Game Length: 60 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 2-4 players keen to build a palace
Alhambra was the winner of the Spiel des Jahres in 2003, the German prize for board game of the year. It meshes together a number of different gameplay mechanics (namely set collection, hand management and tile placement) in a colourful, visually appealing package. It is relatively light and easy to teach, and makes an excellent gateway game.
Alhambra is inspired by the medieval Moorish palace of the same name, built in the 9th century and added to in separate waves between the 9th and 16th centuries. The final layout of the palace was not originally planned, and expansions were added ad hoc over the centuries. The game mimics this unplanned growth with the random selection of tiles, and uses three scoring phases to represent the palace’s waves of expansion.
In Alhambra, each player is working to build their own palace. They gain points for each building type they have a majority of, as well as for the longest wall running around the outside of the palace. Each tile must be paid for with one of four different currencies, and each turn a player may choose to either gain more money in one of these currencies, or build one of the four available tiles, paying the amount of money in the currency required. It’s very satisfying to build your palace with a nice long wall running around it, while also watching what your opponents build to make sure you stay in the lead on particular building types.
Alhambra also has the advantage of being highly expandable. At the time of writing, there are six expansions available for Alhambra, each of which adds four mini-expansion modules – for a total of 24 different potential additions (and many millions of possible combinations of these!). The Alhambra Big Box comes with 5 of these expansions (that is, 20 modules), and is highly recommended if you enjoy the base game after trying it.
One would never want to play with all of the expansions simultaneously, but they allow you to tweak the game in a way you want – such as allowing gates through the walls in the Alhambra, giving change back when a player overpays for a tile, allowing players to interrupt another player’s turn to buy the tile they want, and so on. The latter expansion (called The Vizier’s Favour) greatly improves the game with 5 or 6 players, as it can otherwise be frustrating to wait through everyone else’s turn for a tile you want.