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Score : 10
Quick to play and easy to learn
Hidden strategic depths
Tactile with beautiful components
I had a fairly simple choice in front of me on the face of it. I was embellishing the walls of a palace with tiles, and only had three different types to choose from. Red would score me significant points and was the obvious choice. But then my opponent was clearly after the turquoise, which not only did I not need, but would cost me points if I couldn't use them at all. If I took those, I was pretty sure they would take my red in revenge. In the end, I decided to grab the numerous black tiles as there were more of them, and they would give me a headstart next round. I just had to hope they would leave the red, otherwise I would have several rows of half finished tiles, instead of placing them on the palace wall and scoring...
Azul is a game played on a five by five grid, representing a Portugese palace, which you have to decorate with the five different colour tiles in the game. At the start of a round, four random tiles are drawn from a cloth bag and placed on each mat (the number of mats will vary by player count). Players then take turns to pick a type of tile from a mat, and take all tiles of that type. Any other tiles on that mat are placed into the middle. Players can then opt to take tiles from the middle in future turns (again, taking all tiles of one type), but the first player to do so will suffer a points penalty but will act first next round.
Once you have taken tiles, these can then be placed onto one of the five rows on your player board. The top row has one space, the second two, down to the bottom row which has five spaces. You can't mix different colours in one row, and you can't put a colour in a row if you previously filled that row with that same colour. Should you have too many tiles for the row, or be unable to place tiles at all, the leftover tiles will go down to the unused rack, which score increasingly negative points as it fills up.
Once all tiles have been taken, any row which is filled up has one tile slide over to the main five by five grid, on to the matching colour tile. This occurs from top to bottom, and each tile placed will score one point for the number of tiles joined up in a row, and again in a column. So a tile now making a row of three and a column of four will score seven points.
The mats are then replenished with four random tiles each and the next round starts. This continues until at one player (or more) manages to fill an entire row in their palace grid. At this point, everyone finishes their scoring, and then bonuses are awarded for completed rows, columns and for using all five of one type of tile.
Azul is a game that can be explained and set up in minutes, and everyone will understand the concept at that point. Once players have finished their first game, it is not uncommon to hear them declare that they now understand the strategy, and demand another game for vengeance. In fact, several games in, and that is an oft heard comment still. For such a straightforward game, there is a great deal of strategy in deciding which tiles to take, and just as importantly, which to deny the other players. There is a little luck in how the tiles come out the bag, but this is minimal. The components are lovely too, the tiles are pretty and tactile and satisfying to handle.
This game works great at any player count, and there is an advanced version which uses the other side of the player mat, and allows tiles to be placed anywhere in the row, increasing replayability. It is rare to find a game that appeals to a range of gamers, and non gamers alike but Azul is one such rare gem. This is definitely our favourite abstract game and one of our favourite current games full stop.
Publisher: Plan B Games / Next Move Games
Designer: Michael Kiesling
Number of players: 2 - 4
Play Time: 30-40 mins
RRP: £39.99 (£32.99 in store here)
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