Azul by Next Move Games is a new(ish) game that feels like it’s ancient. The game was released in 2017 but it’s one of those games that feels like anyone who plays board games regularly has most likely played this game or has a copy in their library. It is an abstract strategy game where you draft tiles and place them on your board to rack up points and be the winner. It so simple in terms of gameplay but therein lies its beauty. It’s such an easy game to learn over a few rounds but strategy takes a little longer.
Upon opening the box, you’re greeted with beautiful artwork that is inspired by the azulejos of Spain and Portugal (small white and blue tiles). The tiles are stunningly bright and are made of thick acrylic that dances on the floor if you accidentally drop them (which is bound to happen if you’re as clumsy as us). They are also reminiscent of Starburst candies and are popularly known at our house as forbidden snacks. The boards are well crafted cardboard with textured artwork that almost feels as though dropping it would cause it to shatter.
Setup is fairly easy but can take a couple of minutes to get all of the necessary components in the right order. You start by giving everyone a personal board, set up “windows” according to the player count and place 4 tiles on each window. Then each player picks their color, as is tradition in most games, and set up their color on the score tracker.
Gameplay is deceptively simple, you have a small 5×5 grid and a series of increasing “steps.” On your turn you draft all tiles of a single color on a window and place them on a row on your steps, which when full you place a single tile on that color on your grid. The tiles that you did not pick get added to center and can be selected later on at the cost of losing a point (but being able to draft first next round). You continue drafting, attempting to fill columns, get all the same color and rows. When all tiles are drafted you score your points and start a new round by adding 4 new tiles to each window. You get points based on how many rows, columns and colors you completed. The game ends when a row is completed.
On paper, the rules sound a little confusing and it may take a couple of rounds to get a feel for the flow of the game, however; it will definitely be a game where you become competitive and will get a better idea of what you can do the more you play. Strategy ranges from trying to meticulously fill all your columns without completing a row(thus dragging out the game and scoring a ton of points) to the complete opposite. The game can technically be ended after 5 rounds and a sneaky player can try to end a game swiftly after scoring a few points. Everyone’s boards are public knowledge so trying to sabotage your opponents is a good strategy as well or alternatively keeping to yourself and minding your own business is a valid way to play.
Overall, Azul is a modern classic that would be a good investment for any library. It is easy to pick up and as always, we love games that can be played with a language barrier. Once everyone knows the rules the game can get competitive even if the people playing don’t all speak the same language. It’s one of our go to games for situations like this. Our only advice is be cautious when eating Starburst while playing this game, you wouldn’t want to break a tooth.