In Spain you can find all kinds of things named Alhambra: travel agencies, driving schools, pastries, even a famous beer brand. That's understandable since the Alhambra palace fortress, a symbol of the city Granada and one of Spain's most popular tourist sites, is known throughout the world, and Spaniards are rightly proud of it. What few Spaniards are aware of, however, is that it has inspired one of the most popular board games in Europe. While Alhambra the game flies off store shelves in places like Germany, France and the Nordic countries, it currently has no distributor in the land of its namesake.
“In Spain many people have held the license for Alhambra, but nobody has kept it very long” Haritz Solana, spokesman for Asmodee, the game's last Spanish distributor, explained to the El Mundo newspaper recently.
“It's funny, because it's a game that has won game of the year several times, with more than seven extensions, but it does not work here. We sold 500 units on the first run and little else.”
Alhambra is a classic board game, with cards, but no dice, in which players must collect materials to construct the monument and take turns to build it step by step. The game, which can be played by up to four people and can last hours, has received at least half a dozen international awards. It is one of a series of Alhambra themed pastimes produced by Queens Games.
Its creator, Dirk Henn, a German with a love of and fascination for Granada, has just developed another game carrying the name of the city itself. Granada can be combined with Alhambra, which makes the competition last much longer, because you not only build the palace, but the city around it. A video game version of Alhambra was in development, but has been indefinitely postponed.
Juan Cruz who owns Freak Mondo (Shorn Freak), the only store that sells the board game in Granada, told El Mundo, “At Christmas I sold the last three that I had. Now I have one sample and if anyone wants one, I have to order it from Germany. Though there's not much interest. I had to take it out of the store window because my regular clients took it as a joke.”
While on first sight it may invite some chuckles among Spaniards, what with the box bearing images of exotic Ottoman looking domes and Arabs wearing turbans and slippers with curled-tips, Cruz thinks if they gave it a chance they would appreciate it
However, Asmodee spokesman Solana added that “there is no culture of modern board games, in Spain. Yes, there is a love of traditional games, but among the youth there is no interest in more recent board games. To start with there is the weather, so in Spain they hang outside with friends. And when something did take hold, it was the video console.”
The three best-selling board games in Europe are the The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and the Alhambra, according to Solana.
“Here Alhambra sells nothing, or very little – not even among [board game] aficionados.”
Cruz is more direct and attributes the lack of interest to “a certain snobbery, a shame that we seem to have when something successful has to do with our city. Yes, it is true that in recent years, because of the [economic] crisis, people have been buying more games, because if it costs 20 euros, and you go in on the purchase with four or five people, then you can tire yourself out playing and buying sodas without spending much. But the Alhambra has a curse.”
The Alhambra cursed? Well, the game in Spain, anyway.