Self-promotion and anxiety: Uncomfortable bedfellows

for me, self-promotion and anxiety don’t mix. I’m chatty. Opinionated. Sometimes loud. If you met me you’d possibly think I was super confident. But by then the difficult bit has happened: we’ve met.

It’s hard for some to grasp there’s a big difference between having the confidence to dominate conversation, and the initial hump of meeting new people. Or even thinking about meeting them. Or thinking about the fact you might have to meet some people in a few day’s time.

Recently I went to HandyCon, a board game convention just outside London. I hadn’t been before, but new it was a few hundred people – not too big. So I thought I’d take along some of my published designs, just in case people wanted to take a look. Just the recent ones. So I could have them on the table, just in case. Or maybe in my bag. Or I could just leave them in the hotel room, and bring them the next day if anyone asked…

The day before it starts, I get asked to help judge a competition at the con. Someone has dropped out – can I stand in? It’ll only be an hour. Sure, why not? It’s nice to be asked. And it’s only an hour. An hour I have no control over, in a few days time, where I don’t really know what is going to happen or with who. Will it be on a stage? Is my name going to be read out? Will people be staring at me? Why on earth did I agree to this…

Increased heart rate. Difficulty breathing. Headaches and hot flushes. Dry mouth and feeling sick. Why not have a few drinks? I’ll feel like I’ve got a hangover either way.

Then and now

What’s really annoying is knowing how much I would’ve taken this in my stride 10 years ago. I was brash, confident; loved being the centre of attention. As a youngster I had a mohican, crazy clothes. I did national radio interviews as part of my job. Now I can’t sleep for three days before running a course for a few colleagues I already know. Even going to the office and staying all day can be hard sometimes.

I’m OK walking into most cons (see previous cons and anxiety post). The anonymity works in my favour. They’re largely filled with people who know each other; who just like the idea of getting together to game. Most don’t aim to play with strangers. They’re happy to just meet a few more people, relax, and nerd out. And that means you can stroll around relatively ignored. But at the same time, you know these are your people.

But that all goes away if you make your face a target. Luckily, game designers are largely ignored unless they seek attention. It’s the YouTubers who get all the attention, with panels packed with v-loggers hunting for views and likes while the designers tend to skulk around awkwardly in the halls smiling nervously. But yeah, I’m a blogger too. So surely I should be doing all this self promotion stuff in double time. Gawd.

Self-promotion and anxiety sucks…

So things start OK. I send a few messages out, a few Tweets, saying I’ll be at HandyCon. Reply to a few things about the event, mention I’ll be there with a few games. But the closer we get to the con the less I message, until the social stream becomes a trickle and dries up altogether.

Others talk about demoing games, maybe hiring a table. Sitting at a table, for hours, smiling at people hoping they’ll sit down. And then hoping they like your game. And deep down, I know it would be fine. They’d be nice, polite, even if they didn’t like it. Who knows, some might even become friends or pick up a copy. But i’m getting a dry throat and shortness of breath just typing this, so it was never, ever going to happen.

I took my games to HandyCon. Day one they were on the table, day two in a friend’s room, and day three on a chair next to me, safely away from prying eyes. One even got played, with friends who had played it before. I played pretty much everything else I brought except my own games.

Thankfully the judging was low key, my name was never mentioned and it went without a hitch. A skinful the night before meant I did get some sleep. It was either booze or tablets; and a few beers has a more desired effect.

…but it’s really fun to make stuff

One mental faculty I still have intact is a thick skin. You need it as a journalist, and others deserve to give what I’ve been giving my whole life. If you don’t like my game, and give it a shitty review because you hated it, that’s your right. I’ll walk away. Yeah, sure – it might rile me for a few minutes. Especially if the negatives are based on arguments I find ridiculous. But 99 times in 100 I’ll quickly get over it and move on.

And it’s brilliant to meet people that like your games. Or that just want to talk design. Or that have enjoyed something I wrote here – or want to argue with me about something. If you’ve ever loved/enjoyed/been perplexed by/disagreed with anything I’ve done, I’d love to have a chat with you at a con. I just probably won’t radiate it much. If at all.

Because all these things make it worthwhile. But they don’t make it easy.

HandyCon 6 2019: List and proud

My trip to HandyCon 6 was my first: a three-day board game convention held biannually at The Holiday Inn, just outside Maidenhead.

Unfortunately, we booked too late to get to stay at the main hotel, instead staying at a Premier Inn nearer the town centre – a 20-30 minute walk from the venue.

