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Azul: Queen’s Garden

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Welcome back to the palace of Sintra! King Manuel I has commissioned the best garden designers in Portugal to construct the most extraordinary garden for his wife, Queen Maria of Aragon. Players are tasked with arranging a magnificent garden for the King’s lovely wife by arranging beautiful plants, trees, and ornamental features. Using an innovative drafting mechanism, the sig…
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Category Tags , , , SKU ZBG-NMG60090EN Availability 3+ in stock
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Lots of options
  • You design your own player board
  • Lovely tiles and art
  • More planning required than previous titles

Might Not Like

  • Can be a bit thinky
  • The tile payments can feel off at first
  • Hate drafting can be a real thing
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Description

Welcome back to the palace of Sintra! King Manuel I has commissioned the best garden designers in Portugal to construct the most extraordinary garden for his wife, Queen Maria of Aragon.

Players are tasked with arranging a magnificent garden for the King's lovely wife by arranging beautiful plants, trees, and ornamental features.

Using an innovative drafting mechanism, the signature of the Azul series, players must carefully select colourful tiles to decorate their garden. Only the most incredible garden designers will flourish and win the Queen's blessing.

Azul is a tile-drafting, pattern-building game, with set collection bonuses up for grabs. Players take turns drafting tiles, aiming to collect enough of one tile type to fill in thresholds on their player mat. At first, you’ll collect tiles in a laid-back fashion. But the pinch closes in during later rounds. Other players can take note of your predicaments. Elements of push-your-luck enter the fray. Especially considering there’s the chance you might get left with excess tiles you can’t place! These class as ‘smashed’ tiles… And that means minus points!

Azul is a quick game to teach, and addictive to play. This fits the category of easy to learn, but tricky to master. It’s easy to see why Azul has become an overwhelming modern classic! Such is Azul’s wild success, it’s spawned multiple sequels already.

Azul: Queen's Garden ups the complexity compared to previous titles, so beginners beware! It takes the mechanics introduced in previous versions and mixes them up a little in a new and elegant way. There are more decisions to make than ever before.

Azul: Queen's Garden Rulebook

Player Count: 2-4
Time: 45-60 minutes
Age: 10+

If there is one thing loved in my household, it's the Azul line of games. It's something about the clackiness of the bakelite tiles, the lovely coloured pieces and the thinky abstract puzzle that resonates with a lot of the family. After seeing a short video about Queens Garden, it did seem like the thinkiest, most unique Azul game yet, colour me intrigued.

It's All A Bit Drafty In Here

For the few people reading who have never played any of the Azul games, they are abstract, tile drafting, puzzle games. Each one has its differences, but the basic premise is to draft a set of tiles from a shared pool and place them on your player board to score points.

How you place them, when you place them and what tiles you draft is paramount skills required to win. Each version of Azul has different scoring systems and other systems thinly laid over this simple template and Queens Garden is by far the 'gamiest' of them all.

Unlike the other Azuls, Queens Garden's drafting starts out as one pool to draft from and steadily increases as more tiles are taken, rather than all pools being available from the start. This simple change changes the feel of the drafting quite a bit, akin to Seven Wonders Duel, taking something you want may lead to you revealing something your opponent desires.

As well as drafting tiles you are now drafting Garden Expansions to put your tiles onto as well, a massive change from what I have played before in these games.

More Freedom

In Queens Garden, instead of the rounds being very regimental like in the original title or Summer Pavillion, the other two Azul's I have played, you have a tad more freedom in what you are doing. On your turn, you can either draft tiles and Garden expansions or place tiles or Garden Expansions.

This flow is very important due to your storage board which is just restrictive enough to nag at the back of your mind and put a splinter into your well oiled strategy. If you do not have space for what you want, you are not getting it, end of the story.

So, unlike the other Azul's I have played your board is yours to design and yours to fill as you please. There are rules in place, obviously but in all the games I have played of this so far, all players gardens have been massively different at the end of the game.

