Azul: The Queen's Gardens is new, but the basic idea of ​​the game is similar to its predecessors. But it's not a copy: The latest offshoot of the series has unique selling points, but also relies on the tried and tested. All in all, it is precisely this combination that makes the game. 

I have that in an older post first three Azul parts connected with each other. In this post, the focus is entirely on the latest installment, Azul: The Queen's Gardens. How is the latest part doing? What's new, what's the same? Is the Azul line running out of steam?

A new order from King Manuel I. 

In the previous game series, you decorated a beautiful wall mosaic for King Manuel I, designed the stained glass windows of a palace and built a summer pavilion. In this part we are building a beautiful garden for the king's wife, Queen Maria of Aragon. This garden is still one of the most famous in Portugal. Like the previous parts, the game was published by Michael Kiesling and by Plan B Games. The game principle is still as tile placement (Eng. laying game). To collect points, you have to combine stones with trees, plants and animals.

The board game unfolds its greatest attraction in the classic duel situation. The two-player game is convincing and "to the point". Sometimes, however, actions are to be foreseen. There's something more unexpected when you tackle Azul: Queen's Gardens in threes. The group composition can be as colorful as the laying stones of the entire Azul series always were and are again this time. Azul: The Gardens of the Queen is easy to learn, the basic rules can be mastered in a short time. However, this is not a guarantee for success, because it will take a few games before you can actually implement strategic moves on the game board. This may also be due to the rules themselves, which are anything but optimal for the intended target group. 

But how do I build a magnificent garden and what do I have to consider? Taking the stones is the easiest. Similar to what you know from the other parts, you can take several stones from the display. Either all stones with the same color (however, each symbol can appear only once) or all stones with the same shape (each color can only appear once). As soon as at least one stone has been taken from the top garden tile, place it slightly offset with the remaining stones and place four new stones on the now top tile.

As a result, new stones are always added to the display and your selection increases. When a person takes the last stone from a garden tile, they turn it over. The front differs from the back in two aspects: On the one hand there is a pavilion in the middle, which, if it is completely rebuilt, brings you a joker stone. On the other hand, a stone is pre-printed, which is also used as such. When mooring, the respective price must be paid and the mooring rules must be observed.

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Azul: The Queen's Gardens, focus on the display, photo: Tim Nissel

Let's get back to the small stones. You collect these on your shelf until you want to place them. There are a few things to consider when placing. For one thing, you always have to pay the stone's cost if you want to equip it. How expensive it is, but is shown very well. There is a cost display in your garden and the frequency of the symbols on the stones also corresponds to the cost. The tree is alone on the stone and costs 1, the bird has two wings and costs 2, etc. The stone to be played is taken into account when paying; the tree is therefore free.

You learned the processes quickly, only then does the great fun begin with Azul: The Gardens of the Queen. The game with the game is now the focus and with it the urge to try constant optimization. It's more entertaining with the new part, mainly because of the higher strategic approach. Azul: Queen's Gardens requires significantly more thinking than its predecessors. At the same time, this also means that this offshoot - despite the rain tricks that are understandable at least for connoisseurs - is the most difficult of all. Azul: The Queen's Gardens is less door opener than the previous board games in the series and significantly less than the original Azul. What is motivating, however, is that 

Clever gardening

Again and again there are decision-making situations that make up part of the appeal of Azul: The Gardens of the Queen. You also have to take something into account when paying, because the stones you pay with must either all be the same color (but with different symbols) or have the same symbol (but with different colors). This can sometimes be very frustrating, since the expensive stones in particular are very difficult to place.

There are jokers and you can get more joker stones as the game progresses, but placing high-quality stones is not easy. If I have paid for the stone, I can place it. The stones that are not adjacent to any other stones are always without problems. You don't need to consider anything here. If you want to place stones next to each other, and that makes a lot of sense, then the stone must either: have the same color as the neighboring stone or have the same symbol as the neighboring stone.

In this way you form groups of colors and symbols. But beware: In each group no stone may appear twice! Not even if you later want to connect two groups with each other. So there are quite a few things to consider if you want to build a successful garden. 

