Alhambra app.

The boardgame Alhambra is a modern Euro classic, winner of the 2003 Spiel des Jahres award and a host of other prizes, and still rated fairly highly on Boardgamegeek even thought it’s a bit light for that crowd. It’s also one of my least favorite Spiel winners, and one of my biggest disconnects between what I think of a game and what the gaming community thinks. I reviewed the original game back in 2011, and while I’ve softened on it just a little bit, it’s still not something I’m eager to pull off the shelf.

But there is now an Alhambra app (for iOS devices and Android), and because I take my responsibility to all of you seriously, I have played it for the purposes of reviewing it. And … I still don’t like the game that much, and I find the app a little clunky to use; after I’ve been spoiled by a run of Asmodee Digital apps and a few other super-clean ports, this one fell short of the mark for me. The AI players are solid, though, so it’s a good challenge for solo play, so if you enjoy the tabletop game, you may find value in the app that I didn’t.

Alhambra is a tile-laying game where players use money cards selected from a rolling display of four cards and use them to buy one or more of the four tiles currently in the market. You get one action per turn and can use it to buy a tile, take money cards (one card, or several if they add up to five or less), or move a tile already in your palace to storage/move one from storage to the palace. If you buy a tile and pay the exact amount, you get a bonus action, so in theory you could get five actions in one turn: you buy each of the four tiles for the exact amount, and then get a bonus action to take money or renovate. There are six tile types, and you score for having the most or second-most of each type, with three scoring stages during the game and points increasing at each scoring. Tiles also have wall segments on zero to three edges; at every scoring, you score one point for each edge on your longest contiguous wall.

The app version of Alhambra has two different views – a standard top-down look and an isometric view with graphics on the tiles to give them 3D textures, with the isometric one much more comfortable to look at in my experience. You can also tailor the app speed if you want to see AI or opposing players make their moves, or if you’d rather speed things up and have cards just disappear from the display as they’re taken.

Making moves in the app is not intuitive in the least. First, you must select your action from a box at the top of the screen – buy, take money, renovate. If you’re buying, then you must select the money cards you intend to spend to buy the tile, and selecting the cards is a pain because of the way they’re laid out, overlapping each other, forcing you to click on the edge of a card to select it. Then you pick the tile you’re buying. If you pay the exact price, the app automatically gives you a bonus action by asking you to select a new action type. If you don’t have enough money to buy any tiles, that action is greyed out.

Any tiles you buy go into a temporary storage bin on the screen until your turn is done, after which you place all of the tiles at once. You drag the tile you wish to place over towards your board, and the legal spaces for it light up in green, then go back to retrieve the next tile if there are more in your tray. Once you place a tile, I don’t think there’s a way to undo it. The isometric view only fails in this one spot – it’s hard to distinguish walls on the ‘far’ side of tiles.

The game ends when the supply of tiles is exhausted, at which point there’s a quirk in the rules – the remaining tiles are assigned to players based on who has the most money of each color, whether or not those players have enough to buy the tiles. That can also mean you acquire a tile you can’t place, and the app wants you to place that tile in one of your renovation slots … which I only figured out from trial and error. If you don’t know this, you’re stuck.

The app is stable now after some early bugginess, and some expansions are available as in-app purchases, but I find the UI here too frustrating – and, again, I’m not wild about the game underneath it. If you love the base game, go for it. Otherwise, I’d give this one a miss.

Comments

  1. “…one of my biggest disconnects between what I think of a game and what the gaming community thinks.”

    What other games fit this bill? Just curious as I’ve been diving deeper into board games over the past few years.

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