This was a weird one for me in terms of games played – in a good way. I got a lot of games to the table I like but don’t play often; or liked on a single play and hadn’t played since. I managed to play 20 different games over the weekend, most of which get a mention below. Then I’ll talk a little about the con itself.

Top HandyCon 6 game experiences

The reason for going, of course, is to sit in a room with friends old and new and play games. So these are the games, also old and new, I most enjoyed at the con.

  1. The Gallerist: My first Lacerda, and I feared the worst as we waded through the umpteenth rule (thanks Alex!) – but wow. It’s worker placement with only eight different actions. The complexity comes from managing resources and playing the market, increasing the value of your gallery’s investments. While thinky it largely makes thematic sense – and is gorgeous too. But I’ll need to play again before I forget everything – which, with luck, may be soon!
  2. Caylus: There was a new version at the con, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at it. I’m happy with the original, thanks – still one of the best worker placement games around. It was new-ish to Alex and Tom, which made for a weird game. Neither made many buildings that gave extra cubes, so we were resource poor throughout. But it was close, tense and as fascinating as ever.
  3. Yokohama: Another worker placement game. Sensing a pattern? Played with Keith and Clare (as, it seems, always) and Tom – who hadn’t played and was very last. I tried, as usual, to rush the end game – but got found out and slipped into a close third about 10 behind the winner. I love how it’s a genuine mix of strategy and tactics: Istanbul on steroids, if steroids were a good thing.
  4. Whistle Stop: My second play of this didn’t disappoint. It’s what happens when you cross a train game with a route-building tile-placement game such as Tsuro. Place tiles, collect resources, deliver them, get shares etc. But within a clever tile placement system that can affect many of the 10-16 trains in play. I got gazumped in all four share majorities so ended up coming last – but it was still great fun. We all tried something a bit different, but it was still very close at the end.
  5. Rome – City of Marble: This game had totally passed me by, but I’m glad Tom brought and taught it to us. It has a real classic German euro feel: largely abstract, light on rules/components but high on consequences – especially in terms of what you leave other players. Think Five Tribes interaction, but with way less going on. But the decision-making space has just as much consequence. In fact having played both over the weekend, I enjoyed this far more.

Other games of note (or not)

The two new-to-me games that didn’t make the list were Architects of the West Kingdom and Colors of Kasane.

Architects… suffers from a game trait I hate: where a ‘take that’ mechanism targets the player who has the most of something arbitrary you want, not the person doing best/you want revenge on. For me, that’s just bad design.

Colors… is a pretty Japanese card game, but there isn’t enough control to make it anything other than a bit of a pointless luck fest. There simply weren’t many real decisions to make, unless we were playing it wrong (the rulebook was really awful).

I also want to mention For Sale, Sarkophag, Parade, 5 Colors and Just One – all fantastic filler game experiences enjoyed over the weekend. It’s rarely a filler game’s lot to make this kind of list. But whenever we had too many people/not enough time there were some fantastic little card games we could turn to. And we also had a good game of Pioneer Days, in which Alex looked hosed right up until he sped ahead and won because we didn’t tank his rather fragile engine. Noobs…

Top HandyCon 6 things

HandyCon 6 was really well run. The check-in process was smooth (and digital – ooh, get them!).

And there were loads of friendly, easy-to-spot, orange-shirted volunteers around if you needed anything all weekend.

The con also went the extra mile in terms of inclusion, with gender neutral toilets and a ‘preferred pronoun’ section on the name badges; plus a few ‘accessibility priority’ tables near doorways in the main room.

There were soft drink and beer vouchers available (making beer just £3 a pint, which is pretty good ‘down south’ in a hotel) – and the beer was good. There was also a con food menu with table service. Plus, the usual extras such as demo/prototype games, staffed bring-and-buy and competitions/tournaments. I even got to do some judging in the game design tournament, which was a fun (if nerve-wracking) experience.

HandyCon 6: Top things to improve

I really enjoyed my weekend at HandyCon. But while I know no con is perfect, these issues really stood out. And while two are on a similar theme, they’re key to what makes a con work. Namely, sitting down and playing some games.

