Azul is the Spanish word for blue, and while there is some blue in this game the name remains somewhat obtuse, thankfully the gameplay more than makes up for it. Azul sets you up as mosaic tilers looking to tile a wall, or something, to be honest the theme is not the strongest and this is very much an abstract experience. But that doesnt stop it being a beautiful one.
The tile pieces in Azul are gorgeous, looking like fancy starburst sweets and feel great in your hands. During set-up you will lay on a number of round cardboard tiles representing the factories where you pick up the tiles you need. Onto each of these you place four random starburst tiles. On your turn you may take any number of those from the factory, as long as they are the same colour. Those left are moved off the factory into a central pile.
From that point on you may also take any number of the same colour tiles from the central pile and if you are the first to do so, you lose a point and get to be first player next time round.
Once you have your tiles you place them on to one of five staging areas. Each of the five staging areas has a different amount of spaces (from 1-5) and each can only hold tiles of one colour at a time. At the end of the round if one of these staging areas is full then you can move one tile from that area to the corresponding row of the mosaic discarding the rest. This is the only way you can discard tiles without penalty - should you take more than you need/can place then they will give you negative points.
You score points for placing tiles into your mosaic for each row and column of tiles you add to counting your tile in both directions. Youll also get bonuses for rows, columns and filling all five spaces of one colour of tile.
Azul is a fantastic drafting game that looks great on the table and appeals to almost everyone I have played it with. Both Azul and its sequel, Stained Glass of Sintra, offer easy to learn games that are not lacking in depth and planning. They would make great games for beginners and old hands alike and are the perfect gaming gift.
Younger players may find Stained Glass slightly easier to understand but there isnt a huge amount of difference and you cant really go wrong with either!
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 30-45 Minutes
Plan B Games caught everyone's attention with Century: Spice Road and Golem Edition, so their next game was always going to be under the microscope. The announcement of Azul was met with cautious optimism by most. The game seemed to boast the great attention to detail and components as Century, but there was some fear that it might be too simple.
The first impressions I read seemed to be a little bit cool on the gameplay too, so I didn't rush to play the game myself... but once I did... well that would be telling. (Like you didn't immediately scroll to the bottom for the score anyway!)
In Azul, 2-4 players are drafting tiles to construct their own mosaic. There are some very clever mechanics to make this much more interesting than it sounds though! The drafting part works by placing four tiles on a certain number of factory tiles, dependant on player count. The tiles are randomly drawn from a bag and are made up of four different colours.
The first player tile is placed in the middle of the table, initially on its own. On your turn 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 left over tiles are moved to the middle. The first player to take tiles from the middle also takes the first player tile.
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 though, but any that you have completed after all the tiles have been drafted add one tile to your mosaic on the same row. This then blocks off that row from being used for that colour for the rest of the game.
If you have picked too many tiles for a row then they fall into the waste row and give you minus points at the end of the game. Also, the first player tile always goes to the waste row. At the end of a round, scoring commences. Starting with your top row you move one tile from any completed row to your mosaic, scoring one point for that tile and each tile in a line touching that one horizontally and vertically.
There are point bonuses at the end of the game for getting five of one colour on to the mosaic and for completing rows and columns but as soon as someone completes a row the game will end that round.
Azul is a fantastic game. The simple drafting and placement rules create a battle for the right number of tiles with the other players. You not only have to prioritise when you make your moves but also try and predict what the other players will prioritise. This can be to help your own plans or simply to hinder others. That's right, Azul looks pretty but can be a nasty game if people hate draft, that is deliberately take what you need or leave you in a position where you will take more tiles than you need.
This can be a turn off for some but I have generally found that players are more concerned with maximising their own points rather focusing on you. The game is very abstract but is beautiful and tactile thanks to the components. Bizarrely in the first printing the first player tile was cardboard instead of plastic, but in the second printing under the 'Next Move' logo the tile is the same plastic as the rest.
Playing Azul made me pay attention to it's designer Michael Kiesling. I have since been building up a healthy collection of his games and find the same elegance in them all.
Tiletastic - Final Thoughts on Azul
Azul has gone done incredibly well with new gamers, with them grasping the concept within one turn and often beating me on their first turn. Now it's back in stock it absolutely deserves a place in anyone's collection.