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Game Overview: Azul: Summer Pavilion, or Wrangling Rhombuses

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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In September 2017, I previewed Michael Kiesling's Azul ahead of its release, and in October 2018 I previewed Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra mere hours before its general release at SPIEL '18, so you might not be surprised to find me writing about Azul: Summer Pavilion — albeit now as a postview of sorts given that the game debuted from Next Move Games at SPIEL '19.

I already summarized what's new in this game in my initial write-up on BGG News, so let me quote from that to cover the basics:

Azul: Summer Pavilion lasts six rounds, and one of the six colors of tiles is wild in each round.
• Whenever you draft tiles, you can't draft the wild color — but if one or more wild tiles are present in the factory you've chosen or the central location, then you must take one wild tile along with your chosen tile(s).
• The first player to draft tiles from the center becomes starting player for the next round, but loses points equal to the number of tiles claimed. (Note: I've had us losing only 1 point in the games we've played, so I goofed on this detail in the video below.)
• All of the tiles you draft are placed beside your game board instead of immediately being played on the board.

Game #1

• Once all the tiles have been drafted, players take turns placing one tile on their board, with the "cost" for that tile depending on where it's placed. Each board depicts seven stars, with each star having spaces for six tiles, with each space showing a number from 1-6; six of the stars are for tiles of a single color while the seventh will be composed of one tile of each color. To place a tile on the blue 5, for example, you must discard five blue or wild tiles from next to your player board (with at least one blue being required), placing one blue tile in the blue 5 space and the rest in the discard tower. You score 1 point for this tile and 1 point for each tile within this star connected to the newly placed tile.

Game #2

• If you place a tile that completes the surrounding of a pillar, statue, or window on your game board with tiles, you immediately take 1-3 tiles from the central supply (which starts with ten tiles and which you refill immediately) and place those bonus tiles next to your board.
• You can carry over at most four tiles to the next round, with you losing 1 point for each tile you discard without playing.
• At the end of six rounds, you score a bonus for each of the seven stars that you've filled completely. Additionally, you score a bonus for having covered all seven spaces of value 1, 2, 3 or 4. You lose 1 point for each remaining tile unused.

Game #3

I've now played Azul: Summer Pavilion six times on a review copy from Next Move Games, once with four players and all other times with two. The game has all the familiar drafting elements from both previous Azul games, but the restriction on the "wild color" drafting adds a nice tiny twist.

Three elements stand out in this game compared to what came before: First, you can carry over tiles for placement on a future round. This matters since the wild color changes in a predictable pattern over the course of the game — round #1 purple, round #2 green, etc. — so you can place the green tiles now or save them for the next round when they'll be wild.

In general, you have more choices over what to place where, which can be frustrating since you don't know which tiles you'll have in hand next round in order to build on what's already on your board. Should I place five blue on the blue 5 spot with the hope of filling in the blue 6 spot next round and grabbing three bonus tiles from the supply (especially since three yellow tiles are available and yellow will be wild in the following round)? Or play it safer and divide them up for placement elsewhere? With several wilds among the tiles beside your board, you often have lots of choices over what to place where, and even after six games I'm not sure which choices will be best.

Game #4

This variability over what to place where is the second element that distinguishes Azul: Summer Pavilion from the earlier titles. Yes, in Azul you often had a choice over which row you'd place tiles in, but once you started building a color, that row was locked in.

In this new game, you have the dual challenge of first trying to grab the tiles you want, then figuring out the best way in which to place them. Sometimes you have a strong plan that you want to force, but a color shortage or grabby opponent might force you down a different path, especially since the tile placement is strongly linked to your ability to grab bonus tiles, with those tiles often fueling additional placements, scoring, and bonuses. Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra lost that element of Azul in that you were primarily focused on filling columns, with adjacency not mattering (aside from you possibly having to waste fewer turns resetting your figure in the left-hand column).

Game #5

The third element that stands out in Azul: Summer Pavilion is something else that was lost in Sintra, that being the aesthetics of your playing area at the end of the game. In Sintra, you'd ideally fill a column with tiles, flip it, then fill it again in order to maximize your endgame scoring — but in the process, you'd remove that column from play, leaving you with a broken picket-fence board that had almost nothing on it.

Azul: Summer Pavilion brings back the Azul experience of creating a board that represents all that you did during the playing of the game. All the images in this post look similar, but they represent different degrees of success over my playings thanks to my ability (or failure) to grab this bonus or that, to score one bonus and not another. Someone who sees one of these images says, "Oh, do that", and they understand much of how the game works compared to what they'd see in Sintra.

For more thoughts on the game, check out my overview video, skipping to this point should you want only the final wrap-up:

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