  1. Go eco: The level of waste was bad. Many I spoke to were upset with the paper and plastic wasted throughout the weekend. There was a sea (pun intended) of plastic cups apparently just for the con. I asked if I could have a glass in the main bar, but was told they were “trying to get rid of” the non-reusable plastics by the end of the weekend. Food was often brought to tables in plastic boxes, which were sometimes in paper bags – not on, you know, a plate?
  2. Spacing/isles: While I understand wanting to get as many in as possible, the main room was uncomfortably cramped. I lost count of the times someone backed their chair into me, or clocked me with a bag. The overcrowding often meant no room for bags under tables, so they ended up in aisles – creating trip hazards for some and direct issues for anyone with physical accessibility issues. I really felt for Aj from Able Table Gaming, for example, who had to ask a lot of people to move bags so she could get by.
  3. Chairs: Presumably as a direct consequence, or a perceived need to have a chair for everyone attending, there was a big excess of chairs. To cram in as many spaces as possible, they’d pushed (four-to-six?) tables together in each row. With inadequate room to get between rows anyway, and nowhere to put bags, people spread out. Spare chairs became game shelves/side tables, or just got in the way. I doubt any row was ever fully seated. So they could’ve just taken a table/four chairs out of every row and given us some breathing room.

HandyCon-clusions (ho ho)

I know this is ending things on a down note, but please scroll back up and read all the positive stuff too. In the main, HandyCon is friendly, good fun and well run. It is only on its sixth event, and has grown fast. So I’m sure my misgivings will be addressed by the management team. And perhaps the hotel is at fault, rather than the con.

I certainly hope to go back to HandyCon another time – especially if these issues are addressed (or if I’m invited/can get in the hotel proper). But for now, HandyCon will be on my reserve list for weekends away, rather than the ‘definitely’ list alongside Essen, AireCon, SorCon and of course LoBsterCon (sorry Tom!). Speaking of which, I’d better get going on that Essen wishlist…

Board game Top 10: Genuinely important releases since 2015

According to Board Game Geek’s game rating algorithm, 15 of the best games ever have been released since 2015. This is obviously nonsense and has a lot more to do with factors outside the algorithms control (time for an overhaul, me thinks). But it did get me thinking – which releases in the past five years have been genuinely important?

For me, a game can do one (or more) of several things to meet this criteria. But most importantly, in some way, it should move the hobby forward. I feel the games below have done that, so deserve a pat on the back. I’m not saying they all reinvented the wheel. Or are even things I want to play. While some simultaneously arrived with similar offerings. But these feel like they rose to the top in their particular pool.

But to get 10, I had to go well beyond the Top 15. In fact I had to burrow as far as the top 500 or so. They’re in order or their Board Game Geek rankings – nothing else. And while I’m sure I’ll get push back on a few, I think it’s a solid (if at times personal) list. And before people start throwing things, I’m not saying it’s exhaustive. Please feel free to point out the games I’ve missed in the comments below – or why I’m wrong/crazy etc for including certain games over others (just remember – 2015 cut-off).

Top 10 important board games

  • Gloomhaven (BGG Rank: 1)
    More than any other, Gloomhaven has crossed the boundary between a board game and traditional RPG experience. It has a rich, detailed world; evolving characters; and an ongoing story. But also complex card play, involving teamwork, strategy and tactics. Number one game evs? No. But still important.
  • Azul (38)
    Abstracts had been very much overlooked for years before a sudden resurgence in 2017 led by Azul (or arguably the reissue of Santorini the year before). It paved the way for a string of dedicated abstract games to make a real dent in the market, thanks to simple rules being backed by great game play and components.
  • Root (46)
    War games as a genre has a lot to offer the wider gaming community. Root took many of these ideas – asymmetric powers, changing alliances, area control, point-to-point movement – and added a cutesy woodland them. Without taking away any of the nastiness. Flawed, yes – but a massive crossover success.
  • Codenames (62)
    Word and quiz games were in a pretty sad place until Codenames came along in 2015 (Paperback had arrived in 2014, but was a minor release – and probably helped by Codenames since). Loads of great games have followed it, reopening these genres to genuine creative thinking.
  • TIME Stories (73)
    Finally, someone got travel right. A co-operative narrative game, where you rerun the game several times to ‘solve’ the puzzle. But it was one-and-done – play through, then sell it and buy the next adventure using the same base mechanics. A risky sales pitch for a publisher, but successful – and much copied since.

