Designer: Rudiger Dorn
Time: 40-60 Mins
From the Publisher:
The bazaar district is one of the main attractions of Istanbul . In the game of the same name, players wander across the market as buyers and make as profitable a business as possible. Assisted by their assistants, they use various locations in the area to take action. Although goods and money are very important, the merchants have only one thing in mind: to collect rubies. Because who has collected 5 rubies first, wins!
Istanbul, not Constantinople (yes, I made that joke, let’s move on), is a grid movement game of trade where the object of the game is to be the first player to get 5 rubies. There is no other victory condition, or counting points at the completion of the game, it is simply a race to the end. Istanbul is set upon a modular board and your stack of people can move up to 2 spaces, taking the action of the tile on which you stop. These actions include filling your cart, visiting the Mosque, building your cart and breaking a family member out of jail. Now this is all well and good, but it’s just a bit dry. You can get a person who gets a good strategy going and then just bounce between a few tiles, constantly building the actions that they need. In this respect the game has a bit of a problem with a runaway leader, where all of a sudden someone has 3-4 gems and everyone else is trying to navigate themselves around each other.
I know that Istanbul gets good reviews and sits pretty high on the BGG lists, but really I just didn’t get the appeal. But I suppose this is what happens as a reviewer sometimes, that there will be games that are just Meh, when everyone else goes ‘WOW’.
People tell me that Istanbul is so much better with the expansions and my question to them is ‘Why?’ Why should a game improve significantly with every expansion that comes out? Shouldn’t it be pretty good without it? Raiders of the North Sea, for example, is a great game both with and without the expansions.
To be quite honest though, I am having trouble pinning down exactly what it is that I don’t like about this game. It’s not so in-your-face take that as something like Citadels, it isn’t particularly boring or slow, it just feels like it lacks some soul. I know that soul and dryness can be a marker of a Euro game, and I am not averse to that at all, but for me, there is just something missing with Istanbul.
This game won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2014! It beat Concordia, possibly one of the best games around and currently outranks it on the BGG lists by more than 50 spots. Concordia is in the Top 25, while Istanbul is only just holding in the Top 100. That isn’t to say that the Kennerspiel is the be all and end all in terms of awards, previously Broom Service has beaten Orleans and Isle of Skye beat Terraforming Mars, but it should mean something.
So after all of that, can I recommend Istanbul, well no, not really. This is a game that really frustrates me and makes me wonder whether some things only make it into the Top 100 due to the awards that they win. By no means is it unplayable and I would encourage you to try it out for yourself, but this game really isn’t for me at all.