Simon Neale: Review Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
Designer: Michael Kiesling
Publisher: Next Move Games
Players: 2 – 4
Time: 35 minutes
Times played: 7, with copy purchased at Essen Spiel.
When a game wins the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award, it is common practice for the publisher to produce a series of expansions to both capitalise on the success of the base game whilst maintaining the public’s interest in the game. Next Move Games did something quite unusual when Azul won the SdJ in 2018, in that they published Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra which is not an expansion but a standalone game in its own right and therefore not requiring a copy of the original game in order to play it. There are some similarities between both games which I will come onto later, but first a bit of background.
Sintra is a Portuguese city in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains near the capital city of Lisbon. It is a popular tourist destination as it contains some picturesque palaces and castles which contain the colourful artwork of the Moors. It is this artwork that was captured in the original Azul game using tiles and has been carried through to the glass of the follow-up game, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra. Whilst the tiles looked very effective, I am not so convinced by the “glass” Pane Pieces which remind me of hard boiled sweets from my youth called “Spangles”. Nevertheless Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is an attractive game and looks interesting on the gaming table.
At the start of the game a number of Factories (circular disks) depending upon the number of players are put out in a circle in the centre of the table. A cardboard Glass Tower is assembled and placed near the Factories. This will be used to hold “broken” Pane Pieces during the game. Each player chooses a colour and takes the appropriate Player Board together with the 8 Pattern Strips. The Pattern Strips each show a column of 5 coloured spaces on which Pane Pieces will be placed during the game. The Player Boards are doubled sided and change how the final scoring is carried out. All players agree on which side of the board will be used for the game. The Pattern Strips, also doubled sided, are randomly placed as vertical columns above the Player Board. One of the Pattern Strips shows 2 joker spaces instead of coloured spaces and this Strip must be placed with the joker spaces face down. Each player places their Glazier pawn above their leftmost Pattern Strip.
One player takes control of the scoreboard and puts a marker in each player colour on the zero of the scoring track (to record victory points) and on the zero of the broken glass track (to record negative points). One of each colour of Pane Pieces (5 in total) is randomly placed on the round track (rounds 2 to 6). The remaining Pane Pieces are put in the decorated cloth bag and mixed together. A Pane Piece is drawn from the bag and placed on round 1 of the round track. These Pane Pieces will determine which of the five colours of Pane Pieces will give bonus victory points in each of the six rounds of the game. The starting player takes the Starting Tile and the first round of the game is ready to begin.
The starting player pulls Pane Pieces from the bag and places four of them on each Factory, and then places the starting player tile in the centre of the circle of Factories. On their turn a Player must do one of two actions:
Advance a Pattern by taking Pane Pieces and placing them on a Pattern Strip, or
Move the Glazier by moving the Glazier to above the leftmost Pattern Strip. If the Glazier is already above the leftmost Pattern Strip this action cannot be taken.
To Advance a Pattern, the player takes all Pane Pieces of one colour from either a Factory or from the centre of the table. If they are the first player to take from the centre of the table, then they also take the Starting Tile for the next round and move their marker on the broken glass track one space downwards. If the Pane Pieces were taken from a Factory then any remaining pieces on that Factory are moved to the centre of the table. The taken Pane Pieces are now placed on one of the Pattern Strips above the Player Board, matching the colours of the spaces with those of the taken Pane Pieces. A real twist comes in to the game at this point, in that Pane Pieces can only be placed on Pattern Strips either under the Glazier or the right of the Glazier’s position (in which case the Glazier is moved to above the Pattern Strip on which the Pane Pieces are placed). Any left over Pane Pieces are considered broken and placed in the Glass Tower and the player moves their marker on the broken glass track down a number of steps equal to the number of Pane Pieces placed in the Glass Tower.
If the Pattern Strip is completely filled then a scoring takes place. Firstly, the player scores 1 point for each Pane Piece which matches the colour of the round track’s Pane Piece. All the Pane Pieces are removed from the Pattern Strip and the player chooses one of them to be placed on their Player Board beneath the position of the Pattern Strip that has just been completed, the other Pane Pieces being placed in the Glass Tower. There are two places on the Player Board to be filled by the Pane Piece from the completed Pattern Strip. On first completion the Pattern Strip is turned over and placed back above the Player Board. The second time that Pattern Strip is completed it is discarded. The Pattern Strip now scores the points beneath it together with the points beneath any other completed Pattern Strip (identified by a Pane Piece on one of the positions) to the right of the one being scored.
Once all the Pane Pieces have been taken from the Factories and the centre of the table, then the round is complete and the Pane Piece from the round track for that round is placed in the Glass Tower. The player with the starting tile refills the factories and the next round begins. When the bag becomes empty, it is refilled from the Glass Tower.
After six rounds the game ends and a final scoring takes place:
– 1 Point for every 3 Pane Pieces (rounded down) on Pattern Strips.
– Points equal to the negative points on the broken glass track are deducted.
