At a Glance: Azul is brilliant, both in presentation and strategy.
Azul is a game for 2-4 players where you are strategically placing tiles in a mosaic. The rulebook mentions some sort of shallow theme about creating mosaics to please the Portuguese King Manuel I, but for all intents and purposes, it is an abstract game. But it is a good-looking one to be sure. At the beginning of each round, circles are placed on the table that each represent a Factory. Then, 4 tiles are randomly drawn from the bag and placed on each circle. On your turn, you may select matching tiles from any 1 circle space, and whatever type of tile you choose, you must take all of that type. Then you place them in the spaces next to your board, which start at only 1 on the the top row and increase going down with 5 for the bottom row. You must place all the ones you grabbed in the same row and any left over fall to “the floor”. Once you take tile(s) from one of the Factory spaces, the rest that remain are moved to the center of the table to form a collective pot so to speak. On your turn, you may also choose to take from the center, but again, you must take all of that particular type. Once all tiles have been taken, you move the ones you have on your board over to your mosaic. In order to do this, every space to the left of that row must be filled with the tile you wish to place. So for the bottom row, if all five spaces are filled with the same type of tile, you may slide one of them over to your mosaic. The remainders are discarded. When you score, you score for the tiles you are placing plus any continuous rows of them you are adding to, both vertically and horizontally. Any tiles on the floor count for negative points. There is only space for 1 of the different types on each row, so you must keep that in mind as you are deciding which tiles to collect. Once someone has completed a horizontal row, the game is over and whoever has the most points is the winner.
Azul is brain-stretching elegance. This is really an excellent game. Where some “thinky” abstract games feel sort of like work, this one does not. It is very refreshing to parse out the options, and try to foresee the best strategies, but react to the tactical choices you are presented with at that particular moment. There is a back and forth dance as you try to fill up your rows and push large groups of tiles on your opponents so they are stuck with penalties. Azul works as great at 2 players as it does 4. And it works with casual gamers as well as the most serious “strategizers”. It’s like cheese. You can melt it all down for a comfortable bowl of Mac & Cheese or you can savor it slowly and deeply. Both work so well. Azul is appealing to many. It does not tend toward getting stale because the randomness of the tile draws always lead to different choices and tactics.
These tiles are exceptional. They’re weighty and the colors and patterns are vibrant. Everything else, the boards, the large cloth bag, it’s all superb. I’m not going to pretend there’s some immersive theme; there’s not. However, it is not some stale, nondescript abstract game. It is a vibrant, variable, well-crafted keeper. Instant classic.
Check it out: https://amzn.to/2BpOlU3