Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Alhambra - colorful and subtle

This year at Historicon I found myself talking to a lot of dads about the games their kids were playing. As one can imagine a geeky parent may hope their kids share their interests and so I was interested to hear the success stories. One game that came up was Alhambra, which a fellow from New York said was his six year old daughter's favorite game.

The Alhambra is a site in the city of Granada, an unbelievably fabulous palace built by the Moors. In the game Alhambra the players compete to build their own version of the palace. Alhambra is what's known as a tile game. Players lay down tiles next to each other to form their complex. Each tile may have an illustration of a tower, a garden, arcades, or some other feature found in a palace. Players win points if they have the most of any given feature, the most towers for example.

Alhambra has several subtle features which serve to keep player's attention on the game. In your turn you may replenish your supply of "money cards" and then purchase new tiles from a random selection before you. Each tile has a price, if you pay the exact amount you may buy another tile. For example, if a tile costs 8 and you have money cards valued at 3 and 5 you have exact change. If you have money cards valued at 4 and 5 then you can buy the one tile but then your purchasing is over.

After you purchase your tile or tiles you may lay them down on your growing design. There are simple rules for arranging the tiles similar to the rules for playing dominoes. Some structures have walls or features that must match the features of the tiles next to them for example.

Finally, players are scored at several random times during the game. You receive points for having the most of a given tile- the most gardens for example. Some tiles are worth more than others. Towers are valuable, while pavilions earn far less in points.

Alhambra is a simple game. You win by having the most of a certain thing. Alhambra is also about making choices. Do you buy a tile with exact change so you can buy another in this round or do you overspend on a tile that wins high points like a tower? The tiles you can purchase at a given moment at randomly determined. If a tower isn't an option do you hope one will appear next round or start buying gardens? There is a lot of variability in tactics that can keep Alhambra fresh over many plays.

Alhambra is also a very attractive game. I like tile games because I like building things- cities, countryside, colonies. I think it's fun to construct your own palace filled with gardens and towers and some players may enjoy the game for that reason as well as trying to reach a high score.

I can see why the man I spoke to at Historicon liked Alhambra for his daughter. This is a game with some good potential for tactics and thought and yet it is appealing to younger players as well. Alhambra is available in game stores like Pandemonium Books and Games People Play.

Pros: simple, elegant, tactical

Cons: may not be suited for every 6 year old, I'm thinking ages 8 and up

Beyond the Basics: Many expansions and lots of replay value.

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