Istanbul the Board Game (and Digital Edition) Review

Istanbul - Cover Art
Released 2014
Designer Rüdiger Dorn
Publisher Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) (Website)
Players 2-5
Playing Time about 15min per player
Category Collection
Route Planning
Special Powers
Worker Placement(ish)
Race
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Who thought a board game based on shopping would be this interesting?

I have talked about Istanbul in both Board and Dice iterations in Last Week’s Gaming a few times. But only now am I finally doing a review of the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres Winner. Better late than never?

Today I am restricting the review to the Board Game rules, and I will tackle Istanbul the Dice Game in a future review. You may notice that I have used mainly screenshots from the Digital implementation. That’s because I can’t find my copy of the Board game, only the Dice game!

The rules are the same, so this is essentially a review of both versions. There will be App-specific thoughts near the end.

So with all that out of the way, let’s talk about Istanbul the Board Game.

Some tiles, cards, and wooden tokens to represent your people. Simple, yet satisfying.

You said Istanbul is based on shopping? What is with that?

If you tell people they are about to play a game where the objective is to buy rubies, I can imagine many people walking away. But that description is accurate.

Each player takes the role of a merchant with four assistants, and your task is to traverse a bazaar making deals to collect 5 rubies. I know, it still doesn’t sound all that interesting. But Istanbul is one of the best min-max puzzle games I have ever played.

5 Rubies to end the game. Most Robies win, with coins as tie breaker. Easy.

How does Istanbul work then?

While the objective is to obtain rubies, there are multiple paths to getting them. Some are simple – buy them, or trade specific goods for them. Others are given as rewards, such as acquiring all of the abilities from a mosque.

The one constant is that each time you obtain a ruby, the requirement is made harder for the next person. There is a race on to obtain rubies before everyone else not just for the score, but so you don’t have to do as much to get them.

The art and layout is identical between the Board Game and Digital Edition

Well, that sounds easy enough…

It is. It really is. The beauty of Istanbul is each individual rule and objective is simple. The path to executing your goal is always different, and the puzzle lies in executing your plan well.

You must move to another location each turn, either one or two spaces from your location. But to perform the action there, you need to leave (or collect) an assistant. In short, this is a fancy way of saying you need to leave a disc or collect a disc to do the action.

However, if the area you are entering already has merchants there, you need to pay each of them 2 coins. If you can’t (or you don’t want to), you can still move there, but your turn immediately ends.

You may not block players by being where they want to be, but it can become expensive

This means that the path you take is essential, as you don’t want to waste turns collecting assistants. This is the puzzle aspect of Istanbul that makes the game both satisfying and brain breaking.

You can’t get too complacent with your planning though. Like many other games, some cards will let players break the rules. You can stay on the same tile, take actions twice, even just get free money! There is always something to try and take you by surprise.

Just grabbing goods, Special Movement, Money - lots of powers available

That still sounds relatively simple. Why would anyone want to play Istanbul?

This is where the most challenging part of Istanbul is convincing people to give it a fair go. It doesn’t sound fun. But if you can get people to play it once, the appeal becomes very apparent. Easily 4 in 5 new players ask me for another game immediately. Istanbul is brilliant at getting its hooks into you.

As much as I enjoy playing Istanbul, it isn’t always a game I reach for. When playing Istanbul, there can be a lot of downtime. Especially with players that are susceptible to Analysis Paralysis. Coupled with needing to have the mental buffer to optimise your plays, Istanbul can be a lot heavier than the description implies.

Need coin? Sell some goods for a quick boost

Enter Istanbul’s Digital implementation.

I nabbed the digital version of Istanbul the Board Game ages ago on Steam. But like a lot of Steam Sale purchased, it has taken me a long time to come around to it.

Bottom line – I shouldn’t have waited so long.

Playing solo, digital Istanbul is perfect. The digital adaption is faithful, with AI players that provide a challenge at all levels. I am definitely the player that takes the most time.

Setup is handled by the app, meaning that random layouts and the like are just done for you. Everything is clearly laid out in front of you, and the in-game help is handy.

Would I prefer playing the digital version with others? Nope. I would rather be around the table with my friends. But to get an Istanbul fix at the end of the day? It’s been great.

The tile art covers the screen. You can't confuse where you are.

Who should play Istanbul?

This is a tricky one. Istanbul: The Board Game is a title that many can enjoy. However, it did win the Kennerspiel des Jahres – the ‘expert’ game of the year.

Istanbul the Board Game is a game that is easy to learn, so many people can jump in and enjoy it. However playing against experts, casual players can be quickly decimated.

I think if you enjoy playing games, everyone should try Istanbul. Give it a chance, but go in knowing that it may not be a game you want to add to your collection.

If you don’t have access to the physical board game to try, I can highly recommend the digital implementation. Probably best on a large screen though. That said, you can get Istanbul Digital Edition on PC, Switch, iOS and Android.

Istanbul the Board Game

Overall Thoughts

Istanbul is very much like Chess – simple rules, complex strategy. If you are playing against people of around your skill level, Istanbul is a satisfying puzzle of a game that gets tense quickly.

The biggest problem with Istanbul is usually getting people to try it. Saying you are going to move around a board to collect rubies doesn’t sound all that appealing, but most people that try Istanbul definitely want to try it again!

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Multiple strategies
  • Random board layout allows for maximum replayability
  • Simple rules with small learning curve

Cons

  • Downtime while people plan their moves can be a thing
  • Getting people to try it can be a challenge

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
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