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Game Review: Azul

We are War Games, and we make games worth fighting over.

However, we recognize that there are plenty of other great games out there not made by us. So in an effort to spread the love, we decided to start reviewing other games worth fighting over.

As you wait for your own copy of Proliferation: The Game of Nuclear Strategy you just purchased to reach your doorstep, here is another game we think you will enjoy.

Game: Azul

Game Night: May 13, 2023

Play Time: 30-45 minutes

Rating: 6.8/10

Description: Artfully embellish the walls of your palace by drafting the most beautiful tiles.

Publisher: Next Move Games, Plan B Games

Date Published: 2017

For this game night, we chose the surprisingly competitive, tile-grabbing tabletop game, Azul. The popular title that has sold over two million copies came on our radar through our tabletop research in preparation for designing Proliferation.

The story behind Azul includes a Portuguese king, a Spanish palace, and a bunch of Moorish decorative tiles. Just like Wingspan, Azul centers itself around an unconventional theme, yet ends up immersing players in a consistently beautiful world. Our team was especially interested in switching our game night up, since we knew Azul’s gameplay was deceptively simple. That simplicity, however, made for a uniquely entertaining and addicting tabletop experience.

First Impressions/Unboxing: It was hard not to appreciate the cool blue color of the vacuum tray as soon as we unboxed our copy of Azul. The nine factory tiles, first player marker, player markers, player boards, instructions, bag, and playing tiles are each beautiful and well-thought-out. While Azul is certainly not a heavy-weight tabletop game, its components are arranged in the box in a very aesthetically pleasing manner, and its color scheme is consistently present throughout.

The various arrays of light blues, oranges, and whites, gave the game a first impression of being inviting. Putting the playing tiles into the provided fabric bag was very satisfying. Laying the components for the game out also gave the impression that Azul would not be particularly hard to learn, which (mostly) ended up being the case.

Rulebook: The instructions booklet included with Azul does the job it needs to, albeit, with a little bit of difficulty. The very brief nature of the instructions perfectly reflects the simplicity of the game. However, when it comes to some of the nuances of the game, especially ones involving totaling up scores every round, the booklet comes off as too brief and barely explanatory. In fact, when playing Azul across different households since obtaining our copy, our team learned many different explanations for how to total up points. With only one method (or possibly zero) able to be correct, we took this as a bad sign that the game’s instructions were neither clear nor cogent enough.

Despite the convoluted nature of the simple instructions, the diagrams presented in them are helpful, and remove potential complexity from very simple situations. Regardless of the official way to score, players will be able to jump into Azul’s gameplay with relative ease.

Materials: Azul’s list of materials is short, including four personal game boards, 100 playing tiles, nine factory tiles, a fabric bag, instructions booklet, first player tile, and player markers. The materials are visually stunning and inviting, making for a high-quality game and components that are sure to endure for years to come. The game’s price point of $60 seems well-justified.

Gameplay: In Azul, players take turns choosing tiles from the center supply piles to complete the walls of their palaces, or player boards. Points are scored based on how players fill up their player boards at the end of each round, and once again at the end of each game for completed rows, columns, and colors. Taking too many tiles from the center supply can result in negative points, and leaving an opponent stuck with them results in the game’s moments of subversion and sabotage.

The end game is triggered once any player fills up one entire row of tiles on their player board, which is equal to five tiles. Since the end game is in the control of the players, it can strategically be ended to capsize the efforts of an opponent quickly gaining ground, or be kept going to achieve the opposite.

The deceptively simple, easy-to-pick-up gameplay that makes Azul so addicting plays more like a late-night game of Dominos than most of the strategy games dominating tabletop shelves these days. The gameplay is also predictable and quickly becomes routine, but not in a bad way. The automatic nature of the game clears space in the mind to be able to have a laid-back, relaxing gameplay atmosphere, but also features ample chances to strategically thwart another player’s plans, making for an enjoyable experience.

Since the end game is triggered by one player filling up an entire row of tiles, a decent percentage of Azul games end in exactly five rounds, making for a short, half-hour game in most cases.

Key Strengths:

  • Colors. At this point, a few versions of Azul exist, each rocking a different set of colors relative to its theme. This makes a lot of sense, since the colors of the tiles are definitely a game highlight. Our team’s copy included tiles with stunning shades of red, orange, blue, and black, which complemented each other terrifically when filling in player boards.

  • Simplicity. There just aren’t a whole lot of rules or memorization when it comes to playing Azul. Long strategy pauses and rule refreshers are not nearly as commonly held as they are for games like Risk or Settlers of Catan (or even Proliferation for that matter). The game’s simplicity makes it inviting, familiar, and a great way to unwind amongst friends after a long day of graphic design or teaching kids Jiu-Jitsu.

  • Game Pieces. The tiles are 100% the highlight of the game. It was hard to keep our chipmunk paws off of them most of the time. The tile bag, player boards, and center factory boards also complement the tiles nicely, and combine to make a very aesthetically pleasing game.

  • Casualness. Whereas most other games take 20 minutes to set up, at least 30 minutes to explain, and feature turns with complex decision making across multiple economies and strategy types, one of Azul’s biggest strengths is its casualness. It does not feel like a huge commitment to break the box out and start playing. Therefore, Azul is the kind of game that can be played during game night, a hangout, or after yet another long week day.

  • Addictiveness. It is sort of like the unwinding feeling you get when you sit down at the Blackjack table, or when you whip out your old faithful copy of Candy Land from ancient times to take center stage at a party. The whole experience is just addicting.

One Drawback: The too-simplistic rulebook does detract from the game. The scoring system that makes up Azul is not as straightforward as the rulebook suggests, and led to a lot of confusion across multiple groups of people I know. And honestly, we still aren’t sure if we’re playing correctly.

Game Night Winner: Michael Mooney (CEO)!


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