Tabletop Tuesday: Great for two (part 1)

Tile your way to victory.

Being a gaming couple is fantastic! It’s wonderful bonding over a mutual hobby. Only, most of the time that means sharing a console and having to rotate whose turn it is to play. The solution? Finding the perfect co-op or 1v1 game! In the realm of tabletop games, having the perfect board game for a quiet evening in, just the two of you (give or take a bottle of wine) is essential.

A great example has already featured here on Tabletop Tuesday. Pandemic is a great co-op game where you and your other half have to work together to save the world from 4 infectious diseases. And since you’re not pitted against each other, peace in the house is guaranteed.

This brings me to the next board game perfect for two, but that can also entertain four: Azul. It won the “2018 Spiel des Jahres”, a very prestigious award given by an assortment of German board game critics.

What’s it all about?

In Azul, you are a tiler trying to impress a Portuguese king who has fallen in love with beautiful Moorish decorative tiles during one of his trips to Spain. Your goal is to tile a wall in his castle in a specific pattern and in an order that will score you the most points. You want to “out-tile” the other tilers, so of course, some strategic foul play is imminent.

The theme comes from Portuguese history and sounds a bit lame, but does not play too big a role in this abstract game. It only gives us a backstory and beautifully designed board, factories and tiles.

Tile by the rules

I was completely unimpressed after reading the rules and thought the game would be as lame as playing a tiler sounds. But once I started playing, I immediately realised this is a beautifully crafted game (both in design and mechanics).

Setting up the game is super quick and easy. Each player gets a game board (on which the tiling action happens) and a score marker. A number of factories (a.k.a. pretty coasters), based on the player count, are placed in a circle formation. Next, a cotton bag filled with 100 beautifully designed tiles are used to randomly draw 4 tiles to be placed on each factory. Ready, set, tile!

Each round, players take turns to take all tiles of the same colour on one factory and place them on their game board. The unwanted tiles are placed in the centre to create one big factory. The game board contains a “floor area” with 5 rows. It has a spot for one tile in the top row, down to 5 tiles at the bottom. The player may only place tiles of the same colour in each row. The goal is to select tiles in a way that will allow you to complete rows on the “floor”. Because, once all the factories are empty, only completed rows may be used to tile the King’s wall and in turn give you points.

The wall you are trying to tile is made up of 5×5 rows with spots to place tiles. 5 different coloured tiles per row are required, in a different order than the previous.

Scoring

When the factories are empty, players move one tile from each completed row onto the adjacent row of the wall and onto the right coloured spot. Points are allocated for each newly placed tile. Additional points are awarded if a tile is placed directly next to another. So, when choosing tiles from factories, you want to keep in mind which colour will create a spatial pattern worth the most points.

The game ends once a player fully tiles a horizontal line on the wall. At this point, bonus points are allocated per completed horizontal or vertical row and even more points for filling all the spots of a single colour.

Strategic forward planning

You need tiles, others need tiles… the perfect recipe for screwing up the plans of others for your own benefit… or just because! Forward thinking is an important element in doing well in Azul. The tension comes from trying to get the tiles you need, before the other players. Hoping that they don’t ruin your plans.

You can also force players into situations where they have to take tiles they don’t need. If you can’t place tiles in one of the 5 floor rows (due to their colours clashing), they can result in points being deducted. Yet another route treacherous tilers can take to get ahead!

You WILL be tempted to make unpopular decisions. The winning margins are normally very tight. I lost two games in a row after being 100% sure I would win due to all my bonus points at the end. A high scoring final tiling round can make all the difference. Luckily, rounds only last between 15 and 25 minutes, so a rematch is inevitable!

Conclusion

Azul has loads of strategic opportunities that keeps your brain working throughout. It almost felt like a weird cross between Checkers and Rummikub. A big compliment seeing as these are two games that have withstood the test of time. It also has the same replay value.

And I just love Azul as a two player game! The level of strategy for self-preservation and the other player’s detriment is much more prominent when the player count is low. And a good 1v1 challenge increases the edge and motivation to win. Even if it might be at the cost of going to bed angry!

Games, sports, music, series, reading. I think I have too many hobbies.

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