When people talk about their goals in life, you'll often hear the term "dream home" thrown about.

It's appealing. A home is a place where we wind up spending a large chunk of our lives, some more than others (*OB looks around at his introverted life without comment). Why wouldn't you want to then take that home and customize it to be the best home for you and you alone?

Alhambra takes the concept of the dream home and plays it out in Moor-ruled Spain. Alhambra is a game of both construction and money management, in fact, you're needing to manage four different types of currency at once, and you'll have to effectively manage all four if you wish to have any chance to win. But it's simplicity in doing this is what led to Alhambra winning the 2003 Spiel des Jahres, the Pulitzer Prize of board gaming.

Feel free to dust off those old blueprints, it's time to play Alhambra.

Game: Alhambra
Players: 2 to 6
Gametime: 45 minutes
Designer: Dirk Henn (Germany)
Key Mechanics: Card Drafting, Set Collection, Tile Placement

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Story: In 13th century Granada, the Sultan is preparing to build a master accomplishment: The Alhambra, a gorgeous palace without equal. You will oversee its construction, having portions constructed by master artisans brought in from all over the worth with the promise they will still be paid in their native currencies.

What do you do? Each player receives their starting tile, which depicts the famous Fountain of Lions. They also receive a personal board which will act as a tile reserve. There's also a central scoring track and a building market, which will show the four building tiles available for purchase.

There are two main central components in Alhambra: The buildings that will go into your Alahambra, which are represented by tiles, and money, which is represented in a deck of cards.

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The money card deck is made up of four different currencies, denoted by color (blue, green, yellow and orange), with values between 1 and 9. The spaces for the four tiles in the building market will indicate which color currency has to be used to buy each building.

There are 54 building tiles in total, with six different types of buildings available: Seraglios, gardens, arcades, pavilions, chambers and towers. Each tile with display the building time and the cost to purchase the building. Not all buildings of the same type cost the same amount, and the more valuable a building is in the game's scoring, the more expensive its range of potential prices are going to be. Also, building tiles may or may not have wall segments, represented by black lines along one or more sides. These walls play into both the addition of purchased buildings to an Alhambra and also have an impact in game scoring.

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Getting the game started involves taking the building tiles and placing them into a drawstring bag. Four tiles are drawn out and placed into the market. Each player is then dealt money cards until the total value of their money cards is over 20. (after this, players keep their hand of money cards hidden) Four cards are then laid out face-up, creating a bank players can draw more money from. The player given the least amount of money cards goes first.

Now, on a player's turn, they get to do one of three things:

  • Draw money from the bank. Players can either draw any one card available in the bank, or they can draw multiple cards as long as the sum of those cards' value is 5 or less.
  • Buy a building tile from the market, with either the exact amount or more than the purchase price shown on the tile, using the color currency the market indicates is needed to purchase the tile. If a player buys a tile for its exact value, the player gets a bonus turn. After tile purchasing is done, the tile(s) can either be placed directly into the player's Alhambra or if it cannot yet be placed (we'll talk in a second about tile placement), it can go onto the player's reserve.
  • Redesign your Alhambra. This is done one of three ways: Add a tile in the reserve to the Alhambra, Add a tile in the Alhambra to the reserve, or trade out a tile in the Alhambra for one in the reserve.

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Generally, you're only allowed to do one of these things on a turn. But,again, you get a bonus turn each time you pay exact change for a building. That's exact change only. Have to pay more than the asking price for a building? Shit outta luck.

After a player does their thing, the bank is replenished by drawing cards from the face-down deck, any new tiles needed are drawn out of the bag, and play goes on to the next player.

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Now, when it comes to placing buildings in an Alhambra, there's some rules that have to be followed (no cheating, assholes): First, any new tiles have to be placed with at least one side touching another side of a building in the Alhambra. Walls have to touch walls. And tiles have to be placed in a way that every building in the Alahmbra can be reached "on foot" from the fountain starting tile. In other words, it can't be walled off. No bashful seraglios are allowed to hide in THIS Alhambra, dammit!

Scoring happens in Alhambra three times during the game. The first two times are triggered by scoring cards that are inserted into the money deck. When a scoring card is turned over while refilling the bank, scoring happens. The third will be done at the end of the game.

Points are given out based on how many of each of the six types of buildings is in their Alahmbra. As said before, each type of building has a different point value. When the first scoring card is revealed, points are only given to the player who has the most of each type of building. In the second scoring round, points are given both to the player with the most of each building type and to the player with the second-most of each building type (obviously, the player with more of each building with get more points than the player with second-most). In the third and final scoring round, as you might guess, points are given to the players with the most, second-most and third-most of each building type.

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In addition to scoring buildings, in each scoring round players also receive points equal to the number of segments in the longest piece of wall. A six-segment wall piece, for example, will score six points.

How to taste sweet, sweet victory: The end of the game happens when the building market can't be completely refilled. The remaining tiles in the market are auctioned off - the player with the most money of each color gets the corresponding tile. Final tiles are placed in Alhambras, the third round of scoring is done, whoever has the most points wins the game.

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So, what's awesome about this game?

  • Really easy to pick up. As in, basically figure out what you're doing in three or four turns easy. Alhambra is readily in the "introduce people to board gaming" category alongside the Catans and Ticket to Rides of the world.
  • Deeply strategic. You'll find yourself buying buildings that don't necessarily help you right away, put could prevent another player from building (heh) an insurmountable lead of a powerful building type.
  • This game rapidly develops a large amount of advanced planning, particularly when it comes to dealing with the construction of walls.

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Variety is the spice of life: Alhambra has had numerous expansions developed for it, with names like The City Gates, The Sultan's Power, and The Thief's Turn (there's more than these, too). Each of these expansions includes four new items which can be added individually to the game.

Other ways to play: Alhambra is available as an iOS app.

Watch it in action: Alhambra was featured in the first season of TableTop.

Board Games With OB is a somewhat profane feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

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Previous Board Games With OB:[Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido] [Blokus] [Puerto Rico] [Love Letter] [Can't Stop] [The Red Dragon Inn] [Dominion] [King of Tokyo] [Pandemic] [Spyrium] [Settlers of Catan] [Seasons]

Images via BoardGameGeek