Play Time: 30 minutes
Age Recommendation: 8+
Difficulty to Learn: 4/10
Mastery Curve: 6/10
Luck Variance: 4/10
Publisher: Next Move Games & Plan B Games
Awards & Honors:
Cardboard Republic Architect Laurels Winner (2017)
Golden Geek Best Family Game Winner (2017)
Meeple’s Choice Winner (2017)
Årets Spill Best Family Game Winner (2018)
As d’Or – Jeu de l’Année Winner (2018)
Boardgames Australia Awards Best International Game Winner (2018)
Deutscher Spielepreis Best Family/Adult Game Winner (2018)
Gouden Ludo Best Family Game Winner (2018)
Guldbrikken Best Adult Game Winner (2018)
Juego del Año Winner (2018)
JUGuinho Families Game of the Year Winner (2018)
Mensa Select Winner (2018)
Nederlandse Spellenprijs Best Family Game Winner (2018)
Origins Awards Best Family Game Winner (2018)
Spiel des Jahres Winner (2018)
Tric Trac d’Argent (2018)
Gra Roku Best Artwork Winner(2019)
MinD-Spielepreis Short Game Winner (2019)
UK Games Expo Best Abstract Game Judges Award Winner (2019)
UK Games Expo Best Abstract Game People’s Choice Winner (2019)
Theme and Overview
In Azul, players take turns to draft tiles from a central zone (known as the Factory Display) to be added to their game boards and eventually moved into the corresponding location on their wall pattern based on their color and design. Players compete to score the most points before the end of the game. This is triggered by one of the players completing one full row of tiling on their wall.
On the left side of each player’s board is a pyramid-shaped form called the Pattern line. Tiles are initially moved here after being drafted and should be arranged in rows of like colors until an entire row is filled with tiles. Once it has been, a single tile of that color can be moved into position in that same row on the wall to fill an empty space of a matching color and the rest are returned to the box. Thematically, players are working to construct a Portuguese tile wall pattern and begin each turn by drafting their resources from the “the factory” before they can begin to assemble their wall in the Tiling phase.
When tiles are placed on a player’s wall, points are scored for the tile itself as well as additional points for each tile adjacent to it vertically or horizontally.
Points can be lost, too, as any tiles in excess of the available spaces in the Pattern lines form during the drafting phase (called the Factory offer phase by the rulebook) will “fall to the floor” and are placed in the empty spaces at the bottom of each player’s gameboard, starting in the leftmost available space. The point deduction penalty is increased is more tiles are added to this row.
Azul involves quite a bit of planning ahead and predicting what your opponent(s) might do. As the game progresses, there are many opportunities to force another player to take tiles that they cannot place and must send directly to their floor for a loss in points. Besides the random selection of tiles from the bag at the start of each round, all of the other elements in the game are purely based on the player’s choice and this presents some challenging and rewarding strategic decision-making.
Corey: Azul is a fantastic game with an exceptional two-player experience. We tore through the rulebook in just a few minutes to get started on our first match rather quickly. Things got competitive in a hurry!
At two players, one can make drafting decisions based on an expectation for what the other player be inclined to take and will need to decide between prioritizing positive plays for oneself and suboptimal options for their opponent. This is a fun and interesting dynamic that really draws me to this sort of game. Things get much more complex with three or four players as there are many more variables to consider when deciding what to take, or more importantly what to leave on the table for your opponent.
COREY POINTS: 9/10
Nikki: I was really surprised by just how much I enjoyed playing Azul (even the matches I lost). It’s really satisfying to get enough tiles onto a Pattern Line and then to finally place that rightmost tile onto the wall, especially if it is adjacent to previously placed tiles. I appreciate the fact that you can either play this game super competitively by trying to force your opponent into dropping a lot of tiles on the floor, or very relaxed by just focusing on your own board and trying to complete as much of your wall as possible.
