A BURST OF SUNSHINE… MY REVIEW OF AZUL SUMMER PAVILION
30 - 45 min
Azul took the board gaming community by storm in 2017 when it brought accessible and gorgeous abstract puzzle solving gameplay to the masses. Since then we seem to be in a pattern of yearly Azul releases. 2018 brought Stained Glass of Sintra and 2019 saw the release of Summer Pavilion. I picked up Summer Pavilion this week and found it to be an excellent game, even surpassing that of the original Azul. In this article I’ll compare the 2017 and 2019 releases so that you can decide if this might be a version you prefer as well. Perhaps one day I will try Stained Glass of Sintra but watching gameplay did not hook or excite me. It just took one video of Summer Pavilion to think, “This looks great, I immediately see why I would want to play this”.
Original Azul had a very weird feel to its design. It reminded me of decorating the backsplash in my Grandmother’s kitchen. While old or classic, one cannot deny the beauty in its patterns. Similar to the fantastically visualized game Lisboa this classic style works in its own distinct way and produces an absolutely stunning end result. The colors may be less vibrant but that is necessary for the congruity of the artistic vision.
Summer Pavilion stands out as more vibrant and flashy. I love colors so Summer Pavilion is the game that I easily prefer. The colored diamond and star patterns jump out to me more than the square lines of Azul Classic. The one area where Summer Pavilion disappoints me is the patterns on the pieces; they are not anywhere near as intricate. I would have very much liked to see the same full piece patterns that the original game had.
For me the bright colors and interesting star shapes beat out the clean classic look of Azul 2017, but your preferences may vary.
Summer Pavilion is both more strategic and more forgiving when it comes to its gameplay. The drafting rules are nearly identical in both versions but in Summer Pavilion, you keep your pieces in front of you before doing any placing. This avoids situations where you could be stuck with pieces you can’t place and then rack up a massive amount of negative points. Summer Pavilion also allows you to keep four pieces from the previous round to carry over to the next round. The cost of placing is the same but now you can place anywhere you like as long as you have the appropriate amount of tiles.
The more forgiving nature might make it seem like the newest Azul is more casual, however, a number of additional rules increase the complexity of the decision-making. Completing stars grants bonus points similar to rows or columns, but not ever star is worth the same amount of points. Each round will also have a “Wild” tile color that can be used to pay the cost of tile laying. Planning to carry over tiles that will be wild in the next round is a key consideration to make. Finally, the board has Columns, Statues and Windows in it that when completely enclosed allow the player to take one, two or three pieces respectively from a central area of tiles.
While the drafting portion of the game is more forgiving, the placement component has more complexity. Some people will miss the tension of the original tile drafting and the greater control they have in influencing other player’s choices. Others will appreciate the added depth in deciding where to place their tiles and the ability to make more consistent long term plans. Do I focus on this star to enclose bonus spaces for short boosts in tile acquisition? If I do, I may get fewer points from lower value stars. Do I focus on end game points for higher value stars above all else? There are more decisions to be made in every turn of Summer Pavilion.
Only you can know what version is best for you. I’m impressed that both Azul 2017 and Summer Pavilion can feel distinct enough that I’m actually happy I own both. Through the years I will continue to play both but for me personally, I enjoy the beautiful colors and extra depth in the tile laying decisions that Summer Pavilion offers.