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Istanbul or Constantinople? Kickstarter Preview

Quick Look: Istanbul or Constantinople?
Designers: Cecilia Hyland and Eric Hyland
Artist: Jesse Gillespie
Publisher: Concrete Canoe Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 20 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Istanbul or Constantinople? Card Game Review; Photo by Benjamin Kocher

Small, two-player games can be hit or miss for me. For those I don’t care for, it feels like there’s either not enough there to make it a fun game, or the amount of rules makes it so convoluted that it bogs things down. However, some small, two-player games work, and work well. Obviously, they’re meant to be played quickly (hence small), and the usage of minimal table space is ideal, which makes this type of game great for travel. Because this is a review for Istanbul or Constantinople?, I bet you’re wondering which category this one falls into: good, bad, or ugly?

Istanbul or Constantinople? is quick (check that box), small (another check), great with two players (check, although it can play up to four), and a solid game (quadruple check). I’m quite impressed with the experience I had with it. The rules are simple, yet complex enough that it works my brain.

My Experience
I’ll start by saying there’s some math to this game. Nothing complex, mind you; I, the non-math person, can do it easily enough in my head. Still, there’s a point where there are so many different options on the table to math that it can start becoming more difficult than it should be. And it’s great. Yes, I actually like all the adding and subtracting, and the “What if I flip this card so I can subtract X from that row?” implications are quite enjoyable.

Another aspect I really liked was scoring. Rather than getting a certain amount of points depending on the street scored (and I’ll discuss scoring further down under Gameplay), the value of any street is the highest value/number on the face-up cards in that street. This makes for some more strategic playing, as you try and line up higher cards before you score. (i.e. “8-3” scores 8 points, compared to “2+3” which only scores 3 points; both sets of equations score the two-card streets.) It’s one of those small rules that really makes this game what it is.

There’s a solo variant as well, which is quick and comes with varying difficulty levels. I’ve played the solo variant on all the difficulties, and I do prefer the more difficult two (starting with one or two cards in-hand, rather than three or four).

The bright, vivid colors on the cards gives this game a visual appeal. It drew me in from the start, and I can’t stop admiring the art style each time I play. That, coupled with solid mechanics, makes Istanbul or Constantinople? a fun two-player (or more) game I won’t mind bringing on trips, or anywhere, really, since it fits so nicely in my pocket (it really is a great travel-sized game).


First off, shuffle all the cards. Then, place 14 cards in the center of the table in five rows, numbered 1 through 5, according to the dealer’s perspective. The first and fifth (last) row have two cards in each, the second and fourth rows have three cards in each, and the third (middle) row has four cards in it. These are the streets of Istanbul…or Constantinople. Well, they’re the streets of whatever the winner decides to call the city.

Next, deal cards evenly to each player in a two-player game, or each team in a three- to four-player game (each team uses one hand of cards). To determine who goes first (and I like this a lot), add up row three. If it’s an odd number, the dealer (or the dealer’s team) goes first.


The row with three cards needs all its numbers (right-side up, according to the player's perspective) to add up to ten. Here, we see that 3 - 1 + 8 = 10 (I am so smart, S-M-R-T). This street scores, giving the player 8 points (because 8 is the highest number on the cards).

Players alternate turns, with each player or team carrying out one of the three actions. These actions will manipulate the cards in the rows. The object, then, is to manipulate each row/street so that the numbers in the top-left corner (referenced by the players, so sitting across from each other is necessary) add up to that row’s target number. The target numbers are as follows:
  • Streets 1 & 5: Must add up to 5
  • Streets 2 & 4: Must add up to 10
  • Street 3: Must add up to 15
If the street reaches its target value, that street is scored. When scoring a street, that street is removed from the game, and the player/team that scored the street receives Influence equal to the highest positive number on the face-up sides of all the street’s cards. Only one street may be scored each turn.

The actions players may take to manipulate the streets are as follows:
  • Replace: Take a card from any street and replace it with one from your hand, set on any value.
  • Swap: Swap two cards—each from a different street—and rotate both 180 degrees.
  • Flip: Flip over any one card in any one street. Set either number on the newly revealed side as your new active number.

