Board Game Review: Azul Summer Pavilion, the latest and best tile drafting game so far from Next Move Games

Here at Tabletop Bellhop, we are huge fans and advocates for the tile drafting game Azul. Since the original Azul came out, and became one of our favourite gateway games, we’ve been keeping up with each new release in the series. Azul Summer Pavilion is the third game with the Azul name and it might be the best yet.

Return to Portugal in the latest tile drafting game from Michael Kisling and Next Move Games. Summer Pavilion has some significant changes form Stained Glass of Sintra and the original Azul boardgame.

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What you get with Azul Summer Pavilion

The third version of Azul, Azul: Summer Pavilion, was designed by Michael Kiesling and features art from Chris Quilliams. Note this is the same designer as the last two Azul games but a new artist. It has been published in 2019 by a number of publishers around the world with my Canadian copy coming from Next Move Games. 

To see for yourself what you get with this game be sure to check out our Azul: Summer Pavilion unboxing video on YouTube.

The first thing you will find in the book is the rules. These are presented on a three-fold, two-sided, pamphlet that’s the size of the box. The rules themselves take up five of the six pages.  This pamphlet is glossy and full colour featuring lots of pictures of the game components and a ton of examples. The book is almost more examples than rules, which I think is a great thing. The rules are short enough that you can probably read it with your friends at the table before sitting down to your first game. Rules are presented in French and English, in separate booklets, in my Canadian copy of Summer Pavilion. 

Next, you have a surprisingly, and disappointingly, thin central scoring/round tracking/bonus tile board. I’m not sure why this is so thin, as the player boards, of which you get four, are nice mounted boards. These look all the same at first but there is a small coloured circle on each of them that notes which player colour they are meant to represent. We didn’t even notice this until about our third game.

The player boards are two-sided and very similar to the original Azul, one side has the tile pattern already filled out whereas the other side has it blank. Note the pattern here is nothing like the squares in the original Azul. In Azul Summer Pavilion you are using diamond-shaped tiles to make flower-like patterns. 

Summer Pavilion comes with one cardboard punch board that has nine factory tiles and four 80+ scoring markers on it. The factory tiles should be familiar to anyone who’s played any edition of Azul before. These are two-sided but feature the same artwork on both sides. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be anything added to these to make the game more colour blind accessible (as they did with the factory tiles in Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra).

The tiles from Azul Summer Pavilion The bag for the tiles is green and is of the same great quality we’ve seen in the other Azul games. For marking score and keeping track of what round you are in there is a small bag of wooden markers. 

Finally, we get to the tiles. The tiles in this copy of Azul look significantly different from those of the previous two games in the series. This time around the tiles are elongated diamond shapes instead of squares. These are plastic and come in six different opaque colours with twenty-two tiles in each colour. To help with accessibility, half of the colours of tiles also feature symbols on them. I have to assume the other two colours are different enough apart that the symbol wasn’t needed. There is also a first player tile.

It’s worth noting that the game comes with a decent plastic box insert. This has a spot for all of the factory tiles and the score tokens and then some generic troughs for the rest of the components. It works well enough for keeping things in order.

How Azul Summer Pavilion plays:

In Azul Summer Pavilion players are competing against each other drafting titles from a shared market and placing them into set patterns on their personal player boards in order to earn points. In this version of Azul, players will also earn the opportunity to earn bonus tiles from a central bonus board. The game plays over a total of six rounds and in each of those rounds, one of the tile colours is wild. At the end of six rounds, the player with the most points wins the game.

A three player game of Azul Summer PavilionSetup in Summer Pavilion is dead simple. Each player takes a player board and the scoring marker in the matching colour. They place the scoring marker on five on the bonus tile board. The round marker is placed on round one and the coloured tiles are placed into the bag. The bonus market is filled with ten tiles randomly drawn from the bag. A number of factory tiles are placed in the centre of the playing area based on the number of players. Each factory is filled with four random tiles. The first player tile is placed in the centre of the factory tiles.

Each round is broken into two phases. First is the acquire phase, where players draft tiles. Second is the play phase, where players play the tiles they drafted in the first phase. Note this is a big change from previous Azul games where players place their tiles immediately upon drafting them. In Summer Pavilion players instead make a pile of tiles they draft in phase one and then don’t place until phase two. 

Every round one colour of the tiles is considered wild. This changes every round and always stays in the same order each game. 

The Acquire Phase: In turn order, players have two options for drafting tiles. 

  1. Pick one factory and any colour other than the current rounds wild colour. Take all tiles of that colour from the factory as well as one (and only one) tile of the wild colour if present. Any leftover tiles are placed in the middle of the factory area. Note if a tile contains nothing but tiles matching the wild colour a player can select that factory and take one tile from that factory placing the remaining tiles in the middle. 
  2. Pick the central market and one colour. Players then take all tiles of that colour from the centre of the table as well as one (and only one) tile of the wild colour. If the only tiles in the centre are wild, then the player takes one of these wild tiles. The first player to do this each round also takes the 1st player token but doing so costs the player one point per coloured token taken.

Phase one ends when the last tile is drafted.

Azul Summer Pavilion, a player board from this tile laying game.The Playing Tiles Phase: In turn order, players take turns either placing a set of tiles or passing. Once a player passes they cannot jump back into this phase.

