Strategic Depth - Intermediate
Setup Time - 15-20 min
Play Time - 45-80 mins.
Players - 2 to 5
Mechanics - Dice Rolling, Grid Movement, Modular Board, Pick-up and Deliver
Production Info - 2014 | Pegasus Spiele | Rudiger Dorn


You lead a group of one merchant and four assistants through 16 locations in the bazaar. At each such location, you can carry out a specific action. The challenge, though, is that to take an action, you must move your merchant and an assistant there, then leave the assistant behind (to handle all the details while you focus on larger matters). If you want to use that assistant again later, your merchant must return to that location to pick him up. Thus, you must plan ahead carefully to avoid being left with no assistants and thus unable to do anything. The goal of the merchants is to be the first to collect a certain amount of rubies.



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- The Good -

Balanced/Unique Mechanics

It does a better job than most Euro games with having balanced mechanics. You will have to use a different tactic each game to win especially if you have random layouts. Istanbul has very unique mechanics that I had not seen before because of the movement with Merchant and Assistants. Movements are simple and short but there is alot of depth with the tactics and strategy. The 16 different tiles allows for a great gaming experience as you get to interact with each tile you land on. Also, each tile helps you toward obtaining something positive. The strategy of Istanbul is planning out a couple turns ahead and you never get stuck doing nothing on your turn.

Scales well for two players

Istanbul is actually one of my favorite 2 player games, which is rare for a game that can play up to 5. You change some of the rules with 2 player but it makes for excellent play with focusing on one opponent. It keeps the same components and tactics along with adding 3 dummy merchants. Each time you land on one of those merchants you have to still pay 2 Lira and then roll the dice for their next tile location. I find the strategy for 2 player the most appealing in this game with the race to acquire goods and money against your opponent and quicker turns.

Expansions Improve the Game

I added the Istanbul: Mocha and Baksheesh expansion to my collection and this has immensely improved the depth, replayability, and tactics. It adds more strategy, new ways to gain rubies, as 6 rubies is now the requirement to win the game. It adds some new tiles along with a new coffee resource that gives you more options for obtaining money and rubies. The modular board is now expanded with a 5 x 5 grid instead of 4 x 4 with the new tiles added. The set up does take longer with the expansion but it fills the more advanced gamer appetite.  I have not had a chance to play Istanbul: Letters and Seals expansion but would love 5 more places providing additional options in the quest for Rubies!


Istanbul has a very high replayability and that is one of my favorite components of the game. You can do specific layout's that are described in the rule book but I like to do random layouts everytime to make it challenging. If you do a random layout you just have to follow the guidelines for Tea House, Black Market, and the Fountain. The layout alone significantly affects how well different strategies will work. The game feels markedly different each time it's played especially if you add the expansion Mocha and Baksheesh as it increases the modular game board to 5 x 5.

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- The Bad -


The biggest disappointment with the game is the set up. Sometimes I do not play Istanbul because the set up can take awhile and I will just leave it out for days for multiple plays. There are 16 tiles and most tiles require some kind of game piece to be added. 

Seems complicated

Istanbul can seem a little complicated at first and can take awhile for new gamers to understand the mechanics of the game. I recommend starting with the short paths layout for the tiles when teaching for the first time. Each tile has a different interaction so explaining each tile takes some time but it's worth the experience. The movement of the merchant and assistants is typically the most confusing part of the game. You can check out the set up section down below for help.

- Overall -

Istanbul is a fantastic Euro game that introduces unique movement mechanics with the merchant and assistants. The modular board causes a high replayability. There are multiple paths to victory which is something I desire as it changes each game. The artwork is topnotch and you get alot of game components for the price of the game. The expansions improve the game and you can find both those expansions under Expanding the Game. Once you play an expansion you won't want to play with just the orginal. It is currently one of my favorite games along with my wife and we enjoy playing the game with 2 or 4 players the most. The rule book offers a couple different variants to keep the game interesting and more challenging.

The wheel barrow houses all the good for the players along with rubies. The 3 wheel barrow extensions circled have to be added by landing on the Wainwright and paying 7 dollars. 

The wheel barrow houses all the good for the players along with rubies. The 3 wheel barrow extensions circled have to be added by landing on the Wainwright and paying 7 dollars. 


The following rules are meant to be a high-level reminder of how to play this game. If this is your first time playing, we highly recommend reading the official rule book which goes into more depth. You can download a PDF copy of the rules by clicking the button below.