Those outside the Top 100

  • Welcome to… (156)
    Roll-and-write games have exploded in recent years, but aren’t often critically acclaimed. Welcome To… did away with dice, replacing them with cards – changing the dynamic just enough while limiting the luck. It’s now the highest ranked roll-and-write game on BGG, and for me deservedly so.
  • Exit: The Game (179)
    TIME Stories proved one-and-one games were viable – so what better territory to explore than the growing world of escape rooms? This time it was even riskier, as components had to be torn or folded – often losing any resale value. An even bigger risk, but again gamers bought into it because the game was good enough.
  • The Grizzled (324)
    Through simple co-operative card play The Grizzled conjured troubling feelings of the despair of trench warfare in players; evoking history much as Freedom: The Undergrounds Railroad did back in 2012. This was only amplified by the death of the game’s artist, Tignous, in the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.
  • The Mind (531)
    Is it even a game? A topic for another day, perhaps – but its release was certainly a phenomenon. A co-operative game where you play numbered cards in order, simply guessing when to lay based on how long the pauses are between plays. Real tension, real theatre – with real-time deduction. Fascinating, if not for me.
  • XCOM: The Board Game (569)
    If anyone was going to release a game with genuine use of a phone app it was going to be Fantasy Flight – alongside a licence of some sort. While pretty badly flawed, this is certainly proof of concept: a tense, real time co-op game with asymmetric roles creating a real movie feel.

Conclusions

Many highly rated games of this period have been thoroughly enjoyable – but I didn’t feel they brought enough to the party to figure. Even if I like them more.

Others seemed they should be on the list. Pandemic Legacy, for example. But it was 2011’s Risk Legacy that introduced ‘legacy’ to the hobby. But however you view the list, I think these games are worth taking a look at.

And look at the themes here. There’s lots of exploration in the co-operative game field, while also reaching outside of traditional gaming into theatre – exploring emotions through tension, or timing, or asymmetry, or the imagination. And there are still so many avenues to explore. What do you want to see next? I just hope it’s more interesting games – rather than pretty rehashes of old ideas cashing in on this wave of new players.

Board game collection size: Should it stay or should it go?

There is, of course, no optimal board game collection size. Sorry. There are so many contributing factors it’s impossible to narrow to reach a comprehensive calculation. Space, budget, scope of interest. All can vary wildly. As can your level of obsession with the hobby. Then there are collectors – but they’re another breed entirely.

I’d surmise (purely anecdotally) your average new/uncommitted gamer will have 5-20 games and a dedicated gamer 50-200. With the 21-49 range reserved for those slipping from one to the other. Collections from 200-500 are common, but start to move out of practical norms for the majority of people. And beyond we’re into collector territory.

My board game collection size

A few years ago I set myself an arbitrary limit of 150 board and card games. At any given time that could be 140-160, due to games being on sale or waiting for review. Especially around Essen, where a bunch of titles tend to arrive at once.

I say its an arbitrary limit as my own criteria set out above doesn’t really apply to me:

  • I don’t have space limits (I have plenty of space)
  • Budget isn’t an issue (I’m lucky enough to get a lot of games cheap/free)
  • I’m not limited by scope of interest (as a dabbler in design, I like to try new games)

So why bother to set a limit? First, when I got around this number my main board game shelving unit was well and truly full. Second, I realised I wasn’t playing a bunch of games I owned and really liked. And third, there were games sitting there that were very likely never to be picked – so why not give them a loving new home?

I tend to play games 3-400 times in a calendar year. Which is a lot. So, in theory, if I have 150 titles I could conceivably play them all each year. and have room for new games, other people’s games, prototypes etc. It doesn’t happen that way, but to my peace of mind it feels important that it could*.

The ‘one in, one out’ and ‘Jones’ theories

So what do you do once you’ve hit your self (or space/partner etc) prescribed board game collection size? It’s not as if new shinies aren’t going to come along and, you know, HAVE to be bought.

One in, one out makes sense. If you buy a new game, make sure one goes the other way. So it follows – if the new game you’re considering isn’t good enough to oust one you already own, why bother spending money on it?

The Jones Theory (from Game On podcast #16) builds on this. It posits gamers should limit their collections to one game of each type. So any time you want to play a particular type of game, you reach for the one you have – which should be your favourite. You can of course be as granular as you like. So one gamer may have one euro game – while another may have one set collection euro, one worker placement euro, one space-themed worker placement euro… etc.

I definitely follow the first, and loosely the second. There are quite a lot of game types I have have many multiples of, but they’re usually genres I turn yo often and am glad of the variety. Just as a personal preference, I like to have games I play once a year or so. It keeps them fresh – especially if the rules are relatively simple. But using these handy rules still doesn’t cover every collection quandary.

