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Subject: Azul - Abstract or Not? rss

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Frank Hamrick
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Most reviewers call Azul an abstract game. Dictionary.com defines 'abstract' as
1. thought of apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances: an abstract idea.
2. expressing a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance, as justice, poverty, and speed.
3. theoretical; not applied or practical: abstract science.
4. difficult to understand; abstruse: abstract speculations.


As for the first definition: Azul is a tile-laying game about...laying tile! Thus, by that definition, Azul is concrete, specific, and actual!! it is not an abstracted "idea." it is...what it is! That's about as concrete as you can get.

As for the second definition: It is too specific in nature to be an abstract. It has concrete goals, and a theme matched perfectly to the action of the game.

As for the third definition: It is in no sense 'theoretical.' It is what it is - laying tiles to score points as tile-layers gained prestige for their artistry.

As for the fourth definition: It is not difficult to understand, and the rules are very concrete.

Why, then, do we insist on calling this an abstract? I think every game has elements that have been abstracted in some fashion (example: all war-games have abstracted elements, but only a few are considered 'abstracts' - chess, checkers, etc. Yet, even deep war-games abstract weather, command, logistics, etc. So yes, there may be abstracted elements to the game, but is that any different than any other game (Terraforming Mars, Great Western Trail, etc.)?

For me - Azul is a wonderful game of laying azulejos on a wall with the most efficient artist winning the game. Perhaps some of you have a better grasp of 'abstract' and 'concrete' when it comes to games and can shed more light or intelligence on the issue. I welcome your thoughts either way.



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Matt L.
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People like to debate abstracts, I lump them into this category based on the gameplay rather than the boxart.

GIPF is clearly abstract, it has no theme at all.
If I made GIPF into a game of SpaceShip Bumper-Cars by changing the pieces and the board but not altering the rules all I have done is added a thin layer of 'paint' onto it. Is SpaceShip BumperCars now a Thematic game rather than Abstract?

What about Battle Sheep? Is this abstract or thematic?

Azul is an Abstract Drafting game at its core, the tiles could easily be all white and numbered or lettered and that would not change the gameplay in anyway. The thematics and art of the game make this enjoyable to be sure and it matches well in many regards with the gameplay.

Look to the arguments as to whether Patchwork is an abstract game (It's currently the #1 abstract game!) for more thoughts.
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Frank Hamrick
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LunaWolvesMan wrote:
People like to debate abstracts, I lump them into this category based on the gameplay rather than the boxart.

GIPF is clearly abstract, it has no theme at all.
If I made GIPF into a game of SpaceShip Bumper-Cars by changing the pieces and the board but not altering the rules all I have done is added a thin layer of 'paint' onto it. Is SpaceShip BumperCars now a Thematic game rather than Abstract?

What about Battle Sheep? Is this abstract or thematic?

Azul is an Abstract Drafting game at its core, the tiles could easily be all white and numbered or lettered and that would not change the gameplay in anyway. The thematics and art of the game make this enjoyable to be sure and it matches well in many regards with the gameplay.

Look to the arguments as to whether Patchwork is an abstract game (It's currently the #1 abstract game!) for more thoughts.


My argument is that MOST Euro's can use the same mechanics and simply past on a different theme. Thus, they would be abstract by that definition. What makes Azul different is that the mechanics perfectly match the theme. You could just as well have started with the theme and added the mechanics as they fit well. As stated, it is a tile-laying game about...tile laying! The mechanic IS the theme and vice-versa. Thus - not an abstract in my mind. BUT - whether you deem it abstract or concrete - it is a great game!
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Matt L.
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All games are at some level an abstraction, and whether it is considered abstract has no limit on the value of the game.

Azul has no grouting phase, no requirement that you tile in a certain order, and it makes no thematic sense that the tiles on the bottom of your wall cost 5 'tiles' as opposed to 1 at the top, if anything that should be reversed due to the challenge of dropping tiles from a higher part of the wall. Additionally the scoring and game end bears no relevance to the theme and are arbitrary.

