24th Dec2018

‘Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

azul-stained-box

One of the surprise hits of the Essen Spiel show in 2017 was the relatively unheard of Azul, which went on to take the board gaming world by storm. Azul was sold out and restocked several times in the run up to Christmas and it has remained one of the most popular gateway games, slotting in perfectly alongside staples like Catan and Ticket to Ride. This year, Azul’s sequel, Stained Glass of Sintra, had nowhere to hide thanks to an expectant fan base – but is it as good as its predecessor? Let’s find out.

The concept of Stained Glass of Sintra is very similar to that of the original Azul. The players will take turns to simply draw tiles from a number of “factories” in the middle of the table, which they will then place onto their own player board. One look at those boards however and you’ll realise immediately that Stained Glass of Sintra is a very different beast from this point forwards. For starters, the game features double sided, modular board pieces that will be placed randomly at setup. There’s another twist here though, which is the inclusion of a glazier pawn who sits atop each of the fully populated player boards. The glazier is there to ensure that players can only place tiles on certain rows – resetting the position of this will cost a player their whole turn, which is a huge game changer compared to the original game.

Winding back a bit, there is more to Stained Glass of Sintra than simply taking whatever tiles you want and placing them on your board, even if it is the same basic gameplay as the original. The strategy comes from deciding which factory to pick tiles from and when. In both Azul and Stained Glass of Sintra, players can only take tiles of on colour from one factory, which forces the other tiles to move into the middle of the table alongside a first player tile.

At some point, someone will have to pick their tiles (again all of any one colour) from those in the centre. In doing so, she will also take the first player token for the next round and also move her marker down a broken glass track that will deduct points during endgame scoring, depending on where her final position. Fret not though, because just beside the broken glass track, there’s also a bonus tile for each round, each of which will provide bonus points when tiles of the matching colour are used to complete sections of the window.

And completing sections of the window is what will score points in Stained Glass of Sintra. Each section has five spaces for tiles and upon placing the last one, that section of window can be flipped over and one tile (of the player’s choice) will drop down onto the base tile that sits snugly below the modular strips of window. The rear of each strip is different, so each time a flip occurs, the game changes slightly. When a strip of window is completed for the second time, a second piece is moved down, but this time, the strip is removed and can just be skipped over by the glazier pawn.

Despite the marginally more complex setup and ruleset in comparison to the original, this is still very simple to play and can be picked up within literally seconds of seeing it laid out. Some reviews have commented on how similar the two games are and I guess I agree in some ways but not in others. The two games look very similar and the core tile drafting process is identical, but the introduction of the glazier and the way in which the player boards work in Stained Glass of Sintra make it feel very different to play.

This has the result of making Stained Glass of Sintra about ten percent more complex to learn and play than its older sibling, but probably much more complex to be good at. That’s not to say that this is in any way a heavy game by comparison to most, but it does require a bit more forethought and finesse in order to play well and to create winning strategies for. I welcome this and on balance, I prefer it to the original Azul, which I felt was a bit one dimensional after the initial charm wore off.

On that note, Stained Glass of Sintra is most certainly a better looking game overall than the first, even though the glass tiles are embossed with a pattern, rather than printed as they were in the first. The colour of the player boards, the tiles themselves and the overall presence of the art style is just preferable to me here, though I guess the minimalist style and iconic blue colouring of the original might appeal to some. Whether compared to the original game or not, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is a beautiful game in its own right and one that will never be frowned upon when laid out in play.

There’s definitely a question about whether or not it’s worth owning both of the Azul games, since the subtle differences between them are relatively hard to spot if you intend to play casually or infrequently. Those who really love the series and play the original still could probably add Azul: Stained Glass of Sintrato their collection and enjoy both of the games for what they are. Speaking about Stained Glass of Sintra specifically, I’d say that I enjoy the game more than the original thanks to that tiny bit of extra depth and the brighter theme. As a result, it’s a highly recommended gateway game for me.

**** 4/5

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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