Type: Abstract

Time to play: 30-45 minutes (Teaching: 5-10 minutes)

Best played with: 2/3/4 Player (2 – 4 Players)

Azul has received a lot of praise this year and I won’t be slow to say, it deserves it. This is a really impressive small box game that scales brilliant from 2-4 players. So that being said, I thought it was important to put together a short review here to explain a little about the game, why I find it so compelling and what might still put some people off the game.

There may be a view that the material quality of a game is irrelevant, but I am afraid I can’t subscribe to that and Azul is a prime example of why. This game is entirely more excellent for the fact that it has been well produced. High quality, and decent weight tiles, improve every step from the random draw of from a bag to final game layout – this game is a joy to play because of it.

Okay, so what’s the actual game here…. well you are building out an image on your board. You build this image out in a series of rounds split into two phases. In any round, phase 1 is the building up of tiles to be placed on your image. The rules are that you can place a tile into any row, but the top row requires just 1 tile while the bottom row requires 5 (2/3/4 in the intervening rows). Also, you can only place one type of tile in each row in this phase, of the five potentially available. In the second phase completed rows will transfer their tile type to the final image, whilst incomplete rows will be leftover for the next round when you can try to complete them.

Where do you get the tiles from? Well there are a number of pots in the middle of the table, player dependent. You can take one tile type from these pots, and the rest of the tiles go onto the table. From the table you can draw up all the tiles of a certain type, but the first player to do this from the table (rather than a pot) will lose a point and will gain the first player token – a potentially worthwhile cost.

So a turn will have you pick a tile from a pot, take all the tiles of that type and place them in a row, and the rest of the tiles from that pot go to the table. This all probably sounds strange in abstraction, but just to make it weirder… if your row overflows those spares “drop to the floor” and are minus points this round!

Right, you empty all the tiles from the pots & middle of the table. You have assigned everything to the rows or “the floor” and now you get to score the rows which were full (the ones where you place the tile in the image). You get to score them for the connections – a tile on it’s own is worth 1, but a tile touching another is worth 2 and there is some additional benefit for being adjacent to tiles both vertically and horizontally (both directions score!). Tiles on the floor are minus points though. Total this each round, and add some bonuses at the end game for completed rows and columns and see who has the most. Simple? No.

Much like other modern board games the game end is controlled by the players; the first time a player completes a row the game ends. If you are in the lead you want to trigger this, but if the opponent has end game bonuses you need to work out if you are in the lead and if your opponent(s) can pull back in time! Especially because going for the end game is visually quite obvious on your player board!

This neat little abstract game then has lots of depth. Blocking what other players can draw, drawing exactly the number of tiles you need (not more not less) and getting the right mix of end game points and reaching the end game quickly. This is a feast for chess and backgammon players. Plus the heavy weighted pieces make it feel just like these games.

So, how could anyone not like this! Well, the reason I find it hard to describe how this game works and why it is so deviously clever is because it has almost nothing to do with it’s theme. The pretense that you are putting tiles on the wall seems more complicated to me than anything else here. I don’t find the need to complete rows or the need to pull tiles out of pots and to take ALL not just some at all in line with the theme. It’s just an abstract. However, given I love Santorini, The Duke and Onitama, I will not complain about adding this excellent abstract to the pile especially as it will go up to 4 players!

Oh, and one more thing – the boards are two sided. Check out the blank canvas on the other side for a complete shift of the blocking strategies between players!

Last notes,

  • If you like an abstract game, then I think this is one of the best for scaling to higher player counts
  • If you want theme rich games with epic moments, this tile shuffler might feel too much like watching tiles dry
  • If you win, try again with the other side of  the player board!