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Welcome to the Bazaar of Istanbul!

Hustle and bustle in the bazaar district of Istanbul: merchants and their assistants are hurrying through the narrow alleys attempting to be more successful than their competitors. Good organization is key: wheelbarrows have to be filled with goods at the warehouses and then swiftly transported by the assistants to the various destinations. The goal of the merchants is to be the first to collect a certain amount of rubies.

Istanbul layout

You are leading a merchant and four assistants through the 16 Places of the bazaar. At each Place, you can carry out a specific action. The challenge is that, to carry out an action at any of those Places, your merchant needs the help of an assistant and has to leave him behind. To use that assistant again later, your merchant has to come back to that Place and pick him up. So plan ahead carefully to avoid being left with no assistants and thus unable to do anything …

images © Alderac Entertainment Group, Pegasus Spiele

User Reviews (8)

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Legend of the Five Rings Fan
Advanced Reviewer
Guardian Angel
66 of 70 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“Turkish Delight on a Moonlit Night”

Istanbul deserves its title as 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres, combining vibrant theme and art with an intricate yet easy-to-grasp design. The gameplay follows a simple pattern, yet the strategies can be quite complex, and while there is very little direct player confrontation, the decisions made by one player can undo the plans of another — or open up new possibilities.

Theme: Players act as merchants in a classic Turkish bazaar, acquiring (and selling) trade goods, upgrading their wheelbarrow, paying bribes, gambling, etc. The art on the sixteen tiles which make up the bazaar invoke the chaotic and colorful nature of the setting, creating a “bustling” environment without the game components actually interfering with play.

Design: The actions of the game, once learned, are all represented by iconography. This game can be language-independent: only the rules require an appropriate grasp, but once learned, the visual nature of the game makes it easy to play without much rules consultation.

Gameplay: The Merchants are represented by thick wooden discs, with an additional sticker to indicate which piece is the player’s “main” piece. Thinner wooden discs of the same color represent that Merchant’s Assistants, which are the workers you will place in this worker placement game. Merchants have four of these Assistants at their command in the beginning, but can acquire a fifth later on. A player’s turn involves moving their merchant stack (the Merchant, and any unplaced Assistants who follow in his wake) either one or two horizontal or vertical spaces within the 4×4 bazaar layout, then either dropping off an Assistant or picking up an Assistant on the destination tile to use the action of that tile.

The interplay between the tiles is quickly evident — the three Warehouses allow a player to load his Wheelbarrow full of the particular good stored there; the two Markets demand a specific set of goods, and pay out more depending on how much of the order you can fill; the two Mosques require you to have an amount of goods available (increasing as more players visit), then pay one of that good in devotion to get a permanent special ability. The Wainwright lets you add an extension to your Wheelbarrow (cleverly represented by slats you add to a punch-out gap in your starting Wheelbarrow tile), which enables you to hold more goods. The Black Market and Tea House allow you to test your luck and improve your fortunes by rolling dice. The Sultan’s Palace and Gemstone Dealer require specific goods or larger amounts of lira (coins), respectively. Several of these tiles will eventually reward you with Rubies, which are the stepping stones towards your endgame. Endgame is triggered when any player acquires 5 Rubies (6 if playing a two-player game). Players complete the current round of turns so everyone has had the same number of game turns, then may turn in any Bonus cards for goods or money. If more than one player has the highest number of Rubies, there are tiebreakers to check.

With so many options, there is no one true strategy to the game, so players will often divide and try to work on particular areas of the board. However, it is possible to get in each other’s way! If a player’s Merchant ends their turn at the same place as another player’s Merchant, the moving player must pay 2 lira to the player who is already occupying the tile, if they want to use the action. This payment is not applicable at the Fountain, which allows any Merchant to recall all of their Assistants from wherever they are on the board.

You might also encounter the Governor or the Smuggler, both of which can help you advance your game, at the cost of either coins or trade. And if a Merchant has gone to the Police Station and sent forth their shady Family Member to do their bidding, you may find them in the midst of the marketplace, where you can turn them back into the Police for a reward. Players can acquire Bonus cards throughout the game, which will enable various tricks like “no-movement” turns, “extra-movement” turns, use of a bazaar tile twice in a turn, and so forth. These can lend vital momentum to a game, as you will be able to reach tiles before opponents, or shut them out unless they pay you a fee. The bonus cards that provide free money or free goods can give you what you need just in time.

