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Subject: Metro Reviews: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra rss

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Mark MacRae-Waggoner
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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.

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Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra

Gameplay
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra uses the same basic mechanics of tile drafting and placement from the first game in the series (Azul) with a significantly different application. Instead of having a set, single board players now have 8 double sided window panes (cardboard strips) to place on. Depending on how the players arrange them can help change up the gameplay, but they should never mix the player panes together (everybody has the same set and mixing them leads to complications when drafting as certain colours may not be represented on their board when they should be).

This time around players have two actions they can take, but may only take one per turn: take a tile or reset your glazier (little dude piece). Taking a tile is influenced by two factors: the colours on the panes and where your glazier is currently. You are only allowed to place tiles either on the pane that the glazier is at or any to the right of it, however, you are never allowed to place any tiles to it's left. When you place a tile in a pane, you move your glazier to that pane. Your second action is to reset the glazier to the furthest left pane possible - if a pane has been removed from your tableau, then it cannot rest there. Additionally, you must always move the glazier as far as it can go, you cannot shift just a single place. This is to prevent a player from always moving and not taking tiles.

Dependent on how the tiles are in the general pool, this creates an interesting decision space of when to take tiles, where to place, and when to reset - either out of necessity or to avoid having to take more pieces than you can use and losing points. Point loss is higher in Stained Glass of Sintra that it was in the original Azul (Maximum -18 points to -14). Any time you "drop" a tile, you move down a column which gradually increases your loss, making taking the first player tile a bigger decision.

Unlike the previous entry, points scored (except for end of game bonuses - there are two different ways to play the game) are scored immediately. When you complete a pane, one of the tiles is removed and put below the pane onto your player board. If it matches the colour of the round tracker (explained below) then you score bonuses points equal to how many of that colour are already on your player board. If the tile doesn't match the round tile, you score no bonuses for that. You then score the column based on it's location (there are points under each pane) and for every pane to it's right that already has at least one tile placed on the player board.

Additionally in this game is a limitation of how many rounds will be played. Each game will be a set six rounds and each round has a special tile to help people pick tiles in relation to it to score extra points. At the end of the sixth round, the last tile is removed from the tracking column and the game ends.

Learning Curve
Surprisingly high. Given that the core mechanic has stayed the same, the new application of it mixed in with the bizarre scoring methods make it a challenge to grasp. Like before, you'll need to know how the game scores to play effectively and that can really only come after the first couple rounds of play. While having played the original Azul will assist in knowing how that drafting mechanic works, if you need to learn that on top it just makes it harder. Beyond that, knowing which way to score the game out is a difficult thing to grasp based on end game conditions. It is easy to drift into a headspace of focusing on completing both sides of a pane and using the same colour over and over and then realize that you're playing side A instead of side B and that half your work is for naught.

Art and Theme
Stained Glass of Sintra has decent artwork but it gets cluttered fast. The colour scheme and The theme is just as pasted on as before and this game could really be about anything. While the idea of placing the tiles into the window panes works, thematically it doesn't work to flip your pane as you wouldn't place two different stained glass windows in the same location.

Components
By no means is this game overproduced but the components have a lot of issues for me. The cardboard used for the panes and player board is still nice and thick but the issue stands that the edges of the panes where they are supposed to "lock on" to the player board aren't reinforced at all. Between flipping and constantly rearranging them (especially if the game sees a lot of play), those edges will wear down quickly. The fact that the game doesn't provide any sort of stabilizer or tray to put the panes/player board in as well means you have to be even more careful than the prior game. As far as the tiles go, they still have the issue of not having rounded corners which means they will be standing when dropped just as frequently. The tiles do have an individualized indent for each colour which is quite nice, but when setting up the tiles for each round, not only will they be standing but there is a good chance they'll fall into the other pieces and now just be standing crooked. It's a weird little complaint to have but it is notable.

The scoring track sheet is just bad. Thin paper and a snaking score track that absolutely can't get bumped as well as having cubes to track the score that are exact size to the track and don't stack at all (because they DID get rounded edges). For as tiny as they are and as frequently as you'll have to move them it causes real issues when players are on the same score or close to each other. Finally there is the weird dice tower/container thing. I actually really like that it is provided as it helps keep the table cleaned up. The issue with it resides in that the materials for it are overly thin and the piece at the bottom to keep the tower stiff is also too thin and falls out every time you tip the tiles out of it. It also doesn't fit in the box very well but there isn't really an option of breakdown storage for it unless you put it under the tray.

Iconography
There is not a massive amount of iconography in the game but there are a few more here than before. The top of each window pane has what the reverse side's requirements are on top of it which is quite nice - it allows for a bit of forward planning. However, on the panes themselves there is an issue with the white spaces (which correspond to the clear tiles) and a gray space (which is wild, though not mentioned in the rules) and can only quickly be determined in a lowlight/visual impairment situation via the icons on them. There is also an issue with the player board's icons based on the A/B game scoring in that it isn't particularly clear. Unless you know the rules well, it's easy to think that the way the game works is to replay the same side once you finish a pane.

Ease of Teaching
This isn't going to have the heft of even a midweight game for teaching (like if you were explaining Kingsburg for example) but there are a lot of little rules and things to keep track of. Those little things (playing side A vs B on the player board, how things score, where your glazier is, etc.) can really boggle up a player and so each person should have a very clear understanding of what is happening. Additionally because you are so locked into how the scoring works again, that the first few rounds are going to be a total guessing game for people (do I focus on one pane at a time, just keep moving on as I'm able, do I try and remove things?) as well as the fact that the game is actually intending for you to complete the right side of the board back to the left which is a weird piece of mental dexterity. The actual teach of the concepts isn't difficult or long but making sure that each concept is understood as well as the scoring can be longer. I'd expect 10 to 15 minutes to teach and have it all be clear.

Replayability
Fairly high. The big thing here is that it is a significantly more fiddly version of Azul. If you wanted a heavier version of the prior game and wanted more to do in it, Stained Glass of Sintra certainly provides. Remixing your panes and seeing all the different ways to finish everything off provides quite a lot of replay options.

Overall
As the review shows, it's impossible to play this without comparing it to the original if you've played both. The big choice to make when choosing which game to play is how much game you want and what your audience is. Stained Glass of Sintra is definitely more of a gamer's game than a lightweight, gateway entry. All of the weird scoring intricacies with the addition of when to reset/move your glazier make for a surprising amount of additional weight. I wouldn't classify this even midweight, but as far as entry gaming this is a step beyond what most people are comfortable with right out of the gate.

Does a person need to own both this and the original? No, unless you have multiple play groups that have different abilities. In my experience, the original Azul can come out as almost a filler for us. The weight of this game and the fiddliness of it keeps me from going to it. At what this provides, I'd much rather go to other games than a more complex version of something we already play enough.

If you like the original there is some good to find here, but ultimately unless you just want to play with more rules, go play something else.
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Michael Lowrey
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Very well written and complete review.

I recently played this having not previously played Azul — you’re absolutely correct about this being a bit fiddly, being not nearly medium-weight but also not a lightweight filler, and taking a bit longer to teach (and learn) than you might expect. The scoring track and that weird used tile storage box thing are indeed horrible.
 
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