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Michael Kiesling is a very intriguing game designer responsible for many of the best games I have played over the years, Coal Baron and Maharaja amongst them. His latest game, AZUL, is an award winning abstract, tile laying, pattern matching game available from NEXT MOVE/PLAN B and PEGASUS Spiele and it gained the Kritikpreiss for 2018.

It is a beautifully colourful game with wonderful shiny, smooth plastic tiles and heavy card Factories, and the quality of the card used for the Factories and  for the player's boards is strong and unlikely to bend though you may need to manipulate them slightly to be able to lay them completely flat. The artwork by Philippe Guérin & Chris Quilliams is crisp and detailed and epitomises the ancient Portuguese/Moor decor that the game takes its name from. It has a specific job to do in the game and it does it specifically.

 

There are five sets of coloured tiles, Blue, Red, Patterned Black, Patterned Light Blue and Patterned Yellow, that represent the ceramic tiles of the Alhambra Palace viewed by King Manuel I of Portugal who brought the style back home with him. I can understand why some of the tiles are patterned - colour blind players need some guidance - but just why the Blue and Red tiles have no patterning I haven't figured out yet as both of these colours can confuse some sufferers.

The game is one of luck mixed with strategy and skill. It is played out on one or the other side of the player boards - one side has a 5x5 coloured grid, the other has a 5x5 blank grid - each player using the same side naturally. Whichever side is used the rules for the game remain the same, the difference being that tiles moved across from the Pattern Lines can be placed in any of the available spaces instead of only on the space of their colour.

 

The circular Factories are from where players draw their tiles; the number of Factories depends on the number of players. All tiles are placed in the nice 'AZUL' drawstring bag and mixed thoroughly before being drawn and placed four at a time onto the Factory Displays, the same number on each. 

The Factories are placed in a circle leaving a large enough space in the centre to allow discarded tiles to be placed there and so that they can be clearly seen by all players.

On their turn, players take all the tiles of one colour from any one of the Factories or from the central space, placing (or leaving) the other tiles on the Factory into the centre, leaving the Factory empty. The game is played the same all the way through, players taking tiles and placing them on their loading bays, one colour of tile per line, and continues until one player has completed a full horizontal line of five tiles, a minimum of five Rounds at least, when the game ends.

 

Players can screw themselves by placing tiles on their loading bays of a type that they already have one of on the coloured (or blank - reverse side of player boards) grid; there can only be one of each type of tile in a row whether you are playing the coloured or blank board (aka the Wall). If you are forced to take tiles that could put you in this situation you may place them in the negative scoring rack (aka the 'floor' line) at the base of their boards. 

There are some neat rules, such as you must take all the tiles of one colour and you must be able to lay them either in one of your loading bay (aka Pattern Lines) space or/and onto the Floor track. Players must also be careful of the tiles they place in the central area because it is easy to take the tiles you require and leave a 4 or 5 tile run for an opponent to collect from the centre. The rules allow you to have different Pattern lines containing the same colour tiles, eg. 2 lines of Blue tiles, as long as only tiles of one colour are in the same line.

 

There are decisions to make each turn but little options, you either take the tiles from a Factory or from the centre. There is a scoring at the end of each round, tiles scoring for being solo or adjacent to others on the Wall. Prior to scoring, the rightmost tiles on complete Pattern lines are moved over to the Wall onto tile spaces of the same colour. The remaining tiles on the Pattern line are removed from the game for this round. Tiles on incomplete Pattern lines remain in place for the next Round. It is all so simple, mechanic-wise, that you can learn the rules in less than 5 minutes. I can honestly say that this is one of the first, if not the first, game where for the first time of playing I have opened the box, read the rules and then played to the end and still finished within the 30-45 minute time frame, actually within the 30 minutes - our first game was with 3 players and from opening the box to ending the game took 26 minutes. 

 

This is a lovely looking game. It plays very well and is a lot of fun. I can see why it is well liked because it is an interesting filler game for between more tactical/strategic games when you are having a 5+ hour game session or are at a games event or convention. It is easy to learn and subsequently easy to teach. There is a modicum of skill required when collecting tiles, such as keeping in mind that there are bonus points for completing horizontal and vertical lines, these being parts of any strategies you can try, but there is no other actual player interaction.

In 2018 it was voted 'Spiel des Jahres' ahead of  Luxor by Rüdiger Dorn for Queen Games and The Mind by Wolfgang Warsch for Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag. Being voted for such a prestidgious will add to its popularity and although I think it is quite lightweight compared to many of the previous winners it is good that more players will now seek it out. Should cost between €20.00 - €35.00. Either way it is a very good price and very good value.

 

 

 

 

 
© Chris Baylis 2011-2015