One of my goals with the 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations is to talk about the games that don’t get enough press. While Board Game Geek’s Hotness list is a great tool, it’s not nearly as perfect or omniscient as many people treat it. But on occasion a popular game merits all of the praise it gets. And for that reason, on Day 8, we’re talking about Azul by Plan B Games.
Azul is an abstract strategy, tile-laying game. It is also a very visual game, to the point that it’s challenging to describe the gameplay with just text! Therefore I’ll give a brief summary, and link the rulebook below in case you’re curious. I’ll also attempt to explain why the game is great.
Azul starts by giving each player their own board (more later on that), and setting up the center of the table. The table’s center will have a number of coasters (called “factories”) based on the number of players, and each factory will have four randomly chosen tiles on it. There are 20 tiles of each of the five colors.
At the start of a player’s turn they will pick a color of tile they want to take from a single factory, or from the center of the table. They must take all of the tiles of that color from the chosen location. If they take their chosen tiles from the factory, all of the other tiles are moved from the factory to the center of the table, increasing the options at that location.
After a player has take all of the tiles of their chosen color, they have to assigned them to their player board. A player board has five Pattern Lines on it, running horizontally with one atop the other, starting with one spot on the top, and five spots on the bottom. Players assign their chosen tiles to Pattern Lines, filling them from right to left. Pattern Lines can only hold one color, based on which color tile a player first places there.
After all of the tiles have been chosen from the table, players check to see if they have filled any Pattern Lines. If they have, a single tile of that color is assigned to the Wall space on the player board. Points are updated live based on how many tiles are touching, and the game ends if at least one player has completed a horizontal line of five tiles on their Wall.
If that sounds intriguing, give the rulebook a look. It’s only 6 pages, and has visuals describing every step of the game. (Including the ones I left out for simplicity sake.)
Azul is a game that earns its praise in ways that aren’t completely obvious at first. The mechanics are rather unique, but the gameplay is elegantly simple. It’s a game that’s easy to teach to kids, but it isn’t a “kid’s game”. The theme is fitting with the gameplay (players are Portuguese tile layers), but isn’t overwhelming to casual or new gamers.
But more subtle is the design of the tiles themselves. Because Azul’s central mechanic is all about color, it would have been easy to make them all plain, single-color. But other than the red and blue tiles, they have a pattern on them unique to each color. (The player board also has the same pattern for each color.) It’s extra details that doubtlessly took up extra resources, but it means the game can be played by people with various forms of color blindness.
It should also be noted that the tiles are very durable. Not only will they survive a lot of play, but they’re just fun to handle and place. Azul is both visually and tactilely engaging!
It’s these last points that really elevate Azul to being a fantastic product. Because the gameplay is so simple, the game itself could have been made out of cardboard tokens with minimal artwork and still have been great. Instead, the designers took the extra steps to make a beautiful game with components that make it accessible to a wider audience. So yes, Azul absolutely deserves its hype. Ask your local game store if they have it!
About the Author
James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.
James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.