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   2-4 Players  Aged  8+   Should cost between £15.00 - £25.00 at your local game store  Games should take 20-40 minutes

When I first showed ISTANBUL the DICE GAME to my gaming buddies they were all rather apprehensive about it, mainly, I discovered, because they have been "burned" many times by purchasing Dice games derived from popular boardgames and been thoroughly disappointed. At this point they did mention 2-3 games but as our opinions differed on some of them there is no need to mention them here. Let me just say that it took me a while to convince them to play it - the first time. With reading the rules, going back over them a few times because there were a few parts that didn't hit home immediately, our first game took over 90 minutes instead of the 40 minutes expected (from the side of the box). Surprisingly these were an exceptionally grand 90 minutes bringing forth calls to play it again, straight away - something very unusual for my group. 

If you have played the original boardgame of ISTANBUL (by this I mean the popular published edition) then you will be quite surprised how well it has been transformed into a Dice game without compromising any of its integrity or fun or directly copying it, thus it is almost an entirely new game and in fact not only is it almost an entirely new game, it is actually better than being an almost new game. After several plays of the Dice version and then returning to the boardgame the unanimous vote was that the boardgame is still a good play but the dice game is so much more fun.

 

The components are good and more than capable for their purpose. The central board (double sided for 2-3 players on one side, 4 players on the other) shows on both sides a 10" x 7" layout of an Arabian Nights style village, though I assume it is meant to be the Town of Istanbul. The display shows the local Mosque (seen through an ancient arch), two snake-rolls of carpet (Coins value 10-20 in increments of 2 on one side and Resources - in multiples on the other). There are four Merchant spaces, one each for Blue (Jewelry) Green (Spice) Red (Cloth) and Yellow (Fruit) plus two others for aesthetic value only (the local Market and the Gem master).

The Carpets, the Merchants and the Arch all have small decorated circles in or around them, each with a small Red Spot on them - it is on these spots that Rubies (Red gems) that are what you have to collect to win the game are placed at the beginning during setup. There is one deck of cards - the Bazaar cards which form a draw deck, and a deck of Mosque Tiles which always have a row of 6 face up on display - the use and/or collection of which, along with the dice roll, being how you gain the Rubies and win the game. The Resources to be collected are small square card tiles and include some Brown tiles showing a wooden crate. These are "Jokers" and can be used for any colour resource required. You can spend Dice results and Resources to purchase Mosque Tiles or Rubies.

 

The Dice: Yes this is a dice game so it's probably a good idea to look at them. They are wooden 6-siders with rounded corners and each side is different, in colour and in design. Four of the faces have the Green, Red, Yellow and Blue icons of the various Resources while the other two faces show the rear side of a Bazaar card and the light brown icon of 2 coins. At the start of each player's turn they activate all of the Tiles they have collected. These can give extra action turns, extra dice to roll, Crystals and other specials, all of which are extremely helpful, which is why they aren't that easy to obtain - you generally need to collect the resources that are shown on the top of the tile. Using these tiles is not an Action. Neither is the use of the Bazaar cards an Action, which are never kept, they are taken and used immediately and then discarded. These cards may be one or two parted and therefore usable only by the player who received the card (one part) or by all players (2 parts). The one parters offer the card player a choice of paying a fee, either in money or resources, as shown on the card to collect the reward, also shown on the card - if the player cannot or doesn't want to pay the fee they collect 1 coin from the bank. The two parter has an option for the player, generally giving them a resource or coins then the other players can pay a set fee (set by the card) to collect a similar reward. The fact that there are options for players on every turn generally means to me that this is a game that has either been designed by a gamer or by someone who understands what gamers complain of. As Rüdiger Dorn is the designer then I stand corrected for he is both a games player and a gamer, as well as being a well respected designer. The artwork of Andreas Resch is nothing to sneeze at either, par excellence!

In a game with 2 or 3 players you have to collect 6 Rubies to win; with 4 players you only need to collect 5 Rubies - the game ending at the end of the round when all players have had equal turns. This gives all players a chance to win or at least tie for the number of Rubies, other factors might sort out the eventual victor or a tie may be decided upon. This is one of those games where the playing is truly the fun of the game, winning is almost secondary (I did say "almost").

 

Knowing which aspects of play are Actions are which are not, yet can be done in a Player's Turn is where we were reaching for the Rules regularly in our first game. The Rules book has a comprehensive list of the capabilities, with illustrations, of the Bazaar Cards, the Icons on the Bazaar cards and the Mosque tiles - we got a mite confused at first because the Bazaar card Icons are shown as small squares, reminiscent of the small Mosque tiles while the Mosque tile illustrations are cut away and look at first glance like they may be cards, not tiles.

In the Rules the Sequence of Play which describes what Players can do in their Turn is numbered 1 through 4 and this is followed by descriptions of the possible Actions; players can do 2 Actions per Turn which may be different Actions or the same. If you have a Tile that allows for Extra Actions then they can also be the same as one of or both of your previous 2 Actions.

What constitutes an Action?
a). Activating the Mosque Tiles = Not an Action
b). Rolling the five dice (or more if you Tiles giving you extra dice). = Not an Action
c). Spending a Crystal to Re-Roll any/all of the dice rolled = Not an Action. You can spend as many Crystals as you like in your Turn to roll/reroll dice.
d). Each time you spend any of the Dice rolled (and kept). This is an Action. Gaining Resources, Crystals, Coins, Mosque Tiles, Bazaar Cards are all ways of spending your dice.
e). Cashing in Coin icons on the dice gains you 2 coins per die Face showing coins. This is an Action. 
f). Spending Resources you have collected. This is an Action.  Resources can be added to Dice faces if necessary to obtain Mosque Tiles or Rubies from the board etc.

As well as the basics there are some neat little ideas built in that you might not realise at first but need to consider. One of the naughtiest, but cleverest, of these is the distribution of Goods (Resources), Crystals or Coins. If you (any player) need to take any of these from Supply (there is a finite number of each) and there aren't enough to fulfil your needs then ALL players who have at least one of the required item has to put one from their own stock into the pool; the Rules say "each player who owns at least 1 resource of the type required must discard 1 resource of this type back to the general supply ..." and so because of this wording we have taken it to mean that EVERY player (including the player attempting to take one or more) who holds such a resource must hand one in. We did house-rule that if you want to take 2 of something and there is only one then all players have to add one to the supply before ANY are taken. Taking one (of 2 or more) out just to immediately put it back seemed a little too harsh, but it can still be that you have to put one in (if the pool is empty) to take one out, but then every other player will have suffered with you. 

This is a true quality game and well worthy of carrying the PEGASUS SPIELE name and banner high. The English edition is by AEG in the States but I received the German version "Istanbul - das Würfelspiel" which includes a set of English rules along with a set of German rules. The only complain we have about this wonderfully entertaining game is that it is only for 4 players. A slightly larger board with more Rubies and Crystals (and Resources/cards/Tiles etc) would have made a superb 5 or 6 player game. I hope there is an expansion planned for the future. There are rules for a 2-player game, but once again, like so many boardgames, the 2 player variant is insubsequential to the main game and does it no true justice.

 

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015