Azul: Summer Pavilion

Michael Kiesling
2 - 4
8 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

Three years ago began the success story of Michael Kiesling’s Portuguese mosaic games. Azul was one of the great successes of 2017, Spiel des Jahres Winner 2018, 2017 Golden Geek Best Family Game, and a number of other nominations and awards. An expansion or sequel was guaranteed.

That sequel was Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra and was somewhat less popular. I can’t speak for everyone else, but personally I found the placement rules counterintuitive, entirely opposite to Azul‘s rules and game board that make it perfectly clear what you can place where.

Now we have the latest installment of the series. As you’ll see in a moment Azul: Summer Pavilion is closer to the original game again, but has its own new twists. For better or for worse? We’ll see. One thing outside of the game mechanisms sets this new Azul game apart from its two predecessors: You’ll create a mosaic that didn’t exist in the real world. King Manuel I died before work started on the pavilion he envisioned and the project was scrapped.

Making the mosaic that never was – How to play Azul: Summer Pavilion

Like all Azul games Summer Pavilion is a set collection and mosaic building game that gets much of its appeal from the way you gather tiles for your mosaic. That mechanism is mostly unchanged since the first Azul.

You have a number of factory displays on the table from which you pick your tiles. Each round those displays are filled with four tiles a piece. When it’s your turn you pick one display and one tile color and take all tiles of that color from the display. The remaining tiles you place in a pile between the displays. When there are tiles in the pile you can pick the pile instead of a display and pick all tiles of one color from there. Potentially you can take more tiles at once from there, but you mostly find the tiles there that no one wanted. The first player to do take tiles from the reject pile also becomes the first player for the next round.

There are two new rules for picking tiles in Summer Pavilion. One, you don’t immediately place the tiles on your player board. You just keep them around for now, placement is a second phase after all tiles for this round have been picked. Two, one tile color is wild each round. When picking tiles you can never pick the wild ones. Instead, when you pick tiles from a display or the reject pile you pick up a wild tile from the same place as well, if there are any.

When the last tile has found an owner you start phase two, placing your tiles on your player board. Taking turns again, you place tiles one by one on your player board. That board has six stars in the six tile colors, and only matching tiles may be placed there. Each star has six spaces, numbered from one to six. Placing a tile on a space costs that many tiles in total. To place a tile on a four, for instance, you need the one tile you want to place and three more tiles that you discard to bring the total up to four. These extra tiles also have to be of the right color, or they may be wild. The tile you end up placing on the board can not be wild. In the center, between the six stars, is a seventh one without a color. This star can only have one tile of each color, but otherwise works like the rest.

Why do we place tiles, though? For points, of course! Whenever you place a tile you immediately score a point, plus one point for each tile adjacent to that one. Beyond that there are many bonus points to score at the end of the game. Each completed star is worth from twelve to twenty points, depending on its color. You also score from four to sixteen points if you covered all spaces numbered one, two, three, or four.

There is one more thing that’s new in Summer Pavilion, and it’s a game changer. Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Between and around the stars are spaces showing pillars, statues, and windows. When you’ve covered all the spaces surrounding one of those features you may pick tiles from the bonus flower on the scoring board. That’s super useful because you’re not only getting more tiles, you can pick the color you need right now and still use it in this phase. Surrounding a window is expensive, it lies between the five and six of a color, but three extra tiles, no questions asked. That can make all the difference.

Why build it if the king is dead? Our Verdict

Summer Pavilion is roughly two thirds the same as vanilla Azul. Picking tiles is very similar and the mechanism is still just as interesting. Needing extra tiles to place just one is familiar. Scoring points for adjacent tiles and bonus points for completing areas is what we expect. Everything that worked in Azul still works in Summer Pavilion. That’s no real surprise. What about the new stuff?

The changing wild color adds an interesting layer of strategy, but not only in the way you might think. Sure, having wildcards to use when you need them is cool. It’s even cooler when you plan ahead and collect next round’s wild color while it’s not annoying to get – the four tiles you can take into the next round can make a huge difference. But one thing that’s easy to overlook is that the last round will also have a wild color – red, because the order doesn’t change – and still needing a few of those to complete a bonus can be a giant pain in your chair warming organ. Don’t be like me. Remember to complete your reds by round five.

Bringing us to one change from Azul I don’t enjoy: a game now always lasts six rounds so each color is wild once. I always enjoyed ending a game sooner than the other players expected or extending it for a round longer than they thought to mess with their strategy. That option is gone.

But it’s the biggest difference between Azul and Summer Pavilion, the bonus tiles for surrounding special spaces, that will likely make or break the game for you. Everyone knows which tiles are on the bonus flower right now, and anyone who pays attention to the other players knows which tiles they would want. That opens new avenues to interact with the other players and will force you to adjust your strategy. Picking that one tile you know your opponent needs at a crucial moment is satisfying for you and potentially devastating for them, but to pull it off you really have to plan ahead and be able to get that tile at the right time. It’s a beautiful way to make Summer Pavilion even more interactive than Azul, but the price is some of Azul‘s beautiful simplicity. Summer Pavilion is more strategically complex, and turns may take a bit longer than you’re used to while everyone figures out what everyone else might be able to do.

That doesn’t make Summer Pavilion better or worse than Azul, but I think it is the biggest difference you should be aware of. It also answers the question you’re probably all asking: If I have Azul, and enjoy it, is Summer Pavilion a worthy investment? If you like Azul for its simplicity and low downtime, then maybe not. However, if you like Azul but want a bit more complexity then Summer Pavilion is a game you should look at.

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