The game offers varying levels of difficulty in the bazaar setup, with three sets of numbers that dictate possible layouts of the tiles. Short paths group places that interact well close together; long paths put them farther apart. The tiles may also be laid out randomly (with some limitations specified in the rules), for those who want a shifting strategy.

Istanbul has an interesting approach to classic worker placement, using the Assistants as a finite resource that must be managed over a period of turns, combined with path-based strategy, the potential for player collision, and ways to pay to continue taking actions instead of being shut out of particular approaches. It is an entertaining game that is more complex than standard entry-level boardgaming fare, but not so overwhelming as to turn new players off. The game can be taught relatively easily, and is unlikely to have the same gameplay twice.

There are a fair number of components, and as mentioned in a previous review, not enough bags to adequately separate them. My personal copy of the game has been obsessively rebagged, with each color’s components occupying their own bags, and so forth. The game takes a little bit of setup, and organizing the components ahead of times goes a long way towards minimizing that setup time.

It is not a heavily interactive game, but the need to follow certain paths and the desire to complete certain objectives in a particular order can lead to players strategically working against their opponents, either forcing them to reevaluate their strategy or to pay out to use an occupied space. This is not a game for those who prefer direct conflict.

The cardboard and wooden components are all well-made, solid and unlikely to be easily damaged. All told, this is a substantial game for its price, well worth the money spent to bring it to your gaming table.

Excellent theme and art
Good production values
Iconographic design
Variety of interesting strategies to pursue
Simple changes in setup provide wide gameplay variety
Short (45 min) play time

Not well organized out of the box
Minimal player interaction

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Reviewed My First Game
113 of 121 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“"Its a Race, Its a Race-- I hope I win..."”

You are an ambitious merchant in the bustling bazaar of Istanbul, and you have some competition. Pick up your wheelbarrow, gather your assistants together, and send somebody to find your shady uncle, because you’re going to need some work done on the sly. The challenge is to be the first to gather 5 rubies, and to do that you will need to circumvent the winding streets, leaving assistants to do your bidding; filling your cart with goods at warehouses, paying your devotion for blessings at Mosques, or gambling at the tea house. Whatever it takes to get those rubies in your pouch and win the title of Istanbul’s greatest Merchant.

My Experience with Istanbul:

Picking up the basics of Istanbul was pretty easy, but mastering the multiple paths to victory has proven an entertaining challenge. I played this game with multiple groups of Gamers, and even whipped it out at after a family dinner and strong-armed my relatives into giving it a run. In every instance we were up and running after 10 minutes of explanation and usually done with the first game in around 25 minutes, as myself or my wife quickly crushed their noobish hopes and dreams into the dirt of Istanbul’s dusty streets. Before we could even finish counting Rubies though, they were clamoring for another game. The second round lasted 35 minutes and came down to the wire, they had picked up on some basic strategies and made the game a real race. Now the Bazaar of Istanbul travels and makes appearances at all kinds of gatherings.

My personal Pros:

+Easily adapted to player skill: The tiles representing the various locations in the bazaar can be laid out in 3 different pre-established configurations each one making efficient navigation more difficult, especially as the player count rises

+Components are nice, and the artwork is beautiful.

+quick to teach.

+Mechanics are smooth, polished, and make sense.

My Personal cons:

– They had a very vibrant theme, but failed to carry it through the rule book (I’m a stickler for good rule books)

-When you unbox the game and are pulling out all of the different tiles, there were a couple times that I had to whip out the exacto-knife to cut out some of the Markers, and even then the print wants to peel on them.( nothing a little superglue couldn’t fix, but I shouldn’t have to risk gluing my fingers together to keep my markers from falling apart)

– There were some small plastic bags included to keep pieces separated, but not enough of them- a quick game like this shouldn’t take 15 minutes to set up or put away, and if you let these pieces get all mixed up thats exactly what happens.

