Istanbul is something of a race – each player has a Merchant with a set of Assistants that they move around the city (the modular board) gathering resources or money in order to exchange them for rubies. The first player to get five rubies (six in a two-player game) wins.
The game itself is rather simple: get either resources or money, and trade or buy rubies. Everything else is stuff to give the game nuance and intrigue. The key aspect of the game is how your Merchants move around the board.
They are represented by a small wooden disc, with more discs sitting beneath (the assistants). Merchants can travel one or two spaces around 16-space grid, and as long as the Merchant is ‘dropping off’ or ‘picking up’ an assistant from that space, they get to use the building that they stop on: these might give you goods like fabric, spices or fruit (from warehouses), or the possibility of gambling (the Tea House), or even a little smorgasbard of income (the Post Office). There’s other buildings to buy and sell at, and yet more that do other bits and bobs to give the game a little intrigue. Overall though, you want to minimize the amount of times you have to collect assistants from buildings you don’t or can’t use, and try and make every turn as productive as possible.
The nuance in the game comes not only from the movement, but where you bump into other players (you have to pay a fee for the privilege), and special pieces such as The Governor and The Smuggler who roam the city – you can get them help you, at a small cost.
After one or two plays Istanbul easily drops from *** complexity to **. Note that after somebody reaches the gem objective, every player still gets to take their final turn (so all players have an equal amount of turns) and multiple players reaching the required amount of rubies is not uncommon. There are tie-breakers for this scenario.
A clever board with huge variety in how you set it up, but to me the quicker versions are more fun, as Istanbul works best when played at a clip. Inevitably you’ll have moments of head-scratching, but if you can get onto a plan and implement it, Istanbul really does live up to the gaming cliché of fast-moving and fun. One of my favourites.
Very little indeed.
Not much. After a first play Istanbul moves quickly.
Again, not a huge amount, though there may be the odd moment where Plan A comes unstuck. But there are always options, making Istanbul feel like a 'friendly' game.
You can set up the board in different ways and try different strategies to winning.