Saturday, July 7, 2018

Board Game Review: Azul

It seems as though everyone who loves board games loves Azul. So when I had a chance to play it, I absolutely had to give it a try! And I must say, I can see why so many people enjoy it. It's very thinky-thinky, with a pleasant theme and some really nice components.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. So let's go ahead and get started, with my review of Azul.

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, and makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.
Strategy: 5
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 40 minutes
Gamer Profile Ratings:
  Strategy: High
  Conflict: Low
  Social Manipulation: Low 
  Fantasy: Medium

An Overview of Azul

In Azul, players take on the roles of tile-layers charged with decorating the palace of Portuguese king Manuel I. To win, you must use shrewd judgement to acquire the best tiles so you can try to make the palace rival the Alhambra, as other players are trying to do better work than you so they can gain the king's favour instead.

A completed game of Azul. Seven discs in a ring in the center of the table with three player mats around them, each with several tiles in the scored tiles section. The box top sits nearby, upside down, with several unused tiles in it, and the bag of available tiles rests close at hand.

The game consists of some player mats, several discs that serve as the market, and a variety of square tiles in one of four colours (three colours are decorated with fancy patterns). The player mats are divided into four sections: a scoring track, a claimed tiles section, a scored tiles section, and a broken tiles area.

Players take it in turn to collect tiles from the market. There are a number of discs that make up the market, the exact number varying depending on the number of players. Each round starts with four tiles on each disc, drawn at random from the bag. Players turns begin with taking all of the tiles of one colour from one of the discs; these are placed in the claimed tiles section on the player mat. They cannot take some of that colour; they must take all of them. They cannot take more than one colour; they must only collect one colour. All the remaining tiles on that disc are dumped into a pile in the centre of the ring of discs.

Alternately, they may choose to draw tiles from the discard pile in the centre of the market instead of from one of the discs. The same rules apply: all the tiles of a single colour. The first player to take a tile from the discard pile gets the first player tile, which goes in the broken tiles row at the bottom of the player mat.

The player mats look like this:

A player mat. Along the top are five rows of twenty spaces, with every fifth space labelled with the appropriate number. A black cube sits on the 22 space, indicating how many points this player has. The centre of the mat has two sections: on the right, a five by five grid of squares with one space in each row and column in each of the five tile colours. On the left, five rows of blank spaces, with progressively more spaces in each row; one space in the top row and five in the bottom row. Along the bottom are seven blank spaces, numbered -1, -1, -2, -2, -2, -3, -3.

When you take tiles from the market, you must place them in the collected tile area, the section on the left with one space in the top row and five spaces in the bottom row. All tiles collected this turn must go in the same row of this section. Once you've placed a tile in a row, all tiles in that row must be of the same colour. You can have the same colour in multiple rows (so, for example, you can have two different rows with red tiles in it). If you have more tiles than will fit into the row where you are placing them, the extra tiles go in the broken tiles row at the bottom. These will be worth negative points at the end of the round.

Once all the tiles have been claimed from the market, the round ends. Each row in the collected tiles area that is full places one of those tiles in the appropriate space on the scored tiles section. Simply move it across, keeping it in the same row, to the space marked with that colour/pattern. You cannot place a colour in a row that already has that colour space occupied in the scored tiles section. Thus, in the photograph above, the top row cannot have any more red, black, or yellow tiles, because those spaces in the scored tiles section are already occupied.

Scoring

Players score points for the tiles placed in this round, starting with the top row and working down. Each tile is worth one point, plus one for each other tile in an unbroken row or column of adjacency (both, if that tile is in both a row and a column of adjacent tiles). Any tiles in the broken tiles section are worth negative points as listed on the space they occupy. Players calculate their points and move their scoring marker as appropriate.

Winning Azul

Once any player has a row on their scored tiles section full with five tiles, the game ends. At the end of the current round, players may score bonus points for each completed row and each completed column in their scored tiles section, as well as for any sets of five tiles of the same colour in the completed tiles section. The player with the most is the winner.

Final Thoughts on Azul

This game is surprisingly deep. The theme isn't very robust (it's not like you're moving troops in to conquer enemy territory or anything), and the rules are pretty simple. But decisions become difficult, especially in later rounds as your player mat begins to fill up. You must weigh the options of which tiles to take, based not only on what is most beneficial to you, but also on what will be more of a hindrance to your opponents. And this can lead to some very challenging tactical decisions.

And of course, let's not forget to look at the six characteristics of a good game:
  • It's fun to lose.
  • It ends decisively.
  • It relies on player agency.
  • It has no player elimination.
  • It's quite simple.
  • It allows for upsets.
All six! No wonder this game is so popular!

That said, I must say that I certainly like it. It scratches the need I have for thinky-thinky games, but is compact enough that it can be played easily in many settings with a minor time investment.

But of course, not everyone will like it. Which, as I've said, is fine! But hopefully you can discern from my review whether you will like it. And regardless of whether you do, I hope you will always continue to

Game on!

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