If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’re probably aware that I love games that push boundaries. Well, Azul does just that, offering a fresh new take on tile placement games. Rather than using the classic mechanic as simply a means to an end, the designers have asked a poignant question: why can’t laying tiles be a goal, in and of itself?
In honor of this groundbreaking game, I’ve come up with a list of six fresh new game ideas:
- Staffing, Inc. – A hand management game about worker placement.
- Kleptomaniacs – A worker placement game about hand management.
- Mutant Sports League – A campaign style game about variable player powers.
- Pantsuits and Hairpieces – A variable player power game about campaign style.
- Hazmat Cleanup Site – A deck building game about area control.
- Contractor Wars – An area control game about deck building.
I hope you enjoyed that list, and if it inspired you to come up with any new game ideas of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Without further adieu, let’s get to the overview & review.
An Overview in Blue
The game of Azul, known simply as “Blue” in England, is quite simple to learn. The goal is to lay five colors of tiles in a 5×5 mosaic grid, scoring points for strategic placement.
Each time a player pays the requisite cost to place a tile in their grid, they score a point. The base scoring increases when players manage to string multiple tiles together in a row or column. Additionally, players can earn big bonuses for goals such as obtaining five tiles of one color or completing a vertical column.
How do players pay for these tiles, you ask? In a shocking twist, tiles are bought with… tiles. To place a tile in the first row, you must pay one tile (seems fair), but to place a tile in the fifth row, the cost is five tiles of that color. Those tile-laying unions are brutal, man.
So why would you ever want to place a tile in the fifth row? Well, to score more points, of course. Also partially because you can often find yourself in a situation where you’ve got more tiles than you know what to do with.
You see, each round there are a bunch of ‘suppliers’ with four tiles each. Players take turns going to a supplier, taking all the tiles of one color for free and placing any other tiles into the central market square. So basically you’re robbing these tile merchants blind and then realizing you took more than you can even carry. Blame the crazy fluctuating exchange rates – how else is a tile layer supposed to make a living out here?!
As an alternative, players can choose to grab all the tiles of one color from the market square. This can be a gold mine, especially after many of the suppliers have been raided. But…. there’s a catch.
If you ever take more tiles than you can fit in a payment row, then you drop the excess tiles on the ground. And you get negative points for every tile you have to drop, because that’s just wasteful.
The first person to take tiles from the market square gets to go first next round. But they also get a negative point. Because patience is a central virtue to all tile layers.
As soon as one player completes a single row of tiles, the game ends and the final scores are tallied. Scratch what I said about patience, I suppose.
My Thoughts on Azul
There’s a lot to like about Azul. I’d place it in the same camp as Patchwork, as a game that is quick and light enough to be a game night appetizer, but still packs enough strategic depth to offer a satisfying challenge. It may look simple on its face, but there are many strategic avenues to pursue without a single dominant path to victory. And there’s just the right amount of player interaction — other players’ choices definitely have an impact, but without generally having a ‘take that’ kind of feel.
What’s more, while Patchwork is only for two players, Azul ranges up to four players. BoardGameGeek’s data suggests that most people like it best with two, but I also thoroughly enjoyed it with the full count of four.
In terms of areas for improvement, I wish Azul didn’t come in such a big box. It seems like a prime candidate to be a great travel game, but it comes in the same size box as much heavier games. I’m sure this is due to market forces (mass-market appeal of ‘standard-sized’ board game boxes, demand for top-quality components), but it just feels… excessive.
With smaller tiles (maybe even using cardboard instead, dare I say it?) and condensed player boards, the publishers could easily get Azul down to the same box size as Patchwork. I’ve heard that they’ve made a Giant Azul for showing off at conventions, so maybe a Mini Azul isn’t out of the question!
That being said, if you are a sucker for premium quality components, Azul will not disappoint. From the thick player boards to the feel of the tiles to the beautiful tile bag, the publisher pulled out all the stops on this one.
Although I wish the game was more compact, I do feel that Azul is definitely worth checking out. Whether it’s a game worthy of adding to your collection will depend on how much room you have on your shelf for lighter weight abstract games. However, I do feel that this fantastic design is deserving of its current spot in the BoardGameGeek Top 100.
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