Review: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra

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Length 30 minutes

Release Date 2018

Designer: Michael Kiesling
Artist: Chris Quilliams
Publisher: Next Move Games
Category: Drafting, Tile-laying
Players: 2-4
Price: $26.99 Amazon.com

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is a sequel to the blockbuster hit Azul. It will feel familiar to anyone who has played the original game, but it offers new strategic options that make for a deeper experience.

Review

In 2017, Azul made my “Top 3 Games of the Year” list. It was not #1 at the time, but my opinion of it has changed since: not only do I now consider Azul the best game of 2017, but the more I play it, the more I think it’s one of the best games ever made.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra builds on the Spiel-des-Jahres-winning formula of the original, using the same basic concept but offering new strategic options. To set up the game, a number of circular displays are placed in the middle, and 4 colored tiles begin on each. All players have individual, modular tableaus where these tiles will be placed throughout the game. A glazier pawn begins above each tableau, atop the leftmost column. Score markers are placed on the central scoreboard, as well as 6 tiles to mark the game rounds.

Every round, players take turns drafting tiles and moving their glaziers. To draft, a player must take all the tiles of one color, either from a display or from the middle. If tiles are taken from a display, any remaining tiles are moved to the middle.

This player took the two clear tiles from the display. The other two—orange and red—are moved to the middle.

When a player takes tiles, she must place them all into a single column, on matching-colored spaces. The chosen column must be either where her glazier pawn stands, or in a column to its right. If placed to its right, the glazier moves to the new column. Mechanically, this tightens up the tableau by steadily reducing the player’s placement options.

The chosen tiles are then placed on the players tableau. Had they been placed in a different column, the glazier would have had to move to that column.

If a player does not wish to draft tiles, she may instead move her glazier back to the leftmost column. This is a key difference from the original Azul—players now have a sort of “pass” action.

The first time a player takes tiles from the middle, she takes the first player tile along with those she selected. In the coming round, she will take her turn first, but this extra tile moves her down a space on the minus-points track. It is also possible that a player takes more colored tiles than she can use; such excess tiles are discarded, and the player moves down the track one space per unused tile. At the end of the game, players will subtract points from their scores based on where their markers sits on the track.

However, after a few turns, the tiles in the middle can start to look pretty good.

When a player completes a column on her tableau, she immediately scores points for it. She earns:

  • 1 point per tile that matches the color of the current game round tile,
  • The number of points listed below the completed column, and
  • All point values in columns to the right with at least one tile in the lower section

The first time a column is completed, one of its tiles is moved to the lower section of the tableau, causing the column to be flipped to its other side. Should the column be completed again, another tile is moved to the lower section, and the column is removed. This means each column can be completed twice throughout the game.

As an example of scoring a completed column:

Suppose the current tile on the round track is red. This players earns:

  • 4 points for the 4 red tiles, plus
  • 2 points (the number below the column), plus
  • 3 points (from the columns to the right that have previously been completed, in this case 1 and 2)

Thus, the completed column is worth 9 points. She moves a tile to the lower section, then flips the column over, discarding the remaining 4 tiles.

Note that the new column has two “wild” spaces.

The game ends after 6 rounds. The lower section of the board has “Side A” and “Side B,” much like how the original Azul has a double-sided board. Each side offers a different endgame scoring opportunity, and all players must use the same side. Though not drastically different, the strategy varies slightly between sides A and B, instilling the game with an extra bit of flexibility.

After scores have been tallied, the player with the highest score wins!


I’m always wary of board game sequels because all too often, they lose sight of what made the original great (I’m looking at you, Queendomino and King of New York). The introduction of new mechanisms can easily make a game feel bloated, without actually enriching the play experience. Thus, I was skeptical when I heard about Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, but it was foolish of me to doubt all-star designer Michael Kiesling.

I am so glad to say that Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra remains faithful to the original Azul, while meaningfully building upon it. Unlike many remakes, which just add glut to a game that was already fine without it, this new Azul game is equally, but differently good.

Stained Glass of Sintra offers new strategic nuances. As the glazier shrinks the available space on a player’s tableau, her options become increasingly limited until she passes and resets her pawn. However, doing this may put her at risk of having to take unwanted tiles, because once she has reset her pawn, she cannot “pass” again until it has moved off of the far-left column once more.

The new scoring system offers interesting decisions as well. The farther to the right a completed column is, the more likely it is to score again and again. However, completing such columns means working on a tight board with reduced options. Additionally, because a different color bonus is offered each round, players may want to hold off on completing a particular column if they stand to earn a larger bonus in a future round.

The game’s production quality is excellent, as I have come to expect from this publisher. Like its older brother, Stained Glass of Sintra has a strong table presence, with lots of visual and tactile appeal. (Those tiles totally look like Jolly Ranchers, don’t they?)

Usually, when it comes to remakes or sequels, there is one version of a game that is clearly better than the other. Azul is one of those rare instances in which the original game and its sequel are both exceptional; it is honestly hard for me to pick a favorite. To me, the play experiences they offer are different enough that it’s worth owning both. That said, I recommend first-time players start with the original game before diving into the sequel, just for the sake of getting comfortable with the core system. Once they have a feel for Azul, it will be easy to springboard into Stained Glass of Sintra.

Bottom line, though: the Azul series is phenomenal. I give both of these games my highest recommendation!

A review copy of Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra was provided by Next Move Games.

The Bottom Line

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is an excellent follow-up to Azul. With interesting new systems at play, it provides new depth of strategy.

 

9.5

Author: Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.