The chains of rigidity of previous entries have been thrown away for a more free, more personalized approach to your tile placement. I really like this a lot; it broadens the space for you to create what you want and allows you to change your layout and design on the fly.

Costly, Costly Tiles

Each of Queens Gardens tiles is one of six designs and one of six colours. When drafting you can take any combination of tile and expansion pieces as long as they share the same pattern or colour.

When placing tiles or expansions, each of the six symbols has a cost, from one to six tiles and you must discard as many tiles or expansions, including the one you place to pay for the placement. Each of these tiles must be either the same symbol or colour but not a mix of the two.

This system seems costly and it is but it does lead to some heart-wrenching decisions about how you are going to pay for your lovely new tile. Luckily, there are Joker tiles, which are colourless in comparison to normal tiles but boy do you need them.

They can be used as a wild when paying for any placement you see fit. You can get more of these tiles by surrounding certain features in your garden, similar in Summer Pavillion and again, they must be placed in your storage. Damn you storage!

Points Make Prizes

The scoring systems of Queens Garden are also different to what I am used to in Azul titles. Where the original and Summer Pavilion score as you place pieces and again at the end of the game, Queens Garden scores at the end of each round and then at the end of the game but both scoring phases are very unique to the series.

Firstly, there's a wheel in the middle of the shared board that dictates which three tiles score at the end of each round and their respective point values. It will give you a mix of three colours or symbols and it is definitely worthwhile shooting for them in each round to maximise your score.

At the end of the game is a very different affair. You step through all six colours and all six symbols and score groups that are more than three tiles in a continuous area. This is where Queens Garden starts to make sense, it costs you quite a varied amount to place tiles but this is the amount of points you get for the tiles at the end of the game.

When placing a tile, it can only touch a tile of the same colour or symbol so when it comes to end-game scoring, planning and how you build your board is vital.

You also get a bonus of six points for groups of tiles that are all of the colours or all of the shapes but the same colour. You will also score negative points if you are left with any tiles or expansions, so being thrifty is key. A bit like another of my families favourites, Quirkle. It makes my brain hurt sometimes, in a good way.

Components

Everyone knows what to expect here. Lovely artwork, nice clean symbology and a lovely presentation make up a game that looks fantastic on the table and after a play or two, is very simple to understand.

As with all the Azul's, I would have liked the boards to be double-layered so the tiles do not slide about but that is a very small negative on something I think is fantastic. Holding the tiles in your hands, listening to them clickity-clack and the lovely bright colours make Queens Garden something special to look at and experience.

The design-it-yourself boards really make Queens Garden a lovely thing to play and make sure everyone's board looks different and unique. The components for this game are great, bright and certainly well-made. It's one of those games, similar to the other games in the same line, that grabs people's attention. It's gorgeous.

Final Thoughts

I originally bought this for someone who loves Azul games but little did I know this would be, not only the most unique title in the series but by far my favourite. It offers more choice, has more malleability and is a little bit more thinky than the other games in the series.

Hate drafting could be a thing, especially when you see your opponent one tile away from collecting all six of a type but that will be a group dependent thing. I will definitely take a tile to stop you from getting all 6 of a type and the bonus that comes with it.

More planning is required than in other games in the series, especially when placing your tiles and paying for them respectively. As you can probably tell, I loved this game, in my opinion, it's the most rewarding and fun in the series and even if you own other Azul games, it is different enough to warrant a purchase. Right, I am off to carry on designing the Queens Garden, laters tile layers!

Azul Queen's Gardens cover

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.

Azul Queen's Gardens gameplay

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.

Players Setup

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.

Players Turn

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.

Players Actions

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.

Azul Queen's Gardens galaxy

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.

Final Scoring

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.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Lots of options
  • You design your own player board
  • Lovely tiles and art
  • More planning required than previous titles

Might not like

  • Can be a bit thinky
  • The tile payments can feel off at first
  • Hate drafting can be a real thing