This is a wonderfully FUN game that allows a group to work against each other without risking direct conflict- great for the game night when THAT guy/gal is there- Its a great entry level Euro style Strategy game that can still be enjoyed by advanced gamers. Love it.

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Z-Man Games fan
I play red
Indie Board & Cards fan
105 of 117 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“A trip to the bazaar with the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner”

To many, Istanbul is JUST another Euro. The odd older guy with a beard on the box. The overtly elaborate reasoning for collecting resources. Lots of icons and colours, and little to no text. It is also the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner. So what made this the “gamer Game of the Year”? And does it live up to the hype?


Remember how I mentioned the box with the odd guy with a beard? Like many euro games the box artwork and the game artwork does not match, but the style does. Here’s what’s in the box:

5 sets of players pieces (1 Merchant, 5 Assistants, 1 Family member, & 4 Goods indicators per player); Governor (purple) and Smuggler (black) characters; 16 Places tiles; 5 Wheelbarrows (player boards); 15 Wheelbarrow extensions; 32 Rubies; 2 Dice; 4 Mail indicators; 55 Coins (30 $1 coins, 15 $5 coins, and 10 $10 coins); 26 Bonus cards; 16 Mosque tiles; 10 Demand tiles; 5 Overviews cards; and a starting player marker.

The style is some what typical of many Euro games: lots of brown, but everything is clean. This makes things easy enough to distinguish, and it gets easier the more you play and become familiar with the different icons. But even the little plastic gems don’t make the game pop on the table. This is a game that design wise uses good quality components, good artwork and colours…but doesn’t stand out when you set it up on the table the way Castles Of Mad King Ludwig or Five Tribes does.

One thing I do want to point out…the rule book is AMAZING. There are a lot of symbols and little things to learn when you first setup and play the game. The rule book is a great help and is layed out in a clean and logical manner. This makes it REALLY easy to find information when a rule dispute/question occurs.


The first part of the setup is the first time we see one of my favourite gaming mechanics: a variable board. In Istanbul the board is made up of the 16 places. These can be setup in any manner, but the games does offer some set ways to set them up if you are first starting out. It also recommends that if you do a random setup to have two conditions in place

*The Fountain as one of the Places in the middle of the grid.
*The Black Market and the Tea House should be separated by 3 tiles.

Once the board is setup, you will need to place the Mosque tiles, Wheelbarrow expansions, Mail indicators, Demand tiles, Bonus cards, Governor and the Smuggler pieces, and assign player pieces to each pieces. This can be slightly tricky the first play, but on repeat plays it becomes almost automatic.

Next, you will need to place some rubies on some of the Place tiles based on the number of players. Determine turn over however you see fit (rolling 20 sided dice is my groups method of choice), and give out 2 Lira to the starting player. In clockwise order, each other player gets 1 more Lira than the player to his right. Then each player draws a Bonus card from the top of the stack.

You are now ready to play.

Game Play – Basics

A turn consists of 3 possible phases Movement and Action, and Encounters.

Movement – Move your Merchant and any Assistants under him by 1 or 2 Places. You may not move diagonally and you must end up on a different Place than you started at. If there is already one of your Assistants at that Place you end your movement on, place your stack on top of this Assistant. If there is none of your Assistants at the Place where your movement ends, remove an Assistant from the bottom of your stack and place him next to the stack. If you run out of assistants but still want to move, you can but turn ends immediately.

Action – If you end your movement with picking up or dropping off an Assistant, you will be able to perform that Place tile’s Action. This can involve collecting coins, resources, cards, or rubies.

Encounters – there are 4 different encounters you can have. If there are any other Merchants at the Target Place, you have to pay each of them 2 Lira. Your turn ends immediately if you cannot or do not want to pay. If you end your turn on a tile with another player’s Family Member, you must catch them and send them all to the Police Station tile. As a reward, you may take 1 Bonus card or 3 Lira per Family member. Finally you can Encounter either the Governor or the Smuggler. If you encounter the Governor, you may draw a Bonus card from the face-down stack and put it into your hand. If you do, either pay two Lira or discard a Bonus card from your hand. If you encounter the Smuggler you may gain 1 good of your choice. If you do, either pay two Lira or a good.

The first player to collect 5 Rubies wins the game.