NIKKI POINTS: 8.75/10
Corey: While the experience doesn’t vary much based on the elements present in the game (ie. there’s no flashy manipulation to the way that tiles are drafted, changes to the way that points are scored each game, etc), this is not the type of game that needs it. It’s really best in its purest form so that the focus can be rightfully placed on the brilliant drafting mechanic that is so important to the experience.
I will mention that there is a flip side to each board in which all spaces on the wall tile are gray. The rules book describes a variation in which players can place tiles on any space on the wall lines, however, only one tile of each color can appear in each row/column.
COREY POINTS: 8.5/10
Nikki: Given the simplicity of the rules, quick set up, and short play time I think this game is going to hit the table at our house pretty frequently. It may get repetitive as a two-player game over time, but I anticipate my desire to improve upon how many tiles I place successfully each match will keep me coming back for plenty of matches.
While there are not any expansions available for Azul as of right now, there are two additional versions of Azul that use similar game mechanics: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, and Azul: Summer Pavilion.
NIKKI POINTS: 8/10
Corey: It’s unlikely that anyone will actually complete their wall by the end of the game and relatively half of the wall being covered by tiles is usually enough to win. If we’re taking this theme literally, it seems that you may only be contracted to do some ‘mediocre’ work and leave your gig half finished.
While the theme is only loosely embedded in the game mechanically, it’s clear that the designer’s intention here is to create an abstract strategy game first and the artistic immersion into the Portuguese tile imagery does a great job of delivering on the theme where the game design does not. It’s perfectly acceptable for a game to not be terribly concerned with the presentation of a realistic wall tiling experience. I’m happy that we don’t have to be bothered with the “drywall” and “mortar” phase in this case. For games like this, I’ll always look to the imagery and aesthetic as the representation for success in this category and I think that Azul delivers on that front.
COREY POINTS: 8/10
Nikki: I can’t say that I really feel immersed in the theme of being an artist tiling a palace wall, especially when there are some game mechanics that only serve game play and ignore the theme like “dropping tiles on the floor” resulting in losing points and not getting to pick them up and use them later on. I mean, what contractor in their right mind would be like “Shoot! I dropped the tile on the floor, nothing broke, but I’m just not going to use it because it touched the floor”?
That being said, Azul still has a fun theme, it just doesn’t translate perfectly to the game mechanics.
NIKKI POINTS: 7.5/10
Quality of Components
Corey: Some games have this indescribable tactile appeal to them. Splendor comes to mind. I was always drawn to the weight and quality of the gem tokens in that game and it was really a big part of why I added it to our collection. Azul definitely has that going for it, too. The tile pieces are a thick plastic and have a nice weighty domino feel to them. Beyond that, they are brightly colored intricately detailed. I love it!
COREY POINTS: 8.5/10
Nikki: Azul has such beautiful, quality components. The player boards and Factory Display circle boards are made of thick double sided cardboard. The star components of the Azul are the tile pieces, and score markers which are all made of plastic and have texture similar to that of dice.
NIKKI POINTS: 8.5/10
Corey: The art in Azul is primarily pattern and color-based. That said, everything is brilliantly detailed and thoughtfully organized so that it is also functional. The game board masterfully includes a large amount of information (score track, pattern lines, wall pattern floor track, and end game scoring) in rather small space in a way that is tasteful yet effective.
COREY POINTS: 8.25/10
Nikki: Azul is a very attractive game. As the photographer behind All the Points, I can say it was a pleasure to take pictures of each of the game components. The tiles are bright with eye-catching patterns, and stand out on the player boards. Player boards are large squares that are colorful, but still easy to read and understand. The printed blue and white Azul bag is a nice touch which stands out from other game bags we have which tend to just be black bags.
I only wish that the patterns on the tiles better matched the beautiful artwork on the box which has more intricate patterns and a beautiful watercolor look.
NIKKI POINTS: 8.75/10
Our overall score based on the responses of both reviewers in five different categories (10 points possible for each).