Being an abstract game makes Azul an inherently strategic game. There are no lucky dice rolls or card draws to hide behind, either you have some fantastic tactics or you lose.
Fortunately, it also makes it an extremely predictable game. Just like other abstract games (i.e. chess), you can hone your skills by implementing different tactics. Here are five tactics that are essential to winning consistently at Azul.
#1: Focus on Negative Points
Azul is point based, which causes us to focus on the amount of points we are gaining. However, this game can crush you with negative points if your opponent knows how to play well. Here’s an example:
If I set up this scenerio for anyone that hasn’t played many games of Azul, they would undoubtedly pick the black tile to score points on their board which would net them 5 points. Not a bad play, but let’s consider this: picking the blue tile will overflow your opponent with cracked tiles and ultimately net you 7 points.
This may seem like I’m cherry-picking one scenario but this position comes up very often and you should always be looking for ways to exploit it.
#2: Forget About 5 of a Kind
There is something inherently wrong with trying to place all 5 of the same color tile on your board: it’s a terribly inefficient way to get points.
Building tiles in a block without leaving spaces is the most effective way to get points in the game. Spaces between tiles leave opportunities for points on the table. Consider this example:
The left board just placed a tile worth 4 points while the right only gained 1. This is the essence of why 5 of a kind isn’t worth targeting specifically. All of the tiles end up netting 1 point each instead of the multi-point placements from building in rows or columns. Here’s a great video on this tactic.
#3: Start in the Center
There’s a very simple reason for choosing the blue tile right in the middle of the board as the first placement: it gives you a ton of options to build on for the rest of the game.
Building from a corner is extremely difficult. There is only one color tile surrounding the top right and bottom left corner tiles which makes it pretty much the hardest place to start on the board. The top left and bottom right corners aren’t much better at two adjacent tile colors. On top of all of this, these spots only have two rows each to choose from.
Ultimately, the center tile gives you 2 different starting colors and 3 different rows to choose from at the start and it is easy to build in any direction from there.
#4: Play Defensive
Blocking your opponents from moves that would net them a ton of points is an absolutely devastating tactic in 2 player games and very useful with more players too.
Additionally, you may be able to find a move that not only blocks your opponent but nets you points as well. This can cause huge score swings, especially at the end of the game.
On top of this, you can often keep the game from ending using this tactic. That one tile that your opponent needs to finish the game will be easy to spot and snatch up.
Keep an eye out for these positions.
#5: The Quick Game
As with a lot of board games, focusing on the end conditions is important. In this case, filling up a row with tiles stops the game and determines the winner.
Naturally, the easiest row to complete is the top one since only 5 different tile colors are needed. Finishing this row makes for an extremely quick game and you can use that to your advantage.
Grabbing up the maximum amount of points possible while your opponent sets up plays for later is a great indicator that this strategy would be effective.