Game Play – Advanced Tactics

Most of the Advanced Tactics of Istanbul come down to the special actions of the tiles, and the bonus cards. The bonus cards are one shot resources or rule modifiers.

The Fountain place tile is kinda like free parking. You do not need to leave an assistant at the fountain, and you can still perform the the Fountain Action even if you have no Assistants with you. Additionally, you don’t have to pay other Merchants at the Fountain but can have all other Encounters.

The Wainwright allows you to expand your Wheelbarrow. If you expand your Wheelbarrow to maximum capacity, you collect a ruby.

The Warehouse tiles allow your to fill your Wheelbarrow with as much of the matching resources as you can hold.

The Post Office gives your 4 resources. This changes each time a player lands on the tile using the Mail indicators.

The Caravansery allows your to draw two bonus cards from the top of either the stack or discard pile. If you do, you will have to discard one card from your hand.

The Black Marcket gives you one of the 3 main resources, plus you roll the two dice to see if you get any of the blue resource. Or blue good as the rulebook put it…like I said, the rule book is very good and using player friendly terms over forcing in theme when explaining rules is a welcome element.

The Tea House allows you to guess and number between 3 and 12. Roll both dice and if you roll that number, you get that amount of Lira! Guess wrong, and you get two lira.

The Small/Large Markets allow you to exchange good from your Wheelbarrow for Lira. The more your trade, the more you gain.

The Police Station allows you to send out your family member to any other tile, with no movement or encounter rules. If your family member is not at the Police Station, you can not perform this action.

The Small/Great Mosque allows you to purchase Mosque tiles that give you ongoing advantages. If you collect each of the two colours from either the Small or Great Mosque, you collect a ruby.

The Sultan’s Palace allows you to exchange good for a ruby.

The Gemstone Dealer allows you to exchange coins for a ruby.


The artwork and Place tiles all have a middle eastern look to them that is neither cartoonish, or too boring. But at the end of the day, this really is a typical collect and trade resources Euro game. If you need theme to enjoy the game, there is some here…but it is really light.

Replay Value

16 tiles doesn’t seem like a lot to give a great amount of variation. But it does. The game is all about finding paths that result in you having the money or resources to get a ruby. But because the cost of everything goes up, players can not use the same path over and over for a game if they want to win. And because the paths are different from game to game, how you approach things will change as well.

In addition to this, the Encounters really do a good job of making tiles worth go up or down. Maybe you don’t really need to max out your red resources, but you really could use a bonus card and the Governor is sitting there for the taking. Maybe you could use some coins, but another player’s Merchant is on the Tea House blocking you from going there.

The basic mechanics are really simple, but they require you to constantly keep track of the board and what the other players are doing.

The last thing that really adds to the replay value of Istanbul is how well it works with different amounts of players. It’s a fun two player game, but doesn’t suffer when you go up to three, and doesn’t get bogged down with four. It actually plays up to five which is rare for a lot of Euros, but I can’t personally say how well that works.

Over All Impression.

If people asked me for a list of my favourite games of 2014, I’d list of some of my all time favourite games: Fives Tribes, Castles, Splendor, and Star Realms without breaking a sweat. And then I’d mention some games that I really enjoyed, but am not sure I love like Dead of Winter and Imperial Assault. Eventually though, I’d remember Istanbul and add that to the list.

This game is good…really good. As mentioned above, the games plays well with multiple player counts, and actively feels different when you change up the number of player. The variation is great, and the player interaction stops it from just becoming a race to see who can do the same moves enough to win.

The only thing lacking from Istanbul is the “WOW” factor. There’s nothing about it that screams “PLAY ME!!!” when it is sitting on the shelf. Which is odd because I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve played, and have yet to show the game to anybody that didn’t like it. I’m not sure I can think of another game that I think of as REALLY good, but that I forget about being as good as it is.

In that sense, I’m really glad it got the Kennerspiel des Jahres. This is an amazing game that needs more people talking about it. With the 2015 Kennerspiel coming up, maybe some folks will be reminded of the 2014 winner and give Istanbul another look.

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61 of 69 gamers found this helpful
“Award winning game for sure!”