Whenever a street scores, the highest value/number on any card in that street (face-up) becomes that street’s score, which you then keep (I keep the scored streets stacked in separate piles next to me). The first player to reach 20 Influence points wins immediately. If only one street remains, and neither team/player has reached 20 points, continue for two more rounds; or, rather, two turns for each player or team. The rules change a bit here:
  • Players may only use the Replace action
  • The street will score at a value of 5, 10, or 15
If after two more rounds of play the street still hasn’t scored, the game ends immediately, and the player/team with the most Influence wins.

Solo Mode
I appreciate any game with any semblance of a solo variant. In Istanbul or Constantinople?, the solo variant plays fast and can be quite fun.

Setup is mostly the same as normal. However, instead of dealing out the remaining cards evenly among players (in this case, one), the solo player gets one, two, three, or four cards, depending on the difficulty chosen. One card is most difficult, and four cards is easiest. Gameplay proceeds as normal; however, if a street doesn’t score after an action is taken, you must discard a card from your hand. If you must discard a card from your hand, but you don’t have any cards left to discard, the game ends immediately and you score as normal.

Theme and Mechanics:

Istanbul or Constantinople? by Concrete Canoe Games

The theme comes across nicely in the artwork. The mechanics is essentially hand management, with a touch of math as well. As far as a theme of fighting for naming rights of the city combined with the 18-card components…It’s not your normal theme, and I’m not sure how else it could have been done, but hey, it works.

Artwork and Components:

The art by Jesse Gillespie is bright, colorful, and really brings the game to life. Each card number/type (because there are lots of numbers on each card) has unique art, which really sets the tone for the game. It just looks fun, and I love that. Seriously. I may need to order another copy of the game just to look at, they’re that nice.

The cards are glossy and feel great. The hook box the cards come in unfolds to become a “+” where all the rules are printed. This is one thing I really like about this game, that there is no wasted space. The box is already showing some wear (around the creases) after a dozen or so openings; however, this is a pre-Kickstarter prototype, so the box may end up being better quality. Fingers crossed.

I like that the cards are also double-sided, as it allows for more real estate, but at the same time, the other player(s) can see the cards in your hand (since the smaller number on the cards indicates the number on the other side of the card).

The Good:
  • Quick, thinky (for those of us who aren’t human calculators) gameplay
  • Bright, vibrant, and fun artwork
  • Pocket-sized
  • Integrates the theme of They Might be Giants’ most well-known song into game form, so you’ll always have the song stuck in your head (admittedly, that could also be a bad thing, music preferences depending).
So, take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Oh Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks.

The Other:
Due to the nature of the game, the cards are double-sided. This makes it easy for your opponent to know what you have in your hand at any given time. If you’re able to hold the cards behind your hands so your opponent can’t see them, then more power to you, and may the advantage be thine. Not a huge issue, especially since there are other options visible on the board as well, but some folks may want to consider keeping their cards hidden. I don’t, so it doesn’t bother me.

Final Thoughts:

Istanbul or Constantinople? Kickstarter preview review; Concrete Canoe Games FLOAT series; Photo by Benjamin Kocher

Istanbul or Constantinople? is a solid game, no doubt about it. It’s a good hand-management-type game with appealing art and smooth mechanics. Because it plays so quickly, it’s easy to play multiple games in a row. Besides, it can get rather addicting, and “just one more game” might go on for an hour or more.

Players Who Like:
Fans of set collection, two-player games, and games under 30 minutes should give Istanbul or Constantinople? a serious look. If you’re a fan of They Might be Giants and want to get their song “Istanbul” in everyone’s head, give this a shot.

Check out Istanbul or Constantinople? on:


On KICKSTARTER now. Campaign ends April 11, 2019.

Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

See Benjamin's reviews HERE.

Istanbul or Constantinople? Kickstarter Preview Istanbul or Constantinople? Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on March 29, 2019 Rating: 5

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