Azul (2017) review
With three versions of the game now in print, (Summer Pavilion, Stained Glass of Sintra and the basic version of Azul) the sky seems to be the limit for Next Move Games. All three games are abstract tile placement games, share the delightful tactile feel and have had some generus buzz built around them. Winning an award or 10 in the progress, like the 2018 Spiel des Jahres and the As d'Or. Having never played the to newer versions, I cannot give you a comparison or rank the titles in any shape or means at this time. Maybe in the future this will come to pass.
Two to four players will have the privilege of collecting these delightful otherworldly tiles and try to apply them on their wall. Of course this sounds very simple, but there are ways and means of collecting and attaching them to your wall, that will add a challenge. Each player will have their own plateau to place their tiles on and score their own points. While in the middle of the table, tiles will be randomly placed on a number of beer coasters, (there is no other way of saying it) to squabble over. This is technically the heart of the fun, or discomfort of the game. Planning ahead and calculating what the other players will take or discard will take up a vast amount of your gaming experience. And the great thing about it is you can still play the game haphazardly and probably still fair well by the end of the game. Making it an easy game for any level of experienced gamer. Just like anybody can slip on a pair of socks but weather there a matching pair all the correct way round doesn't really matter.
So let's go back to the beer coasters. When your turn comes around, you can select one of these beer coasters and remove the tiles from it. From those removed, you can only keep one set of the same pattern. As seen as there are only 5 different patterns (or colour) in the game, you're more than likely keep one or two of the four tiles that are placed there. All of the remaining tiles will be removed to the centre of the table. The centre of the table is treated like one giant coaster. At some stage in the game, a player may decide to collect all of the tiles of one pattern from this space. As the game goes on, more and more tiles will be added to this. First player to do so will have the benefit it of being the first player in the next round. Of course it has an advantage but it also has a disadvantage explain later on. Taking from this pool can have some benefits of its own, as you can grab a greater number of same coloured tiles in one action. Totally beneficial. Also someone could leave you with no choice but to pick up large group of same coloured tiles to add to your board, which could lead to your downfall. This is one of the great dilemmas of the game. Calculating what you need and guesstimating what the others will need. Picking and choosing while forcing the other players to leave you the best scraps. This is not evident in the first and possibly second round, but as the game goes on, you will find and that this is all you're doing.
Let's go back to the tiles that you have decided to keep. These will go to your individual player board, where you have a 5 by 5 gridded wall to try and decorate. But before you can add these tiles to your wall, they will have to be placed off to the side of a column that you wish to add them to. As soon as all of the tiles from the coasters and the middle of the table have been collected, this is when they can be applied to your wall. But only if you have the correct amount for the column. Each column requires a different number of same coloured tiles before they can be added to your wall. One column requires one tile. Another two tiles, three tiles, four and then five. It is only now that they can be added to the wall and you will score points for each that does. Again restrictions are in place to make the game a thoughtful, challenging and hopefully fun experience. Each pattern can only be attached to the wall all in a column that doesn't already have the same pattern. Think sudoku. Not only are you trying to get the correct colours in the correct column, but also so in the right quantities. If you do not have the prerequisite to move a tile onto your wall, the tiles you've collected it was stay in that saved space until you do have the required amount. This can lead to missed opportunities in scoring. And the hope of getting them fulfilled the next round. Observant players may take a gander at your previous rounds treasures and play it to their advantage, as I stated before, taking the things you need leaving the tiles you don’t need to collect in you negative point box...
Moving onto scoring, there are multiple ways to get points from this game. These are all relatively simple, but the strategy relies on how and which spaces on the wall you fill. Placing a tile on the wall will give you a point. Adding a title to an adjacent tile will give you a number of points depending on the number of adjacent tiles, either horizontally or vertically. So as you can see, placing a tile in the right column at the right moment can give you big numbers. This is the strategy that will separate the mice from the men. But it relies on what tiles come out of the bag and onto the coasters, what tiles the other players leave for you to take and which columns you place these tiles into. To win every time you'll need to be a clairvoyant. Or just aware of the scoring strategy. Two things I haven't told you about the scoring are 1) there is a bonus chance to get extra points at the end of the game and 2) you can lose points by taking the wrong pattern or number of tiles.
The bonuses are very simple. You get extra points for each column horizontal or vertical. On top of that, if you manage to add 5 of the same coloured tiles to your wall, they score you mega points as well. But the gut-wrenching part of the game is losing points from round to round. How does this occur? Going back to the very beginning, when you collect tiles from a coaster or the middle of the table, your add them to one column next to your wall. These all need to be of the same colour. And the correct amount needed for the column. If you have more than you need, they cannot be added to another column. If you have no space in a column or it cannot be added to a column due to the fact that you already have that colour attached to your wall in that row, these count towards negative points. At the bottom of your bored there is the negative point boxes. You will add these unused tiles to this one by one, from left to right. And even the first player marker, which is a tile, will go there as well (see, being first player has benefits and negative effects). When a scoring round comes along, this is when you total up every negative point that every negative tile gives you. If you miss plan or have other superior players screwing you over, this can really sting, as each box gets a little more negative. One time that this happened to me, made me hate the game immediately. If I had reviewed the game then and had been a vain critic, my rating would have been very poor. But that's not the kind of critic that I am. Everything deserves more than one chance and not be judged by its cover. Plus this is it go-to game for my wife, hence I have no choice but to play. LOL
Even if you're not enjoying the game, they never tend to last very long. Normally after five rounds the game or come to a close. As the finishing condition is when one player or more has as five tiles in a horizontal line. This is very easy to achieve as the first column only requires one tile of one colour. As long as someone one fills this column each round, round six never exists. It is then that you look at your final scores to decide who the winner is. With relatively simple rules to follow and a rapid playing time, this is a perfect family weight game in a family sized box. Play loose or play it with profound concentration, the choice is yours.
Chunkiness is the key. The boards are thick and sturdy. The tiles are gloriously smooth. And the sack is not bad too. Although I'm not a fan of the black cube, which you place on your board to keep your score. This sucker will slide around from time to time, with so much movement having to move and removing tiles from your board, the board with shuffle or the cube will get knocked. All very minor when you consider the rest of the presentation. Presentation is at its best in the accompanying Rulebook. Well written and well presented with plenty of examples. There is even a variation to the game. By simply flipping your player board over, you will go from a wall that tells you where to put a particular tile, to a wall where you have to decide where to put a particular tile. Still following those Sudoku rules.
Technical Score 9.5/10
The game is brimming with wonderful tactile components, although it a little dull to look at. Simple rule set and quick dplaying time makes for a good family game.
My BGG Score 6/10
(ok -will play if in the mood)
I will hand it to Azul, that it is a very interesting game. But it feels restrictive and repetitive. You have to learn how to be good at it, with a little card counting, bluffing and of course luck. You could say the same about Carcassonne, but there's something enduring and pleasurable about building a map in my opinion.
Combined score 7.75/10
Now it's over to you...