Full disclosure: A preview copy of Istanbul or Constantinople? was provided by Concrete Canoe Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
It’s a busy week for Kickstarter games! Busy, meaning, well, you know, two. We got this dropping this week, Ocean Crisis soon after, and we’re continuing what will likely be Oink Games month, which is always fun. so to that end, let’s check out another game hitting Kickstarter soon, Istanbul or Constantinople?, from Concrete Canoe Games!
In Istanbul or Constantinope?, you play as characters wondering just why Constantinople got the works, and you’re planning to do something about it. Players compete to gain influence on the various streets of the titular city to influence the population towards Istanbul, Constantinople, or whatever you want (I’m fond of Byzantium, personally, but I play too many video games). Will your name prove to have staying power?
Not much to do here. Shuffle the cards (flipping them every so often to mess with the orientation):
Put them in between the players, like so:
Each player should be able to see numbers on the cards facing them. If you’re playing at 3 or 4 players there will be teams; either way, deal two cards to each player (2-player game) or each team (3- or 4-player game).
Now, choose what you want to call the city; that’s your team’s goal. You’re ready to start!
Gameplay’s not too bad, actually. Your goal is to gain influence to try and push forward your preferred moniker as the city’s new name. You do this, on your turn, via one of three actions:
- Replace: Take a card from your hand and replace it with any card in any street. Turn any side of any face of the card towards you.
- Swap: Pick two cards on two streets. Turn each of them 180 degrees, and then exchange them with each other.
- Flip: Pick one card and flip it over (it tells you on the card what numbers are on the other side). You can flip any card you want choose whichever number you want on the other side to be facing you.
If you’re playing on a team, one player is A; one is B. A can only Replace and Swap; B can only Replace and Flip.
After a turn, if you have a street that’s eligible for scoring, you may score exactly one street.
- The street must be the correct multiple of 5. The two-card street must equal 5, the three-card street must equal 10, or the four-card street must equal 15. When I say equal, I mean that the numbers facing you must sum to that value.
- When you score a street, claim the highest possible value. Of the face-up cards, you score the highest positive value as Influence, even if that number isn’t facing you.
If, at the end of a turn, you have 20+ Influence, the game and you win. Otherwise, play continues until only one street remains. After that, play two more rounds or until that street is claimed. There are some rule changes, though:
- Players may only use the Replace action.
- The final street can be scored once its value is 5, 10, or 15.
Once a player scores the street or two rounds pass, the game ends and the player with the most Influence wins!
Player Count Differences
Eh, my best recommendation is playing it at two; team play doesn’t really work for me when it’s splitting functionality between multiple players. For me, there are plenty of good three- and four-player games; just focus on what makes your game great, you know? That said, I’m interested in the solo play and would like to try that at some point. Recommendation is for two players, though.
- You really need to score every turn. If you can’t, you need to make sure your opponent can’t, either. I’m not even sure that’s possible across the board, though it becomes more likely as the board shrinks in size.
- You also really need to take 8s and 9s. It’s not great to score a row by getting a 2 and a 3. That’s not really worth the investment, points-wise. You need to be maximizing your utility.
- The other nice thing about using a bunch of 8s and 9s (or 1s and 2s) is that you take higher-value cards off of the board so that your opponent cannot score them. If you can do that enough (while scoring) you can push away from your opponent to the point where they’re unable to catch up, which is definitely good. Swaps are really going to be your major avenue towards success if you’re trying this route.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art’s quite nice. It’s very bright and colorful, which I always appreciate, and the spread required for the game on the table really gives it a nice presence. Looks great.
- The game has a really nice spatial sense to it. Normally I’m a bit opposed to games that take up a disproportionate amount of space, but I think this one actually has a nice geometry to it.
- I’m a big fan of math games, generally speaking. I actually bought a game called Got It! a while back that was super fun. Anyways, any game with a bit of math is right up my alley, and I think that this would be an excellent game for younger players who could use the extra math practice (or as a quick drill for a math competition? I don’t know? I used to do those).
- 18-card games continue to be my jam. I think Button Shy remains the undisputed king of the format, but, I’m really enthusiastic about more competition in the space; it’s always better for gamers.
- The theme’s cute. You’re trying to get the city to agree on your interpretation of the name, which is fun. You can even play the They Might Be Giants song if you’re really looking to drive home the point.
- Like I said, I’m never super interested when a game offers a “team play” variant that essentially has players split being a whole player. It’s just a personal preference, though, so if that’s 100% your thing then go for it. It might not be a bad way to play with two younger players teamed up against a more experienced player. Up to you.
- I’m not convinced players have a ton of agency in this game. It’s not the worst thing, I’ll admit, but in the four games we played, unless a player took proactive action (or got a particularly bad starting layout) the game tended to be won by the player who went first (since every turn you can score unless your opponent manages to score and block you). It might be the thresholding on the streets or it might be that the cards provide too many options, but it’s definitely something. Oh well; that’s part of why I think I’d actually really enjoy a solo mode, personally. My worry is that trying to score and block your opponent is just going to lead to a lot more analysis paralysis, which will just make the game drag on indefinitely.
- Like I said, analysis paralysis can be a real problem in this game. Part of the thing I like about Lovelace & Babbage is that the whole real-time element really diminishes any analysis paralysis by just yelling GO GO GO GO GO in your ear the whole time. This doesn’t have the same effect, and I worry saying something reductive like “just add a sand timer” would fix one problem but create another entirely.
Overall: 6 / 10
Overall, I think Istanbul or Constantinople is fine, personally. Like I said, the lack of agency thing bothers me a fair bit, but I can probably correct for that a bit by just trying to take more proactive action towards blocking my opponent. I just need to make sure that I’m still playing quickly, of course. Beyond that, though, it’s a cute wallet-sized game with a fun theme, so I’m into it, and my love for math games really does make me want to come back and play it, even if I don’t feel like I have a lot of control over the outcome. That can easily be managed for me by a solo mode, though, so I’m hoping to get more information on that during the campaign (and may adjust my score to compensate if the solo manages to really wow me; just look at Sprawlopolis). I will say that I think this an excellent family-weight game; I could see kids working on some math skills enjoying this (and it might help with basic addition / subtraction stuff). Beyond that, if you’re looking for a cute game that you can transport easily, you like math games, or if you really just think that Istanbul should have stuck with something a bit more classic, Istanbul or Constantinople might be the game for you!