I really like Azul. It's the perfect example of what an abstract game should be: easy to explain and setup, simple mechanics, and within a few turns, players can grasp the complexity behind the game and start visualizing numerous strategies.
There's one more thing that Azul excels at, and it's the high quality tiles. These feature:
- Just the right amount of weight
- Rounded edges for comfortable grip
- Bold colors and contemporary designs
- And as a bonus, the satisfying sound of shuffling inside the bag :)
I think this all points to the brilliance of simplicity. No concerns about having a memorable theme or over-the-top illustrations, but just a game boiled down to its solid mechanic and a high quality component which the players will be interacting with 99% of the time.
Azul's not the only one of its kind, though. Below are the games I found from a combination of game search filters on BGA and through talking with users on Reddit!
"Hive is a boardless, strategic game for 2 players ages 8 and up. The object of the game is to surround your opponent's queen bee while trying to block your opponent from doing the same to your queen bee."
"As the Dragon Castle crumbles, opportunistic lords seek to lure people to their realm. By constructing a new palace from the ruins of the old, they hope to become the new center of power.
In Dragon Castle, players take on the role of one of the lords. They will have to use all of their cunning to build a castle that will inspire people to move to their realm. Each turn, players can collect tiles from the ruins and add them to their own construction. As they place sets of the same type of tiles together, they'll be able to consolidate them, earning points and allowing for the addition of Shrines. During construction, players will also need to keep in mind the desires of the Dragons and the Spirits if they want to score the most points. Tap into tradition to build the castle of the future."
"A common theme in African folklore is that animals are wise creatures who teach humans to do good and moral things. Based on the Bakongo culture of central Africa, you are a tribal leader seeking to befriend the animals. Trek through the jungle, follow the animals' guidance, and earn their favor. Be the tribal leader with the most favor and the animals will help bring your people to prosperity."
Hanabi Deluxe (Image by Gray Cat Games)
"Hanabi; named for the Japanese word for "fireworks," is a cooperative game in which players try to create the perfect fireworks show. Trouble is, it's dark out, so you can't really see what you are working with!
Each player holds their cards so that only the other players can see them. They must give each other vital information and remember all the information in order to choose which cards to play. Helping each other play the right cards at the right time is the key to creating an unforgettable show and avoiding being booed by the audience!
In the deluxe version, the cards are replaced with beautiful Mah Jhong-like tiles! So build your fireworks and create a show that's sure to be memorable!"
"As a skilled artisan, use tools-of-the-trade and careful planning to construct a stained glass window masterpiece in the Sagrada Familia. Gain prestige by adapting to the preferences of your fickle admirers, and, of course, by adding your own artistic flair while completing your glass masterpiece in Sagrada, a game of dice-drafting and window-crafting."
"After furnishing the Palace of Evora, King Manuel I of Portugal now seeks to commission the world's greatest stained glass artisans to adorn the windows of the Royal Palace in Sintra. As a stained glass artisan, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to demonstrate your exquisite abilities for king and country. Will you be the best at creating the most beautiful stained glass in all of Portugal? Welcome back to the world of Azul!"
I guess the last one is almost cheating, but you should take a look at it nonetheless! Wasn't quite sure about Sagrada, but there are definite semblances to Azul I think.
How do you think these games rank in comparison to Azul? Which ones are you interested in? Which ones would you recommend?