If Azul were a thematic game about laying tiles I would expect that I'd need to actually FINISH tiling my wall section and be graded on things like symmetry or patterns, perhaps how well my wall fits into the wall tiling of my neighbors to the left and right.

I agree that it's a great game, and I agree that the theme offered is apt and that people connect with it. It's also an abstract game, in the end though I don't care if you don't want to call it abstract, please do what you like at your table, but hopefully I've helped you understand why people might call it abstract.
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Andi Hub
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Pretty much what Matt said. You only have a general thematic integration on the macro level, i.e. you are an artist/crafter putting tiles on a wall (or something like that) and it is pretty much only for the graphics and the components.

Most mechanics do not make much sense in this framework though. I cannot think of a single mechanic that is easier to explain or remember because of its thematic context, but in my opinion Azul does not really try to do this anyway. Why do you need so much variety in the different kind of tiles (not twice the same tile in rows or columns? Why take the rows different many tiles to complete? Why is there a differentiation between rows and columns anyway? Scoring (i.e. the goal of the game!) is based on a purely abstract mechanism. What do the factories actually represent; if I am decorating a wall, I certainly do not only get one to three tiles of a single color from a factory/shop/supplier. The mechanism of putting not-selected tiles in the middle is purely abstract.

This may sound like criticism but it is not. To me Azul is one of the highlights of 2017, especially in the "normal" game category (no legacy, no campaign, not epic lengths), since the mechanisms are really good and it plays at a very good pace. Even though you could replace the graphics by numbers or symbols, the nice tiles and also the graphics (on the factories) really improve the game by making it more enjoyable and rememberable.

I actually prefer games to be as abstract as Azul to games that try to explain all mechanics thematically, while there is too great of a disconnect between the mechanics and what they should represent.

Edit: Patchwork is pretty much the same category of abstract to me. I recognize the theme to be patchworking and players create a blanket. But how you select the patches from the row, the economy with the buttons, the time mechanism (why do tiles need this arbitrary amount of times to be sown in?) or the little bonus patches do not make much sense if you consider two players competing in making the best blanket. And it does not need to make sense. The theme is mainly for graphics and justifies why you deal with such arbitrary shapes in the first place and I am fine with that.
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Rich A
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ringo84 wrote:
Pretty much what Matt said. You only have a general thematic integration on the macro level, i.e. you are an artist/crafter putting tiles on a wall (or something like that) and it is pretty much only for the graphics and the components.

Most mechanics do not make much sense in this framework though. I cannot think of a single mechanic that is easier to explain or remember because of its thematic context, but in my opinion Azul does not really try to do this anyway. Why do you need so much variety in the different kind of tiles (not twice the same tile in rows or columns? Why take the rows different many tiles to complete? Why is there a differentiation between rows and columns anyway? Scoring (i.e. the goal of the game!) is based on a purely abstract mechanism. What do the factories actually represent; if I am decorating a wall, I certainly do not only get one to three tiles of a single color from a factory/shop/supplier. The mechanism of putting not-selected tiles in the middle is purely abstract.

This may sound like criticism but it is not. To me Azul is one of the highlights of 2017, especially in the "normal" game category (no legacy, no campaign, not epic lengths), since the mechanisms are really good and it plays at a very good pace. Even though you could replace the graphics by numbers or symbols, the nice tiles and also the graphics (on the factories) really improve the game by making it more enjoyable and rememberable.

I actually prefer games to be as abstract as Azul to games that try to explain all mechanics thematically, while there is too great of a disconnect between the mechanics and what they should represent.

Edit: Patchwork is pretty much the same category of abstract to me. I recognize the theme to be patchworking and players create a blanket. But how you select the patches from the row, the economy with the buttons, the time mechanism (why do tiles need this arbitrary amount of times to be sown in?) or the little bonus patches do not make much sense if you consider two players competing in making the best blanket. And it does not need to make sense. The theme is mainly for graphics and justifies why you deal with such arbitrary shapes in the first place and I am fine with that.


