Everybody needs a family weight abstract strategy game, one with a little bite, in their collection. If you were to twist my arm and ask me which I recommend I would, without hesitation, say Azul. It is quick, interactive, and always presents a challenging puzzle. It’s a game that I’ve had so much success teaching to others that it is a go to when introducing others to the hobby. But if you were to ask me, with my arm pinned behind my back, which version of Azul I recommended most? That’s when things would get interesting.
As stated earlier, I adore Azul. It was one of this games that was love at first sight. After my fist play of my buddy’s copy I knew it needed to be in my collection. There was something about the chunky pieces. The tense drafting of the tiles. The continually increasing difficulty. All of it just comes together in the perfect little package. Many other beautiful abstract strategy games have been put through the ringer, including Dragon Castle, Potion Explosion, and Santorini. But all came up short when compared to the simplicity and classic feel of Azul. That was until I got a chance to play it’s younger brother, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.
At first I was hesitant to give the game a go. I didn’t need a new Azul, I loved and was very happy with the original. If it was better than the original then wouldn’t they have just published it first, instead of the original. It was the same case with the White Cheddar Cheese-Its. The regular ones are delicious, one of my favorite shacks. But the white cheddar ones just taste off when compared to the classics. But I was willing to try it if the opportunity presented itself. Sure enough that chance didn’t come long after the new editions release. I didn’t have very high expectations going into the game, but came away having really enjoyed my play.
Now I wasn’t quite sure where this enjoyment stemmed from. Was it because the game itself is just as good as Azul? Or did the enjoyment come solely because it was similar to Azul? I had to give it a second play before I could come to any sort of conclusion. And what might that conclusion be? Well, spoiler alert, if you were to have a look at the shelves housing my board game collection you’d find two beautiful abstract games sitting right next to each other. Which is better though? For me? I’m still not sure. For you? Let’s take a closer look at the two and you can decide for yourself.
Both games boast similarly abstract settings, each putting you in the shoes of a master artisan. I don’t personally have a preference to neither tiling a mosaic or creating a stained glass window. I do appreciate though that neither is about farming or trading in the Mediterranean.
Stunning. Both games have a real tactile and visual appeal. The original Azul will feature more muted reds and blues while it’s younger brother features much brighter colors. As far as the pieces go, I think I lean slightly towards the feel, and sound, of the ceramic tiles. The ones from Stained Glass, while beautiful, just feel a little cheap in comparison.
Both games use the same drafting mechanism. There will be various piles from which players will choose at most a single color of tile, placing all remaining tiles into the center of the remaining piles. Players then face some sort of placement restrictions, depending on the row or column and previous placed colors. This can often times result in negative points, if not careful. All of this holds true in both games. The only real difference is the ‘reset’ turn available in Stained Glass of Sintra. Players have a glazier that must move across their window panes, limiting which columns are available for placement. Players have the option instead of taking tiles to reset their glazier to the front of their window. This, used at the opportune time, has the possibility to save you from taking a lot of negative points. But, used at an inopportune time, it can become a very wasteful and inefficient turn.
From the outside looking in it would seem Azul is going to be a similar game every time you play. Truth is it will be very similar every time you play. The heart of the game is the ever changing puzzle involving the tiles and the actions of the players around you. Another abstract game, Chess, also thrives off of the decisions required based on the actions of your opponent. There is a backside of the player board with a slightly more free feeling, but I am still uncertain on how I feel about it.
The stained glass version immediately has more variability in it’s setup based on how each window pane is flipped and ordered. You would be hard pressed play two games featuring the same exact set-up. With that said, I don’t know if this really makes that big of a difference. In the end the decisions each player faces will be dictated more by the available tiles and the actions of their opponents. Some might even argue that it could introduce an advantage to some players. I am also a bigger fan of the two different scoring sides of the player board, with one focusing on locations and the other on colors.
Both games are great with only slight differences. But these difference do add a fair to the overall feel of each game. Azul feels much more classic, the scoring and turns are more straight forward. Stained Glass at first feels like a friendly game with how forgiving the glazier is, but quickly becomes overexploited, crippling inexperienced gamers. I feel bad falling in with the masses and succumbing to the cult of the new, but after writing this up it would seem I am slowly finding myself drawn more and more to Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra for it’s added layers of player agency and variability. Do I recommend this game for everyone? No, of course not. But hopefully you have a little better of an idea as to which of these two games you should seek out first. Either way, I willing to wager one of these finds its way into your collection sooner or later after giving them a try.