- Setup -

  1. Lay out the 16 Place tiles in a 4x4 grid. This is considered the game board.
  2. When playing for the first time, we recommend along with the rules to use the "short paths" layout, in which the Place tiles are laid out according to their blue numbers (in the top left corner of each tile).
  3. In a 2-player game: place the Merchant discs of the unused colors on the Mosque tiles #14, #15, and the Gemstone Dealer tile #16.
  4. Randomly determine a Start Player. They get 2 Lira and the Starting player marker. In clockwise order, each other player gets 1 more Lira than the player to their right. Then each player draws a Bonus Card from the top of the stack.
  5. Sort the Mosque tiles by color and then by their number of goods symbols in 4 stacks (so that the tile on top of each stack shows 2 symbols) and place them on the two Mosque tiles  #14 and #15.
    Place 1 Ruby per player on each of the Mosques. 5 players: Only place 4 Rubies on each of the Mosques. 3 players: Remove the tiles with 5 symbols from the game. 2 players: Remove the tiles with 3 and 5 symbols from the game.
  6. Per player, place 1 Ruby and 3 Wheelbarrow extensions on the Wainwright tile #1 .Place Rubies on the Gemstone Dealer #16 and the Sultan’s Palace #13 beginning with the top space on the right. Continue to the space for the appropriate number of players. Place 1 Ruby on each space and leave the remaining spaces empty.
  7. Place the Mail indicators in the top row of the Post Office #5.
  8. Shuffle the five dark Demand Tiles, and place them face up on the Large Market. Do the same with the light Demand Tiles, placing these on the Small Market.
  9.  Roll both dice to determine the starting place for the Governor. Repeat this for the Smuggler.
  10. Shuffle the Bonus Cards and place them face-down in a stack. Also, place the coins and dice near the game board.
  11. Have each player choose a color. Give them a Merchant Disc and four Assistant Discs of that color. Also give them a Wheelbarrow and four Goods Cubes, placing them on the first space of each good of their Wheelbarrow. Lastly, place a Family Member disc at the Police Station.

- Gameplay -

Beginning with the start player you take turns in clockwise order. Your consists of 4 phases but, most of the time, only the 2 phases "Movement and "Action" are actually played. The other phases, the so-called "Encounters", will only take place when your Merchant encounters other tokens. On your turn, you may use any number of Bonus Cards and the special abilities of your Mosque tiles. 

In the movement phase of a turn, a player moves his merchant (and any assistants under him) either 1 or 2 spaces horizontally or vertically, without backtracking to the space he started his turn on. If the space the movement ends on does not already contain an assistant in the player’s color, he will “drop off” an assistant on that space, by removing one disc from the stack and placing it next to the merchant stack.

If the ending space already DOES contain a player’s assistant (from a previous turn), the merchant stack gets placed on top of that assistant, so the assistant is “picked up” in effect. In either case, after the movement phase, the player will then get to take the action on that space. If a player happens to end his merchant’s movement without an assistant present, the player cannot take the action on the space

- End Of Game -

The end of the game is triggered when a player has collected 5 Rubies (in a 2-player game: 6 Rubies). When this happens, complete the current round so everyone has equal turns. Then each player may use their leftover Bonus cards that provide Goods or Money.

- Winning -

The winner is the person who has the most Rubies after the end of the game is triggered. If players have the same amount of Rubies then the Tiebreaker rules take effect. You can gain Rubies numerous ways through  Bonus Cards, Goods, or Lira.

- Tie Breakers -

The player with the most Rubies wins. Ties are broken in the following order:

  1. The player with most leftover Lira
  2. The player with most leftover goods on the Wheelbarrow
  3. The player with the most leftover Bonus Card

In a rare case that players are still tied after these 3 tiebreakers then there are multiple winners.

- Great Instructional Videos -

Here are a few helpful instructional videos you or your group can watch to learn how to play this game visually.



Do you have to drop off or pick up an assistant on every tile?
Yes, every time you land on a tile you have to either pick up an assistant or pick one up. Only exception is if you are traveling to the fountain, then no assistant required.

Can you use a Mosque tile more than once per turn?
No, you can only use a Mosque tile once per turn but you can use different Mosque tiles all on the same turn.

Do you have to pay another merchant or interact with an encounter on the Fountain?
No, it's the only safe tile in the game and no encounters can be placed on it.

Can you play more than one Bonus Card or Mosque Tile on your turn?
Yes, you can play as many Bonus Cards and different Mosque tiles as you would like. They just have to be different and resolved each one first.

 Can you capture your own Family Member?
No, your opponent must capture you family member and send it back to the police station before you can use it again.


Can you go to the Fountain tile without any assistants left?
Yes! The Fountain #7 is the only tile that you can land on without an assistant. When you land on the Fountain you are able to retrieve all of your assistants that go directly underneath your Merchant.

What are all the phases that occur on your turn?
There are four phases that have to be followed in order each turn.

  1. Movement
  2. Encounters with other merchants (if any)
  3. Action
  4. Encounters (if any) in any order with family members, the governor, and/or the smuggler.

Can I move diagonally?
No, you can only move vertically or horizontally with 1 or 2 moves and you must end up on a different tile then you started.


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Highest Price: $49.28  (Aug. 2nd, 2014)
Lowest Price: $21.67 (Aug 14th, 2017)
Average Price: $30.26
*According to CamelCamelCamel.com 1/2/2018)

Expanding The Game

Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh

Istanbul: Letters & Seals 


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