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Subject: Alhambra: The Power of the Sultan - A Detailed Review rss

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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

Summary

Game Type - Board Game (Tile)
Play Time: 80-90 minutes
Number of Players: 2-6
Mechanics – Set Collection, Tile Laying, Resource Management
Difficulty – Moderate (Can be learnt in under 30 minutes)
Components - Excellent


Image Courtesy of itiswon

This is the fifth in a series of reviews that will analyse each of the 5 Alhambra expansions. I will outline each expansion on its own merits and then comment on how well it interacts with other expansions in the Alhambra Family.

As each Boxed Expansion for Alhambra includes 4 Mini-Expansions, I will refer to a box as an Expansion Set and each of the 4 additions within each box as Mini-Expansions. This will hopefully avoid confusion as I discuss each in turn.

At the end of this review is a series of links to help find my other Alhambra Reviews.

#17 – The New Score Cards

Components - This Mini-Expansion consists of two component types. First there is the Scoring Round Template, which essentially outlines the points available for each round (as per the original Reserve Tile Player Boards).


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

This is essential now though due to the 2nd set of components, which are the alternate Scoring Tokens. There are 18 in all and they effectively randomize the relative values of each building type for each Scoring Round. These are of a size that allows them to sit snuggly into the brackets of the Scoring Round Template.


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

Impact – The New Score Cards have major implications for how a game of Alhambra will play out. Randomising the scoring of each building type means that the building type that is king one moment, may be all but worthless in the next. What results is some careful analysis at the start of the game to calculate the relative value of each building type over the course of all 3 scoring rounds. This will appeal to some and not to others.

The other implication is the availability of each building type. The base game was deliberately designed to have fewer of the lower scoring buildings and more of the higher scoring ones. This meant that there was more competition to gain a majority for the high scoring Towers and Gardens and with a greater number on offer, there was less chance to miss out on them if you were in ‘the wrong place at the wrong time’ which Alhambra can suffer from.

Now of course this is not the case and those 7 Pavillions and Seraglios (blue and red buildings) may now be worth major points. Heaven help the players that are just unlucky to see them come out and get purchased before they have a chance.

Strategy – I’ll state it again, but it is imperative to know the relative values of each building type at the start of the game as this will help you to calculate which buildings are worth overbidding for and which ones are not.

It can also be quite important to gain ‘The Power of the Sultan’ (see Mini-Expansion summary below)!

Interaction with other Expansion Sets – The Power of the Sultan is another Mini-Expansion in this Expansion Box that allows players to nab buildings of a given colour when they are added to the Market. Having one of more Sultan cards at your disposal can be crucial in gaining buildings that are in limited supply or are worth big points at scoring.

Naturally the Vizier’s Favour is another very handy power to use at the right time.

Feelings – Personally I am a little conflicted about the value of this expansion. Does it throw up an interesting set of considerations, which adds to the analysis and decision making required to play the game, or is it simply another level of randomness that could possibly throw the final result into total chaos and allow for score blowouts?

The reality is I don’t really know after only 2 plays but I must confess that our scores were really close despite this ( a 2 point and 9 point win in each game). For that reason I suspect that the varying values of buildings probably even themselves out on the majority of occasions and as long as all players know the ‘lay of the land’ from the beginning, we are all using the same information to inform our in-game decisions.

Not upset by it and not totally in love either.

Rating –

#18 - The Power of the Sultan

Components – So lets look at this Mini-Expansion namesake then. It consists of 8 cards. Each card is worth 7 to buy and they are placed into stacks 1-3 at the beginning of the game. For each currency there are 2 cards present, which are identical. The cards feature a dice icon in the centre and to the top and bottom of the card is a depiction of each building type.


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

A nicely engraved die is included. It features each of the building types and each building is coloured accordingly. It is of the same design as the dice featured in -

Alhambra: The Dice Game


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

The other components required of this expansion are small black cubes, called Marker Cubes. These are used for several Mini-Expansions in this Expansion Box.

Impact – When a Power of the Sultan Card is revealed it is placed to one side and another money card is drawn to replace it. The Sultan Dice must then be rolled and the result will determine which of the buildings on the card is marked with a Marker Cube.

