Plan B Games / Next Move Games, $39.99
In Azul, you’re an artisan, decorating the walls of the Royal Palace of Evora with beautiful ceramic tiles, just like the Moorish tiles used in Portugal. But really, this board game for two to four people is all about strategically making patterns.
There are five different varieties of tile. Each player has a game board with a five-by-five square—called your wall—and each square matches one of the tile varieties. They are arranged so that every row and every column only has one of each variety—sort of like Sudoku.
Each round, you select tiles from the center of the table to place on your wall. You receive points for every tile you place, and for any tiles touching that tile, and bonus points for filling in an entire row or column, and bonus points for placing all five of one tile variety on your wall.
But there’s a catch—actually multiple catches.
First, you can only place a tile on a square that matches it.
Second, you can’t put it directly on the wall. You have to fill up the “pattern lines” next to the wall before you can place tiles, and each row of your wall has different length pattern lines. The pattern line for the top row only fits one tile, the second two, and so on. So in order to place a single tile on the third row, you need to put three tiles in the pattern line.
Third, each pattern line can only hold one kind of tile at a time. So if you start filling the third row up with blue tiles, you have to finish filling it with blue tiles.
Fourth, the tiles at the center of the table are in groups, and when you pick them up, you have to use all of the tiles of the variety you choose, even if you don’t need them all. So if you need one more blue tile to fill your pattern line, but the only option is a group with three blue tiles, you have to take all three. The two you can’t fit in your pattern line fall on the “floor line,” which makes you lose points.
All of those rules mean that the game play consists in making strategic choices. It’s harder to fill up the bottom rows, and you’re more likely to have extra tiles that fall on the floor line. But you have to take that risk if you want to get the bonuses for filling up an entire column or using all of one tile.
Will it be worth the risk? That also depends on whether your competitors will take the tiles you need before you get a chance, so you have to keep an eye on them, too.
We spent an afternoon (okay, two—we were having fun) doing competitive tile patterning. Here’s what we thought.
Matt, Content Manager: Okay folks, we’ve had a couple competitive tiling sessions now. What’d ya think?
Bethany, Director of Finance: It’s easy to learn but not as simple to figure out a winning strategy—which means I find it interesting to play over and over.
Ivan, Media Coordinator: Same here. And your strategy within a single game will need to adapt to the randomness with which each successive round begins.
For this review, we played this game twice. The first time, we realized we were keeping score incorrectly. The second time, Evan won. Clearly, we need to play a third time.
Evan, Social Media Specialist: The first time I played, I felt I was at the mercy of the more experienced players when trying to remember the rules for counting up points each round. I won my first game, so either they were super honest or just really bad at cheating 😂.
Matt: We really did seem to struggle with counting properly. Maybe we need some TIPsters to help us out.
This game reminds of Sudoku though—you have a few rules about what can go where, then it’s all about trying to think through how to follow them. Except here, you’re competing against other people.
Bethany: And it’s pretty ❤️.
Evan: Azul had a cool aspect to it that reminded me of Gloom. Since each player’s board is in plain view, you could try and figure out what your opponents were trying to do in each round and do your best to sabotage them by selecting the group of tiles you think they’re going for next.
Ivan: I guess Evan just revealed how he won: strategy. That also means that you can help your opponents make sure they see any opportunity to sabotage the player who comes after them. Catherine fell victim to that when Evan and I engaged in some controversial table talk to make sure one of the two of us would deny her the tiles she needed.
Evan: As a marketing team, I like to think we work together rather well. But boy, we’re pretty good at working against each other in these games 😬.
Ivan: Haha. Like many TIPsters, we can have fun while trying to outsmart the competition.
Matt: I think maybe we’ve found the niche of games that we like (and that seem good for TIPsters): games that have fairly simple rules so you don’t have to invest a bunch of time in learning how to play, but that still have that strategic element of playing against others.
One knock on this game, though, is that the premise of it being a tile factory is sort of pointless. It’s pleasant looking, but it feels a little tacked on.
Evan: I think you’re right about the premise being tacked on because I had no idea that it was supposed to be a tile factory 😅.
Ivan: What an inefficient factory!
Matt: The longer this discussion goes the more ashamed I am that Evan won.
Ivan: There’s no mistaking it: for a so-called “strategy” game, there is a ton of luck involved.
Matt: (Said the guy who lost with the rest of us.)
Evan: This was a secret tile factory that didn’t actually produce any new tiles. (I checked the bag before and after—same number.)
Ivan: We established that the winner would have to re-do his or her bathroom tile to make it look like the game, right?
Matt: You actually just have to tile your bathroom with the game pieces.
Ivan: Evan, it could be worse. Elmer’s glue is a lot cheaper than mortar and grout.
Evan: So I think the final verdict on Azul is: good potential for a night of family fun, even better potential for a DIY bathroom renovation project.
Ivan: Well put. And here’s a helpful hint: if you want to go first, book your air travel to Portugal now. [Editor’s note: that joke will make sense once you read the rules. Promise.]
Evan: That’ll have to do unTILE we think of something better.
Ivan: UPDATE: six days have passed and no one has acknowledged Evan’s pun. JK
Evan: It just feels like it’s been that long… [Editor’s note: We can’t really say how long it had actually been. It was such a bad pun, time stood still and all our computer clocks stopped working properly.]
Ivan: On a related note, I’ve found a game that Evan is never allowed to play: Pun Intended.
Evan: *New notification: Evan likes this*
Ivan: The makers of the game could have just called it “Being Evan.”
Matt: Well this has gotten off topic. Let’s just end this here before Evan makes any more puns.
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