My current board game collection size dilemma

Right now my problem is with Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilisation. A former Top 10 game in my collection, it dropped to its lowest ever ranking this year of 19.

But despite having 150 games, I am currently considering putting a game in my Top 20 on the ‘for sale’ pile. It is undoubtedly a great game. It is ranked number three on the all-time Board Game Geek chart and deservedly so. And I’ve enjoyed some brilliant games of it. So what on earth am I thinking?

First, it is a bitch to teach. There’s a lot going on and you need to know it all from the start. Second, a full game is long. Don’t believe the box – a full two-player game is going to be at least two hours – probably at least three. Add more players, or a teach, and four/five hours is a definite possibility. Third, experience is a BIG help. And as military action is unavoidable, poor players can really be crushed. So despite being a relatively elegant and well brilliantly designed game, it is a fragile playing experience.

In addition, it is well served away from the gaming table. There’s a great approved online implementation at Boardgaming Online. And more recently publisher CGE released a brilliantly realised Through the Ages app for Android, Apple and Steam.

One out – one in…?

I find it very hard to get Through the Ages to the table. I don’t want to teach it and most people I know who play are great because they play regularly – so I get thrashed. But I like owning it – and who knows, maybe one day I’ll find someone to play it with regularly.

But then I played Nations. While similar in scope, theme and length it felt a little more accessible and forgiving. Maybe this could come in, with Through the Ages making way? But in truth the differences are marginal: being a little shorter, a little more accessible and a little less punishing aren’t enough to give it a different audience. You’ll save 10% of the time, and maybe get 10% less crushed. It isn’t enough of a difference: Nations would probably just gather dust rather than Through the Ages.

The decision – and the conclusions

As I’ve written this cathartic blog post, I’ve come to a decision: Through the Ages is going on the ‘for sale’ pile. I have it on Google Play and will probably purchase it on Steam, where I can hopefully find some equally useless players to have close-ish games with as and when I have time to make a few moves.

And the theories hold. I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for my 150-game limit – but i’m glad I did. And thanks to the Jones Theory I’ve realised I don’t need a game under the ‘loooooong and brutal civ game’ category. At least not on my shelf. Instead, balancing dexterity game Junk Art has taken its place – my first in a new category. And it has already been played and enjoyed.

How’s your collection coming on?

* I’m trying to play all my 150 games this calendar year. It’s going better than expected (nearly 100 played) and has helped weed out several other games. There’s been some room for sentiment (I never play Brass, but aspire to…) – but not too much. I’ll post more about this ‘challenge’ once the year is out.

Azul board game: A four-sided review

Azul is an abstract family board game for two to four players. It takes less than an hour to play, works at all player counts and is a doddle to teach. Anyone can play, but there’s also plenty for a serious gamer to get their teeth into.

Released in 2017, it won the 2018 Spiel des Jahres (alongside numerous other top awards) and is ranked in the Top 50 games of all time at Board Game Geek.

Inside the striking box you’ll find four large (24x24cm) double-sided player boards, nine round beer mat-sized boards, four wooden cubes, 101 thick plastic tiles (one a start player marker) and a cloth bag to put them in. The colourful art and design are taken from Moorish art and architecture, giving it a unique look. While the board quality is average, the tiles (which look like Bakelite) make the game stand out on the table.

The overall production is both tactile and gorgeous, which has helped the Azul board game become one of the biggest releases of recent years. And at less than £30 its good value for money – especially as the tiles seem practically indestructible. But does the game play match up to the design quality?

Teaching the Azul board game

The rulebook barely stretches to five heavily illustrated pages and is simple to teach as that might suggest. Plus, there’s no hidden information, so you can easily walk players through the first rounds giving advice.

Setup sees 5/7/9 factory displays (read: beer mats) placed in a circle in the middle of the table, depending on player count. The 100 tiles (20 in each of five colours) are placed in the bag and four randomly placed on each mat. Everyone grabs a player board (they’re identical), and one player the start player marker.

The start player now chooses one of the mats and takes all the tiles of one colour from it, pushing any other tiles that were on it into the middle of the table. They also place the first player marker in the centre of the table with the unwanted tiles (if any). They then place the tiles they chose on their player board.

Instead of taking tiles from a mat, you can instead take all tiles of one colour from the middle of the table. The first player to do so also takes the first player marker for the next round. This tile goes into one of your negative score slots (see below), but can definitely be worth doing. You always have to take tiles, and always all available of the colour you choose in the place you take them from.

