Azul: Queen's Garden is the most recent standalone game in the Azul range that arrived on retailers' shelves in April 2022. This time, King Manuel I has commissioned the best garden designers of Portugal to realize the most extraordinary garden for his wife, Queen Maria of Aragon.
To achieve the magnificent goal of pleasing the king, players are tasked to draft and arrange beautiful plants, trees, and ornamental features represented by colorful tiles that are a signature of the Azul series.
Unboxing And Storage:
Tokens and Garden expansions. The first setup requires the players to unpunch all the garden expansions and the tokens first.
The garden expansions are stacked in two slots in the game tray as the starter tiles. These last ones are called "fountain boards", they are easy to identify as they are bigger than the garden expansions (13 hexagons instead of 7) and they fit the central slot of the tray.
Player and evaluation wooden markers could be stored in the small slot with "AZUL" printed onto it and all other tokens including the first player marker have a nice space behind the fountain boards.
Tiles And Tile Tower
In the paper tile tower, you will find 5 identical series of tiles divided into numbered bags. All coloured tiles could be stored in the tile tower itself once you have opened the bag while the grey ones (the wild tiles called "jokers" in-game) have 4 dedicated slots in the tray.
While going through the material in the box you may have found a clear piece of adhesive: as per the printed instruction, you should add it to the base of the tile tower to make it a bit sturdier. It is not a drama if you missed or discarded it as it does not prevent the game to be played.
Assembly The Rotary Wheel
Finally, you will need to do a bit of assembly to put together the rotary wheel that is composed of a base, a larger moving disk with four dents, and a cover disk. You will need a screwdriver to complete the assembly and you should note that the two sides of the wheel are different to provide variability and a more difficult challenge. Make sure you pick the right one for your first games.
Once all is done, you are ready to setting-up your first game.
Preparing The Display Area
Azul series is well known for its easy setup and this game is no different.
To set up a new game, you need to prepare 4 separate stacks by mixing all garden expansions, one for each of the four rounds of the game. The size of each stack is proportional to the number of players as described on page 2 of the rulebook and each stack needs to be placed face down.
Three stacks will stay on standby somewhere on the table while the stack for the first round will need to be in the middle, clearly visible to all players in what the game defines as the "display area". All remaining expansions should make a fourth stack with the "-6" marker on top of it.
On one side of the display area, you could place the scoring board with the rotatory wheel. The rotatory wheel dents should be aligned with the two markers on the top quadrant (first round). You could either keep the game box close to easily access the game tokens and the jokers or prepare a pile of each close to the scoring board. The other tokens could be retrieved from the fox as needed.
On the other side of the display are you could position the tile tower. You will need first to pour all the tiles out from the tower and into the drafting bag as the tower could be used to store all tiles consumed during each game round. You could also choose to not use the tower and store the tiles where you prefer although the tower is a nice cosmetic addition to the table.
Each player takes a player board and a player marker in the same colour (the boards are coloured on the upper and lower side although is not immediate to see them at first), a storage board in the same colour, 1 fountain board, and three jokers.
The jokers will need to be placed in any of the 12 spaces on the storage board. Player markers are placed on the square "15" on the scoring board and the single hexagonal marker (evaluation marker) is positioned on his icon on the left of the scoring board.
First Player Actions
Finally, the first player draft 4 tiles from the bag to put onto the stack in the display area and the game could start. The first player should be usually the youngster and then the turn should progress in a classic clock or counter clock order agreed at the beginning.
Starting from the first player, each player could only perform one of four actions choosing among: acquire tiles and garden expansions, place a tile, place a garden expansion, and pass.
Player action, Pass - Passing is final and once passed the players could not do any further actions. The first players that pass will receive the first player tile and once all players have passed, the round is over.
Player action, Acquire - To perform the "acquire tiles and garden expansions" action, a player will need to declare if they are looking for a specific colour or pattern first and then pick ALL the tiles and garden expansions showing the colour or pattern declared by the player.
