Late last month, the secret purple monkeys emerged from their magic jar of mustard and formed the name of this year’s winner of the Spiel des Jahres, the German Game of the Year. As predicted, the monkeys slowly and methodically spelled out a single word, Azul, a beautiful and very popular tile placement game designed by Michael Kiesling.
If the formatting of this post seems different, it’s because WordPress has installed a new editing package called Gutenberg. I’m not sure why they named it after Steve Gutenberg, but hey, he was really good in Cocoon, right?
Kiesling is a well known designer, who in collaboration with his zany next door neighbor, Kramer, created award winning games like Torres and Tikal. Azul will handle two to four players and a game usually takes about 30 minutes. It’s a very family friendly game, and has a recommended player age of eight and up.
How to Play Azul
A round begins with four tiles randomly distributed to a number of decorative coasters. Players take turns gathering tiles from the coasters to add to their board. A player may only take one type of tile from a coaster and must take all of the tiles of that type. Any tiles not taken are moved from the coaster to the center of the table, thus freeing up the coaster for a cold beverage.
On the player board, there are a series of five rows. These rows act as holding spaces for the tiles you gather. Any tiles that cannot fit within these spaces count as negative points at the end of a round. Filled rows allow you to move tiles onto your mosaic, where they score points equal to the number of adjacent tiles.
The first person to take tiles from the center of the table also takes the first player marker tile for the next round. This counts as a normal tile and must be placed in your negative points row. A round lasts until all the tiles are taken. When a player has completed a row of five tiles on their mosaic, the game will end on that round. This usually takes five or six rounds, since the topmost row only requires a single tile to fill.
As usual, I have given a horrible explanation of how to play a game. You can check out this video to get a better idea of how to play. There a ton of videos out there, but I chose this one because at some point someone thought that the game looked funny all alone on the shelf and decided that it would look better if there was a tiny cactus in a purple pot next to it. I respect that.
What I think of Azul
There’s a lot to like about Azul. It plays very well with two players, and I may actually prefer it as a two-player game, but it’s still fun with three or four. Turns go by very quickly once you know the rules, and it’s pretty easy to teach.
There’s just enough player interaction to make things interesting, but not so much that anyone should suffer from analysis paralysis.
There is a giant bag of beautiful plastic tiles. Seriously, I love the tiles. It feels good to pick them up or to draw them from the bag. They make a wonderful noise when handled. Maybe that’s silly, but the tactile aspect of a board game is important, I think; otherwise, we could just play games online.
And it comes with free coasters.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 2018 winner, Azul, then please do so on this post.
If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.