1st May 2022
It's a Sunday and we're logged into Board Game Arena for an evening of gaming.
Azul; not a game about a villainous god-entity from Ghostbusters but actually a game about creating mosaic, decorative wall patterns with multi coloured tiles.
My friend's a plasterer, wonder if he'd be good at this!
Caveat: We've only ever played Azul digitally.
What's in a game?
Azul doesn't make use of icons and the relationship between tokens and a player board is clear.
How's it play?
On to play
In Azul, the player's objective is to place tokens on to their respective spots on the wall grid of their player board, which scores them VPs.
This is done by filling in the horizontal lines in the pattern lines grid; players must collect tokens of the type they need and place them in the spaces on the respective horizontal line. Depending on the line, it will require 1-5 tokens to fill a line. When a line is filled, one of those tokens can be placed in the matching space on that line at the end of the round.
All tokens will score 1 or more VPs when placed, tokens can also score again at the game end.
Azul makes use of a traditional turn order, with the active player performing their action (Which will involve taking 1 or more tokens of the same type.) before play progresses to the player on the left.
When any horizontal line in the wall grid on any player's board has been filled, the endgame is triggered. The current end of round actions and scoring are completed and the game goes to final, bonus scoring.
Bonus VPs can be scored scored by the following:
Points are tallied, highest score wins.
On a rudimentary level, Azul's mechanics involve drafting handfuls of tokens and then placing them on to a board where their relative positioning scores varying amounts of VPs. It's a mechanic (Or a variation of that mechanic.) that have been employed in several other games and I'd say that Azul is a mid-weight iteration of it. As written the rules feel a little opaque and counter-intuitive but in application, they're pretty straightforward.
Where Azul get its weightiness comes from two areas of the rules; how the drafting - particularly drafting from mats works and then where and when tiles should go on the grids.
As a basic concept, collecting as many tokens as possible to fill out the pattern lines and consequently get tokens on the wall grid is the way to go. However, there's more to it than.
For example, simply collecting too many tokens can sent the excess to the floor line and cost VPs, this is more important than it sounds, because as tokens are taken from the mats, it's inevitable that other tokens will build up in the centre and trying to predict this can be very important. Depending on circumstances, a lot of tokens of a particular type may well build up in the centre.
A player may want 4 red tokens for example, should they try and take them in drips and drabs from several mats over several turns or wait for them to accumulate in the centre? Provided of that they do accumulate in the centre, what if too many go to the centre?
There's definitely a higher level of play where watching what other players are doing is important. Quite often it's clear what they're prioritising, what they want or don't want in the next few turns.
If they have a single token in the 5-space line on the left, it's likely they'll be looking to fill that out. Conversely, if they've already got 1 or more scoring tokens on the right side, they'll be unlikely or unable to use more of those tokens.
Being able to predict other player's objectives will help when making decisions. It can also allow a player to try and deny tokens to other players and curiously, on some occasions force other players to take tokens they don't want.
Players will also want to think about how and when to place their scoring tokens. Putting them down willy-nilly is a sure way to minimise points.
Obviously in order to optimise points, tokens should ideally be put on to the wall adjacent to other tokens. Placing them vertically is a good way to go, since completed vertical lines earn an additional 7 VPs each, unless a player is looking to end the game, in which case they can go for the horizontal line!
This brings me to an interesting facet in the mechanics, scoring the diagonal, i.e., putting all the tokens of 1 type on to the wall grid scores the biggest bonus; 10 VPs but as they are diagonal, they can't score off of each other! Additionally, once a diagonal of a type has been completed, the player can no longer score tokens of that type at all, collecting those tokens will now just incur penalty points in the floor line. Should a player hold off getting the diagonal until later which lowers the risk of sending tokens to the floor line or wait? Waiting will mean risking not completing it at all.
I have to say I'm not fond of mechanics which lose players points especially if it can occur out of their control, it irritates like a unreachable itch and can be a little stress inducing. I find that's the case with Azul as well.
However, having said that, the truth is; this is what makes Azul a good game and gives it depth. It means that collecting tokens either earns VPs (Or contributes towards acquiring VPs.) or loses VPs. It's always a meaningful decision.
Other iterations of these mechanics are a little less stressful, brain-boiling and perhaps more accessible. But if depth is what you're looking along with a dollop indirect interaction between players, then Azul is worth a try.
I play, I paint.