Sometimes expansions come out for board games and they don’t add any value to the gameplay, or they just make the game unnecessarily difficult. This is certainly not the case with Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh.
If you read my previous review of Istanbul, you know that I’m a big fan of it, so when an expansion came out, I bought it immediately. It expands the number of tiles from 4×4 to 5×4 and it adds wooden bags coffee into the equation.
The coffee can be collected and used to buy rubies outright, to trade in for powerful cards that let you move as far up/down and left/right as you want or use the smuggler, governor, or coffee trader pieces without paying a good or 2 Lyra.
The coffee trader, as you may have guessed, lets you trade goods for coffee. There are also new cards that you can use in lieu of moving your player piece that are pretty powerful (e.g. Max out 1 type of good + take X number of another good, move back to the fountain to collect your assistants and then take another turn, etc.).
There’s now also a roadblock piece that you can use to prevent your opponent from crossing over. Using this means that your opponent has to take a roundabout way to get where they want to. Not only that, when you place it anywhere you want, you get to use an action of an adjacent tile of your choice. In all honesty, we forgot about the road block piece when we played, and we were so caught up trying to collect coffee, we even forgot to collect the other goods.
The new coffee cards, tiles, and pieces really add some new strategy and gameplay, all while keeping true to the original game. You don’t feel like you’re playing a totally different game, it feels more like falling in love with a favorite all over again. It changed the tiles we would normally race to and made us rethink of how we should buy rubies.
The game still has its sense of balanced gameplay. I was losing with 1 ruby to my wife’s 4 rubies, but within 3 turns, I was able to tie it up. Then it became a race for the final 6th ruby (which I lost). Overall, if you’re a fan of Istanbul, pick this expansion up right away. I may even be a bigger fan of this expansion than the Takenoko Chibis one, and I’m a huge Takenoko fan.