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Azul Queen's Garden Review

Azul Queen's Garden Review

Azul Queen's Garden Review

Welcome to our latest review. We’d planned to have this out last week, but our sale took a bunch more time than usual. Anyways – We’ve already reviewed Plan B Games‘ Azul, and now we are turning our attention to Azul Queen’s Garden. In this game, you are a gardener working for King Manuel I planting ornate gardens for Queen Maria of Aragon. This variation is very different from the original Azul, requiring players to make many more decisions each round. So let’s get into how this game plays!

Game Overview – Azul Queen’s Garden

This game takes place over four rounds, and players each take turns to do one of four actions in each round. The actions are:

  • Select a Tile or Garden expansion from the display and add it to their storage board
  • Place a tile in the garden
  • Place a garden expansion
  • Pass (end the round)

This game relies heavily on scoring based on tile colors or patterns. When placing a tile from the player’s storage board, a player must discard other tiles in their storage to pay the placed tile’s cost. For example, we will pretend we want to put a purple bird tile in our garden board. Bird tiles have a cost of two tiles to place. The bird tile is considered one tile of cost, and then the player must discard either another bird tile or another purple tile to be able to place the original tile.  If they do not have another purple or bird tile, they can pay using a joker tile (‘wild tile’) but if they don’t have that, they can not play the purple bird tile.

Here’s another example: Instead, they want to place a blue butterfly tile. The butterfly tile costs three tiles in total to place. So the player, in this case, must discard two additional tiles of either butterflies or the color blue for them to be able to place that one butterfly. Six different patterns cost 1-6 tiles to place. The tiles cost is inferred by the pattern. Single tree, bird with two wings, three butterflies, four leaf flower, five leaf plant and six flowers (see the image below)

There are also rules around how you select tiles – players choosing to do this action must choose all tiles in the display that match either a single color or a single pattern and add them to their storage board. So if there are 5 blue tiles, players must choose all five and do not get to pick and choose which ones they select. The game comes with a nice cloth tile bag. Each time a player chooses tiles, they move the top facedown garden expansion along with the remaining tiles (those not selected) off the pile and then add four more tiles to the newly revealed garden expansion. I know this is a bit confusing, but trust me, it makes sense in practice. When all tiles are selected from the top of a garden expansion, it’s flipped over to reveal a printed tile with a color, pattern, and new pavilion type. This garden expansion is now selectable when selecting tiles. To select it, it’s treated like the printed tile on it. So if a garden expansion has a yellow tree for instance, when a player chooses to select all trees or all yellow tiles, they take the garden expansion as well. The storage board only has room for two garden expansions.

The game’s goal is to place tiles on the player’s garden in groups matching colors or patterns. Each round has its own scoring which is three specific colors or patterns that specifically score additional points for that round. At the end of the game, the players count groupings and score points related to the patterns in the group. So, for instance, a group of three connected butterfly tiles will score three points each for a total of 9. A group connected by the blue color (say a tree – 1 point, a bird – 2 points, and butterflies – 3 points) will score 6 points. 

Also, a player may place a garden expansion from their storage in an open space in their garden. Placing a garden expansion allows players to add more tiles to their garden. So overall this game is about selecting and placing tiles and expansions. It’s quite relaxing actually, however it is a bit of a strategic challenge.

Game Components

The game comes with several boards as we already mentioned. Each player has two personal boards: the garden and their storage board. There is also a scoring board that needs assembling as it has a dial and a pin. The game has 108 tiles (six colors, six patterns, and three of each tile). These are plastic tiles with printing on one side. Azul: Queen’s Garden also comes with a stack of “joker” tiles, which act as wild tiles when having to pay the tile cost. These tiles are slightly larger and more highly designed with ridges and embedded patterns. The garden expansion tiles are made of board game cardboard and printed on both sides. The game also comes with a cloth bag to hold the tiles during the game. This bag is where players draw tiles to the display. If you’ve played normal Azul before, there isn’t any difference between the tiles and the bag – They are just graphically designed for this specific version of the game. Finally, the game has a tower used to discard tiles when paying the cost. The tower is highly designed and looks like a Spanish building. It’s gorgeous.

Game Setup

Setup is relatively straightforward for the game. The most significant task is shuffling the garden expansions facedown and putting them into four piles, one for each round. After that, each player takes a storage board, an initial fountain tile, a player board, and three joker tiles. Then all that needs to be done is to set up the scoring board. Depending on which side of the scoring board you want to use (scoring rules are slightly different), this can be a bit finicky with the pin but it wasn’t overly difficult. Luckily it just snaps in and out fairly quickly.

After this setup, it’s time to get into the game!

Gameplay

We’re going to get into a bit more detail here in a sec, but overall the game is fun but quite challenging. If you are looking for something “like” normal Azul, this is not exactly like that. Azul Queen’s Garden is a much more complex game. Our biggest challenge while playing was planning the tiles we would lay in our garden. For every tile we laid down, we needed to discard other tiles with the same color or pattern, which, ideally, we should have held onto to get a better score. Planning in this game became the biggest hurdle. So instead of thinking one step ahead, you need to consider 4-5 steps ahead and pay attention to the current round scoring. Sometimes the strategy became to collect tiles so we could use them to pay the cost of another tile.

Also, we found it challenging to complete the tile sets – sometimes, we had to plan our garden for two or three rounds later. I like playing the long game and going for the end-of-game scoring, but the round-specific scoring meant that I had to pay attention to what I was placing down each round.

That said, we aren’t knocking this game by any means. It was fun to play, but the game has a strategy learning curve. 

We found that selecting tiles and garden expansions were only limited by the number of spaces on our storage board (Twelve tiles spaces and two garden expansions at a time). If we had to pick up more tiles (because you must pick up all of a single color or single pattern), the ones that wouldn’t fit on your board got discarded. We liked that each time any garden expansion became empty of tiles, we flipped that garden expansion over and could select it along with tiles. That allowed us to grow the garden. I aimed for placing garden expansions with pavilions over statues, benches or fountains because once you fully encircle the central space, you could take additional joker tokens. Pavillion were the best at three joker tokens.

Joker tiles was an area we thought was well done. While these tiles are only used to pay the cost to place another tile, they looked fantastic, and we wished the players could have used them more in the game. 

One area we found initially confusing was the final scoring. Scoring pattern matches were fine; three butterfly tiles (worth three points each) scored a total of 9. This simple multiplication. However, the example in the instructions regarding the colored tiles and their scoring confused me. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t catch that the score always came from the pattern and never the color, even if the colors match. So four blue tiles with one tree (1 point), one bird (2 points), one butterfly (3 points), and one flower (4 points) gave me 10 points — it was just confusing me. I was expecting scoring based on the color alone. Once I figured out the example — it was easy enough to apply.

Overall Impressions

We did enjoy this Azul: Queen’s Garden; it just took us a while to figure out the strategy. Planning was not easy. We are more cooperative-style players, and obviously, this isn’t cooperative. Once we figured out the strategy and how you had to attack this game, it became much more enjoyable! 

We recommend this game to anyone who loves abstract strategy games. If you like the original Azul, then take a moment and check this out; it might surprise you. 

If you think you might enjoy this game, check it out in our store!