CHENNAI: In Azul, you’ll be playing the role of a master mosaicist tasked with decorating the walls of a Portuguese palace in the now-famous azulejo style. However, there aren’t enough tiles to go around, and you and your friends will get in each other’s way as you try to ensure that you get what you need.
The heart of Azul can be explained in a matter of seconds — on a turn, all you do is take all the tiles of a single colour from one of the repositories set up in front of you. You keep taking turns until every single tile has been taken, then you score and set up the next round. There are wrinkles, to be sure — such as tiles not chosen piling up in the centre until players start pulling tiles from there as well, and so on — but that’s largely it. As for scoring, you get points for completing adjacent areas, rows, columns and colours.
Azul is a simple game, but it’s by no means a straightforward one. You see, you’ll sometimes be forced into taking more tiles than you need; in which case, you’ll simply have to throw the excess away and give up some points in the process. Or, even worse, you’ll be forced to take tiles that you just can’t use at all! As the game goes on and the pieces of your mosaic start falling into place, you find yourself more and more limited in what you can do.
This is an ingenious catch-up mechanism — if I’m doing much better than you, that also means that I am more restricted in the tiles that I can take or are useful to me, while you have much more leeway in such matters. It’s wonderfully clever, and it’s by no means the only bright spark in Azul’s design.
Don’t be fooled by Azul’s minimal rules and pleasant appearance, though — this game has teeth. To be precise, Azul is one of those games where the play experience can differ greatly depending on the group you play with. If your group doesn’t go seeking out conflict or play aggressive by default, you’ll find Azul to be a lovely puzzle. However, if they do, Azul morphs into a bloody no-holds-barred knife fight in a phone booth. It’s fun either way, but you should know this going in.
It’s impossible to get away from the sheer quality of Azul’s presentation. In purely aesthetic terms, this is one of the prettiest board games to have come out in the last couple of years easily. The wonderfully tactile nature of the tiles themselves also significantly add to the playing experience. High-quality components don’t make a game good, of course — but they do make a game significantly more enjoyable if it’s already fun to play. Thankfully, that is the case with Azul, which is easily one of the games of the year.
(Arjun is a gamer, book lover and an all-round renaissance man)