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Reseña: Istanbul

Varios Caminos a la Victoria


Hay aproximadamente 2.250 Km. de Genoa a Istanbul – o si se mira de otro modo, han sido exactamente 13 años, lo que para los auténticos jugones, han tenido que esperar. En la feria de juguetes de Nüremberg lo que se comentaba era: “Ya he jugado al nuevo juego de Rüdiger Dorn, después de tanto tiempo.” Dorn ha revivido la mecanica de su anterior juego GENOA (editado por Rio Grande; nombre original DIE HÄNDLER VON GENUA de alea) en este nuevo juego ISTANBUL de Pegasus.

Su rasgo diferente con otros juegos es la torre de fichas del comerciante, que Dorn más tarde confirmó que estuvo inspirado en una sugerencia de su mujer Maja. De todas maneras, quiera crea que ISTANBUL es un mero remake no ha entendido el juego. Una cosa importante que hay que mencionar sobre este juego es que nada más empezar una pila de fichas se usa como jugador activo que se mueve por el tablero, y así cada jugador tiene su propia torrecita.

En lo alto de nuestra pila de fichas está el mercader, que se mueve por la ciudad acompañado (al menos al principio) por sus cuatro asistentes. La ciudad en sí se compone de una disposición de losetas de cuatro por cuatro, que pueden interactuar entre diferentes lugares. Las losetas representan almacenes, mercados, mezquitas, y otras tiendas. El objetivo del juego es ser el primero en conseguir cinco rubíes mediante la venta o el comercio de bienes. Puedes mover tu torre una o dos losetas de forma ortogonal, y una vez que se llega, tu mercante “desciende” un de los asistentes y después se usa su habilidad de dicho lugar –Pudiendo llenar tu carrito con frutas, tejidos, especias, u obras de arte; después vendes esos bienes; o puedes lanzas los dados en la casa del té. Cuando un mercante vuelve a una loseta donde esté su asistente esperando, podrá volver a colocar el disco de nuevo a la pila de fichas y puede también usar la habilidad de esa loseta.

It’s a neat and simple mechanism which nevertheless causes confusion: even experienced players can forget to drop off their assistants. Other players are watching hawk-eyed to ensure that no mistakes are made – and sometimes end up making false accusations because they didn’t notice that the merchant is in fact collecting an assistant dropped earlier. A merchant with no more assistants is condemned to idleness, which breaks his stride. Yes, you can go to the Fountain and call your errand boys back to you from wherever they are in town, but that costs a round. A player who really wants to win will be sure to keep such dead time to a minimum.

There are several ways to get the required five rubies. For instance you can go to the Sultan’s Palace and exchange your wares for rubies. Sadly the exchange rate rises every time a player uses this function. Alternatively, you can go to one of the two Markets and sell your goods there for money, which you use to buy rubies from the Gemstone Dealer. Here too the price rises with every purchase made. Thus the trick is to optimize your route through Istanbul, along with your sales and purchases, to get ahead of the others.

There are three other spots in the city where rubies are for sale; two of them are Mosques, where you can also gain extra abilities. If you revisit a Mosque where you have already taken both tokens, you then get a free ruby. You can also go to the Wainwright and spend seven Liras there for the third expansion to our Wheelbarrow – with the result that you can now transport more wares, and you get a ruby into the bargain.

¿Son los Rubíes una ganga?

It was at this point that many gamers in my groups began to discuss the most efficient strategy. The purists proclaimed that all these extra abilities and expansions were too expensive, and that the quickest way to win was to ignore them. And there are indeed many other places where you could be spending your time. Other players thought that some of the extra abilities were actually overpowered, claiming that the powers for sale in the Little Mosque were unbalanced – or the ones in the Great Mosque, where you can gain the ability to add a fifth disc to your tower, or to call an assistant back to your side by paying two Lira at any time.

All of this is excellent fodder for argument. As is the matter of whether buying rubies from the Gemstone Dealer is suspiciously cheap and upsets the game balance. I have played a decent two-digit number of games by now and, without giving too much away, I can say that if you let an opponent monopolize one path to victory, you are doing something wrong. As soon as more than one player starts to visit the Mosques and the Dealer, the prices go up by leaps and bounds. And another sore point is that whenever we are the second (or third, or fourth…) merchant (although not assistant!) to visit a tile in a round, we have to pay two Lira to each of the other players or end our turn right there and then.

Those who like to plan, and dislike surprises, will find two things in particular to quibble at in Istanbul. You can visit the Tea House, where you name a number from three to twelve and then roll two dice. If you hit your number, you get that many Lira paid out as prize money, and even if you don’t, you still walk away with two Liras. And the Black Market is one of the few venues where you can gain jewelry, the rare blue commodities in the game. The Black Market also functions by dice roll, which can go badly wrong. Not everybody likes such random factors but it brings the right note of uncertainty and stops the game from becoming a simple exercise in mental arithmetic.

set up game

Juegar tus puntos fuertes

I think that ISTANBUL is an excellent game. It lets everybody play to their own strengths – as a reckless gambler, a sober merchant, or a cunning old fox that builds up his capacities and collects extra abilities. You can gain dice bonuses, pick up some very strong ability cards, or free a Family Member from the Police Station to use for one-off actions – just as you can also have another player’s Family Member locked up, and collect a nice little fee as you do so.

The city offers many opportunities, and many paths to victory. And it is many cities in one! The rulebook is clear and well-written (although there is already a first update to English and German rules on the Pegasus homepage) and gives us three recommended starting layouts. The Short Paths version is only for complete newbies, since it contains a couple of simple VP switchback paths which can end the game very quickly. If an experienced player who knows the game can explain the city to them, even newbies will have no problem with the variants called Long Paths or In Order, even on a first game.

Once you’ve tried out these three, you can lay out the Place tiles with almost complete freedom. There are some restrictions to prevent easy paths to victory, and many strategies will be stronger or weaker depending on the layout you use. There’s a lot here to see, learn, and find out, all packed into just about an hour’s play. Each turn takes just a few seconds, and then if you have a plan, you’re biting your nails until your turn comes round again. ISTANBUL is one of this year’s best games, and in my opinion it’s one of Rüdiger Dorn’s very best designs.

Gracias a Á. G.


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