I played Alhambra for the first time in a while last night. It’s a tile placing/set collection game, where each player collects money, then uses money to buy building to place in their Alhambra (loosely, this means palace). The player who controls the most of each colour of building scores points in the three scoring rounds that happen throughout the game, and the player with the most points wins.
The game is an interesting exercise in optimisation. You need to manage your available resources to ensure that you control enough buildings to score points, but buying too many buildings, or spending too much money on them will reduce the benefit you gain.
Your other resource is space in the Alhambra. Tiles can only be placed in a single orientation, and some are surrounded by walls. Walls can only match walls, and open spaces can only match open spaces. This means that you can be stuck unable to place a purchased tile, which is when the palace must be re-arranged.
In a turn, you can only take a single action, you can pick up money, buy a building, or rearrange your palace. If you pay over the odds for your building, you don’t get change, but if you spend exactly the right amount, then you can take an extra turn.
I think there is a fairly obvious strategy, that will tend to serve any player well. In the early game you need to collect money. When you hold lots of money cards, it is simple to take multiple turns, which is a big advantage. The early scoring round is not worth much compared to the other two, you can afford to miss out on much of the scoring in this round to build a base to work from later in the game. The best buildings to purchase early are those with no walls, as they allow for easy expansion later. Then look for buildings which will help you extend your outside wall (as this scores points), but will still allow you place any tile that you could purchase. Finally, look to take buildings that help you control a set, as this is worth points.
After the first scoring round, start trying harder to control sets of buildings. If you can gain control of three colours, then this should be enough to win the game with 4 players. Taking two, and having second place in others should also ensure victory.
When making play decisions, it is important to note that you have seen all of the money taken by each player. You should know exactly what they can buy at any point, and this should allow you to hold off on purchases if only you can make them, giving you longer to collect money, whilst still being certain of picking the building you want.
The components are all very nice, and they pack neatly away into a relatively small box, which is always a consideration for those of us that own more games than we strictly need.
I like this game, it’s not as good as Puerto Rico, but it’s still good fun. It takes less time to play, and less time to explain, so it’s probably better for more casual gamers than Puerto Rico. It won the 2003 Spiel des Jahres prize, which is always a good indication of a fun game.