Any Sultan Cards in play can then be purchased as an action instead of doing something else. If the exact amount is paid in the correct currency, a bonus action is taken. When a Sultan Card is bought, the new owner can choose to leave the Marker Cube where it is or they can choose to roll again. The building type that is rolled or the building type on the opposite face must be taken as the new value and the Marker Cube moved accordingly. In this way a player has a 1 in 3 chance of rolling the building type they were after.

The benefit of the Sultan Card is that it allows a player to interrupt the natural flow of play when a building of the type they have marked on their card is added to the Marketplace. They can then chose to take that building for free (which requires the disposal of their Sultan Card) or they can let play continue as per normal.

This is obviously very powerful indeed as it works in much the same way as the Vizier’s Favour Mini-Expansion, but in this case the cost has been paid up front and may be less than the cost of the building itself.

d10-1 If multiple players have Sultan Cards with the same building type showing, the order of play (as with the Vizier’s Favour) is used to determine who has first choice.

d10-2 If playing with both this and the Vizier’s Favour Mini-Expansions, the Power of the Sultan has priority over Vizier Tokens.

d10-3 Also note that Exchange Cards, Diamonds and Coins can all be used to help reach the purchase price of a Sultan Card.

d10-4 Master Builder Cards are not listed as a method for acquiring Sultan Cards however, as I assume, they can only be used to purchase buildings?!

Strategy – Quite simply Sultan Cards are pretty hard to go past and as a general rule they should be purchased when they become available. They are actually far more powerful than the Vizier’s Favour purely because there is less chance that other players will have a Sultan Card with the same building type as you do, meaning you won’t have to worry about turn order.

That said I have played games where red buildings (for example) were worth big points and this meant that 3 different Sultan Cards were in play with a red building power. This meant that their power was diluted considerably as turn order became critical. In this situation when acquiring a new Sultan Card it may be best to avoid that competition altogether.

Another important consideration is the potential cost of Sultan Cards in the early game. A cost of 7 is no small amount in the early game and it is likely that you will not use the card’s power till later in the game. This can effectively mean that you acquire 1-2 buildings less before the 1st Scoring Round as a result, which can lead to another player earning a reasonable lead if they acquired a good number of buildings.

Interaction with other Expansion Sets – The main reason why Sultan Cards are so vital is in the options they give a player in relation to many other Mini-Expansions. The Art of the Moors Mini-Expansion (below) is all about acquiring buildings of a given value. The Power of the Sultan Cards may allow a key building to be nabbed to boost the value of an Art of the Moor relic.

But it doesn’t end there. The same can be said for gaining access to buildings for the purpose of; boosting the value of Worker Huts and Bazaars, for placing Treasure Chests (Treasure Chamber), acquiring Scout Cards and securing one or more of your Bonus Card Buildings (Expansion Set #1).

The only Expansion Set to not have a Mini-Expansion affected by The Power of the Sultan is Expansion Set #3 (The Thief’s Turn).

Feelings – I really like this Mini-Expansion because it is yet another sink hole for the player’s income, which can become quite vast due to other Mini-Expansions. I like how a player must weigh up the relative value of the card now, versus the other options they have with that money.

In general I think Sultan Cards are pretty powerful period. But that does mean that you want to be in a position to nab them as soon as they come up, else they will likely be gone. The dice rolling may seem like yet another random element and will likely annoy some people, but with a 1 in 3 chance of getting what you want (if it wasn’t already rolled initially anyway), I haven’t seen to many people screwed by this aspect.

Rating –

#19 – The Art of the Moors

Components – The Art of the Moors utilizes three types of components. First there is the Docking Strips, which are nothing more (pun intended ) than pretty cardboard strips with triangular indents.


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

Into these indents then are placed the Art of the Moors (see above) as they are acquired. These are hexagonal tiles similar in thickness to a Carcassonne Tile, and these have a value (just below the image in the middle). Tiles with the same value (ranging from 6-13) feature the same trinket, which presumably represents treasures and artworks created by the Moorish people (of which I have no knowledge to draw on).


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

The Art of the Moor tiles feature various numbers around the outside and little black cube symbols. The black Marker Cubes are then used to represent the maximum value of each Art tile as the game develops. All of these features and mechanics are explained below.

Impact – This is without a doubt the meat of this Mini-Expansion. The Art of the Moors can earn a player big, big points, but they also come at a cost.

d10-1 How do you get them? – To earn one a player must acquire 2 buildings of the same cost. If a player achieves that they are then entitled to take an Art of the Moor tile of the same value. Each tile is identical in its features, so the selection of which tile is irrelevant. Do note however that Moor Tiles range from value 6-13, therefore buildings of cost 2-5 will not help secure a Moor Tile.

