Our household is divided regarding these two games. We love both but with a gun to our head, I would side with Azul and Rachel would back Sagrada. I’m going to be upfront now and say that we highly recommend both but if you’re curious as to a comparison, please read on.
While they’re both colorful abstract games, I don’t think they scratch the same itch.
Sagrada is not a heavy game by any means but that does not make it a simple game either. It’s light but has variable rules (objectives, secret objectives, and special tools) which add some complexity (and variability) to each game. The decisions in Sagrada also indirectly impact other players due to the recessed board. It’s harder to see what another player is gunning for and thus harder to knowingly grab the dice they need. In the later stages it does get easier if that’s your motive as you can see that they’ve been hoarding red dice all game but for most of the game (and to be honest, even at this stage), you’re more focused on yourself. The decision-making in Sagrada is lighter and typically more easy to decipher where you’re going to place your drafted die as the player boards and placement restrictions only give you so many options. Due to the objectives and tools however, each game will play a little differently as a players strategy will change with what’s available to them.
Azul also has indirect interaction but the decisions can be much more direct and therefore, the game can become much more cutthroat. With the three-dimensional tiles and identical board layout, it’s easy to see what each player has and what each player is going for. With the scoring occurring each round and players being penalized for “breaking” tiles, Azul can become contentious quickly. Azul is designed in such a way to give players that option. They can game the system to ensure another player gets a hand they don’t want to take or worse, they cannot take. Players can be as nice or as mean as they wish. Due to scoring being uniform each game and the randomness just coming from the tile draw (or from playing the blank variant board), strategy won’t differ greatly from game to game. Even with different player counts, the core of what a player is doing remains the same.
While they share the abstract theme and colorful components, one can be viewed as a family-friendly abstract whereas the other can prey on the vulnerabilities of others.
Sagrada, with the inclusion of Tools, allows players to correct any mistakes or randomness that has occurred. The Tools are basically broken into two categories: drafting and placing a die or moving a die. Drafting and placing allow players to mitigate the randomness of the dice draw and roll which helps give the player a little more control over their board and placement. The moving a die might open a spot for future gain but also hinders a player as it guarantees a spot will not be filled. These Tools, while adding variability and some complexity, at least give the player an opportunity to handle the randomness of the game. If you’re a purist and like to see the entire player board complete, Sagrada is definitely a game that allows you to do that. Sagrada feels one-dimensional as while the tools and challenges may differ each game, the general feel of a turn never changes.
Azul can be punishing due to the negative points and the inability to fix what’s in front of you. Every decision is important and the chaining of scoring is pivotal to a players strategy. Azul, with the variant on the back of the playing board offers a brand new challenge that I feel is much more difficult than anything Sagrada has to offer.
Sagrada feels like a game I would introduce to non-gaming friends as something new and different. Azul has that extra challenge that I would test on my more experienced gaming friends.
Azul is best at two-players but can accommodate any number and works fine at each. Sagrada is best at four-players but can accommodate any number and works fine at two.
These are two games that both deserve a place in someones collection. At the very least, they’re at least two games that should be experienced by modern board game hobbyists if they find an opportunity.