Board Game Night: Azul

So many different games exist with varying types of gameplay and mechanics. Because of my love for video games, I have always been more drawn to games that mimic the heavy fantasy or roleplaying games I’ve always loved. This why I enjoy games that I’ve written about like Stone Age, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Tokaido, Lords of Waterdeep, and King of Tokyo.

Another type of game I’ve often enjoyed playing from time to time is a good puzzle game. If puzzles are integrated into a roleplaying game, I find it even more enjoyable. Games like Legend of Zelda, God of War, Tomb Raider, and Undertale all take on roleplaying and action aspects while integrating puzzles into the mix.

Now imagine a board game that completely shies away from those roleplaying aspects and merges in full puzzle and strategy aspects while remaining beautiful and artistic. This is where Azul comes into play.

Much Photosynthesis, we saw Azul at the store one night and decided to buy it with absolutely no previous knowledge of how the game works. Azul falls under a different kind of category as an abstract board game where imagination plays a large role in envisioning the world of the game. It is a beautifully artistic game that requires strategy and finesse in order to win.

Azul is a game for 2-4 players, takes approximately 30-45 minutes to play, and is for ages eight and older.

Picture Credit

Azul is a game centered around “buying” tiles from the textile factory to help decorate the palace walls of the Royal Palace of Evora. Your player board is a representation of one of the walls of the palace, and you have to fill in the patterns on the wall in whichever order and way you see fit. The way you place your tiles will dictate how many points you get, and once all of the tiles are gone, the person with the most points wins the game!

Set up for the game is simple enough. Each player gets a board and a scoring marker set to 0. The “factory display” is comprised of the circular mats in the middle of the playing area placed in the shape of a circle. The number of displays change based on the number of players. Two players get five displays, three players get seven, and four players get nine. All of the tiles get put inside a blue bag. The first player, suggested as the last player to visit Portugal, so we just choose randomly, then randomly draws tiles and puts them on the factory displays in the middle of the table. Each display gets four tiles. Once they’ve each received four tiles, place the white tile with a “1” on it in the middle. It’s time for the game to begin!

Introduced by the Moors, azulejos (originally white and blue ceramic tiles) were fully embraced by the Portugese, when their king Manuel I, on a visit to the Alhambra palace in Southern Spain, was mesmerized by the stunning beauty of the Moorish decorative tiles. The king, awestruck by the interior beauty of the Alhambra, immediately ordered that his own palace in Portugal be decorated with similar wall tiles. Azul brings you, a tile laying artist, to embellish the walls of the Royal Palace of Evora.

Azul Rulebook

The point of the game is to collect tiles from the factory displays and use them to fill out the patterns on your game board. You do this based on the number of tiles it takes to fill out each space on the palace wall. In the picture above, you’ll see that there are spaces to the left of the palace wall that are blank. They go in ascending order from one blank space down to five blank spaces. You have to fill in those blank spaces to the exact amount, done over time, not all in one sitting, in order to place that specific tile type on the palace wall.

The first phase of each round, called Factory Offer, is the step where you collect tiles.

You can collect tiles in one of two ways. The first way is by taking all of the tiles of one color from one of the factory displays. Given that tiles are placed there randomly, there could be only one of that particular tile type or as much as all four of the tiles are of the same type. Take all of the tiles of one design/color and put everything else from that factory display into the middle of the play area (in the same area as that white tile that says “1” on it).

If you don’t want to take tiles from the displays because you see something better in the middle play area, you can choose to take all of the same type of tile from that middle play area. If you’re the first person to take tiles from the middle, you have to take the white tile with the “1” on it as well, but we’ll discuss that tile later.

You place whatever tiles you take from the factory offer into the blank spaces on the left of your player board. You have to fill up the entire line of blank spaces with one tile type in order to eventually move that tile onto your palace wall.

Example: You take three blue tiles from one of the factory displays and put the leftover yellow tile that was on that display into the middle of the play area. You can place the blue tiles in the row of three empty spaces and it would be full. You could also choose to place your blue tiles in the row of four or five empty spaces. Since you wouldn’t fill out the row, you’ll need to gather more blue tiles on subsequent turns in order to fill out those rows. You could technically put one blue tile in the one empty square or two in the two empty squares, but you’d be stuck with leftovers, which hurts your score and will also be explained later.

