Before we dive into Crystal Mosaic, let’s speak about the history. The 2017 mega-hit from Michael Kiesling has become a staple in many people’s collection. With its simple basic gameplay and beautiful Portuguese influenced design, Azul has earned the title of a ‘modern classic’. Each player has their own board, on which to create colourful patterns using a shared pool of plastic tiles. These tiles are the makers of the game. Beautifully designed and weighty, you must take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory tiles or the middle of the table. If you take from a tile then any leftover tiles are moved to the middle, where more and more tiles will be added as the round continues. The first player to take tiles from the middle also takes the first player tile giving them first pick on the next turn. But it will give you a negative point. This tension is what makes the game really interesting. You want to hold out until there are much bigger groups of tiles in the middle to make your turn more impactful, but that first player tile can be really powerful.
These tiles are then placed onto your player board on one of five rows. The top row can take one tile, the next one down two tiles and so on. The tiles you draft can only be placed on one row, and only tiles of one colour can be placed on any row you like. You don’t have to complete the rows all in one turn, but once you do you will be able to use them to place a tile in your mosaic and score it. There are two sides to the player board, one with a set pattern you are trying to complete and one that leaves it blank. The only rule is that you can’t have more than on design per row. Simple, but really fun and scales perfectly from two to the full four players.
A Slippery Slope
The production value, on the whole is great. A canvas bag with printed design holds lovely, heavy tiles and the colour scheme is hard to beat. But there is one major issue with the whole experience. Due to the flat, glossy player boards, the tiles have a tendency to slip all over the place. One knock of the table (easily done with my giant legs) can send your tiles shifting away from your careful placement decision. However, at least the tiles have very clear placements so with little time wasted you can reset to where you were before the minor earthquake. What is more of a nightmare, is the point scoring cube that follows a track at the top of the board. As the scoring is done at the end of each round and is based on where your tiles are placed and what surrounds them at that point, it is impossible to re-score yourself at any given point. Luckily Plan B Games listened to the cries.
Azul: Crystal Mosaic is a small but vital expansion. The crystal part refers to four, see-through, plastic overlays for the player boards. These lay smoothly on top of each board adding recesses for the tiles. Despite not being incredibly deep on first inspection, the groves work well to hold the main tiles in place. Each over lay is neat and fairly non-intrusive, however I do wish that the point score track indents were singular. Currently each two point-squares share a recess, and so the cube can still move around, albeit much less than before. I also wish they’d designed them to click onto the board like many of the fan-made 3D printed options out there. This would just have added a little more security if not playing on a perfectly flat surface. But for the low prince point, the expansion is totally worth it. 3D printed, third party overlays will set you back three times as much easily. But, there is more. The expansion also comes with alternate player boards. Both present different patters to add variety, each offering a mix of empty spaces and pre-determined ones. One also incorporates score multiplier spaces that, when filled, score double the normal points. It also offers a scoring variation where the row, column and five-of-a-kind scores are all worth more points.
Again, this is a small expansion and really doesn’t add a huge amount to the gameplay. The alternate boards are simple and don’t really change up how you might play the game, but those plastic overlays make a world of difference!