Once earned a Docking Strip is taken and the Moor Tile is slotted into one of the positions with the 0 pointing to the top. A black Marker Cube is then placed on the furthest most position, depicting the number of buildings of that value (cost) that is currently held by the player (which will always be 2 when first acquired). Depending on the value of the Moor Tile this location will be 1-3 spots from the starting position.

NB – It does not matter if a player’s building tiles of the same value are located in their Alhambra or their Reserve.

d10-2 What does it Mean? – The number at the top most point is the value of that artwork at the present time. The location of the Marker Cube is the maximum value of the Moor Tile at the present time.

d10-3 How can I change the values? – On a player’s turn, they can forfeit a regular action to turn all tiles in their Docking Strip(s) (a player can have more than one Strip if they fill the first) one space anti-clockwise, thereby increasing the value of the Artwork. However a tile can never be turned beyond the point where a Marker Cube is located.

To move a Marker Cube to a higher value, a player must acquire more buildings of the same value. Doing so allows the Marker Cube to be moved to the furthest most point that correlates to the number of buildings they have of that cost.

For Example – In the following image look to the middle tile in the Docking Strip. At present the player has 2 buildings of value 7, hence the current location of the Marker Cube on the furthest most 2 square location (value of 2). If the player acquired a 3rd building of value 7 then the Marker Cube would move to the furthest most point for 3 buildings, jumping past the 4 point value to the 6 point value location.


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

d10-4 When do Moor Tiles Score? – All Art of the Moor Tiles will earn the points as indicated by the top most value on each tile during each scoring phase.

d10-5 How Many Moor Tiles can I have? – It is only possible to have 1 Tile of each value and there are 7 different valued tiles in all. The amount of each tile type available however is dependent on how many buildings there are of each value (cost) in the game. So there are as many as four 8 value Moor Tiles, but only one 12/13 value Moor Tile.

Strategy – The Art of the Moors can be worth big points by the 2nd and 3rd scoring phases if a player has acquired buildings well. But they do come at a very big cost in terms of forfeiting actions.

It is imperative to pick the moment carefully when you choose to rotate your tiles. Preferably always rotate them when you have more than one as you will gain maximum points with a minimum of rotations. Try to time your rotations just prior to a Scoring Phase or at points in the game when the buildings and money on offer are not that helpful to you. And finally, try to rotate them using a bonus action where possible as this means you have still done something valuable for a turn and ensured you can earn bonus points during the next scoring.

As a point of interest, I managed to win a game at my second attempt with only 1 Moor Tile and it was at value 0 by the end of the game. This was in comparison to a player who earned some 9 and 15 points from Moor Tiles in the last 2 scoring rounds. I achieved the win because I had instead focused on building a big wall and gained a majority in the two highest valued building types for the final round. By contrast he had taken buildings with walls that did not align well in order to match the values of his tiles in order to gain Art of the Moor Tiles. He had also forgone the purchase of important tiles in order to rotate his Moor Tiles. The combination of these factors let me slip past for a 9 point win.

So tread carefully is the message I guess. Any one thing done in Alhambra comes as an opportunity cost to doing something else!

Interaction with other Expansion Sets – This is a good example of a Mini-Expansion that was designed to have a major bearing on the game but only create links, in terms of strategy, with other Mini-Expansions from its own Expansion Set. In this case the Art of the Moors links up beautifully with the Power of the Sultan Cards, as they can be used to nab a building of a particular value in order to gain access to a Moor Tile or increase a Moor Tile’s value.

Feelings – The Art of the Moors is the real winner within this Expansion Set for me. They are enticing to acquire, they can offer real value if used cleverly and yet they can be a real distraction from other methods of earning points if handled poorly. This then amounts to a Mini-Expansion that is very thought provoking and unlike some others on offer, the luck factor here is low to non-existent. Great stuff.

Jump down to the ‘Additional Resources’ section to learn about some aids that come with the game to help with this and the Power of the Sultan Mini-Expansions.

