Hello, I’m back after a short break. Today I am going to tell you about a new game that came out last year and has had quite a bit of attention in the board game world and won quite a few industry awards, but if you are not at or above my level of geekery you may not have heard of it! This is definitely a game more suited to adults, due to the thinking required, but kids should be able to play too.
The game is called Azul. The name comes from the main thematic inspiration, azulejos, the Spanish word for tiles. The initial attraction to the game for most is the art style used. Even the box is beautifully decorated with colourful patterns inspired by classic decorative tiles reminiscent of the Alhambra in Southern Spain. Once you open the box, the components of the game all follow this theme, and really are a pleasure to look at. The main pieces used in the game are the tiles. These have 5 different patterns and are a similar size to Scrabble tiles, but a bit thicker. They come in a cloth bag to reproduce that classic Scrabble feel when delving into it to retrieve more. There is actually another small similarity to Scrabble in the scoring, which I will explain later. There is a very loose story to give an excuse for what you are doing in the game (you have been commissioned to decorate a royal palace in Portugal), but that really is of minimal importance to the gameplay.
So, what do you actually do in the game? Well, the main aim is to fill a 5*5 square with beautiful tiles, and do so in a way that scores the most points. This is achieved over several rounds (at least 5) and each round consists of two phases: Drafting and Placing/scoring.
The first job is to try and fill up the left side of the board (see picture) by drafting/selecting tiles from the ‘factory displays’ in the middle of the table. This sounds simple enough, but due to some restrictions, you may be forced to take too many tiles, and any you can’t place on the board ‘smash on the floor’, giving you negative points!
If you complete any rows in the drafting stage, you can then add one tile of that colour to the main ‘wall’ and score points. Here’s where the other Scrabble similarity comes in – you score one point for each tile in the same row that joins the new one, plus one point for each joining tile in the column, including the new tile both times. This way, the more tiles you already have on the board (and how well you placed them), the better your score, so the points obtained each round are higher and higher.
As you progress with each round the restriction that you can’t place the same colour tile twice in the same row or column forces you to think more carefully about your tactics, and also makes you more likely to drop tiles.
The game ends when one player has completed at least one row of tiles. At the end there are various bonus points available for every completed row or column, or for getting five of the same colour on the board. These can definitely change the outcome, so are worth going for.
I got Azul as a gift for my wife, as something that we could play together that wasn’t more aimed at a younger audience. We both really like it, I think it works really well as a 2 player game, although you can have up to 4 players. It has a great learning curve while playing. During our first 5-10 games we both found and employed different tactics that increased our score since the last game. This feeling of progression and discovery of tactics is very satisfying and is what makes me keep coming back. We mostly play to try and get the highest score on our own boards, but due to the drafting mechanic you can absolutely aim to sabotage the other player and stop them collecting sets, if you like that kind of thing.
Overall, I would recommend Azul to anyone who enjoys thinking games, Scrabble (but without the words), colourful components and especially those of you who love tiling and have been looking for a way to make a game of it!