If you haven’t played Azul yet, give it a whirl before reading the below. However, if you have that friend who is annoyingly good at abstracts and you want some quick thoughts on how to win, then here’s my initial take:
During the Game:
Order of Placement; The placement of tiles scores you points for how many other tiles are adjacent. As you advance in the game you want to build out both vertically and horizontally from places you already have tiles. the more in the row / column the more you score, but the more times you get both a vertical and a horizontal score the more likely you are to win. So when you start you want to build as near to the centre as you can – this will give you options on the tiles that you can build next whilst still giving you a good chance of maximising the vertical + horizontal scoring opportunities!
First Player; Taking the first player token will come with a cost, but this can be the best way to secure the exact tile balance required to complete a row you are carrying into the next round. If you know that your 5 row needs 2 yellows, you want to make sure that you get 2 yellows and the first player token can be key to this! Don’t be afraid to take a few minus points just to take control of the key rows / key placements.
Overflow Others; Worrying about minus points is important though and you should spare a thought for your opponents. Sometimes you will see that they cannot place certain tiles – the only row they have left has that tile type already. Then you want to push those 3 or more tiles round to them. Forcing (in a 2 player) or potentially causing an opponent to take a flood of negative points can be a disaster for their game and a great chance to pull into a lead.
Top to Bottom; The scoring in this game happens top to bottom at the end of the round. This is important because it means that tiles placed in the same round can cause a bonus – a tile placed that is adjacent to the tile below will score on it’s own and then add to the score of the one below. This is just a timing point, but it’s important to factor in when considering placement. You can leave a gap in the row above at first, if you are confident of filling it later in the same round – but watch out that your opponent may notice this and try to block you.
Column is great, 5 tiles is tough; Of the end game bonuses, the 7 points for the column is very valuable and a common trait when winning the game. However, it’s got a bit of difficulty with the five tiles required for the bottom row. That said, the same is true of the 5 of one type – you need to play 15 of the 20 available in that tile to get this! Okay, the game can go more than one cycle of the bag, but it often doesn’t in a fast game (especially with two players)!
Blocking; Blocking is key in a game of two players and important at higher counts too. Stop the other player being able to get their line complete, or their column / set of 5! This can also be used to prolong the game if you can avoid a row being completed. Blocking is sometimes very easy to do – you can see the tile that would score them lots and only one pot has the right number. Even sending the tiles into the middle can leave your opponent spinning and rethinking their game plan.
One to complete; This is the most common row to complete in the game – the top row only takes one of each tile to complete and therefore is the easiest / quickest. Watch out for a player filling this up at each turn as this will lead to a quick 5 turn game.