Azul Crystal Mosaic is not a brand new entry to the Azul series, instead it is an expansion for the original. Published by Next Move Games, designed by Michael Kiesling and featuring artwork from Chris Quilliams, the expansion includes new player board designs and plastic overlays. The length of the game and the player count possible are unaffected by the additions, so will this be a worthy purchase? Let’s find out!
If you haven’t played the original Azul check out our review of it here first.
There are two parts to the Azul Crystal Mosaic expansion: new boards and translucent plastic overlays. As with the original player boards, those found in the expansion box are double sided. Both offer an experience closer to that of the grey variant side of the base game, due to each having only 5 coloured spaces. The normal constraint of two identical coloured tiles not being able to be placed in the same row or column still stands. Though, made up of mostly grey spaces players can choose where they slide tiles over to during the wall tiling stage.
The “C” side of the new player boards has two key differences from that of the original boards. The first is that the 5 coloured spaces have 2x multipliers assigned to them. Whenever a tile is added to these spaces the entire score normally caused by it is doubled. A player can add a tile to these first, scoring 2 points rather than the usual 1 point for unconnected tiles. Many more points are possible though, if it is the last tile of a column normally scoring 5 points instantly (disregarding any points earnt from horizontally placed tiles) that would be doubled to 10 points.
The second difference is on both sides of the new boards and makes placing tiles on the floor, usually increasingly scoring negative points, a bit more of an interesting choice. Rather than the first couple of floored tiles scoring -1, then the next two being -2 and so on, the second space is 0. It doesn’t seem like a huge change but this allows players to be even more tactical than before. A player can knowingly take a tile just to floor it, knowing they’ll lose nothing for doing so. This opens up opportunities to almost pass a turn or claim slightly too many tiles of a specific colour. It also makes taking a bunch of unusable tiles less of a punishing, point shedding, experience.
The “D” side, along with having the new numbering on the floor section, again only has 5 coloured spaces. This time they do not have the multiplier with the change instead seeing the bonuses scored increased for completed rows, columns and having 5 matching colour tiles placed. While the increases aren’t hugely enormous so that the in game scoring is worthless, players are seemingly less likely to try to end the game early by finishing a row. The bonus points were always inviting and with a slight nudge upwards they are even more attractive.
On both new boards the 5 coloured spaces offer enough structure for those that like to work around things. However, they can see players blocking themselves off from finishing rows or columns. Therefore, while the points lost via the floor may be more forgiving to new players, the original “A” board is still the best for introducing the game to new players. This is mostly due to avoiding the frustration of blocking themselves off. Having only coloured spaces on the original board meant players didn’t need to remember the rule of a colour only appearing once in a row or column. However, after a game or two players are easily able to jump across to the new boards.
Importantly, the design of the playboards are unchanged. As a result, the plastic overlays fit over the new and old boards. Unfortunately, the plastic overlays are not perfect. While the tile section of the overlay is ideal for placing the tiles, the scoring marker part can be slightly fiddly. This is exacerbated by the fact that the overlay does not click to the board, nor does it lock them in place. Instead, there is a couple millimeters of wiggle room, causing the overlay to not always be perfectly aligned. This seems like a large oversight for an expansion that is predominantly sold as coming with overlays.
It is a shame that the plastic overlays don’t neatly fit. Thankfully, they are great to use for the tiles section and this is why despite the issues I’d still continue to use them. This does however make Azul Crystal Mosaic slightly harder to instantly recommend, as whilst an improvement in part they aren’t without fault. In fact it is the new player boards that are the more exciting half of the expansion, helping Azul get back to the table and adding a fresh couple of twists. With this being said, the core Azul gameplay is untouched. Fans will still find enjoyment from the Crystal Mosaic expansion from the boards – it’s just a shame that the plastic overlays, the crystal bit of the expansion, isn’t perfect.
(Editor’s Note: Azul Crystal Mosaic was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, some of which are reopening! Find your local store here.)