Back on my 2017 Christmas Wish List, I listed Istanbul as my favorite game that I don’t own. Now about a year later, I still don’t have a copy of that great game. However, during a visit to Tyche’s Games in Athens a few weeks ago, I was able to get my hands on the more affordable Istanbul: The Dice Game. Dice and card versions of games have become somewhat popular in the past few years, but they haven’t been consistent in how they recreate the gameplay experience of their predecessors. After a few playthroughs of I:tDG, I can say that while it’s not as good as the original, it provides a solid gameplay experience of its own.
Like in the original Istanbul, each player takes on the role of a merchant, seeking to collect different goods that can be traded in for rubies. However, instead of moving around pieces on a board, you’re going to be rolling dice. Each of these dice feature the four different types of goods, as well as sides that allow you to earn money and draw special cards. After you’ve rolled your dice, you get to take three actions, which might have you acquiring more permanent goods or game upgrades, collecting income, or trading in goods for a ruby.
Goods and money are still the major ways to get your hands on the rubies, with increasing numbers needed as the game progresses. The smaller board of this version makes it easier to keep track of the costs as the game goes on, whereas the original is so spread out that it is often hard to keep track of all the prices at once. Players obtain goods and money and trade them in until a player gets four or five rubies (depending on the player number), at which point the game ends and the most successful merchant is declared the winner.
I’m very picky when it comes to dice. If luck plays too big of a role in the game, then it negates much of the strategy. Istanbul: The Dice Game balances the issue of randomness by providing so many different paths to acquire the rubies. If you happen to be rolling a bunch of carpet tokens every turn, then you can buy more permanent carpet tokens, or maybe buy an upgrade card that costs carpet. You could also trade your dice in for special cards that can positively impact your play, or maybe even for crystals that allow you to reroll on a later turn. And, of course, you can just buy up all the rubies from the carpet vendor. With so many different options, you are able to still implement a strategy even if the dice aren’t rolling exactly how you want.
All of these different options for actions on your turn lead to this game requiring quite a bit of time to explain. I honestly believe that it took more time to talk about the rules of this game than the original Istanbul. Even with a thorough explanation, gamers are constantly having to refer back to the player guide through the first half of the game. Most players will eventually catch on, but you do need to expect that your first few playthroughs are going to take several minutes longer than subsequent gaming sessions.
With the game being driven just by dice, some of the variety from the original is lost. With that game, there was a sense of risk on some of the different game spaces, and that doesn’t come across much in the elements here. In addition, some of the more unique elements of the original game – the smuggler, the police station, the post office – just can’t be replicated in this format, and you might find yourself missing them from time to time.
Overall, though, I believe that Istanbul: The Dice Game does a good job of scratching my Istanbul itch, to the extent that the original game is no longer at the top of my ‘must buy’ list. While the dice version leaves out some of the unique gameplay elements of the original, it plays faster and requires less setup. I also don’t have many dice-centric games in my collection, so this adds a bit of variety. Those who don’t own Istanbul and want a more budget-friendly alternative should consider picking up this game, as well as those who are both huge fans of dice games and the original.
Now let’s just sit back and wait for the sequel, Constantinople: The Dice Game.
You can find Istanbul: The Dice Game at your local game store or on Amazon.
- Faster to set up and play than the original
- Different play options compensate for randomness of dice
- Not as many unique gameplay elements
- Lots of rules from the outset