Azul Summer Pavilion (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Michael Kiesling
  • Artist: Chris Quilliams
  • Publisher: Next Move Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Play Time: 30-45 Minutes
  • TImes Played: 6

We’ve completed the Palace of Evora, and we’ve finished the Stained Glass of Sintra, now it’s time for us to tile the floors of the Summer Pavilion. The Azul line of games from designer Michael Kiesling and publisher Next Move Games continues to grow. From the Spiel des Jahres winner Azul, to the follow up Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, the system continues to evolve and add new twists. Azul: Summer Pavilion is no different. Is the third game in the system a well done culmination of all the evolution that has happened, or is it just a re-hashing of a winning system? Let’s find out, shall we?

A game of Azul: Summer Pavilion is played over six rounds, with each round lasting as long as there are tiles left to be drafted. After players have drafted all the tiles, they will place them in a pattern, in hopes of finishing off sections, or certain colors, in order to score the most points at the end of the game. 

The drafting of tiles in Azul Summer Pavilion is very similar to that in its predecessors. There are a set number of factory tiles in play, based on the number of players. Four tiles are drawn randomly from a bag and placed on each of those factories. One of the big differences with this new iteration are the wild colors in the game. Each round a different color tile is considered a wild. This is all shown on the scoreboard. With that one difference in game play, comes another difference in drafting. Just like the previous games, you will be drafting all of one color of tile from a factory tile, or the overflow area. If you are drafting from a factory, you take all of the color that you are choosing, and anything left over is moved to the overflow. If there are one or more wild tiles on a factory, you must take one tile of the current wild color and all the tiles of any other color. 

There is a first player token in Summer Pavilion as well, and it starts each round in the overflow area. The first person to take from the overflow each round will also take the first player marker and be the first to draft in the following round. With that advantage also comes a bit of a disadvantage, as when you take the first player marker you are also going to score negative points for every tile that you take from the overflow area at that time. 

Once the drafting is finished for the round, it’s on to the placing of the tiles on your player board. This is the biggest difference from the previous games. On the regular player boards, each of the six colored tiles in the game have a star shaped section, with each tile placement spot having a number between one and six. What that number indicates is that you have to have that number of tiles in hand, in order to place one single tile in that spot. So for example, in order to place a tile in the three spot in yellow, you would have to have three yellow tiles or any combination of at least one yellow tile and possibly wild tiles. You place one yellow tile in that spot and discard the others that were needed in order to place it there. There is also one star section in the center of your player board that can hold any color of tiles, but the rule for that section is that it can only have each color in it one time. 

Scoring in Summer Pavilion is a bit more intuitive. When you place your first tile in a section, that tile is worth one point. In future turns as you place tiles next to others of the same color the placement is worth as many tiles there are connected. Most all of this is now done in turn order, due to the fact that there are now bonuses on your player board. There are pillars in the middle, there are statues further out, and there are windows on the very outer edge. When you place a tile on your player board so that one or more of these items is completely surrounded, you gain bonus tiles. At the beginning of the game, there are ten tiles pulled from the bag and placed on the scoreboard. If you surround a pillar, you get to take one of these tiles. If you surround a statue, you take two, and if you surround a window, you gain three. After you have chosen bonus tiles, immediately replenish the spots from where you took them. These tiles are now yours for placement this round as well. 

Placement continues in turn order until each player cannot legally place any more tiles on their board, or when they decide to quit and hold on to tiles for the next round. Each round you may keep up to four tiles, anything more than that will go back into the tower, and you will gain a negative point per tile wasted that way. After each player has finished their placements, the next round is set to begin. The first player refills the factories with four tiles each and moves the round marker forward one spot, showing the players which tile color will be wild this round. 

Summer Pavilion ends after six rounds. The points you have scored during placement are already on the scoreboard, but there are a couple more things to score. Each color has a point value assigned to it, so if you finish the orange star on your board, you will gain the bonus points associated with orange. The numbers one through four also have bonus points associated with them. So if you completed all of your tile segments that required a one, two, three or four, including the middle star, you’ll gain points there as well. After that, the player with the most points is the winner. 

Immediately after the first play of Summer Pavilion, everyone at the table looked at each other and said, “This is a bit of a thinkier puzzle to solve”. It definitely is that and Summer Pavilion plays out as a wonderful puzzle to solve through the entirety of the game. 

