Reviewed by Herb Levy

AZUL: STAINED GLASS OF SINTRA (Next Move Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; $39.99)


What do you do when you manage to create a game that has received both critical and commercial success? If you are Michael Kiesling, you come up with a sequel of sorts, something that manages to capture the feel of the original but adds something new to give it an identify of its own. And that is what has happened with Azul (featured in the Winter 2018 Gamers Alliance Report) as Kiesling has come up with a “second act”: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.

Once again, players are devotees of the art of glasswork and the large square box holds 100 game pieces (the “glass”) in five colors. Each player has their own palace board along with 8 pattern strips, shuffled and placed above that board. Everyone has a “glazier” (meeple) in their chosen color which begins above the leftmost pattern strip. There is a communal scoring board where each player puts a marker on 0 on the perimeter scoring track and one on the “broken glass track” found in the center of the scoring board.  One of each color tile (glass) is randomly put on spaces indicating rounds II through VI. A final tile is drawn and occupies round I. Remaining glass tiles go into a large bag. Four of these will be blindly drawn and placed on circular cards (“Factories”), the number in play depending on the number of players. A cardboard “tower” is positioned on the side.

Starting with the first player (“The last player to clean a window”!), players may do one of two things. Advance a pattern OR move your glazier back to the leftmost pattern strip. 

Advancing a pattern involves selecting glass from the center of the play area and filling in matching spaces on the pattern strips. As in the original Azul, ALL pieces of a chosen color must be taken, either from one of the circular “factories” (in which case, unchosen tiles move into the center of that area) or from the center area. (If you are the first to take tiles from the center, you receive the first player token but also suffer minus 1 point to your score!) These pieces must then be placed on ONE of that player’s pattern strip, matching the color of the spaces on that strip. That player’s glazier is moved so that it is now situated above that strip. Any tiles that cannot be placed are tossed into the tower and the player’s scoring marker on the broken glass track goes up one space per unplaced (aka “broken”) glass tile. (Two spaces found on one of each player’s pattern strips is colored dark gray. These spaces are “wild” and can accommodate any color.) If that pattern strip is now filled, it will score. 

Players score 1 bonus point for each tile in the completed strip matching the tile of that round. In addition, the points found on the bottom of that strip PLUS points at the bottom of strips to the right that have already been completed are added together for additional scoring. One of the tiles of that strip moves to the bottom and occupies one of the two spaces below it with remaining tiles tossed into the tower. If this is the first time that strip has been finished, it is now flipped over to its opposite side, ready to be completed again. If this is the second time completed, that strip is removed from play. In either case, the glazier remains above that strip. 

Rather than choosing tiles, a player may simply move his glazier from the position it occupies to the farthest left position in his display.  This is essential because tiles may only be placed either on strips either that have the glazier on top or one to which the glazier can advance. You are NOT allowed to go back and place tiles.

Once all tiles have been chosen from the play area, the first player reseeds the factories with four new tiles drawn from the bag. (If the bag runs out, tiles in the tower are tossed into the bag with needed tiles drawn from the newly refilled bag.)

At the end of six rounds, final scoring occurs. Players score 1 point for every 3 tiles remaining on their boards. Points are lost for their positions on the “broken glass track”. A final bonus scoring, depending on whether side A or side B is used, generates more points. 

Side A bonus scoring revolves around four “ornaments” found on the bottom of the board and the frame spaces surrounding them. If you have only one tile in one of those frames, no bonus is scored. But two will score 3 points, 3 will score 6 and 4 will score an additional 10 points. Side B counts how many complete frames have been done (where both the top and bottom spaces of a strip are filled) and multiplies that by the number of a single color chosen that appears on the bottom. (So, if four windows have been completed and you have five orange tiles at the bottom, a player will score another 20 points!)

The player with the highest total wins! (If tied, the player with the fewest broken glass pieces – as shown on the broken glass track) wins the tie! Still tied? Then victory is shared!

The tactile quality of the game is strong: strong colors and a nice feel to those colored tiles. This helps attract not only gamers but non-gaming friends to the table. Although some might have a little difficulty distinguishing between colors, factory disks have a flip side so tiles can be arranged in sections by color to help minimize that problem. While the main focus is on getting tiles onto the proper positions on your pattern strips, maneuvering your glazier can be a key component to your strategy. By flooding the center area with a host of tiles of a particular color, you can set up a situation where an opponent MUST take those tiles (while you, instead of taking tiles, move your glazier to the far left instead). Your competitor must now suffer the consequences of a lot of broken glass! This results in the loss of a lot of points. In this game where scores tend to be close, such a maneuver, in one fell swoop, may not decide who may win but who will assuredly determine who will lose! Whether to use Side A or Side B is a matter of taste (although, in our playings, Side A  scoring is our preference). 

Lightning never strikes in the same place twice. (Mainly because once it strikes, that place no longer exists!) Coming up with a game that captures the feel of an original and yet brings something new to the table is just as difficult. And that’s what makes Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra so striking. In and of itself, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is a solid and pleasing design. But that’s only part of it. It manages to offer a strong variant to an established and successful game that is a worthy game in its own right! The question most asked by gamers who discover both of these games is a valid one: Is it worth owning both? Although both games tend to “scratch the same itch”, their differences are strong enough – and satisfying enough – to say that both games are worthy of spots on your gaming shelf! – – – – – – – –  Herb Levy

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