The iOS release schedule is a little like the movies – the good stuff all gets crammed into the holidays, and then we have to wait for a few months while the release engines get warmed up. In the meantime, here’s a look back at some of the bigger games we might have missed, starting with one of the first Euros many Americans played after Catan.
In Alhambra, players will take turns attempting to build the grandest structure to impress the Emperor. To do so, you’ll need to obtain currencies of various nationalities, as each artisan wants only to be paid in the coin of their homeland.
You begin the game with a cards of various currencies. On any given turn, 4 buildings and 4 currency cards are available. You may either take any currency card you wish (and more than one if their combined value is 5 or less) or purchase any building you can afford. If you must overpay for a building, your turn ends there; each purchase made with exact change grants an additional action. You may also move buildings into and out of a reserve area; if they aren’t reserved, buildings must be placed immediately.
There are 6 different kinds of buildings, each costing and scoring progressively more. Buildings will also have between zero and 3 walls and must be placed in a given orientation. You must play an empty edge against an empty edge and must be able to trace a path all the way back to your initial tile without crossing a wall.
Tiles and cards are replaced at the end of a turn in which they are taken. Buried in the tile stack in the second and fourth fifths are two tiles that immediately trigger scoring; scoring is also triggered when a the building market needs to be refilled and can’t be. Points are awarded to the player that has a majority of each of the 6 types of buildings; you also get points for your longest contiguous wall. Whoever has the most points after final scoring is the winner.
Alhambra has, over the years, garnered 5 expansions and a retheme where you build classic Manhattan. Sadly, none of these options seem to exist in the iPad version; the lack of these seems a missed opportunity, but the game was only released in October so who knows if these will appear in the future. What you will find is an option to display the graphics in line with the graphics of the physical game, or via a faux-3D isometric view where buildings drop from the sky with an accompanying cloud of dust.
The game features a competent slide-show tutorial that covers the basic rules and a bit of strategy. Sadly the documentation is not otherwise available. Up to 5 opponents can each be had with up to 5 levels of AI; online play is also possible, but though the games we initiated claimed to find live opponents, none of them took their turns, so we aren’t able to evaluate how playable the game is online. There is no Game Center integration, but the game does seem to track its own achievements internally.
The experience of playing Alhambra is not unlike that of playing Kingdom Builder, also from Queen Games. Both games released to numerous reports of crashing; both games were eventually patched to playability; both implementations do everything they need to do, but don’t do any of it especially memorably. Alhambra is a fairly dry game, mostly devoid of player interaction. Now that the stability issues seem to have been addressed, the iPad version really doesn’t do anything wrong – it just doesn’t do anything memorable. Without the expansions that many players find essential to the experience, Alhambra’s ho-hum presentation at a fairly premium price is probably best left to existing fans.