The wilds being in play completely opens up the game. No longer are you completely shackled by what is out in the display, color wise. The wilds bring in that ability to complete things even when there aren’t enough of those colors out there to be drafted. The ability to continue taking wild tiles after gaining bonus actions just further opens it up. An extra three tiles in placement phases can be huge. Time it correctly, and those bonus tiles may equal what you drafted. 

Scoring in the original Azul always caused others issues, with some saying it’s not really intuitive. I never saw that myself, but I can see others not grasping it right away. In Summer Pavilion that confusion is gone, you simply score the tile plus all others it touches in the section it belongs. In the photo above, if I were to place the green in the six spot, I would score one point for the tile and four points for the tiles that are connected to it in green. 

In other ways though, this is a far more thinky game than Azul. You want to carefully plan how to best use those wild tiles that you draw. Do you draft wild colors of the coming round, thinking that you will be holding them over for the next placement round? How do you time these placements? Triggering one bonus, to help you finish another bonus is huge at times. Other times, if the ten tiles available aren’t good for you, you don’t want to finish those bonuses and you want your opponents to clear those out for you. 

I’ve seen a couple of different strategies appear in my plays. Either going for the higher valued placements, e.g. the five and six to get those bonus tiles in bigger numbers, but I’ve also seen the interior bonuses work well, where you can time them a bit easier to get more than one bonus with a placement. Then there are those end game bonus points, how do you tackle those? The sections are higher value, but if you manage to complete all the lower numbers, that’s a forty point swing there. Many different ways to tackle the same ‘ol problem of scoring more points.

If you know Next Move Games at all, and the Azul line in particular, you know that for the most part, the components are going to be nearly perfect. However, every Azul game has a little thing that annoys me. In Azul, it was the fact that the original came with a cardboard first player marker — later remedied. In Stained Glass of Sintra, it was that flimsy tower — which I kind of just learned to use and ignore. In Summer Pavilion, while they took measures to remove the scoring from the individual player boards — a huge bonus — they made the scoreboard out of that flimsier material like the tower. The player boards are nice, thick cardboard, but the scoreboard is just thin and flimsy. It works perfectly fine, but I’d be remiss not to mention it. Also, for as much as I like the new scoring, and the scoring not being done on individual player boards, it has turned out to be kind of a nuisance to have someone tracking everyone’s score. There is no real way to place the scoreboard in a central location because of the fact that the factories are in the middle. Even with those minor qualms though, I think that once again, Next Move Games has a wonderful game that could be considered a piece of evolving art on the table, it’s beautiful. 

It’s funny to me, for two years now, Azul has been creeping up my game rankings, probably sitting firmly in the Top 5 right now. It definitely lands there based on plays. Sintra fell a bit short for me. I really enjoyed it, but I rarely found a reason to play it over Azul. Summer Pavilion, as it is, could jump both. Simply put, though, as a game “system” I don’t think I’ll ever part with any of it. Azul brings the basics, it’s a wonderful way to teach drafting. Sintra brings a bit more complexity in that you have to balance the drafting and the timing of the glazier who moves along, limiting what you can do. Summer Pavilion pulls all that together, as you have to time your placements to best benefit you, but you also have to be really careful with your drafting, if you end up with extra tiles, you can suffer. Summer Pavilion does suffer a bit because of that extra layer of complexity though, it plays longer than its predecessors, and it can feel longer. To some that will be an issue. It doesn’t bother me much, but I know others will prefer the snappy, do everything all at once nature of Azul. It’s also because of those layers that I will still play Azul with newer players, or players who aren’t as familiar with Azul as I am. But I think in the long run, Summer Pavilion will end up being the better game. It’s nearly the absolutely perfect culmination of three years of Azul titles, and I kind of secretly hope that there are more to come. 

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Brennan: I rate the original an 8 and this feels close. Like Sintra, it’s hard to predict what other players want because the map gives the players so many options. This makes the tile-take less interactively interesting. Making one colour wild each turn (and allowing 1 wild to be taken additional to the colour you’re taking) provides more interesting map-scoring options. But it has the downside of bigger earlier takes, putting too much premium on turn order – yes, taking the first player token costs more, but there’s a big advantage in going 2nd/6th/… over 4th/8th/… at no cost to the player getting 2nd. Lastly, turning the placement of tiles on the map into a new phase after all the tile-takes generates a clunky turn order requirement to resolve the order in which bonus tiles are taken from the display, and this slows life down. On the upside, the new map-scoring rosette approach is refreshing and yearns for more play. The downs are probably slightly more than the ups, but it’s being picky. It’s a fine version I’d happily play.

