26 March 2019
Mosaic, mo’ problems
Like the broken shards of glass that inevitably pile up in its 3D tower, Stained Glass of Sintra breaks the original Azul into fragments before rearranging it into a new pattern. Like a lot of art, how attractive that pattern appears to you will likely depend on your perspective.
Gluing the pieces together is Azul’s clever take on tile-drafting, with players claiming one colour of the lozenge-like panes of glass from one of the circular factories on the table and leaving the remainder for their opponents (or them) to potentially sweep up off the floor later on and add to their arrangement.
The translucent cough sweet appearance of the tiles aside, this drafting is where Sintra hews mostly closely to its predecessor. The rest of the game is a remix of sorts of Azul’s wall-tiling puzzle, spinning out its combo-building scoring and pattern-completion into a different yet familiar form.
Here, for instance, there’s a glazier who limits which strips of the variable player board can be filled as they travel from left to right, forcing players to plan ahead to slot in as many panes as they can before the glazier is eventually reset to the left like a typewriter. The progressive movement of the glazier neatly counterbalances a combo system that makes filling in right-hand columns first more valuable, as any completed strips to the right of a newly-finished window add bonus points to that score, presenting the chance to set up game-winning combos with the right strategy. It's a notably different but no less interesting flow to Azul’s rewarding of adjacent tiles on a grid, and gives a nice structure and flow to each round.
Rather than collecting matching sets of tiles, the patterns are a mixture of colours to begin with, making them tricker to complete as your glazier hops between strips. Broken glass is near-unavoidable, handily dropping into the 3D tower and losing players points as they claim – deliberately or not – excess panes for a single column. Completed columns flip over to a reverse side, before being removed – the variable setup of the strips’ order combines with two different play variants that reward either adjacent completed columns or specialising in a particular colour for a game that's a tad more complex and variable than Azul.
In this way, Stained Glass of Sintra joins Queendomino as a follow-up to a Spiel des Jahres-winning game that builds on a simple gameplay hook with a slightly more complicated expansion of those ideas. The difference here is that where Queendomino and Kingdomino could be combined, the Azul games remain completely standalone, so there's not quite as much value in owning both.
Whether Stained Glass of Sintra will be for you will come down to whether you’ve already played Azul and, if you have, how much you personally favour pure elegance over deeper strategic complexity. The shifting glazier and combo system gives it a unique feel, and the variability means there’s more to play around with here if Azul has started to wear thin. If you're yet to play any form of Azul, this is an excellent game to pick up by itself. It’s a mish-mash of ideas, but together they can be beautiful – it just depends on where you’re standing.
PLAY IT? – PROBABLY
It’s not just Azul with see-through pieces. Stained Glass of Sintra takes the scoring and pattern-making puzzle of the tiling smash hit and offers something new – whether that’s new enough for you will depend on what you're looking for: pure elegance or deeper complexity.
Designer: Michael Kiesling
Artist: Chris Quilliams
Time: 30-45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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