(Edit: This is one of my Top 10 Games Played of all Time, as of February 2019 anyway. Check out the other games as well!)
Don’t we all need a little colour in our lives? Something to make things brighter, lift our spirits?
Did you ever want to lay tile without having to get all of that adhesive ready first?
Azul is the game for you, then!
Azul is an 2-4 player abstract tile-laying game designed by Michael Kiesling with art by Philippe Guérin and Chris Quilliams. It’s published by Plan B Games in North America.
Yes, there is a supposed theme for the game (“Azulejos” were originally white and blue ceramic tiles that the Portuguese king fell in love them with and wanted his palace to be decorated with them, with the players being tile laying artists who are competing to get the job), but let’s face it: it’s an abstract game.
As somebody who doesn’t really do abstract games, what do I think?
Let’s take a look.
How to Play
Depending on the number of players, a number of circular tiles (factory displays) are placed in a circle in the middle of the table. Each player gets a player board with a score track.
There are five types of tiles in various colours and designs, twenty tiles in each design/colour. All are placed in a bag, and then four are drawn for each display.
The first player chooses a display and a tile type, taking all tiles of that type and putting them onto their board. The remaining tiles in that display get pushed to the center of the table.
That player than chooses a row for the tiles they took. They put them into one of the five staging areas on the left side of their board. If the row isn’t filled up (say you took three tiles and you place them in the row with five spaces in the staging area), then you can no longer put any other type of tile in that row until they are gone.
Also, if you take more tiles than will fit in the row (either because there are already tiles there or because you were forced to take more than there are spaces in that row), you put the excess tiles in your floor line (the negative point spaces below your staging area).
Play moves around the table, with players doing the same thing. You can also choose to take all tiles of the same type from the center of the table, but the first player to do that gets a bonus and a penalty.
That player takes the first player marker for next round, but they also place the tile in the leftmost free space of the floor line. Thus, they will get a negative point (or more if the -1 spaces are already filled up) but get to go first next round.
Play continues like this until all of the tiles are off of the table and on player boards.
Once that happens, you look at your staging areas, from top to bottom. If a row in your staging area is full, you move the rightmost tile in the row over to the tile-laying area (the wall) in its corresponding space. You discard the remaining tiles in that row of the staging area.
You then score points for that tile. You first count the number of tiles in the row connected to the tile you just placed (including the tile itself). You then count the number of tiles in the column that are connected to the tile you just placed (including the tile itself). If a tile is all by itself with no connections, then you just get one point.
If the solid blue tile in the very center of the board in the picture above had just been placed, for example, then you would get 3 points for the row and 3 points for the column, for a total of 6 points.
After you’ve done all that, you get your negative points for any tiles in the Floor Line.
Then the next round starts. You keep playing until somebody has completed an entire row on their wall. That will trigger the end game and there won’t be any more rounds.
There is final scoring where you get 2 points for each row completed, 7 points for each column completed, and 10 points if you filled up all the squares of the same type.
Highest score wins!
Is Azul a beautiful mosaic? Or is it a garish bathroom monstrosity?
As I said above, abstract games don’t really do much for me, but Azul is a big exception. I love this game.
It’s such a beautiful game, with components that almost make you want to eat them because they look exactly like Starbursts. But they are a nice, hard plastic that makes them easy to handle and also able to withstand you constantly twisting them around in your hand like poker chips (as I am wont to do).
The player boards and floor displays are nice, sturdy cardboard. They won’t hold up to getting accidentally placed in a clothes washer or anything, but they’re pretty durable.
The game play is really wonderful, too. It’s simple to teach and makes a lot of sense. The only kind of wonky part is the scoring, which is a bit difficult to grasp but after repeated plays will become second nature. It does make sense once you know it, but it’s not the most intuitive aspect of the game.
Until you get that scoring bit, though, some of the strategies may be a bit opaque. Should you try to leave a nice space on the mosaic so that when you place a tile, you can get 8+ points for it? Or do you just start chaining them together in a row, getting one point, then two, then three as you build?
These kinds of strategic choices are what makes the game great. That, and how surprisingly cutthroat it can be, especially at two players.
When you choose tiles to take, you have to take all of that type in the display or the center area. If you know one of your opponents wants the three red tiles in the center because that’s all their row will hold, maybe take something from the floor display so that more red tiles go into the center.
Oops! I didn’t mean to do that. Sorry that kind of screwed you there.
If I didn’t do it, the next guy was going to.
Azul is an abstract game with some bite, but overall it’s pretty simple and easy to teach. Non-gamers shouldn’t have any trouble picking it up after a play or two, and it’s really short (maybe half an hour?).
Thus, it makes the perfect lunchtime game at work if you have up to four players.
Other than the fiddly scoring, I can’t really think of any major criticism for it. If you really don’t like abstract games, then it may not be for you. I would suggest giving it a try, though, just in case you’re like me and find yourself gripped by it.
I highly recommend Azul and would really suggest trying it out.
Whatever you do, though, don’t eat the pieces. No matter how tempting they are.
That’s not good for you and it’s not good for the game.
Trust me. I know.
(This review was written after 2 plays)
This is a blog about board games, with the occasional other post for a bit of spice.