If someone told me that a board game about placing tiles on a board would become one of my all-time favorites, I would probably laugh it off. However, I was intrigued by the name and eye-catching box art and decided to buy the game at a Black Friday sale without the usual research I do before purchasing a game. That spur-of-the-moment decision turned out great, as you’ll see in my Azul review.
|Playing time:||30 to 45 minutes|
|Number of players:||2 to 4|
|Publisher:||Next Move Games, Plan B Games|
- Easy to learn and fun to master
- Fantastic design of the playing pieces
- Short playtime means you can play more games
- Great for getting new people into the hobby
- Experienced players can be hard to catch up to in points
- The point tracker could be better
Azul’s Beauty Is in Simplicity
Azul is an abstract strategy game with a unique and distinct theme. I was pleasantly surprised that the game drew its inspiration from history and art, even managing to teach players a bit about both.
You, as the player, take on the role of an artist in charge of decorating the royal palace. The Portuguese king, Manuel the First, visited Seville in 1503 and saw the beauty of the court of Alhambra, which was decorated with ceramic tiles, also known as Azulejos.
The king was impressed with the beauty of the artistic style and wanted the same design for his grand dwelling. Therefore, it’s up to you as a player to visit the factories and markets, gather the necessary supplies, and fulfill the king’s grandiose vision for his palace.
While Azul is quite thematic (considering where it draws its inspiration from), it is also a surprisingly universal game, as pretty much any other theme can be bolted on top of the base game mechanic.
Still, this historical background gives it an excellent excuse to use wonderfully designed tile tokens, which are not just visually appealing but also fun to fiddle around with and arrange on the board.
How To Play Azul
The game can be played by two, three, or four players, and depending on the number, you will have a selection of either five, seven, or nine factories in the middle of the table.
Starting with the player that has the first player token, everyone takes turns drafting tiles and placing them in rows on their player board next to the wall we are decorating for the king. As you can imagine, the player with the most points wins.
Sounds simple, right? While it indeed starts that way, as the game progresses, you’ll have more challenging decisions to make.
Azul game rules are easy to teach to new players, but the game can be very tough to master, fitting its artisanal theme.
As you can see from the image below, each row has from one to five places you need to fill out with the same colored tiles before you can place them on the wall.
Furthermore, you must have different colored tiles in both rows and columns, further complicating things. As you add more of them to the wall, you get fewer and fewer choices on what to do next, making every decision count as the game nears its end.
On top of the reduced options as the game progresses, you’ll also have to deal with other players messing with your plans. The first player places their token in the middle of the table and takes all tiles of one color from the factory while putting the others in the middle.
The next player repeats the action or takes other same-colored tiles from the middle (i.e., if the first player chose blue tiles from the factory, the second player can take leftover red ones from the middle pile). If it is the first time that someone is taking something from the middle pile, they will also have to take the first player token, which fills out the row that will give you negative points at the end of the round.
Any excess tiles that can’t be placed in rows are placed there. Depending on how you and your opponents played, you can end up with a bunch of negative points by the end of the game.
You can place the tile on the wall when you complete a row. The first row requires only one tile to fill out, while others need progressively more.
Points are scored for each completed row, column, and color you’ve collected. There are five colors with 20 tiles each, so you can always see what your opponents have collected and decide if you can count on having enough tokens to place on your own player board to score.
When it comes to efficiently scoring points, you could say that the best Azul strategy is to prioritize columns and group up the tiles you are placing. Players score points based on the number of tiles adjacent to the newly placed tile in a row or column, while individual tiles score only one point.
Making Your Own Pattern
If you feel you are up for the challenge, you can make your own unique pattern. Just flip the player board and play with the blank wall. Just remember that you still have to have different colored tile tokens in each row and column.
This game mode is a bit more challenging for new players, but not so much that you shouldn’t try it out after a few games.
There’s a good reason why most Azul reviews you’ll come upon are positive. The game has a long list of awards and nominations received over the years, such as:
- Golden Geek for the best family board game for the same year it was released.