Rating –

#20 – The Caravanserai

Components – This Mini-Expansion consists of 8 more cards and each card is double sided. The back features a depiction of a building under a blue desert sky. The numbers 8, 4 and 2 are depicted at the top and a series of tile icons are depicted at the bottom (more on these features in a moment).

The reverse side depicts a money track of sorts. One of the Alhambra currencies is present in a vertical line up the middle and the other 3 currency types feature once at various junctures. Values are listed down the side ranging from 0 to 5.

A Black Marker Cube is used to depict the value of a Caravanserai Card once acquired.

With 8 cards in all, there are 2 cards that feature each currency type down the centre.


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

Impact – This Mini-Expansion allows players to earn additional income (presumably from owning a Caravan, or Market selling goods, if theme is important to you). But that extra income may well come at a fairly significant cost.

All Caravanserai Cards are laid out with the rear or sky blue side face up. This side of the card(s) serves to denote the cost to acquire a Caravanserai.


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

The icons at the bottom of the card denote how many buildings of different types a player must have before a Caravanserai Card can be purchased. The top of the card denotes what that cost is before it can be bought. Therefore the maximum cost is 8 and a player must have at least 4 buildings of different types in their possession before this is possible. Having 5 different building types will reduce the cost to 4 and having all 6 makes them a bargain at a cost of 2.

These buildings must be built within a player’s Alhambra and cannot be located in a player’s Reserve.

Buying a Caravanserai Card takes an action, and a bonus action can be used for this purpose. Paying for one of these cards must be done with a single currency type and paying the exact amount will earn a bonus action as well.

Once a Caravanserai Card is purchased, the cards can be looked at and a particular card chosen. A Black Marker Cube is then taken and placed on the black zero starting location.

d10-2 Using a Caravanserai Card – Using the card is dead simple (hooray). At the start of a player’s turn they can increase the value of any one card (not both should they have 2) by moving their Marker Cube up one space or across one space if they were at a junction. Movement can only ever be up or across, never down.

At any point a player chooses to pay for something, they can add the current value of one or more of their Caravanserai cards (denoted by the values on the left hand side) to money from their hand.

In the following example the value that could be added by the Caravanserai Card would be 2 in the blue currency.


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

Once a Caravanserai Card is used, its value is returned to 0 and will begin to build again from that player’s next turn.

It is important to note that values from Caravanserai Cards can be added to currency in hand at the end of the game to secure left over buildings in the Marketplace.

Strategy – Naturally Caravanserai Cards can offer the most value if they are secured early in the game. But this is no easy task as at least 4 buildings of different types must be acquired to allow a purchase and even then they are not cheap.

Then there is the realisation that doing so (acquiring buildings of different types) is actually counter-productive to the game’s main goal of gaining majorities in order to score points in the scoring rounds.

So this Mini-Expansion throws up a dilemma from the get-go. What it does do however is dovetail beautifully with the Art of the Moor Mini-Expansion from this Expansion Set as it is possible to acquire like valued tiles, to satisfy the Moor Tile requirement, and acquire buildings of different types, to help secure Caravanserai Cards, at the same time.

By my reckoning if this is possible then I think it is worth pursuing a Caravanserai and hoping that the short term pain is worth the longer term gain. Exactly how early a player should acquire a Caravanserai Card and what they should pay depends on the position of the game and what other cost based Mini-Expansions are in play. Ideally, a cost of 4 or less is ideal, but it must be weighed up with how long is left in the game.

It is also worth noting that a viable strategy may be to keep the cost of these cards low as it may be more helpful when adding them to cash from your hand to pay an exact amount for something, thus earning a bonus turn. Of course this will depend on whether you are drawing high or low valued cards.

Interaction with other Expansion Sets – As mentioned above, this Mini-Expansion dovetails beautifully with the Art of the Moors Mini-Expansion. Other than that it is of potential value with any other Mini-Expansion that requires investment.

Feelings – This is another very strong addition to the Alhambra family, not necessarily due to the benefit it bestows, but more for the conundrum it poses to players. Do I pursue them or will they cost me VP’s in the long run? When has the time come to abandon my plans for them (when is the relative value less than the cost to purchase), how best can I use any extra income gained and should I increase the value or branch out to a different currency? These are all questions posed by this Mini-Expansion and as such I think it is well designed.

Rating –

Additional Resources

Unlike other Expansion Sets, this one comes with a set of resources in the form of double sided cards and they are mighty helpful. Two of the Mini-Expansions (Sultan Cards and Moor Tiles) really do require that the players are aware of the building tiles that come in each colour and their relative values, as both of these features are key.

