The Honor of Tiling a King's Bathroom in AZUL
The king has returned from a vacation at the Alhambra palace in Southern Spain and was so impressed by the “azulejos,” or the Moorish tiling at the palace, he would like his own palace to be clad in the same manner. So players need to get busy tiling his majesty's walls! The story goes something like that, I think.
But it doesn't matter. Azul's theme and backstory has no bearing on the game or drives player decisions whatsoever, other than direct the aesthetics of the affair. This is a multi-player abstract game at its core, and it's a ton of fun.
Each player gets a board that contains a scoring track and a play area where they will be tiling their own individual wall for points. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner. Azul is played over several rounds with three phases in each. In the first phase, players are choosing tiles from coaster-like factory displays or from whatever is available in the center of the table. They must choose tiles that are of the same color/pattern and place them on the pattern lines on their board. These tiles will live there until placed in the wall-tiling phase. There are certain rules on how these tiles are put in these lines and that is a big part of Azul's strategy. Then, in the wall-tiling phase, the tiles "slide" over to the wall and the scoring phase for that round commences. You get points based on how many tiles land in the wall, and the spatial relation to others already placed. The game ends once a horizontal line of 5 tiles have been completed.
Azul's colorful tiles are what bring you to the yard. These things feel great in the hand, and make a pleasant clanky sound when pulling them from the supply bag to refill the factory displays.
The one thing that is a little tricky is scoring phase. It may take a few plays to wrap your brain around tile placement strategies to maximize scoring, but that's kind of the point. Azul is definitely a game that rewards several plays, and you probably be immediately playing it again.
Azul is simply stunning on a table and I have yet to hear someone who didn't want to play it from just looking at the box. Best of all, it's not just a nice-looking game, but a great experience to play.