So, you like to play Azul, the beautiful abstract board game designed by Michael Kiesling, but struggle to win more often than not.
Maybe you see the board’s 5×5 grid as a bit overwhelming and don’t know where to start building your next masterpiece.
Should I focus on a specific color to get the 5-of-a-kind bonus? Should I get the first player token even if it cost me some points? How should I place my tiles to optimize my score?
If you find yourself asking those questions at the start of each Azul game, don’t worry anymore: we’ve prepared this guide for you to play Azul like a pro from now on.
In this guide, we’ve got you covered with the best Azul strategies to increase your chances of winning the game and impress your friends every time.
Once you read these tips, you will know how to:
- Approach the game correctly
- Optimize your score
- Place your tiles in the correct order
- Get the most of the end-of-game bonuses
- And more!
But first, let’s start with some basics:
- Azul Board Game: The Basics
- Azul Strategies: Main Considerations
- Our Top 8 Azul Strategies
- Can you take a penalty point on purpose?
- Can you have multiple rows with the same tile type?
- Can you split the tiles you take from the Factory into two rows that need the same color?
- How many tiles of the same color are allowed to be in one Factory?
- Can I start a new row with a color that is not completed yet in another floor line?
- Can you scrap a row from a previous turn?
- Ok, Now What?
Azul Board Game: The Basics
Azul is an abstract strategy game where you score points by placing colored tiles, reminiscent of the beautiful “azulejos” present in southern Spain palaces from centuries ago.
Each player gets a playing board where they must gather and place the tiles taken from the tile factories in the center of the table.
The goal is to be the player with the most points at the end of the game. The game ends after the round in which at least one player has completed a horizontal line of 5 consecutive tiles on her wall.
After each round, the score is determined by the tiles you get to move over to your wall, and their relative position to other tiles you have already placed before.
An individual tile scores you 1 point, but if other adjacent tiles are placed on the board from previous rounds, the total score of that move will increase according to the total adjacent tiles.
Additional points will be awarded at the end of the game depending on some milestones you may achieve, such as filling the 5 tiles of a row or column, or placing 5 tiles of matching design on the board.
With this in mind, let’s check some considerations before we go all-in with our strategies.
Azul Strategies: Main Considerations
- As the game ends when all 5 tiles of one player’s row have been completed, an Azul game usually lasts 5 rounds.
- There are a total of 20 tiles in each design. This will let you make assumptions along the way about how many tiles are remaining in the game.
- The scoring system is designed to compound your points as you place new tiles. Clustering tiles scores you more points in the long run rather than individual/isolated ones.
- There are three endgame bonuses. Although the 5-of-a-kind bonus provides more points, it requires many individual pieces to be placed to get it. Aim for the column bonus instead.
- The first player token costs you 1 point, but it pays to be the first. However, don’t do poor moves just to be the first player.
Now, let’s move on to our top Azul strategies.
Our Top 8 Azul Strategies
1. Be aware of your opponent’s board
Always look at your opponent’s board and anticipate which tiles they could grab this round.
If your opponent doesn’t need a tile but you do, you can leave it for later and focus on the ones that your opponents need.
Know that your opponents are also looking at your board, so make sure to hit first whenever possible.
2. Force your opponents to lose points
Especially on the later plays of each round when there are fewer tiles left, try to leave no other choices to your opponents than taking tiles they do not need and that will go to the tile floor.
Remember that the points your opponents lose are points indirectly given to you, especially in a 2-player game.
Look for the rows that are already being filled by them and which type of tiles would do the most harm to them as they must drop them to the tile floor.
Then leave them no choice but to grab these tiles.
3. Aim for the first player token
As we mentioned earlier, it pays to be first. If this tile makes decreases your score, it is because it is balancing the game.
There is a big advantage in being first. You could either grab large groups of tiles to quickly fill your board or grab scarce colors this round before your opponents do.
However, don’t take this as a must-do all the rounds. You must take into account the tiles you could be sacrificing just to get the first player tile.
Don’t do poor moves just to be the first player.
4. Bonus points: Columns over 5-of-a-kind
Although the 5-of-a-kind bonus brings you 10 points and the columns bonus only 7, columns (especially if you build the third one) allow you to chain more tiles as you place them on the board and score more points in the long run.