You alternate turns taking tiles from the play area with all of the players at the table. Once all of the tiles are gone from the displays and the middle, it’s time to slide your tiles over and count points.

Take the rightmost tile from your filled in blank spaces and slide it over to the matching spot on the palace wall. In the picture above, if the player completes the row of three blue tiles, the rightmost blue tile will slide over and sit on the blue tile spot on the palace wall in that row. Take the remaining tiles that didn’t slide over and place them back in the game box to be used later.

Now it’s time to score! Scoring is relatively complex but makes sense after a few times doing it. Scoring is done as follows:

If there are zero tiles directly adjacent (horizontally or vertically) to the tile you just moved to your palace wall, you only score ONE point.

If there are tiles horizontally or vertically adjacent to your newly placed tile, the scoring changes. Count how many tiles you have in that horizontal line, including the one you just placed, and score one point for each of those tiles. In the picture above, if the player finishes the blue tile line, he’ll place a blue tile on the appropriate spot. You’ll notice there are now three tiles in a horizontal line, all adjacent to each other. As soon the player places the blue tile, he or she would score three points. Do the same thing for any vertically adjacent tiles. In the picture above, if the player finishes the yellow tile line and places the yellow tile, he or she will score four points (four tiles all vertically adjacent). If you have both vertical and horizontal adjacent tiles, you score for both lines making sure to include the tile you just placed for both the horizontal and vertical count.

Now, there are scoring detriments that can happen which lowers your score when counting tiles during the scoring phase. Any time you take too many tiles from the middle of the play area and cannot fit them all in one row of blank spaces, any extra tiles fall down to the bottom of your board called the Floor Line.

The Floor Line is filled with negative scoring spots that cause you to subtract points from your total count when scoring tiles. When you are the first person to take tiles from the middle rather than the factory displays, you have to take the white tile with the “1” on it and place it on the leftmost empty Floor Line spot. When the players reach the scoring phase at the end of each round, you have look at each spot on your Floor Line that has a tile on it and subtract the points associated with each spot from your total points scored during the round.

At the end of each round, the player to the left of the player that went first in that round now randomly draws tiles from the bag and places them on the displays again. That player then goes first and play resumes. If the bag ever becomes empty, take all of the tiles placed aside from the Floor Line and the extras from your blank spaces when placing tiles and refill the bag.

The game finally ends when one of the players fills out an entire horizontal line (five tiles in a straight line across) on their board. When this happens, the game ends, and everybody does final scoring. During this phase, you’ll notice in some of the pictures above that there are little patterns on the lower right side of the player board. This area denotes bonus points in the final scoring. You score an extra two points for every horizontal line you have complete, seven points for every vertical line you have complete, and ten points for each group of five tiles of the same color that you placed on your wall. There’s only five spots for each tile on the board (it’s a 5×5 for a total of 25 squares), so completing one color can be extremely difficult.

At the end of the final scoring, the player with the most points is the winner!

We struggled to understand the game during our first playthrough because the instructions, in our humble opinion, were poorly written. But once we watched a few videos online and finally understood how the game worked, we thoroughly started to enjoy ourselves. You have to imagine you really are a tile laying artist tasked with embellishing the wall of the royal palace. Once you do that, you’ll find the abstract nature of the artwork and simplicity of the gameplay to be quite riveting. Azul requires careful strategy and planning, but the overall concept is intriguing and exciting.

Become the tile laying artist you were always meant to be and try your hand at a game of Azul!

Board Game Geek: Azul

Written by Sean

Sean is currently a freelance writer that spends much of his time worrying far too much. He is a board and video game enthusiast, an avid watcher of movies, a lover of sports, and a certified nerd. While he has no specific writing style, he likes to think he can adapt as needed to different writing styles, tones, and intonations. He likes to cook, read books and is currently engaged to the love of his life!

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