Axio, on first looks, appears rather dull. An out and out abstract game. Bright, white box, with black tiles. Having said that, what a joy it was, let me explain more...
What's Axio About?
Axio is a game designed by Dr. Reiner Knizia, the prolific and talented German (Windsor-based) board game designer, who I predict will win, if not be nominated for, game of the year next year with Blue Lagoon.
Axio looks familiar and that is because it re-implemented an earlier game he made called Ingenious. A game I happened to discover the evening before the first Tabletop Gaming Live event (in London) earlier this year.
Ingenious, started with a bang, literally, as plastic tiles fell out of the box. The hexagon tiles, didn’t particularly do it for me and I passed on it. If you haven’t been in the wilderness the past year you will easily understand Axio is you are familiar with Azul.
Whilst Azul has a lovely, pretty theme, Axio is pure, clinical black and white with five coloured symbols. It plays 1-4 and takes 20-40 minutes. It’s defined as a “Familie” game by Pegasus Spiele and recommended for ages 8+.
What you can do
You have a black bag (the drawstring knot was held in place in the plastic mould in the box in a crack/split in the box, which I can’t tell was intentional?), and you draw five tiles per player (in solitaire mode you draw one at a time). You have racks to view your tiles and you are looking to place them on the quad-board (four-way foldout) and aiming to score points for where the symbol matches next to it (orthogonally). You do not include the tile you are placing when you are scoring. So, the scoring is the same as Azul (except you don’t score on the tile you place).
The tiles are 2x1, and can be any combination of those five symbols, including doubles. The board has a layout for a two-player game, then a larger squared area/arena for three players (extra tile width wider each side) and again for four players (solo is played on the two-player area).
The board already has a square with the symbols on (symmetrical and equidistant as expected by an abstract) and encourages you to place next to one of the symbols you have in your rack so you can get a point on your first turn (youngest player starts).
As the game progresses islands of single squares can appear. In this instance, pyramids are available and are placed to score one point per symbol it touches.
The game of Axio ends when no one tile can be placed.
Unlike Ingenious, the tiles are cardboard and are rather decent - I prefer them to the clatter plastic pieces. Additionally, being rectangular, I prefer the simplicity in where I can consider placing them. Plastic still exists with the racks and the pyramids. However, I haven’t taken the pyramids out of the box, they aren’t necessary and scoring as you go wasn’t a problem. In addition, you could knock one of those towers and end up displacing the tiles.
The board is nice and shiny, and folds flat enough. It's a shame it couldn’t be double-sided. The bag is fine and the number of tiles is almost three times what you need, so it prevents “symbol” counting, which could and does happen in games like Carcassonne and Azul, preventing experienced players from knowing what is yet to come.
In term of keeping count, there is a scoreboard per player with translucent colours (matching the colour of the shapes/symbols) and you move them along as you score.
Final Thoughts on Axio
Axio is a game that has really grown on me. I first tried it solo and ended up playing seven games straight. Whilst it doesn’t give bandings for how well you should aim for (instead suggesting you “beat your best”), I enjoyed the variety of play; working into the centre, round the edges, merging symbol groups, slowly building to larger connections.
Games were taking only seven minutes, yet were full of choices. Whilst you may only score one of the two symbols sometimes on a go, as the game goes on, you realise you can get, e.g. five points on your next turn, then playing there again, six, etc, two way combos (approaching from other sides, means 15+ points is possible). However, you don’t want that many points as you left your other symbols on hardly any points.
You will constantly fluctuate between what symbol needs points to keep the average up. As other players see where you could go, they could go there first, perhaps reducing the chance of you boosting your score and helping their modesty.
The thing is, you want points, but you can only score two of your five symbols at once (and you might not have the tiles for other symbols yet).
With so many extra tiles, your opening hand can be wildly different game to game, and thus, high replay-ability as you balance your ways to score. In terms of interaction, you want to watch out for what others are doing. If one coloured symbol for a player is far behind the others, keep it that way. (I can’t think they would expect you to go there). Meanwhile, the components are good, sturdy and do not distract from the gameplay.
You need to know how your scoring options will vary as more tiles by others are placed). Thinking what to do isn’t hard on your turn, generally it comes down to “where can I go to boost my lowest scoring symbol”. Another abstract game, Qwirkle, which won Game of the Year (Spiel des Jahres), I found had too much downtime between turns, thinking whether an opponent might go where you will go, and was sometimes hard to keep track of what symbols to follow.
Overall, Axio is a great, enjoyable family game, that has fast turns, points scored on every turn (unless you choose to hope a better combo occurs) and is quick to set-up, put away and will last. Like the older other abstracts I mentioned, I can see travel and other editions coming out in the future.