Aim for building the middle column first and growing outward from then.
Aiming for 5-of-a-kind might bring you 10 points in the endgame, but the tiles will be scattered and you will miss opportunities to score more points by chaining tiles.
5. Approach the game correctly
Avoid scattering tiles all over the board just because they were an easy grab from the tile factory.
The way you want to approach the game is to aim for placing tiles in the first three rows every round.
Do this by placing your first tiles in the top center of the board and expanding from there.
Prioritize building vertically to achieve one or two full-column bonuses at the end of the game, without forgetting to build horizontally.
Aim that the columns you build are back-to-back to increase your scoring, preferably columns 2-3 or 3-4.
If you do this right, you should end the game with the first three rows completed, as well as with two columns.
And not only that but this way you should also get a 5-of-a-kind bonus either with the black tile or the snowflake light-blue tile.
That’s a lot of points.
6. Look for chains rather than individual pieces
Remember, Azul’s scoring system is designed to compound your points if you place the tiles next to each other.
Aim at building a tree and branching out, guaranteeing each new tile placed scores the most possible points.
It is preferred to skip on a tile that may be seen as an easy grab if it won’t support your main goal of building chains.
7. Keep track of the remaining tiles
Always think of the remaining tiles in the bag.
The total remaining tiles of each color will always be 20 minus the ones you see right now on the game, minus the ones discarded after each round, although the latter will eventually go back in the bag once it is depleted.
Having an estimate of the remaining tiles will provide you the advantage of planning your strategy accordingly and of knowing which tiles will be more demanded in the next rounds.
Avoid gathering the colors that may be scarce in the future to build your fourth or fifth row, as this could mean you will face two blocked rows and may lose many points until these tiles come out later.
8. Take math into consideration
You must be aware of how many pieces you’ll need to build your wall, and how many will be available during the game. Don’t worry, it’s just some basic math so you can plan your next moves.
Depending on the number of players, a certain number of tiles will be available for the taking:
- 2 Players: 5 Factories x 4 Tiles per Factory = 20 tiles per round, an average of 10 tiles per player.
- 3 Players: 7 Factories, 28 tiles, 9.3 tiles per player per round.
- 4 Players: 9 Factories, 36 tiles, 9 tiles per player per round.
This means, on average, each player should get between 45 to 50 tiles during the normal 5-round game.
If you follow the strategies provided in this guide, you should need an average of 48 tiles to complete:
- Row 1: 5 tiles
- Row 2: 10 tiles
- Row 3: 15 tiles
- 2 tiles on row 4: 8 tiles
- 2 tiles on row 5: 10 tiles
This shall give you an approach to making the most of the tiles you play each turn.
Can you take a penalty point on purpose?
Yes, the rules allow you to place any unwanted tiles picked from the Factory into the tile floor.
Can you have multiple rows with the same tile type?
Yes, there is no rule preventing you to do that.
Can you split the tiles you take from the Factory into two rows that need the same color?
No, you must place all the tiles in a single row. If there is not enough room for all in that row, you must throw the excess into the tile floor.
How many tiles of the same color are allowed to be in one Factory?
There is no limit to the number of same-colored tiles in one Factory. This is random and could be even the four of them.
Can I start a new row with a color that is not completed yet in another floor line?
Yes, you can start new rows even if you have that color in another row already.
Can you scrap a row from a previous turn?
No, once you start a row you must stick to that row’s color until you can complete it and move the tile into your wall.
Ok, Now What?
Now that you know these advanced Azul strategies, it’s time to go and beat your friends during your next game night.
Always keep in mind these tips to optimize your score and get the most out of each tile you take from the Factories.
Azul is a great game for having a nice time either with family or friends, even if they are beginners in the board game community.
But if you want to know our top picks to introduce new players to this awesome hobby, you must check our guide on the Top 5 Gateway Games to Start Your Journey.
Finally, although it is great to play Azul with two other players, check our top picks for games that are better suited for three players:
- Best 3 Player Board Games – Our Top 7 Light Games
- Best 3 Player Board Games – Our Top 7 Medium Games
- Best 3 Player Board Games – Our Top 7 Advanced Games
Last Updated on 18/09/2022 by ARU