App Review – Istanbul

Rubies make the world go around. Isn’t that what Marilyn Monroe always said? (Editor – Dating yourself *and* being wrong all in one sentence. That’s quite the accomplishment!)

If you’re a merchant in Istanbul in some vague time period of the past, rubies are your ultimate goal and the reason you’re doing all of that trading to begin with.

At least that’s the case if you’re playing Istanbul, the new boardgame app from Acram Digital, adapting the boardgame designed by Rüdiger Dorn.


Acram Digital is known for their stellar boardgame app editions of Steam and 8-Minute Empire and Istanbul blows those out of the park (it probably helps that I like this game better than the other two to begin with).

In this 2-5 player game, you are a merchant running around and sending assistants around the bazaar in Istanbul, obtaining spices and other goods that you can trade for rubies. Or perhaps you will spend gold to build up your wheelbarrow (you start with a wheelbarrow that can hold two of each good, but can upgrade until it can hold five) and get a ruby that way.

Or you can just outright buy one.

Istanbul Board - AI
Those AIs are sneaky!

The board consists of a number of tiles placed either in numerical order or randomly that you will be moving around on.

Istanbul - Tile detail

You start at the Fountain with your merchant disc and four other “assistants”. On your turn, you can move up to two spaces away in an orthogonal fashion (so no diagonals). When you reach a tile, you will either be dropping an assistant off or, if you have visited before and already dropped one off, picking the assistant up. You will then do the action or gain the benefit of whatever the tile is.

Thus, you will be scattering assistants around like pollen in a controlled 2-space breeze, and you have to make sure you don’t isolate yourself away from all of the assistants you’ve dropped off. If you can’t drop off or pick up an assistant, you can’t do the action on that tile!

Istanbul - Tea House
The Tea House lets you do a bit of gambling. You’re guaranteed 2 gold, but if you roll equal to or higher than the number you pick on two dice, you get that much gold instead of just 2!

There are tiles that let you do things to make money, or perhaps you can go to one of the mosques and turn in the appropriate resources to gain a special ability. You can visit markets and sell the goods you have for money as well. Or you could visit the Black Market and try to get the elusive blue good that’s often required for ruby trading. There are a number of options.

Once somebody has five rubies (six in a 2-player game), that triggers the end game. Everybody who hasn’t played yet that round gets one more turn and then the game ends.

It’s a really interesting game that’s fairly basic but lots of fun (even more fun with the expansions, I’ve heard, which Acram hasn’t yet said whether or not they will be added to the app eventually).

I’ve enjoyed it on the table the few times I’ve played it, but it really comes into its own as an app.

Istanbul - board
The tiles make it obvious which ones you can do an action on. In this case, the bonus card for bringing one of your assistants back to you highlights all of the tiles where you have an assistant.

The artwork in the app (all taken from the game, it seems) is gorgeous. The UI is very simple, clear and easy to read.

When it’s your turn, the available tiles for your movement light up. If you try to do anything else, the tiles where you can do that action light up (such as in the picture above).

When you tap a tile, it blows up and shows you what that tile does. If you can do anything there (like move and leave/pick up an assistant), it shows you that too. Tapping the “i” in the title will tell you more about the tile and what you can do there.

The bottom of the screen will also helpfully point out what the game is waiting for you to do (return an assistant, discard a card, etc). You can even undo actions as long as there are no die rolls involved (the game warns you if you’re about to do an action that you can’t take back)

Istanbul - setup

Setting up a game against the AI is very easy. You can randomize everything (even the AI players!) including the board setup, or you can use the set “numerical order of the tiles” setup if you wish.

Best of all, asynchronous multiplayer is an option!

I don’t have any online mulitplayer games under my belt yet, but I’m in one and it’s smooth as butter. Like the other Acram Digital games, you set up a game and include a password. You can then let your friends know what the password is and they can join at any time. No need for you to be logged in.

Istanbul - online replay
Hopefully that bastard Neumannium doesn’t win this one (This is just testing to see if he reads this)

When it’s your turn, you log in and you actually do get a replay of everybody’s moves (Are you listening, Asmodee???). You can then take your turn.

It even has online chat, both global (for setting up rooms, so you could play synchronously with other players by posting the game’s password there) and in-room chat.

Trash-talking for the win!

Online multiplayer is cross-platform, so Android people can torment iOS players and vice versa. There is also pass and play, of course.

Istanbul - Final

I am not an expert Istanbul player, but I have won a game or two against friends at the table, so I think the AI in the app is probably pretty good.

Either that, or my friends suck.

You can even add AIs to your games with friends if you want a robust 4-player game but only have one friend (like me).

I have not tried the Hard AI yet because I don’t want to be beaten down like a 10-year-old girl playing against Serena Williams at Wimbledon, but the Medium AI is given me a lot of grief already and is fun to play against.

I am so impressed with the Istanbul app. While it does run on both phones and tablets, the phone implementation is a bit small (I’m on an iPhone X and it’s still hard to read). It does expand if you tap the tiles, so that will be a great help on the phone. But overall, it’s fine.

I haven’t seen any game-breaking bugs yet, which is definitely a bonus too.

Istanbul - Turn

I don’t typically have the sound on when I play iOS games, but I have listened to it for a little while and the sound effects are great. The music does make you feel like you’re in a Turkish bazaar, but it did becoming a bit annoying after a while.

Also, it’s wonderful that Acram Digital has included a colour-blind mode for the game (considering it has all the basic green/red/blue/yellow colours, that’s almost mandatory). This mode adds symbols to all of the colours so you can tell them apart.

Kudos to Acram Digital for yet another killer board-game app. This one is going to stay in my market stall for a long time (unless somebody comes and gives me a ruby for it).

Istanbul is available on iOS and Android for $6.99 US (We Canadians have to pay $9.99, sadly) and hopefully soon on Steam.

Give this app a try. I think it’s well worth the money.

It may just make you want to break the game out on the table as well.

11 Comments on “App Review – Istanbul

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