The only exception to the acquire rule is you could only pick one of any duplicated items. At the beginning of your first turn, obviously, all expansions in the stack are showing their back (no icons) and there are only four tiles therefore the first player will not have many options.
If they want, players could also acquire a face-down garden expansion from the supply by losing 6 victory points.
Updating The Display Area
If a player has removed at least one tile from the garden expansion on the stack, that expansion will need to be moved out from the stack and onto the display area revealing a new expansion and four new tiles will need to be added immediately to it from the bag.
This process will result in the display area being progressively populated by expansions with 0 to 3 tiles on it thus increasing the potential amount of tiles a player could acquire at the same time.
Note that each player could only store up to 12 tiles including the jokers and that is not allowed to perform an acquire action that will pick more tiles than the available space in your storage board.
As soon as a garden expansion will be left with no tiles, it should be flipped to show the front side. Each of the garden expansions will reveal a pavilion icon in the centre and one pattern-colour combination on one of the hexagons and from this moment on it could be picked together with the tiles if it matches the colour or pattern declared by a player.
You should have noted by now that you only have space to store 2 expansions.
When placing a tile, a player could choose any empty space as far as there are no other tiles next to the one they are placing or the tile next to the new one share the same colour or pattern.
Identical tiles could not be placed next to each other. If a player fully surrounds a garden feature (pavilion, bench, statue, or fountain) by placing a tile, the player immediately receives as many jokers as depicted on the bottom left side of the player board. If the player could not store all the jokers, those in excess are lost.
Player action, place a tile or a garden expansion - As an alternative to acquiring tiles, players could either place a tile or an expansion. In both cases, you could only place one or the other in your garden and you should pay the corresponding price.
Paying the cost of a tile (or a garden expansion) - The price of a tile or expansion is linked to the pattern on it as summarized nicely on the player board.
It is important to remind that the price of a tile should be always reduced by one as the one you are placing counts to cover the placing price. Understanding the cost is quite important as, for example, you do not need to pay any additional tiles to place those with a tree pattern as their cost is one.
The cost could be covered by any combination of tile/ garden expansion/ Joker as far as there are no duplications and each of them counts as one when used to pay a cost, disregarding the pattern they are showing. The tiles used to pay the cost are discarded into the tile tower and not added to the bag.
End Of The Round And Scoring
Once all players have passed it is time to score the round. Each player will score 1 point for each pavilion visible on their board and many points for each of the visible patterns/colours matching those identified by the scoring wheel.
All visible patterns and colours are scored disregarding whether they are on tiles or on the garden expansions and each hexagon could be scored twice (once for the pattern and one for the colour).
Once scoring is completed, the wheel is turned to the next quadrant. Two important observations: each pattern and colour are scored only once per game; the points that could be gained increase progressively from round one to four. Players' markers are moved on the scoring board in as many spaces as the score for the round.
Preparing For The Next Round
Once scoring is completed, all remaining tiles and garden expansions from the ongoing round are discarded and a new stack is placed in the display area for the new round.
At the end of the fourth round, players score as usual and then a final scoring takes place. During the final scoring, each group of at least 3 patterns or colours scores 3 points. The same tile could be scored multiple times if part of multiple groups.
The hexagonal scoring marker on the left of the scoring board is used to trace the progress of the final scoring and it is recommended that each player scores each of them one at a time. We always score each step for all players before moving to the next one as it is quite fun to see the race to the final victory.
Finally, each group of six different patterns or colours scores 6 additional points. Not surprisingly, the player with the highest score wins.
How To Store The Game Away
Once the game is completed, each component can be easily returned to the corresponding slot in the game tray. The tower could be used to store all the tiles with/without the bag and all boards could be placed over the game tray.
I, personally, prefer to store the rotatory wheel on top of all other boards and I cover it with the empty tile bag to avoid the metal screw bending or damaging the boards.