This game won the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres award and for good reason too. It’s a slight twist on the worker placement mechanic which is now very familiar to us and is accessible to folks new to designer game play. Pick up deliver your assistants (You’re the merchant) to gather goods around the bazaar which are 16 tiles payed out in a 4×4 pattern the tiles are a little bit larger than 5″ X 3″ tiles, or sell goods to the market or visit the Mosques for game altering tiles or buy rubies. You collect all of these things into your wheelbarrow, which is limited at first but can expanded by visiting the Wainright to increase your capacity to hold more goods. Goods and money will allow you to attain rubies which is what you’ll need to win the game, five for a 3-5 player game and six for a 2 player game.

You and your assistants are stacked discs of your color and the concept of picking up the stack and moving it one or two tiles is easy for most to understand, you either pick up an assistant or leave one behind to be able to perform the action of that tile, if you can’t you simply aren’t allowed to take that action. There are a few more interesting things that happen in this game, I highly recommend that you watch a video board game review for more details.

My wife and I really enjoy playing this game (there’s a two player variant) and let me say this, she is NOT a board gamer per se though I tell her all the time that technically she is, lol. The iconology used in this game just makes sense, less words means less confusion. Each player receives a players guide about bonus card, turn sequence and other info about game play but once you’ve played Istanbul a few times you’ll find yourself not having to look at the player guide or rule book very much.

This game is FUN to play!


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105 of 125 gamers found this helpful
“A masterful gem that scores at scoring gems”

Istanbul is masterful.

The synergy, the smoothness, the balance and uniqueness, the way it integrates the theme and mechanics together for a well balanced and harmonious flow is all impressive.

The “decisioneering” we experienced was exquisitely agonizing without being frustrating or tense. And the amount of interaction in how virtually every turn your moves directly affect the other player’s choices and options is especially refreshing for this style.

There were multiple strategies and multiple tactics from session to session because the board is randomized. Yet the components are familiar enough from each game that we instantly took to the mechanics.

Despite the rules lacking an FAQ to explain some ambiguities that should’ve been obvious to the designers, the rules are actually one of the best I’ve ever seen. The layout and the graphics and their examples and illustrations are superb. Everything is exceptionally well put together in that regard.

This is a real gem: an intriguing euro worker placement game of distinction –yet with tiles and dice no less.

Conclusion, I will rate the game a 9.5 out of 10. My wife rated it 8.5 out of 10. So it’s a 9 for us. We have very few games we would rate as a 9.

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94 of 141 gamers found this helpful
“Favorite strategy game of 2014 for me!”

This game is a must have for any strategy game lover. It’s fast (30min or 45min), lots of re-playability, with awesome mechanics! It hits my gaming table every week, and more than once, two or three times in a row. It’s really awesome. The funny thing is, even it being an AWESOME game (and I can’t say this enough times), and even having won the Kennerspiel des Jahres 2014, people don’t get this game enough attention…. Don’t know how, but probably the thematic may seam a little too specific (turkish merchants on the Istanbul Bazaar doing business) but that’s the real fun in this strategy game: an odd theme to an awesome game filled with great moving mechanics that makes your journey into the world’s biggest bazaar market, in Istanbul, really enjoyable and totally feeling like its a real race against other merchants on a busy day at the bazaar. Favorite strategy game of 2014 for me! Cheers!

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5 of 8 gamers found this helpful
“My new favorite game!!”

This game has beautiful components and is well designed. The artwork is gorgeous! But I love it most because there is no luck; it is all strategy, yet plays in only about 45 minutes. The game board is made of interchangeable tiles, so game play and strategy change every game, keeping it fun and infinitely replayable!! Every game you replan your best moves trying to collect 5 rubies before your opponent does. The mechanisms and movement in this game are very unique and keep you on your toes. Great game!!

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3 of 11 gamers found this helpful
“Solid and fun strategy game, with a unique movement system”

I was unsure how good, Istanbul would be. I had read many good things on the game, but was on the fence on if this would be my type of game. It is easily in my top ten games list. The movement system is very simple, yet offers a ton of depth and complexity. My group is finding it to be a game that needs to get back to the table more. It appears like the resolution may take a long time, but it plays surprisingly quick in my opinion.


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