Tile placement in Summer Pavilion is done by picking one to six tiles of one colour, covering up a spot on your board matching that number with one of the tiles and discarding the rest. The current round’s wild tile colour can be combined with any other colour to make these sets or can be used on its own to make a set of its colour. 

Each player board has six spots for each colour of tile, all numbered one to six and arranged in a star-like pattern. In the centre of the board is also a wild pattern where tiles of any colour can be used but each branch of the star must be of a different colour. 

The bonus board with scoring and bonus tiles in Azul Summer PavilionIn addition to this, there are a number of special decorations marked on the board; statues, pillars and windows. Each of these is surrounded by a number of tile placement spots. If at any time a player has covered all of the spots surrounding one of these features they get to immediately take a number of bonus tiles from the central bonus tile board based on what feature you completed. Pillars are worth one tile, statues two and windows three tiles. These tiles can be used in the phase they are acquired and are replaced at the end of each player’s turn. 

Points are awarded for each tile placed. The first tile placed scores one point for the tile and one point for any adjacent tiles in a cluster in the same star pattern. 

Azul Summer Pavilion lets you save tiles between rounds of tile layingOnce a player chooses to no longer place any more tiles, they pass. Any leftover tiles in their play area must be dealt with. In this version of Azul, players can save up to four tiles between rounds. These carry over into the next Playing Tiles Phase. Any tiles above four cannot be saved, are discarded and the player discarding them loses one point for each tile discarded. 

At the end of each round, after every player has passed during the Playing Tiles Phase, the factories are re-filled with four tiles each, the round marker is moved to the next spot which shows which colour is now wild and the game continues.

The end of a game of Azul Summer PavilionAt the end of the sixth round, players can no longer store any more tiles for future rounds and lose one point for every tile they have left. Bonus points are awarded for completed stars on each player’s playing board and for covering up full sets of the numbers one to four on their player boards (note these require all seven of one number to be coloured). 

As a variant, players can also use the blank side of the board where the colours of each star are not set until the first tile is placed into them. With this version, you can build multiple stars of the same colour as well as multiple all colour stars, if you wish. 

How does Azul Summer Pavilion compare to the other Azul games?

Playing Azul two player at a wedding!Azul Summer Pavilion is the third in a series of games that started with Azul which was released in 2017. Azul took the board game world by storm and became an instant hit. For me personally, it became my go to gateway game for introducing new players to the hobby as well as a personal favourite of my wife’s. Azul was the number one game we would bring on a date night and we played it everywhere. Coffee shops, pubs, hotel rooms, and more. 

A year later Azul Stained Glass of Sintra was released. I got to check out a copy of that one thanks to one of our awesome fans, Joe C,. who sent us a copy to check out. Sintra was Joe’s first taste of Azul and he and his family loved it. While I did enjoy Stained Glass of Sintra and still have it in my collection, it doesn’t get played nearly as often as the original. It doesn’t have the approachability of the original Azul. Sintra is much more fiddly and hard to teach. On top of that, the strategies required to score well aren’t as obvious.  It’s these aspects that make Stained Glass of Sintra more popular with fans of heavier games in most cases, but for me despite being a heavy game fan, I would rather play the original. 

Now we come to Azul Summer Pavilion. For me, this newest version of Azul finds a place between the other two editions. It features significantly more depth than the original Azul while at the same time being less punishing and less cutthroat. 

Surrounding features earns bonus tiles in Azul Summer PavilionThe depth of Summer Pavilion comes from a combination of the scoring system and the pattern building system for earning bonus tiles. While not obvious at first, you will quickly notice that the biggest bonus, of earning three free tiles for completing a window, can only be earned by filling the most expensive spots on the board, the five and six spots. So to get the most bonus tiles you have to spend the most drafted tiles. This is also offset by the fact that there are no bonus points for having all of the fives and sixes covered on your board. 

By having players draft all of their tiles first and then place them, there are much fewer chances for players to get stuck with something they cannot use. This, combined with the fact players can save up to four tiles a round, makes Azul Summer Pavilion much less punishing and less cutthroat than it’s predecessors. While this makes Summer Pavilion more approachable, the scoring system is more involved than the original and not as easy for new players to grasp. 

The middle of a placement round in Azul Summer PavilionOverall, I personally think that Azul Summer Pavilion hits a sweet spot in the Azul series. It has a bit more meat and depth than the original without becoming too fiddly and complex to be easily approachable. While I still think that the original game is the better gateway game, I think it’s worth teaching new gamers Azul then quickly moving on to Summer Pavilion once they have grasped the fullness of the drafting system. The added depth here will appeal more to experienced gamers though it won’t scratch the same brain-burning itch that Sintra might. 

Of the three games, Azul Summer Pavilion is my current favourite. It’s the version of Azul I’m most excited to play the most often. That said each of the three games does feel significantly different despite using the same basic system of drafting then placing tiles in patterns. All three versions see play often enough that I’m happy I have all three of them in my collection. It’s just that if someone asks me to play any one of the three, it’s Summer Pavilion that I will be grabbing first. 

Have you tried all three versions of Azul? Which of the three is your favourite? Let us know in the comments!

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