Azul: Summer Pavilion Review

Good news! King Manuel was very impressed with your efforts in tiling his bathroom, and you might have another contract – this time he’s asking you back to tile his Summer Pavilion! But of course, once again, it doesn’t make sense to just give the contract to one person, so you will be competing against other elite tilers for the right to the job, and whomever pleases the King the most will become the Royal Summer Pavilion Tiler!

2-4 Players | 1 Hour | Designed by Michael Kiesling

This review is going to be a bit different to the usual, because Azul: Summer Pavilion is a sequel of sorts. Since that’s the case, and it shares a lot of similarities with the original Azul, I’m sort of going to build on my review of that, and mostly discuss variation/differences between the two versions. If you would like some context, (my opinions on the original Azul game and some details such as how the game works) check out the Azul Review here. Azul: Summer Pavilion (or as we have been calling it, ‘Azul 3: The Azul-ening‘, is indeed the third entry in the series. I played the second game (Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra) once but it didn’t really appeal to me in any way. It had quite a different feel to Azul 1. Azul 3 seems to be more of a return to ‘Azul Classic’ and feels much more like the original, albeit refreshed, reshaped, and reinvigorated.

Look at those beautiful tiles!

How does it work?

Azul: Summer Pavilion is a tile drafting and placement game, just like Azul 1. It is very mechanically similar to the original game, varying in a few ways – the wild tiles, the geometry of the area to be tiled, and the scoring.

A game of Azul 3 is played over a fixed 6 rounds, and each round is divided into a drafting phase, and then a placement phase. The drafting phase is almost identical to Azul 1, however there are two key differences. The first difference is that tiles are not placed anywhere once you have drafted them. You simply collect them beside you player board until the later placement phase. The second difference is wild tiles. You may be familiar with the concept if you have played Azul 1 with the Joker Tile promo. Each round, one of the 6 tile colours becomes ‘wild’. You may not take that colour for that round, but if you take other tiles from a location that contains ‘wild’ tiles, you must take exactly one wild tile along with them.

Once the tile drafting is complete (all tiles are drafted), the placement phase begins. Unlike Azul 1, in which this phase could be executed simultaneously, players take turns placing one tile at a time onto a space on their player mat. Tiles have a cost to place – spaces are numbered and x tiles must be committed to place a single tile on an x value space. Points are earned for adding tiles that adjoin groups of other tiles. A new feature of the Azul 3 placement round is the ability to earn bonus tiles.

The geometry of the board provides a number of bonus spaces that when surrounded with tiles, earn the player bonus tiles from a selection in the middle of the table. These are added to the player’s pool of tiles available for placement. Finally, ‘wild’ tiles allow players to substitute missing tiles to needed for placement with the wild tile of the round, allowing for some flexibility and and interesting new strategy considerations.

After 6 rounds (one for each wild tile colour), players will tally up bonus points received from completing 6 pointed stars on their board, and determine the winner. Similar to Azul 1, the majority of a player’s points are earned throughout the game, with end-game points often making a difference in placement.

What do I think?

As this is more of a compare and contrast with the original Azul, I think that most of my points from the review of the original game still stand. My comments here will be mostly regarding the differences between the two games. I’ve played Azul 3 now several times with 2-4 players (I haven’t tried the ‘grey’ side of the player boards yet).

The Good Stuff

  • The game features the classic Azul drafting – this will either be familiar for players of Azul 1 or 2, or otherwise easy to teach to new players. The addition of the wild system adds a tiny bit of complexity but in my experience, hasn’t presented issues to players new to the series.
  • As with the original, the game has amazing production. The bakelite tiles are lovely, the cardboard components are all nice too. A useful insert, good quality printed cloth bag and satisfying first player tile (my old Azul 1 first player token is cardboard) are all included.
  • Compared to the system in Azul 1, the tile placement mechanism is a little more intuitive. You don’t need to queue tiles up into rows with constraints like in Azul 1, you just save them up till the end of each round and then spend tiles to place them wherever you like.
  • The wild tile system is good. Despite my previous comments in the Azul 1 review about the joker promo tiles decreasing my enjoyment of the game, I think the way wilds are integrated into this version of the game is fantastic. They add a lot of options and strategy, and I like that you can even plan ahead and save up wild tiles that will be useful in the next round.
  • The tile storage mechanic is very interesting. In Azul 1 you could technically store tiles for the next round but you had to do it in your tile rows and that would almost always be a sub-optimal thing to do. In Azul 3 you can save up to 4 tiles at the end of each round and use them however you like in the next. This offers so much flexibility and is far less punishing than Azul 1.
  • The tile tower is such a great quality of life improvement. There was one in Sintra (Azul 2) but it was flimsy. This one is tough and highly useful. It makes getting the tiles back into the bag a 1 second job.
  • The bonus tiles are a very interesting mechanic. Planning your placement to include grabbing a few bonus tiles can really help snowball your point scoring and fill out your pavilion. The bonus tile pool also adds a second area of interaction within the game (albeit minor).

The Bad Stuff

  • The placement/scoring round is so slow, especially if you grew up with Azul 1. It has moved from being a quick simultaneous thing to a turn based affair that can take far longer than the drafting round. Having to wait to place each tile can really drag on, with players thinking about each placement as it comes. Some of the ‘thinking and computation’ from the drafting round has been transferred to this part of the game, and the decision space is a fair bit higher than in Azul 1, where when you got tiles there was basically 5 places to put them. A typical game of Azul for my group goes for 40 mins, while I have seen Summer Pavilion range from 1-1.5 hours. I understand that this part of the game can’t be simultaneous because of the bonuses and I like what the bonuses add to the game. Unfortunately,this doubles Azul 3 playtime over Azul 1. To me this is the glaring drawback of this version and I think it could have been done some other way to retain the bonuses but keep game play quick and engaging.
  • The scoreboard is still bad. The spaces and tokens are too tiny for comfortable use. At least it is consolidated into one place.
  • It feels like there is less interconnectivity on the board. The bonus spaces are cool but in terms of combo scoring opportunity, it seems a bit less interesting.
  • There is less player interaction because it’s harder to block people during drafting (which was the main player interaction of Azul 1). It’s less often obvious what people want as there aren’t constrained to 5 rows to place in, but potentially 42 locations. As the game moves on you can see what people are going for more easily, but with wild tiles in the mix, it’s hard to successfully block. This could easily be a positive point, but one of my favourite things about Azul 1 was the potential for cut-throat player interaction and blocking others – when we play that’s what makes the game fun for us.
A ‘completed’ pavilion.

I think with my preferences towards heavier games, I am very pleased by the arrival of Azul: Summer Pavilion. It builds upon Azul 1 and adds some very interesting mechanics and variations that make me excited to play it. I would say that it is a straight up better game than Azul 1, except for the one issue I have with the tedious placement round. That makes it really hard for me to judge which game I like more. I just can’t get away from comparing the placement/scoring round to Azul 1. Despite that issue though, I really enjoy playing this, and all my friends who are Azul fans like it a lot too. It’s a great evolution of the series and if you are a fan of Azul 1 you will almost certainly love this one!

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