Mitchell Thomashow: The Azul series is a wonderful example of how random processes can be the core mechanism of fine abstract games. The tile drafting in every game demands that you adapt to new circumstances, but with clear thinking and careful observation you can gain important tactical advantages. In the case of Summer Pavilion, the predictable wild tiles offers limited strategic options as well. I’ve played Summer Pavilion a dozen times as a two player game. It is the most deliberate and studious of the series. There seem to be three approaches—score the highest valued colored florets, or focus on the lowest numbers, or a hybrid. Tile availability will ultimately force your hand. I enjoy the more flamboyant Sintra slightly more, but this is a terrific game, too, and I will happily play any of the three Azuls any time.  

Lorna: Summer Pavilion (SP) is a nice addition to the Azul family of games. I like it quite a bit more than Sintra which felt more contrived to me. It feels like you have a few more decisions to make in this version versus the original. The two player games of SP feels very different as you only recycle the tiles maybe once or twice during the game. I’ve played with 2 players and 4 players.

Tery: Summer Pavilion is my favorite of the Azul series, with Sintra being my second favorite. I never understood the love for the first Azul. It’s fine, but I was never seeking it out. It seemed a bit random and out of your control, and I would only play it if others wanted to. I liked Sintra more, since I felt you had more control and more choices, but it still felt a little off or forced to me, since you are sometimes put in a position where you can’t do anything useful. Here I feel like we have a good balance of luck and strategy, with options for adapting to what’s happening. It is definitely more puzzley, and to me that’s a very good thing.

Dale: Of the three, this is in the middle (Azul > Summer > Sintra).  I do enjoy the fact that this one seems the most puzzle-y; I feel like there are maybe more options for my own play to develop than in the other two games in the series.  But, it is also the longest playtime of the trio; and it is right at the borderline (for me) of outstaying its welcome. The wildcards do give a fair amount of flexibility, but as has been mentioned above; this also makes it much less palatable to be fourth in turn order.  This effect is obviously not as pronounced in a 2p game, and in that setting, I think it’s well-priced premium to go first; but in a multiplayer game, it can feel capricious at times. The other weird thing is that this game (like Azul) tends to run out of tiles in the final round.  It can lead to a weird truncated final round where there aren’t enough tiles to go around – and I’m not sure if this is by design or due to cost constraints. That being said, I still very much enjoy my plays of this, and while I’ll likely not play this with 4 as much, it will likely be the form of azul that I will turn to when gamers are around.

Dan Blum (2 plays): I’m willing to play this but it’s still my least favorite of the three Azul games. It takes significantly longer than the others due to the need to go around and around placing tiles; they really should have come up with a way to do this simultaneously. Sure, there’s a bit more to think about than in the other games, but not enough to justify the extra time, at least in a four-player game. (For two it probably works better.) I also don’t love that it’s less interactive than the other games – you obviously care about what tiles you get and need to watch for that, but that’s true of the other games as well, and they have much more going on in the drafting phase. Granted a lot of that is negative play, so I suppose this game will appeal more to players who don’t like that sort of thing, although another aspect I don’t like is that the penalty for being the first to take from the center seems awfully large here considering how often someone is forced into it.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it. Brandon Kempf, Mitchell Thomashow

I like it. Patrick Brennan, John P, Lorna, Dale 

Neutral. Dan Blum

Not for me…  

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5 Responses to Azul Summer Pavilion (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. Pingback: Azul Summer Pavilion (Game Review by Brandon Kempf) – Herman Watts

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  4. Vision says:

    Let’s say, I have 6 red tiles, in my turn, can I put just 1 tile in the red star number 1? Then in my next turn, I put 2 red tiles in red star number 2 and get 2 score. And then my next turn, I put 3 red tiles in red star number 3 and then get 3 score. So I have 6 score. OR I HAVE TO put all six red tiles in star number 6 and get only 1 point.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      You most certainly get to choose where you place those tiles and placing 1, 2 & 3 for six points is definitely a good start. Enjoy!

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