The cool, new, sort of Portuguese game that bumped Scattergories off our Top 20
Players: 2 – 4 Best with: 2 -4
Age: 8+ GN Age: Child
Game Type: Board (sort of) Time: 30 – 40 minutes
Publisher/Year: Plan B Games – 2017
Game Play: Item Collection, Strategy
Score: out of 12
This game is determined to defy all notions of what a game should be. It’s not quite a board game and it’s not quite a party game. Despite this, Azul is definitely three things: Unique, challenging, and fun.
I’ve not seen anything like this game in a long time. As a lapsed artist, I loved the aesthetic and tactile nature of the game. “Azul” is Portuguese for “blue”, but the name comes from the word azulejos, which means “tiles”. You are creating a beautiful tile mosaic for the Portuguese king in one of his palaces. The tiles look, feel, and “clink” just like little pieces of marble; so satisfying.
Unfortunately, you are not the only artist striving for the king’s patronage. You and your fellow artists must compete through multiple rounds of selecting tiles and then placing said tiles to your wall in a 5×5 grid. The first to complete the first horizontal section of wall ends the game. Then the artiste with the most points is the winner.
Such competition amongst artists vying for a commission was a common occurrence during the Renaissance. Just look to the Baptistry Doors in Florence and the heated feud between Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Even the Sistine Chapel is a patch job covering an older painting.
Each round is divided into two phases, each of which provides a unique challenge. First, you collect your mosaic tiles from the area factories, represented by the circles, with various tiles for sale.
The challenge is selecting the pieces you need while simultaneously not letting the other players get what they want. You browse the tables in the factory, looking for just the right tile. However, you can only take all of any one color from the table. The rest get dumped onto the factory floor. Your competitors can pick through the scraps. The trick is to know when to take from the table or from the “floor” before you either miss out on being able to complete a row in your workspace, or worse, take too many tiles you don’t need which are then wasted and cost you points.
The second challenge comes after you selected you tiles. Now you must place these tiles onto your workspace. Your workspace is divided into five rows. The top row only requires one tile to fill, the bottom row requires five. Should you just take the simple one or two tiles and place them in the upper (easier) rows, and pray you don’t get stuck with too many extras? Or do you risk filling in the lower rows before someone else grabs the tiles you need?
This gets more difficult in later rounds, because you can’t place a color on a row if you’ve already placed that color onto your wall. Now the board becomes an intricate jigsaw puzzle, where none of the pieces of the same color can touch another.
Once all the tiles have been placed onto the workspace, for every row that has been filled, you move one tile onto the wall within that row. Points are tallied based upon the total of connected tiles. But don’t forget to subtract any extra pieces that fell to the floor. Waste not, want not.
After all the wall tiles are placed and the points are tallied, then any extras from the work area and the “floor” are discarded and a new round begins.
The game ends after one player completes any horizontal row. Masons, put down your trowels. The king will now come and inspect your marble masterpieces. Extra favor (points) is awarded for any vertical rows and filling in all five of one color.
The player with the most points is the winner, achieves fame and glory, and is presented at the king’s court as the next “Picasso”. The rest hang their heads in shame and await their fate with the Spanish Inquisition!
All joking aside this is a great game. Azul is easy to learn and yet challenging to master. Simple in its design and yet elegant in its execution. The game is so fun and satisfying. Placing a new tile onto my wall to improve my “masterpiece” filled me with joy and whimsy.
Another great aspect of Azul is that it is a quick game. Typically, a game only lasts for 5 to 8 rounds and take about 30 minutes to play. Perfecto. Azul is like an idyllic Mediterranean day, light and breezy.
The game is great for the kids too. Four pages of simple, straightforward rules and you’re off. Both my boys enjoyed this game and Andrew is really good at it. He always ends up with at least two or three verticals and can almost beat Mom who has become a virtuoso in mosaic.
The game is only for 2-4 players, which is fine for a family night, but not so good for a game party night. Unless… you bought two boxes! Then you could play with 8 people, and I’m sure there would be no issues with game balance. No issues what-so-ever.
This game plays great with four but with two people it felt as strategic as chess. I constantly found myself checking the other player’s position and progress. Maneuvering pieces like pawns, sacrificing a row to block my opponent. You know, my typical Kasparov level of play.
My wife (the Mom) bought Azul for me for Valentine’s Day. I bought her oven mitts. (Trust me, it was more thoughtful than you think). In that short time, Azul has become an instant favorite. Diane likes it so much that she put it in her Top Ten, bumping Scattergories off into No Man’s Land. Buy this game, you won’t regret it. Well you might, but that sounds like a personal problem.
As always, our chief weapon is surprise! Surprise and… Game On!
I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture, hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy – Michelangelo, writing about the Sistine Chapel
Okay, here’s a better one:
Death and love are the two wings that bear the good man to heaven. – Michelangelo