The rules quickly show that Azul: Queen's Gardens cleverly shuffles tried and true tricks. The predecessors revolved around collecting patterns or colors, this time you have to do both. Basically, you could describe Azul: The Queen's Gardens as a consistent further development of the basic idea. Michael Kiesling has managed the feat of creating a kind of new gaming experience from known processes. If you had to keep one of all Azul board games, it would be this one. 

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King Manuel I had a commission for the most famous gardeners in Portugal. Photo: Nissel

New round, new scoring, new decisions

The Stained Glass Windows of Sinatra already had a mechanism for determining which stones gave bonus points each turn. The situation is similar with The Gardens of the Queen. However, the order here is fixed from the outset. After each round, you rotate the disc 90 degrees clockwise to show the current round's score. 

You get points for connected groups (stones that are adjacent) of the same color or the same symbol. While there is always only one point per stone for the color groups, the points for the stones are given on the board. For example, trees and birds give one point, butterflies two. Both ratings can also be combined with each other; in the first round, a blue tree is scored twice. In addition, you get another point for each pavilion in the garden. 

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Azul: The Gardens of the Queen also brings new things. Photo: Nissel

The final score is slightly different from the intermediate scores. The game board shows the order in which you score. However, only groups consisting of at least three stones are now counted. How many points the group is worth depends on the respective symbol. Trees give 1 point each, birds 2, butterflies 3, etc. Here, too, you can score stones several times, once in color groups and once in symbol groups. For groups consisting of 6 stones, there are an additional 6 bonus points. In addition, you get points and minus points for your camp. Jokers give you one point each, all other stones minus points according to their value. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. In the event of a tie, there are multiple winners. 

As is often the case with board games, the journey is the ultimate goal in Azul: The Queen's Gardens. Sure, it's about points, but it's all about how you manage the number of points you earn as efficiently as possible. 

Azul: The Queen's Garden is clearly the most complex of all Azul board games, but the rules are quickly internalized. This quickly creates a smooth game. At the same time, however, the following applies: Due to the many decisions and their far-reaching consequences, it can sometimes become dead quiet at the gaming table. In a competitive board game, this almost leads to uncanny situations. The players are so lost in thought that any parlor game feeling goes away. A shortcoming? Not at all. Azul: The Queen's Gardens is as entertaining as all of its predecessors combined. It's the essence of the fun of a whole series.    

Infobox

Number of people: 2 to 4
Age: from 10 years
Playing time: 40 to 60 minutes
Difficulty: easy
Long-term motivation: medium
Genre: strategy game
Sub-genre: placement game
Core mechanisms: tile placement, pattern building, set collection

Author: Michael Kiesling
Design: Chris Quilliams
Publisher: Next Move Games
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2021
Language: German
Cost: 36 Euro

Summary

The basic idea of ​​Azul also runs through the fourth part of the series: You take stones according to the same mechanics and place them on you appropriately. You have to pay attention to both the position and the type of stone. The same basic mechanics make it easy for fans of the series to get into the game, but there are also numerous innovations, so that each game in the series continues to offer its own unique appeal. 

Since there is only a small selection of stones on the manufactory tiles, you have to adapt your strategy every round. It can be frustrating when you don't get the stones you need, but the variety makes it very exciting. With the previous Azul parts, you could always see all available stones and plan something in advance (with the risk of someone else taking the stones).

But who is Azul: The Queen's Gardens at the end suitable for? This question is not so easy to answer. In terms of complexity, the game stands out noticeably from the previous Azul parts. Although Azul was never a game without many rules, they were rules that could be internalized quickly and were therefore also ideal for people who have little contact with games. Still, Azul had its own appeal with its game mechanics and was never just an entry-level game. The Gardens of the Queen stands out noticeably from the previous games - even if it is of course not a connoisseur's game. It's a more challenging Azul than before and requires more thought when playing.

As a result, the game manages to change in such a way that you don't say "Oh, another Azul game", but recognize the peculiarities of the game. Game series sometimes run the risk of packing a kind of game mechanic into different games and not innovating enough to keep up the appeal. After three pieces of Azul I also saw this danger, but I now think that this risk has been successfully countered. 

Last updated on 9.02.2023/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API