Saturday, November 05, 2005

Review: Alhambra: The Vizier's Favour

Alhambra: The Vizier's Favour is actually four mini expansions for the award-winning game Alhambra in one box. Each expansion can be used independently or together. The expansions are: The Vizier's Favour, The Bureau de Change, The Worker's Huts, and The Bonus Cards.

The Vizier's Favour adds six wooden tiles (one for each player) to the game. On one side of the tile is a picture of the Vizier. The reverse is blank. They allow players to purchase tiles out of turn. After any player has finished his or her turn, any player whose vizier tile is face up may turn their vizier tile face down and purchase a tile by exact count. On a player's turn she may turn her vizier tile face up in stead of taking her normal actions.

I particularly like this addition to the game as it partly solves one of Alhambra's biggest flaws: that it can be very difficult to plan ahead because by the time your turn comes around again, tiles that you were saving for may have been already bought by other players.

The Bureau de Change consists of six cards that are mixed in with the regular money cards and treated just like money cards in all respects. Each of the Bureau de Change cards shows two of the four currencies. When played, they allow cards in those currencies to be used interchangeably. So for instance, a blue 4 could be combined with a yellow 5 and a blue/yellow Bureau de Change card to purchase either a blue 9 or yellow 9 tile. This adds some flexibility to your hand at the expense of giving up a turn to take the Bureau de Change card instead of other money cards.

The Worker's Huts expansion consists of 24 building tiles. Each of these tiles matches one of the colors of the normal tiles in the game. Each of them also has at least one wall. At the beginning of the game, the worker's huts are sorted into stacks by color and the top hut is revealed. In lieu of his normal turn, a player may elect to take one of the worker's huts for free (up to a maximum of three). The huts are positioned in the alhambra just like any other tile. Each like-colored tile next to a worker's hut (that isn't separated by a wall) counts as one extra tile when scoring tiles of that color. For instance, a regular blue tile next to a blue hut counts once for the tile and once for being next to the hut. Two regular blue tiles flanking a blue hut count as four tiles (instead of the normal 2).

A well placed Worker's Hut makes it possible for a clever player to lock in a lead or overtake a leader. It adds a nice layer of strategy to the game without over-complicating it.

The Bonus Cards are ten cards which each show a picture of a particular building tile. The tiles are randomly distributed evenly among the players. At any time, a player may reveal one of his cards. If that player has the matching tile then that tile counts double when scoring that color for the remainder of the game.

Each of these expansions has something to add to an otherwise great game. Now that I've played with the expansions, I doubt that I'll ever play Alhambra again without them. Two thumbs way up!


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