Placing your tiles

The player board has five lines to put them in, of 1,2,3,4 & 5 spaces respectively. Each line can only hold tiles of one colour, and all tiles placed in the same turn must go in the same line. If you take three black tiles and only place two in a line, the other one is going to be wasted. You can have more than one row of the same colour – you just can’t place tiles taken in a single turn in different lines.

Wasted tiles are where the game comes into its own. More on this later, but for now know your board has seven spaces at the bottom for these wasted tiles. The first couple will lose you one point, the next ones two and the last few three. So, it is possible to lose 14 points in each round of the game.

Once all tiles have been taken, players simultaneously score. Any line you’ve filled is emptied, with one of the tiles moved to your 5×5 grid scoring area. It will immediately score you points, but will also score bonuses at the end if you’ve completed rows, columns or colours. You take off any negative points, then refill the mats and go again. Play continues until, after scoring, a player has completed at least one row (usually five to seven rounds). The player with the most points wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: The Azul board game is the poster child for simple yet emergent game play. The fact each colour can only be scored once per line starts to limit you – especially as completing a colour is desirable, as its worth 10 points. But all your options recede as the game goes on, just with harsher penalties connected to bigger/riskier scoring opportunities. You can try and rush the game in five turns (by quickly completing a row), but this is hard to score well. So in a simple game structure there are multiple paths to victory – but none easy to pull off.
  • The thinker: The reverse of the player board has a blank grid. Each line can still only have one of each colour. But you can choose where they go within that line as you complete them. For me, this opens up your options in how to build your score. But it also limits how much your opponents can easily predict which colour you may go for (they can, but it needs more thought). This extra layer makes an already satisfying game even more so, and in such a simple way. And as it lasts a little over 30 minutes, and sets up/packs down easily, it is a near perfect filler.
  • The trasher: When I first started playing I thought great, another boring abstract. But as the options shrank and it became clear someone was going to get screwed – boom! The real Azul revealed itself. As rounds progress, you start to see how many turns (so sets of tiles) you’ll have to take. But you can rarely be sure until near the end. It’s then a balancing act of what you need versus what you can possibly take. And equally importantly, what will leave your opponents in the deepest doo-doo. Once you start to understand this, you realise that planning a big score is pointless without weighing the consequences of some big negative points. And then you understand just how clever the game is.
  • The dabbler: Firstly, this game is beautiful. From the art to the tiles, it’s the perfect package. Next, it’s easy to learn – and with a theme that would very rarely put a non-gamer off. It works as a very quick two-player game or a slightly longer game with more, but never outstays it’s welcome. And finally it generates conversation and banter: you can chat about what to take, revel in each other’s misfortunes, but till congratulate clever moves. It can be a mean game, sure – but it doesn’t feel as if you’re being picked on. so, all round, this is a real winner.

Key observations

You’ve probably guessed which side of this I’m coming down on… but there are some naysayers. One obvious (and understandable) objection is the meanness. Azul isn’t a game you can play co-cooperatively, as it’s built around the tension of being stuck with tiles you don’t want. So, if you really don’t like games with in-built conflict, Azul may not be for you. But it’s good enough I’d still suggest giving it a go.

Other criticisms are similarly viable. Some players don’t like abstract games; others want their conflict to be clearly personal. Others must have a longer, more complex game; or one where you can plan more in advance. Again, to each his own. These are not criticisms – more statements of what a player likes and dislikes. So again, if you fall into these camps, the game may not be for you.

As one player said, rating it 2-out-of-10: “I can see why this game is so popular, but it’s not for me.” Fair play to them. But at the time of writing, just over 100 people had rated Azul as a three or less. More than 20,000 have rated it 8 or higher.

Conclusion: Azul board game

As someone who dabbles with game design, it’s releases such as Azul that remind me why I bother. Game design is an oft thankless task. You slave for hours on something you think is worthwhile in the hope it will make at least a splash. Just wanting people to enjoy it, knowing the chances of making any real money are slim to none. You have to think of it as a hobby, even if you hope for more. Then you watch another film tie-in Monopoly sully the shelves of your local ginorm-o-store and think – why bother?

This is why. Because, one day, I may put together a bunch of ideas that 20,000 fellow gamers think is outstanding. That sells enough copies to actually register as a blip on my bank statement. Played by gamers and non-gamers alike. And sure, before you say it – I know it’s incredibly unlikely. But if you can equip an army of monkeys with typewriters, why not dice and cards…?

* Looking for more games? Check out 150+ more board and card game reviews.