I agree with this. The game is excellent because it has great mechanics, the art design is the icing on the cake. There's nothing thematic about it really. When was the last time the OP tiled a wall by lining up the tiles and sliding them accross? It's an abstract mechanic with a (very well done) pasted on theme. And that's fine. For people who thought they didn't like abstracts Azul is a good test of that.
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Michael Frost

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Even though when I teach it I throw in all the history and theme from the game, deep down it is entirely abstract. Take set actions to get set results. Turn after turn. You could remove all references to history and theme and still play the game. And change the colors to just red, green, blue, black and white tiles. And then play the exact same game. None the wiser. See, for example, the original version of "Santorini" and the modern themed update.
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Derek H
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MPMelanchthon wrote:
You could remove all references to history and theme and still play the game. And change the colors to just red, green, blue, black and white tiles. And then play the exact same game. None the wiser.

Yes. Over Christmas we played the "demo" version (as suggested by someone on BGG) using Ticket to Tide trains as the pieces with simple printouts of plain (non-decorated) player boards. Clearly "not attractive" but still "fully functional".
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James Clarke
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I guess this settles it?
Azul is #1 Abstract on BGG rankings
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Cody Kunka
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Paradoxically, I don't think we should use the dictionary definition of abstract for abstract games. Here are a few reasons, including some highlighted in this thread:

1. All games are abstracted to a large extent, so defining the line between abstract and thematic would be difficult.

2. Adding polish, as with a second edition, shouldn't change the classification.

3. The most helpful game classification connects games that the same person would tend to like. The most effective classification style is game mechanics. I think this is the reason why "abstract" and "abstract strategy" are often used interchangeably. Also, consider the other popular game categories.

Hence, I like to define abstract games as those with simple rules, complex strategy, low chance, and high information. I think "elegant" is a better term for the category, but "abstract" has some historical value.

As for why the misnomer of abstract originally came, I blame correlation. I think that theme is often used as a way to make up for less elegant rules. Consider removing the theme from highly thematic games and then comparing the individual core mechanics to those of an acclaimed abstract. Also, I think that simplicity in rules is often considered elegant. That simplicity in rules seems to fit well with simplicity of theme. There aren't many rules to assign thematic value anyways.
 
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Martin G
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Quote:
I think that theme is often used as a way to make up for less elegant rules.


Or to put a more positive spin on it, less elegant rules are deliberately chosen with the aim of evoking/simulating a chosen setting.
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Cody Kunka
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After further consideration, I still think the theme of Azul should not impact its abstract status. However, maybe the randomness due to the tile drawing should remove the abstract status. In general, I prefer terms to be narrowly defined so that they carry more meaning. Just think about how broad categories like strategy or party are. It would be helpful if abstract meant elegant/simple rules, perfect information, and and zero randomness.
 
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qwertymartin wrote:
Quote:
I think that theme is often used as a way to make up for less elegant rules.


Or to put a more positive spin on it, less elegant rules are deliberately chosen with the aim of evoking/simulating a chosen setting.


Hmmm... I’m not sure less elegant mechanisms evoke more immersion. I predict immersive games simply require many... many... more mechanisms so cannot be as fine-tuned as abstracts.

I find this podcast helpful. Different gamers perfer the bulk of development time spent on different aspects (Immersion, Creativity, Action, Social, Mastery, Achievement).

http://ludology.libsyn.com/ludology-episode-128-why
 
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Kyle
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Looking at abstract from traditional definitions is the trap most people fall into when determining if a game 'is abstract'. Azul isn't, as it fails the first test of an abstract game, perfect information, followed by failing by having randomness. While every move is deterministic, draw order prevents perfect information, thereby making this a traditional/family game, but not an abstract. Theme is not even actually relevant to the discussion. Abstract is sononymous with combinatorial games.
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