Heroes Don’t Get Helmets
Metro Reviews are always posted in the GLACIER format. The art/components are broken into three categories to highlight different aspects of the game - especially parts that aren't normally reviewed directly. While I have personal scores in my own collection, I will just leave a general impression at the end. Not every game is for every player, but I can at least let you know how I felt overall.
Azul has clean, simple gameplay with a midweight level of player interaction and a relatively straightforward level of play. Drafting tiles (normally 1-4 per turn but can be as high as 10 or so) to complete a tableau of colours as well as trying to lightly deny your opponents what they need/force them to lose points creates a compelling game.
After drafting the tiles, you'll place them in one of five rows in your tableau. Depending on the size of the row changes the amount of tiles you need to complete each spot. For instance, if you place two blue tiles into the third row, you'll need one more blue tile before it completes at the end of the round. If you don't complete a row before end of round, that row stays clogged until the end of the next round (or whenever you finish it). You need to be careful to not overdraft tiles as any unused in the row are "dropped" for lost points. Additionally once a color has been placed into a row, it cannot be done so again. The game ends once a single horizontal row on ANY player's board completes.
Players score by placing drafted tiles next to other drafted tiles. The more in a consecutive sequence, the more points it earns. Some tiles may also score twice per round based around placement (by scoring in both horizontal and vertical alignment). High score at the end wins.
While the game initally appears to be solvable, due to the way the player choices revolve around the drafting creating a perfect game is much more difficult than it appears at first. Average scores are normally in the 60-70 point range, though high scores of over 100 are easily possible.
The game also has an additional mode where instead of any player having the standard tableau, they can flip it over and play using the standard rules but a non-standard grid.
The game is quite simple to play. You only have one action (take tiles) and the application of that choice is where it gets (barely) complicated based around what row they need to be placed in. However, you cannot accurately play the game until you learn how it scores and until at least the end of your first/second round of play it's slightly obscured. The concept of scoring for not only what you've played this turn but everything you've scored previously as well can be a weird thing for people to grip. Because the game is a solid abstract newer gamers may not completely understand why they're playing except to score points.
Art and Theme
The "art" of the game (such as it is) functions well for what is happening. They could have done a slightly better job of picking patterns for the solid blue and red tiles to assist in any colourblind situations but otherwise it works well. The theme of the game is pretty thin. You could be easily aligning just about anything into Azul's tableau and it would be just fine. The piece about it tiling a Portugese king's wall is interesting but not really applied.
Definitely a place where the game does well. The player boards and tile "plates" are a thick enough cardboard that they aren't terrible and the tile pieces are extremely high quality. The only downfall of the parts in the game is that the tiles don't have rounded edges, which means when you are pulling out of the provided bag they stand up too often when placing them instead of just falling flat.
The placement icons on the player board are well designed to not be confusing, but that's about all there is.
Ease of Teaching
With the eye of teaching newer players this game, the basic concept is very easy to explain (take a tile and play Sudoku with it) the real catch is in explaining the scoring. It's not a hard concept to grasp but does sound weird. It's worth playing the first round before explaining the way that occurs (just tell them they need to try and put the pieces next to each other). It may take a couple rounds but then you can either proceed forward or just restart. You can expect about 5-10 minutes of teaching time overall (5 for initial concept and maybe another five for scoring).
Much higher than I initially thought. The main mode (pre-printed tableaus) has enough replayability that unless you are playing this constantly and every game night you really don't need the flip side. It's always a fun personal challenge to beat your high score as well (I'm currently at 116).
Azul is a solid little package. Relatively inexpensive and providing quite a bit of gameplay. You'll likely be playing this a couple times in a row, especially with new players. I firmly recommend it in a gateway setting or in a lightweight evening.
I picked up this game with the joker expansion which I like.
Warm regards, Rick.