In 2017, the original Azul by Michael Kiesling introduced us to a simple and supremely satisfying game of tile drafting. In 2019, the third instalment in the Azul series is here.
In Azul: Summer Pavilion, players are tasked with completing the work that never began- constructing a summer pavilion for King Manuel I to honour the royal families of Portugal.
Each player has a personal player board depicting the outline of what will be their summer pavilion: A series of mosaic stars, statues, windows and pillars. Over the course of the game, you'll place tiles to complete those stars (each of them being worth a different number of points), as well as surround your statues and pillars for additional bonuses.
If you've played Azul, or Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, the basic gameplay will be familiar to you: Players take it in turns to draft the tiles they want from a random assortment, the choices made reflecting tactical decisions based on your own plans to efficiently score the most points, and to interfere with your opponent's plans to do the same.
The game is played primarily in two phases: Firstly, players draft the tiles they want for their summer pavilion from a series of factory circles (predetermined by the number of players in the game). During this phase, you can only take tiles of 1 given colour each turn, but you can take as many tiles of that colour as are available on that factory circle.
Early on, this introduces some interesting questions: Do you want to go hard into one colour and finish a star on your player board early? Do you want to spread out and work on a number of different stars for potentially more points overall? Do you just want to focus on taking the tiles of the colour that are worth the most at the end of the game? Do you want to “snipe” the tiles for the stars your opponents are working on?
The second phase of the game is where you begin to place your tiles. The rules for this are not complex, but they are unique. Once you've got the placement rules down, you can begin to construct your stars, one tile at a time, while your opponents do the same.
It's during this latter phase of the game that you'll begin to plan out your future drafts: What stars are you working on? Which tiles are “wild” in upcoming rounds? Which achievements/bonuses do you want to complete and how long will it take to complete them? What goals does it look like your opponents have?
On it's surface, Azul: Summer Pavilion looks like a “multiplayer solitaire” game; the type of experience where each player is just doing their own thing regardless of what anyone else is up to. While you can play the game with this mindset (and it's perfectly reasonable to do so), after a few games you begin to realise the various strategies, which then allow you to anticipate your opponents choices.
The great thing about Azul: Summer Pavilion, is that its random elements (primarily the tiles you choose to draft from), are mitigated by the constants: The scoring is always the same, each star is always worth the same points, and the “wild” tiles for each round (which allow you to circumvent some of the requirements of tile-placing), are clearly illustrated on the scoring board ahead of time, allowing you to plan your turns far in advance.
The interaction in Azul: Summer Pavilion requires a higher level of insight than most games. If you're the type of player who enjoys getting into the heads of your opponents to figure out their plan, only to do your best to undo it, then this is the game for your group.
Conversely, if (like me), you enjoy placing tiles, making patterns and watching your numbers go up, then Azul: Summer Pavilion caters perfectly to you as well.
It's the type of family game that encourages lateral thinking, teaches basic math, decision making and rewards forward thinking and careful planning.
Similar to it's predecessors, Azul: Summer Pavilion is jam-packed with high quality components. A few hundred diamond tiles in a range of colours add a satisfying tactile layer to the game, particularity when paired with the cloth bag and pre-assembled storage tower for the tile discard pile. It's certainly a nice touch.
Like Azul and Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra before it, Azul: Summer Pavilion makes for a satisfying and unique experience, suitable for a wide range of gamer types. Once you've played a few times, the game flow will pick up as each player works toward their own goals while being aware of their opponents.
Azul: Summer Pavilion makes for a great Christmas gift, whether you're shopping for a new game to play with the family, or something unique for that savvy tactician in your life. It's available right now at you local Good Games store, and online!