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For: iPad   Also on: Android, iPhone

It's a little bit Moorish

Product: Alhambra | Developer: Queen Games | Publisher: Queen Games | Format: iPad | Genre: Card/ board game, Strategy | Players: 1 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe
Alhambra iPad, thumbnail 1
The original Alhambra boardgame was a typical, if superior, example of the sorts of games that flowed out of central Europe in Catan's majestic wake.

It gives you various resources to juggle in the form of different currencies, which you must accumulate in order to buy different types of buildings to add to your palace complex.

During a turn you can choose to pick a Currency card or use your currencies to buy an available building, although spending the exact amount lets you perform another action. Three times during the game points are awarded to the players with the most of each building type.

There's some strategy in the recipe, a little bit of maths, a dollop of luck (since the types of money and building available are drawn randomly), and a dash of spatial awareness in making sure you build you palace in such a way as to ensure plenty of new building sites and continuous walls.

Austere towers

However, for all that clever design, I found face to face play bloodless and uninspired. Games of this style typically stop players treading on one another's toes so as to maximise the rewards of good strategy and minimise things like inter-player alliances.

In Alhambra, interaction is limited to stealing things before other players have a chance to. Why sit round playing a game with other people if you can't interact with them? You might as well solve group Sudoku puzzles.

But, oddly, the reasons I tend to avoid games like Alhambra in real life make them good candidates for mobile play. They're quick, easy to learn but hard to master, and you don't miss the cut and thrust of verbal sparring with your friends because there wasn't any of that in the first place.

To make the transition from tabletop to palmtop requires three things: good artificial intelligence, a smooth asynchronous online play system, and a stylish and accessible user interface. Alhambra has two of those three, and is pretty good fun.

The most impressive thing on offer is the computer opposition. There are four levels, from beginner to expert, and even the second level has been giving me a run for my money. It's an impressive piece of programming, since there are a lot of uncertainties and variables in Alhambra.

I was disappointed to note, however, that the only female avatar available in the game was reserved for the beginner level.

Crumbling arcades

When it came to online play and user interface, I was nervous. This app was developed by Queen Games, which is not a software house but the publisher of the boardgame. Its previous foray into mobile gaming, Kingdom Builder, started as a buggy mess with a terrible online system based on German website brettspielwelt rather than Game Center.

Updates have improved Kingdom Builder, and lessons have clearly been learnt, although not as well as you might suppose. Online play in Alhambra has a bespoke system with its own registration, but it's functional, hooking you up for asynchronous games with friends or strangers.

My only serious complaint is that the amount of time you're given to move before an online game gets deleted is on the short side.

It's the interface and stability that let Alhambra down. The tutorial will get you started well enough, but it's not perfectly clear, it misses out some important details, and there's no copy of the rules available through the app to set you straight.

Visually, it's a similar story: serviceable but clunky and rough around the edges. Retina display owners will notice that the graphics are grainy and simplistic, and although I had no problems with the app there are reports of crashes on the App Store and elsewhere.

For a seasoned boardgamer, apps like Alhambra are a bit like comfort food: something you can enjoy while waiting for the big event of playing with friends. But, just like comfort food, it's better if it's prepared and served with love and care, and this hasn't really happened with Alhambra.
Reviewer photo
Matt Thrower | 29 October 2013
A fast-playing, multi-faceted strategy game that works well on mobile, but which deserves more flourish and less bugs than it gets in this workmanlike conversion
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