot your plans is just as important as when to fight for them. Your opponent might be creating a camel convoy, but it’s worthless if all the markets are supplying to your countless palaces. Accordingly, you might be struggling to string together your oases for the longest chain bonus, but a few choice moves later and your pitiful pools could become a gleaming river in the desert, if you’ve kept grabbing those tiles when showing up.
The base game comes with enough possibilities to keep families entertained for hours, so imagine my delight when the game also includes a module for special characters, each ability gently breaking the game if you can take
full advantage of it (and complete enough ruby actions to pay for their services.) It’s the small additions that refresh the entire experience, rejuvenating the puzzle just when you think you’ve got it solved.
Add to that a gorgeous colour palette ensuring the tiles pop to life, a beautifully diverse range of genders and body types cherry picked from “One Thousand and One Nights” as well as the best plastic rubies tokens in any board game, you’ve got a genuine tile-laying classic in the making.
Don’t be fooled by its diminutive box, as it crams in so much possibility without needing to overthrow your shelf. An absolute delight that has well earned a place in my collection.
PLAY IT? MUST PLAY
Almadi takes inspiration from classic myth and classic games, reinventing both for a fantastic puzzling experience.
Both games task you with building Arabian architecture whilst following restrictive placement rules, but in many ways Almadi feels like an evolution on this tile laying great.
Designer: Mathieu Bossu & François Gandon
Publisher: Funny Fox
Time: 45 minutes
What’s in the box?
- Central Board
- Scoring mat
- 5 Double-sided player aids
- 5 Starting tiles
- 30 Plastic rubies
- 88 Landscape tiles
- 32 Objective cards
- 32 Mosaic cards
- 32 Stall cards
- 26 Character cards
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