- Origins Awards for the best family game in 2018.
- As d’Or for the game of the year in 2018.
- Spiel des Jahres in 2018 for the best game of the year.
While Azul is one of the favorite games in my collection, some minor imperfections become noticeable after multiple playthroughs.
The cube used to mark the score can be easily flicked from the exact spot. While this isn’t an issue if you trust your fellow players to return it where it was, it can still be a bit annoying. Some games like Wingspan, for instance, have a rough surface on the scoring table, which is better from the design perspective.
Differences in player skill are also very clearly noticeable in Azul. If you are playing a game with a veteran, you’ll still have an enjoyable experience, but you’ll have trouble keeping up with their score from round three onward. While this is one of the reasons I like Azul (with each game, you’ll improve your skill and make better decisions), it can be a bit discouraging if you’re new to the game.
Other Azul Games
If you like Azul and want to add more similar games to your collection, you are in luck! There are multiple games like Azul since the original started an avalanche of great titles designed by Michael Kiesling.
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra was the next title produced in the series. Unsurprisingly, you are building stained glass windows for the palace of Sintra with beautiful transparent tokens. Like Azul, it’s also short, sweet, and great fun for the whole family. While not receiving such success as the predecessor, the game is a visual masterpiece.
Azul: Summer Pavilion
Azul: Summer Pavilion won the 2020 UK Games Expo for the best abstract game. Unlike its predecessors, the game plays over a fixed number of turns, and tiles are not immediately placed on the board. It’s another visually striking game, and if you liked the predecessors, you’d enjoy this one as well.
Azul: Queen’s Garden
Azul: Queen’s Garden will have you making the perfect garden for Queen Maria of Aragon. It’s also a much more difficult task to accomplish, as the game is reasonably more complex than the Azul titles. Still, the game is a beauty and a must-have for all Azul fans.
Azul: Master Chocolatier
If you have the original game, you can skip Azul: Master Chocolatier since it’s the same game, but instead of tiles, you are using different kinds of chocolates. It’s essentially a reskin of the original title. That said, if you really like chocolate and want to be hungry for some whenever you play a board game, Master Chocolatier will be a mandatory addition to your collection.
Crystal Mosaic: A Modest Expansion
There is only one Azul board game expansion, but it actually doesn’t add much to the basic game. Azul: Crystal Mosaic includes four new player boards with two new patterns and challenges on each. It also includes plastic overlays you can put over the boards, so your tiles and the cube tracking your score can slot in place.
I would advise skipping this unless you are absolutely crazy about the game. For the same price as the expansion or less, you can grab a complete game like Cartographers, which will provide you with more hours of entertainment than a few new boards for Azul.
If you haven’t realized by now, I really, really like Azul, and we gladly play it in our gaming circle here at Boargamer. It’s one of those evergreen board games you can pick up at any time and play between other games or spend the whole evening playing and still have tons of fun.
I can already see myself as an old man with the Azul box under my arm instead of a chess board, going to the park to play a few rounds.
Azul is also a fantastic family game, as kids can easily pick up on the rules. I also recommend it as a great gateway game for anyone that wants to get more people into the board gaming hobby.
Yes, it is a great two-player game. It also scales nicely as the number of participants increases. There is additional complexity if you are playing Azul in two-player mode. As you draw tiles, you need to consider your adversary’s next step and if you are competing for tiles of the same color. On average, you’ll take a bit more tiles with just two players, so you need to be aware of not taking too many negative points.
Azul is a more popular game than Sagrada, but it doesn’t mean that Sagrada isn’t a great game to play. Sagrada is a bit more complex, and most playthroughs end up pretty different depending on the objectives and action cards you draw. On the plus side, if you ever need a ton of six-sided dice, Sagrada is a perfect choice.
Yes, Azul is very fun to play. I gladly sing its praises in my Azul game review, as it’s perfect for newcomers to the hobby and kids. It’s easy to pick up, looks fantastic, and has a great learning curve that rewards mastery, too. You won’t be bored with the game, as you can constantly improve and score more points as you gain more experience.