Istanbul Board Game Review: Dynamic worker placement strategy game with many paths to victory

Intro

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Istanbul is solid. It’s a solid, expertly-crafted worker placement strategy game. It is a balanced game with rare blow-you-out-of-the-water wins. The gameplay mechanics are superb, unique, and make actual, real-world sense (as opposed to many games which leave you wondering, “Now why…?”). Replay value is extremely high, not only for the basic, starter mode but especially for mixing up the placement of tiles…and especially after adding in the two incredible expansions (reviews coming soon!). There is a great balance of interaction and impacting other players’ strategies.

Gameplay Overview

Play as a merchant in the bazaar of Istanbul trying to lead his/her assistants to collect the most goods and deliver them via wheelbarrow to certain shops to exchange goods for rubies. As your merchant travels throughout the bazaar, he/she must leave his limited assistants behind to carry out the action. Collect goods from the Warehouses, sell these goods at the Markets, receive goods and money from the mail at the Post Office, push your luck at the Black Market, gain valuable abilities at the Mosques, and much, much more.

Analysis

I love a game that is so balanced that a generalist wins as often as a hard-core, strategy-X-or-bust player. In Istanbul, you can drill into a particular strategy, like money-to-gems or goods-to-gems, and win a good amount of the time. You can also be a balanced generalist who quickly takes advantage of the lower-cost, early gems across the board and do just fine.

I love the light luck/betting component (at the Tea House and Black Market) where you can take a chance at some extra money and valuable goods (potentially a lot!). I’ve seen this most beneficial for those who feel like they are getting behind and need to push some luck to catch up (high-risk, high-return type of scenario).

I really love the limitations in which a player is forced to think one, two, or even three steps ahead. Being able to only move two orthogonal spaces and being limited by the number of assistants at your disposal adds a very fun element to the game. It may be uncomfortable at first for those not disposed to forecasting or thinking ahead much, but it will come quickly and naturally soon enough.

Tips & Tricks

  • Take advantage of the Governor and Smuggler! I didn’t do this nearly enough in my first several games.
  • Instead of making the capturing of another player’s family member a happenstance occurrence, go slightly out of your way to make it happen. The payoff can add up.
  • I found success going for the wheelbarrow extensions very early on. Doing this significantly increases the value of landing on the Warehouse tiles.
  • Take advantage of the Post Office early in the game. It’s a good, consistent way of building up supplies and money.

Wrap-up & Scoring

Overall, I give Istanbul a very solid 8 out of 10 for the following reasons:

Promoters

  • Clever and unique mechanics
  • Just as fun for two players as it is for five
  • Very high “just one more” replay factor to get it right or correct course the next game
  • Great balance of co-player impact vs. independent play
  • Exceptional artwork which makes you feel like you are actually a part of this Middle Eastern bazaar

Detractors

  • This is more towards certain players than of the game itself, but some players let it get too automatic by simply going back and forth between certain tiles over and over with no thought to mix it up; it’s really annoying when these players win. =-)

Link to Letters and Seals expansion game

Disclaimer: I received this game for free in exchange for my review, but believe me, I post authentic reviews every time and will be brazenly blunt if needs be.

Link to Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) & Image Source

6 thoughts on “Istanbul Board Game Review: Dynamic worker placement strategy game with many paths to victory

  1. Great review!

    I’m a big fan of this game too, though I haven’t tried the expansions yet. I don’t own the game, but a couple in my game group do.

    Helps that I won last time I played. 🙂

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