Every once in a while, in a seemingly endless buffet line of delectable new board game offerings, a title goes above and beyond and manages to truly take the tabletop hobby by storm. The cause for wide-sweeping, even viral success varies from title to title; sometimes predicated upon spectacular graphics, or innovative gameplay mechanics, and occasionally even by sheer scale or volume. In rare but particularly satisfying instances, a carefully balanced trifecta of artistry, production, and cultural circumstance blend into a perfect spackle, artfully repairing the EXACT dents worn into the hearts or minds of those turning to gaming as an escape from the pressures of the outside world.
One recent example of hotness is the eye-catching abstract strategy game Azul, designed by Michael Kiesling, and featuring art from the talented Chris Quilliams. Boasting an impressive 320,000+ copies sold in less than nine months since its release, Azul has been translated into 25 languages and is available for sale in dozens of countries across the globe. Thanks to a repertoire of over a dozen award recommendations and prizes (including notable Spiel des Jahres and Dice Tower Award nominations, and 2018 As d’Or Game of the Year and Mensa Select awards), Azul is, even to a casual observer - a considerable grand-slam for gamers and creators alike.
My own personal obsession with Azul stems from not only from the re-playability and diversity of game modes contained within the box, but also the accessibility of the game experience itself. As a person whose social circle is comprised mostly of non-gamers (gamers-in-training, if I have my way), finding a game that checks so many boxes for SO MANY different types of player is like hitting my own private jackpot. Baring my adoration for the game in mind, you can only imagine my enthusiasm when I was offered the chance to play a forthcoming release in the Next Move Games catalog: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra!
Set within the world of glass artisans of the Portugese Riveria, Stained Glass of Sintra features fabulous components that, at a glance, resonate a comforting familiarity to any who have seen or played the original Azul. A handful of circular Factory displays form a ring in the center of the table, topped with an elegant assortment of five color variations of square window pieces that are not only cleverly designed, but thoughtful in their production. Within each translucent piece lies an engraved symbol, unique to their color, considerately designed to lend aid to players who face difficulty distinguishing colors from one another. Nearby, a fabric bag boasts a belly full of extra panes, all waiting to be installed in the windows of the nearby palace.
Familiar iconography spanning the game board and rulebook are the last of the visual similarities between the two games, as the rest of Stained Glass of Sintra looks quite different from Azul proper. Eight double-sided windows, each comprised of unique pattern strips, are randomly configured adjacent to each player’s palace board in order to set goals for their window commission. It is the task of each artisan to strategically draft colored sets of tiles from the Factory displays in the center of the table to complete the plans for each window – all while managing the placement of their personal glazier to optimize workflow, and strategically triggering bonuses both randomly established at the beginning of the game and/or specified across the bottom of their palace boards (combos are EVERYTHING).
Negative-point penalties are enforced on players who assume first turn in subsequent rounds – a cost some players may deem a fair price for temporary drafting advantage. Any who draw more window panes than a pattern strip can accommodate will soon find themselves in possession of ‘broken pieces’, which also cause the loss of points. This is important to remember if you, like myself, enjoy a more competitive play experience. It is almost too fun forcing your opponent to over-draft towards the end of a round, oftentimes resulting in game-altering consequences. All broken pieces, along with any cleared from player boards as patterns are completed, are now kept in a beautiful and cleverly constructed “glass” tower… meaning no more random collection of tiles waiting to be re-bagged in the middle of the table!
End-game scoring is tremendously impactful – often skyrocketing a player from behind to score an upset victory over their opponents. The masterful duality of familiarity and innovation are likely to position Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra as an automatic collection piece for fans of the original game. As with Azul, the re-playability of Sintra is high, built in through randomized pattern configuration and variable scoring boards, and yet the gameplay itself is different enough from the original to allow each game to shine of their own merit.
Releasing at Essen Spiele in October 2018, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is a worthy successor to the smash hit that preceded it. I am truly looking forward to getting it back to the table, so I can finally implement some of the strategies that have been flying through my brain since my first play.