So for the New Year, our family game group decided to pull out an old favorite, Alhambra.  While Valerie’s game is clearly Carcassonne, I’d have to say that after a few rounds on Ne Year’s Day, I think my version of EuroGame CalvinBall is Alhambra.

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basic box for Alhambra

Alhambra starts as a card trick taking game, with the prize being (a) a tile for your Alhambra and (b) if you get the value in addition to the right amount or more of color for the tile, you get an extra turn.  So the ability to get multiple actions means you can do more things, such as get more money or yet another tile, reassemble your Alhambra, and more.

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large Alhambra formation toward end of the game

Points in the game are assigned by (a) the color of the tile acquired and within that, whether or not you are first (or first, second or third) in that color holding, (b) the longest continuous outside wall you have formed around your Alhambra, and (c) other stuff.

In the basic game, the value of the tiles (i.e. which colors are better than others) is fixed, which means that after a while, it’s pretty easy to figure out which tiles folks are going to try to get first.

Image scoring lists by color and reserve board to keep tiles purchased but not in your structure

The basic “gold” anniversary set version of the game was recently featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop as well!

However, with expansions, the expansions basically allow to selectively “break” some rules and/or add variations, but only at certain times.  Additionally, there’s other ways to make victory points as well.

Now, while we do get fairly expansion crazy with Carcassonne, we temper the crazy a bit when we play Alhambra.  Why?   Read on!

Note that there are five expansion sets, and each expansion set has four separate expansions in it.

I think in basic terms that the purpose/jist of a good expansion to a game from where I stand is one in which the basic game is enhanced.  Many of these expansions (also true of Carcassonne to some degree) that add a little “mini-game” if you will can dominate the regular game, and this can be a detriment.

Expansion 1 – The Vizier’s Favor

What do we play with?  Why?

The Vizier’s Favor – this allows for playing out of turn and playing the exact amount for a tile.  This allows you to take a tile out of turn by flipping a special token in your color over at the end of someone else’s turn.  However, re-using the counter requires sacrificing an action to flip it back over.  This helps in those multi-player games when you know a certain tile isn’t going to make it all the way around, and limits its effectiveness by making it harder to do multiple times.

The Bureaux of Change – Have a lot of one color and want another?  These are cards that appear in the common play money pick pile.  You can change between the two colors and this allows for extra flexibility in money payments, but since they are a limited resource, you can’t abuse the ability.

What don’t we play with?

The Builder’s Huts

The Bonus Cards 

Why?  

No real reason per se.

Expansion 2 – The City Gates

 What do we play with?  Why?

The Camps (about half the time) – this adds a “camp outside the walls” that adds to the X/Y axis mounted city pieces inside the Alhambra.    It’s another point-generator, but it also makes the Alhambra owner really THINK about wall creation.

The City Gates (about 25% of the time) – because it’s fun to break walls without breaking them.

The Diamonds (about 10% of the time) – this is basically wild card money, it can be any color.  While useful, it’s a little TOO powerful for the game.

The Characters (often, nearing 100%) – this is a card mixed in with the money deck that adds a “special power acquired through auction” with the other players.  Unlike other expansions that seem like distracting mini-games, I actually enjoy this particular one.  The mini-game here is useful, especially if you KNOW your opponent really really wants something and can get them to overbid.  It’s very “Storage Wars” in this way.  The special power can be something small (extra victory points) or large (tie-breaker at point assignment time).

What don’t we play with?  Why not?

This is probably the best single expansion in the set, every one of the expansions is worth playing.  Maybe not all the time, but at least part of the time!

 

Expansion 3 – The Thief’s Turn

What do we play with?  Why?

The Thieves – similar to the Vizier’s Favor, but instead of yoinking Alhambra tiles you are taking select color of money at the end of a player’s turn.  Selectively using this gets you the money you NEED for when you can use it to gain those extra actions.

The Change – this rewards those that overpay for buildings by giving them a coin draw for every overpay value by 2’s.  Getting change = making exact change more readily.

The City Walls (about 25% of the time) – need more walls?  Here!  Pretty straightforward. More walls = more victory points!

What don’t we play with?  Why not?

The Street Trader – again, not sure why not.  We just haven’t yet.

Expansion 4 – The Treasure Chamber

What do we play with?  Why?

Nothing!

What don’t we play with?  Why not?

The Master Builders

The Invaders

The Treasure Chamber

The Bazaars

These don’t add much to the basic game, and add more complexity/mini-games to it instead.   If you are buying these expansions in singles, this is the one I would pass on.

(Yes, we love the Bazaars in Carcassonne, but don’t play them in Alhambra, which pretty much lends itself to be an auction game.  Go figure!)

 

Expansion 5 – Power of the Sultan

What do we play with?  Why?

The New Value Cards – The New Value cards (aka “The Score Randomizer”) is great, because it effectively limits runaway games. Instead of the fixed color scoring, each game can be fundamentally different by having a different ranked series of colors per scoring round.  One variant on the variant we’ve tried is to not pick all three rounds ahead of time, but rather, pick the ranking at the beginning of that particular scoring round.

There has been suggestions to do it at the end of the scoring round, but IMHO this would bring in too much luck and eliminate any sort of tile planning during that round.  We play with it because it can be punishing to the single color domination strategy, and therefore, encourages more interaction over the acquisition of any one tile, because later, that cheap point tile might be a point winner in the next round!

 

What don’t we play with?  Why not?

The Caravan – haven’t tried it yet.

The Art of the Moorish – extra points for same type of buildings.

The Power of the Sultan – adds a die for randomness, allows actions not on your turn.  Seems overly thought out.

 

Expansion – The Magical Buildings

 

We play with the Magical Buildings pretty much since I purchased them.  The Magical Buildings, unlike the other buildings, do not need to be positioned in a up-down-left-right fashion to be able to read the tile.  They can be rotated any way into the Alhambra, and offer great possibilities when restructuring your Alhambra.

To sum up, I think a good game expansion keeps it simple.  Adding complexity to add complexity can be good if it holds up with the rest of the game, but if it distracts from it, it’s probably not a good expansion.

Buying Alhambra – a few suggestions:

For those that think, hey – I like some of these expansions, and even if you still own only the basic game, I’d recommend getting the Alhambra Big Box.

The Alhambra Big Box, unlike the Carcassonne Big Box, actually has ALL of these expansions save for the Magical Buildings.

So for those of you doing the math at home – the MSRP of $80 break-even is under a 3/5 expansion price-point versus buying them separately, and even better ratio (closing in on 2/5) if the on-line price beats MSRP.

Additionally, if you don’t own the basic game, then it’s even more bang for the buck.

SF Bay Area locals take note – I’ll again point you toward my previous blog entry about local game stores as their periodic sales may prove to be a greater value than on-line purchasing if timed correctly.

Another reason why I recommend buying locally is a small, sad side story with regards to my own Alhambra experience.  I managed to get 3/5 of the single packaged expansions for Alhambra because a local-to-my-work-at-the-time gaming store went out of business and had a liquidation sale.

I had recently purchased the basic game and figured at the 75-80% sale discount I couldn’t say no, but I still felt sad.  I should clarify – I was sad but not guilty, as I discovered the store only during the liquidation sale itself so it wasn’t as if I had contributed via neglect to its demise… but since that experience I have attempted when possible to try to buy my games locally … IF I can still get/wait out for a sale.

If you still want to track down the Magical Buildings, I’d recommend the BGG Store, as it periodically has this expansion in stock, and unlike the others, it’s only $5.

Happy gaming!

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