Board Game Reviews: Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh

The box cover for Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh, an expansion to Istanbul. Both games are published by Alderac Entertainment Group and designed by Rudger Dorn. (Nikhil Vyas)

Most games get expansions, but only some games really need them. Expansions make a game better by fixing something from the original game, balancing different strategies, and adding something new that makes gameplay more enjoyable. However, expansions can sometimes make a game worse by eliminating factors that make it unique and adding something that unbalances its elements.

This week, I’ll be reviewing the first expansion to Istanbul, which is Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh. Istanbul is a pickup and delivery game where players manage assistants as they travel to various locations around the market to collect goods and lira, spending them in a race to get a certain number of rubies. Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh adds coffee and four new tiles that expand the board to a 4×5 grid. The tiles give players a way to get coffee and options to spend it on rubies and special abilities. The expansion also tweaks a few things from the base game and adds additional bonus cards and a new stack of guild cards. Instead of describing the expansion’s new components, let me show you how the new mechanisms work. Then, we’ll see if Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh is an essential expansion.

How to Play

Final Thoughts

Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh is an unnecessary expansion to Istanbul. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good; I actually enjoy playing with it and find that it offers some interesting choices with how you get and use coffee. I think it is a great thing that the coffee strategy is just as balanced as other strategies and that it depends upon the board layout and each player’s efficiency to determine the winner.

The aspect that makes this expansion non-essential is that it ruins some of the things I really liked about Istanbul. I enjoyed Istanbul because it had a unique mechanism where you move to a location and then either have to drop off an assistant there or pick up one of your assistants that you had dropped off earlier. While the larger board makes this task more difficult and therefore even more fun to figure out, the addition of guild cards significantly reduces the importance of route planning. The guild cards are also extremely swingy since you can almost get a whole ruby if you get the right card at the right time and waste a turn if you get the wrong ones. Since players keep guild cards in their hands for the whole game, the power of the cards isn’t what bothers me the most about them. What makes me not want to play with this expansion so often is that the guild cards take away from the primary mechanism of route planning, pickup, and delivery.

That is the most important thing to understand about this expansion. If you like Istanbul because of the mechanism where you drop off or pick up your assistants, you can pass on this expansion and continue enjoying the Istanbul base game. However, if you enjoy Istanbul solely because of the resource management and special abilities, Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh is right up your alley, so you should definitely check it out.

Ultimately, I fall into the first category. I feel that many other games focus on resource management and special abilities, and Istanbul offered something new to that kind of game with the idea of also managing how and where you move. I will prefer any Istanbul expansion that emphasizes your need to manage your assistants and merchant stack over one that turns Istanbul into another game. Therefore, I will give Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh a 5.5 out of 10; it’s still fun to play with the expansion, but it’s not one that I need to always play with.

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