– The Playing Boards are scored:
Side A scores points for the number of Pane Pieces placed on the Player Board when Pattern strips have been completed. These are scored in pairs of Pattern Strip columns (i.e. Pattern Strips 1 & 2, 3 & 4…). Points range from 2 points for 2 Pane Pieces to 10 points for 4 Pane Pieces.
Side B scores points based on the number of completed “windows” (i.e. where a Pattern Strip has been completed twice during the game and discarded). The player chooses one colour and multiplies the number of times that colour occurs in the completed windows by the number of completed windows.
The winner is the player with the highest score with ties being broken by the lowest negative point position on the broken glass track.
My thoughts on the game
With only two possible actions player turns flow quickly and whilst you cannot do a lot of forward planning until you get to see which Pane Pieces have been left for you, there is minimal downtime. In fact apart from the exclamations of surprise when another player takes the very pieces you were thinking of picking up, an uncanny number of my games play in near silence. This is unusual as most games have a lot of table banter going on, but maybe it is a sign of how fast this game plays and how much thought players are putting into it.
There is quite a lot to think about in what at the outset appears to be a light and fluffy abstract puzzle game. The broken glass track is fairly punishing so you need to take care to avoid placing a large number of Pane Pieces in the Glass Tower. As the track lasts for the whole game it is fundamentally different from the original Azul where the negative track reset each round, so you could get away with a minimal amount of unplaced tiles each round. With Sintra, the track does not reset so a few unplaced pieces each round and you will have a significant negative hit at the final scoring. I find that the broken glass track is particularly brutal in two player games where it is possible to manoeuvre your opponent into picking up far more Pane Pieces than they can place.
I really like the mechanic of only being able to place either under the Glazier or to the right of it. This makes you think about the value of moving the Glazier as then you will need to take a turn out to reposition it back to the left. When this is coupled with a clever scoring mechanic where completing a Pattern Strip scores that position and already completed positions to the right, then the value of completing those rightmost strips is considerable as they can be scored multiple times during a game.
So how does it compare to the original Azul game? Overall there are some similarities: the factories and taking pieces mechanic, the negative impact of taking more pieces than you can place on your player board and the quality of the artwork and components. That said there are some significant differences with the way in which you are able to place pieces on your player board along with the Glazier function which when taken with the scoring method changes the gameplay. I prefer the single scoreboard used in Sintra as I found with the Azul scoreboards being part of the original player boards, accidents did happen and the scoring marker could easily be jogged out of position. I am happy for both games to reside in my collection and I would choose to play Sintra as it breathes new life into the Azul game which was one of my most played games from 2017. For two player games though I would prefer to play the original. So if you fancy a bit of Moorish glazing then give Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a try.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Larry (1 play): I don’t really care for abstract designs, so I was never a big fan of the original Azul. Sintra is more interesting for me, because of the intricacies of the scoring rules and the tension between working on the left-most columns (because it’s more efficient) or completing the right-most columns early (because that lets you score them multiple times). However, at the end of the day, it’s still an abstract and that’s just not the kind of game I’ll ever love. So for me, Sintra > Azul, and I’ll play either if asked, but I’m just as happy staying away from both.
Dale: Unlike Larry, I like abstract games. Especially if they have a painted on theme that allows me to think for a bit that it’s not an abstract game. Unlike Larry, I prefer Azul to Sintra. For me, there is a certain elegance about the original game that gets lost in the machinations of moving tiles here and there in this version. Also, there is something about the pleasing clickety-clack noises of the tiles in the original as well as the heft in my hand which draws me to that one. Now, that’s not to say that Sintra isn’t good, and it doesn’t deserve a spot on my game shelf. Because there are some times when I’m going to want something that is more complex than Azul.
Brandon (6 plays): Gameplay wise, Sintra does feel to have a bit more depth than Azul, but sometimes I do wonder if that depth is an illusion? Maybe I’m just conflating depth with just having a couple more choices. There is something to say about a game that makes you forget just how simple the game really is, and it’s another thing for a game to constantly remind you of things you have to think about. Sintra is less subtle than its predecessor in this way. The changes are in the forefront and they are noticeable and they make you think about them as you play. I do really enjoy Sintra though, and will save a space for it on my shelves right next to its predecessor. I think those who like the more variable side of the board in Azul will like the variable setup here in Sintra, and I think that folks who like to have a bit more control or choice will like Sintra as well.
Craig M (5 plays): Given the choice, I would choose Azul of Sintra. While I have enjoyed my games of the latter, I think apparent depth is illusory. Sintra is a nice variation on a theme that I would be happy to play, but in the long run Azul owns a permanent spot in the collection.
Fraser ( 1 play): I felt it was OK, it offered different path to Azul but overall was more fiddly. Given the choice between the two I would pick Azul to play pretty much every time. I would be interested to see what people who came across Stained Glass of Sintra before Azul thought after they had played.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Simon Neale, Brandon, Dale, Craig, Fraser
Neutral. Larry, James Nathan
Not for me.