Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Dual/Duel Review: Azul vs. Sagrada

Dual/Duel reviews are an online smackdown between two books, movies, games, podcasts, etc. etc. that I think are interesting to compare, contrast, and comment on. For a list of other dual/duel reviews, go here.

While at Dice Tower Con 2018, I wanted to try two similar games. Azul is a new game where players put together a tile mosaic in the medieval Muslim style. Sagrada is an older game (like a little over a year older, so not that old at all) where players put together stained-glass windows in the medieval Gothic style. Both are similar, but is one better? Are they different enough to justify owning both? Answers below...


Azul is a tile-collection and -allocation game where players take turns collecting sets of matching tiles and adding them to their individual player boards. The trick is that only one type of tile (red, blue, black pattern, etc.) can go on one row in a round, each row having one to five spaces for tiles. At the end of the round, when all the tiles have been drawn and placed, one tile from each completed row is moved over to the right, the rest go back into a drawing pool. Uncompleted rows keep their tiles into the next round. The round is scored for the number of tiles horizontally and vertically touching the placed tile.

Azul, individual game board--the bottom row was incomplete

If a player draws tiles and can't place them (or there isn't enough space), the extra tiles go in the row at the bottom of the board and count as negative points for the round. Once someone completes a row on the right hand side with all five different colors, the game ends. Final scoring includes bonuses for complete rows, complete columns, and for each set of five matching colors. For example, on the above board, I scored for the first column and for the yellow tiles with the red pattern on them.

The game plays quickly and is less complicated than it sounds. It can be frustrating to get locked out of tiles you need during a round, but rounds end quickly so there's always a chance of getting a better draw next round. The abstract mechanics of play don't really feel like you are an artisan working on a tile layout. The challenge is to set up patterns where tile placements score ever more points and complete the end game bonuses. The game delivers a blend of strategies and tactics, making a satisfying experience.

I played a "giant" version of Azul which doesn't seem much bigger in the pictures


Sagrada is a dice-rolling, -drafting, and -placement game where players take one translucent die at a time and try to build a stained glass window. Each player selects one of four stained glass windows to complete in the game. The windows are four-by-five grids of spaces that dice can be placed on. Each window has some colored places and some numbered places, so dice placed there have to match the color or number. The other blank spaces can have any other dice...except no two dice of the same color or same number can be placed orthogonally (up, down, left, right). Diagonals are okay. More difficult windows have more number/color spaces, but also provide more tokens to pay to use a tool. A set of tools (randomly drawn from a deck) give special powers, either by changing die numbers or moving already placed dice or whatever the specific tool says. Players draw individual secret goals (gaining points for all the pips on a certain color in the window) and some group goals are also drawn as scoring opportunities at the end of the game.

Board, secret goal, and leftover token

The start player draws several dice (two per player plus two extra) from a bag, rolls them, and then players chose one die at a time to place on their windows. The dice are selected "snake draft" style, with the first player choosing one die and other players choosing in order. The last player to select a die then chooses a second die. All the other players choose a second die in reverse order. So the first player gets the first choice and the last choice (with two dice left over, so there really is a last choice).

Dice are placed as they are drawn and must follow the rules of placement. After several rounds, the windows reach completion (though it is possible for a spot to remain empty if the wrong color or number is on the final die drawn) and scores are tallied based on the goals.

Another board and secret goal

I enjoyed the challenge of the game. Mostly it is multiplayer solitaire, though decisions can impact others indirectly. Each window has a unique set-up and some are more challenging than others. The more challenging ones provide more resources to use the tools, offsetting the difficulty somewhat. The components are beautiful and the end of the game is satisfying to me even if (when) I don't win. The result has always been satisfying (even if someone's result scored better).

Which game is better

Both games are arty and have great components (chunky resin tiles and translucent dice; colorful and functional playing boards). Both have good short-term tactics and long-term strategies. But the games do have differences.

  • Azul has one player board layout that everyone uses (though players can flip it over and use a blank board with a bunch of extra rules); Sagrada has a good variety of boards of varying difficulties. More experienced players can choose something more challenging while first-timers can pick easier boards, evening the playing field when there's a mix of experienced and inexperienced players. Plus to Sagrada.
  • Azul plays more quickly, easily under half an hour with focused players. Sagrada is more complicated and moves more slowly, but still clocks in around forty minutes. Plus to Azul.
  • Azul has scoring throughout the game which can be good in a tight game but also can be bad if one player is scoring a lot more each round or one player is performing very poorly. Sagrada leaves the scoring to the end, so there's less pressure on the players. Also, the secret goals can help swing the final score. Plus to Sagrada.
  • Azul just won the 2018 Spiel des Jahres, Germany's top board game award. Sagrada was not even nominated in 2017 when it came out. Plus to Azul.
  • Azul's theme of making an Moorish mosaic feels tacked on. Sagrada's dice placement and use of the tools gives a lot more thematic resonance. Plus to Sagrada.

Sagrada is the better game.

Are they different enough to justify owning both

Both games are visually appealing but in different ways. The mechanics are different. The randomness (drawing tiles from a bag vs. drawing and rolling dice from a bag) is different enough to give each game a different feel. If you can afford it (money-wise, storage-space-wise, and play-time-wise), I think it is okay to own both. For me, I'd rather have Sagrada than Azul, though both are awesome games.




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