So these double sided resource cards depict on one side all tiles by wall structure and which colours are associated with each (on the right of the image below) and on the other; which tiles are present at each cost (left of image below). These cards are very helpful when used in conjunction with a quick scan of each player’s Alhambra, to identify which tiles have yet to enter play and are still available.


Image Courtesy of Uncle G

The Final Word

So overall we have 2 very strong Mini-Expansions on offer here and 2 others that may well come down to personal taste.

Looking at the total score below I see that a rating of 15 ’s puts this Expansion Set 3rd out of the 5, coming in 1 behind The City Gates. But on the balance of things I feel that it is on a level footing with that Expansion Set.

This review has been longer than most others as there is more intricacy in explaining the Mini-Expansions found here. However that intricacy is harder to explain than it is to implement. So don’t be frightened by The Power of the Sultan at all as this is another quality inclusion to the Alhambra family.

The real question now is – “Is this the end for Alhambra Expansions?” The release of the Alhambra Big Box would suggest that this is possibly so and 20 is a nice number to finish at. But the Carcassonne Big Box didn’t stop the flow of expansions either so I guess we will have to wait and see.

Overall Rating - 15 ’s out of 20 's

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Mini-Expansion Summary

Well with my Alhambra review journey seemingly at an end, I thought it would be a good idea to list all the scores for the Mini-Expansions in one spot so they are easy to compare.

I do reserve the right to alter these over the coming months as I play the game with all the expansions again. If I do so I will make an edit to note any changes and why I thought they were warranted.

Expansion Set #1 – The Vizier’s Favour

The Vizier’s Favour - ’s
The Bureau de Change - ’s
The Worker’s Huts - ’s
The Bonus Cards -

Total – 11 ’s

Expansion Set #2 – The City Gates

The City Gates - ’s
The Diamonds - ’s
The Characters - ’s
The Camps - ’s

Total – 16 ’s

Expansion Set #3 – The Thief’s Turn

The City Walls - ’s
The Thieves - ’s
The Change - ’s
The Street Trader - ’s

Total – 12 ’s

Expansion Set #4 – The Treasure Chamber

The Treasure Chamber - ’s
The Master Builders - ’s
The Invaders - ’s
The Bazaars - ’s

Total – 17.5 ’s

Expansion Set #5 – The Power of the Sultan

The New Score Cards - ’s
The Power of the Sultan - ’s
The Art of the Moors - ’s
The Caravanserai - ’s

Total – 15 ’s

Links

For a full list of my 300+ reviews in a search-able Geeklist -

My Review Geeklist for Easy Reference

Other Links

d10-1 Alhambra - A Detailed Review

d10-2 Expansion Set #1 - The Vizier's Favour

d10-3 Expansion Set #2 - The City Gates

d10-4 Expansion Set #3 - The Thief's Turn

d10-5 Expansion Set #4 - The Treasure Chamber

d10-6 Alhambra - The Dice Game
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Graham Dean
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Another excellent review, as usual. I would recommend anyone interested in Alhambra to check out your detailed reviews on all the other expansions as well - they were an enormous help to me when I was deciding on what games I wanted to buy.

Good to see that my pictures proved useful as well.
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I am on a Journey...
Australia
Lavington
New South Wales
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...to explore and discover games of all shapes and sizes regardless of colour, condition or creed
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Uncle G wrote:
Another excellent review, as usual. I would recommend anyone interested in Alhambra to check out your detailed reviews on all the other expansions as well - they were an enormous help to me when I was deciding on what games I wanted to buy.

Good to see that my pictures proved useful as well.


Yeah cheers mate - not many of my reviews use the one source quite so frequently but yours were quality.
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Brian Foster
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Very impressive! As usual, you do a superior job of providing the essential details. I recently purchased the Big Box and am looking forward to adding some of the expansions as we learn the game. Thanks also for providing a summary of all of the expansion reviews; it is so helpful to have this available in one place. These review are the main reason I bought the game.
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Karin
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Thank you again for your great work on this review. I have all the expansions for Alhambra, except this one. Somehow it was all becoming a bit much and I couldn't decide if it would really add anything to the game. Maybe looking over your review a few times will help me decide one way or the other....
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