Updated: Dec 26, 2019
The original game of Azul was one of last year's biggest hits. It has sold in huge numbers and it came as no surprise that it won the coveted 2018 Spiel des Jahres award. It was equally unsurprising, therefore, that designer Michael Kiesling and publisher Next Move Games would want to build on their success by issuing a sequel.
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is a standalone game. It's not an expansion, you don't need the original version of Azul in order to play it and, indeed, there is not at present any way of combining the two games together (as can theoretically be done with Next Move/Plan B's Century games). Whereas, in the original game, players were notionally assembling decorative wall tile designs, here players are notionally building colourful stained glass windows. Of course, both versions of Azul are essentially abstract games but the attractive art (by Chris Quilliams), the notional theme and the heft of the satisfyingly solid tiles are all strong hooks that add to both games' huge table appeal.
If the tiles in the original game were reminiscent of Opal Fruit (Starburst) sweets, then the translucent 'glass' tiles of the new game will put older players in mind of the Spangles of their youth. The core mechanic of taking tiles to place on your individual board is identical in both games. What differs is the players' individual boards and the more complex ways in which points are scored in Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.
Individual boards in the new game are modular, made up of double-sided strips onto which the selected coloured 'glass' is placed. Players have a pawn that is moved along the board and glass can only be played to columns that are immediately below or to the right of the pawn. If played to the right, then the pawn moves to that column. A player can use their turn to reset the pawn to the far left, foregoing any tile selection for that turn. That can also prove to be a way of achieving a tactical advantage, avoiding a penalty-scoring tile pick.
The change in the way tiles are deployed offers notably more scope for strategy than the original game, and the variable options for scoring are a significant step up in terms of complexity. That doesn't mean that Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is an overly complicated game, just that it is less of a gateway game than its predecessor. The upshot is that players progressing from Azul to Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra will feel they are moving on to a 'harder' game. You can expect most players to find this a satisfying progression.
Next Move has provided a proper First Player tile in this game (the cardboard token originally supplied with Azul was acknowledged to be a letdown) and a central scoring board replaces the individual score boards of the original. This is undoubtedly an improvement, though it's a pity that this board isn't double-layered with indentations for the scoring cubes. It's a shame too that players are still selecting tiles from cardboard mats that look and feel like beer coaster. At Board's Eye View, we'd have like to have seen these upgraded to neoprene mats. Next Move/Plan B have produced neoprene mats as add-ons for some of their other games so perhaps they'll consider producing sets of neoprene coasters as an option for Azul and Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.
Minor production niggles aside, if you are among Azul's legion of fans and you are in the mood for an alternative version of the game which offers more of a strategic challenge, then Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra could be just what you are looking for.