Submarines, crystals, and terrifying Octopods. It's just another day in the AquaSphere, the latest Stefan Feld game to grace our tables. Let's see what we thought, in our Double-Take Review.
- 1 Research Station consisting of 6 Sectors
- 1 HQ
- 4 player boards
- 6 Center tiles
- 38 Time markers
- 7 Programming tiles
- 6 Base labs
- 41 Research cards
- 3 Setup cards
- 7 Program cards
- 30 Lab Expansion tiles
- 20 Crystals
- 15 Octopods
- 1 set of Scientist, Engineer, Sub, and Bot counters in each of the four colors.
This will definitely be one of the reviews where we give you a simplified version of the rules. Because while the game consists of two "simple" actions, all of those actions have lots of pieces to them, and everything interacts with everything else.
Basically, there are two main pieces of the game: the HQ and the Research Station. On your turn you'll either program a Bot in the HQ, or take an action with a programmed Bot in the Research Station.
You have an Engineer piece that starts each turn at the bottom of HQ. When you choose to program a Bot, you move your Engineer up to an available program spot. There are seven programming spaces, and each holds a different program. Because of the way the HQ is laid out, your Engineer will only ever visit three of those programming spaces. So you have to look at the state of those programs and figure out which route you'll take, and which route lets you accomplish your goals. And, of course, every turn those programs change positions, based on program cards. You can always see the program card for the next turn, so you know where the programs will be.
See? Planning. Lots of planning.
Every time you program, it creates a Bot that's ready to do that one, specific thing. It might be gathering crystals, or collecting Time markers, or building a submarine, or killing the pesky Octopods that are slowly overrunning the Research Station. The Bots don't carry out that action until you tell them to do it.
So you're either programming a Bot, or carrying out an action with an already programmed Bot. You can only ever have two programmed Bots at a time, so there's another layer of planning and thinking.
There are all sorts of intricacies involved in those two actions. Area control. Negative points. Sacrificing crystals in order to cross lines on the VP track. I can't go through it all.
There are four turns, and at the end of each turn there's a scoring. And after the fourth turn there's also a final scoring. Most VPs wins.
Firestone--Stefan Feld is one of my favorite game designers, and I've played 15 of his 22 games. AquaSphere has already climbed into my top three Feld games.
Jeremiah-- I'm definitely not as versed in the realm of Feld, but AquaSphere is probably about as deep of a Euro as you're going to find on my table. IMO it's about the perfect weight of a game--even with all the moving parts it doesn't become a 3-4 hour extravaganza. We've played with 4 players in just about an hour which seems about right for the game.
Firestone--As you can probably guess from my hand-waving of the rules, this game is on the complex end of the spectrum. But it's not overly complex. Yes, it will take a long time to explain the game, and there's no way to really "jump in and explain things as you go along." (That's a terrible way to teach a game, anyway.) Jeremiah and I each played a (different) major-ish rule incorrectly on our first plays. It's just a game that lends itself to that on early plays. But once people know what they're doing, it all meshes together in intuitive ways.
Jeremiah--If you remember that at its core the game is pretty much an area-control game, you're halfway home. It's just as you strive to control an area you can activate a bunch of components to the game that will increase your scoring ability, stop you from gaining negative points, allow you to progress your own--sort of--tech tree, gain more actions and more. There are lots of strategies to employ, and lots to consider.
Firestone--Really, it's a game about timing. You can figure out what you want to do, but you have to also figure out when you want to do it. If you wait too long, someone else might grab those time tokens, or kill those Octopods, or steal your precious Crystals.
Jeremiah--Yes, timing is key, I rushed to get my bots deployed and gain control of a few areas, but towards the end of the game I ran out of bots and everyone came through and kicked all of my bots out causing me to lose control and ultimately the game. I jumped out to a good lead, but it all came crashing down on me!
Firestone--The only reason this doesn't get a perfect 10 from me is that I don't think the submarines are a viable strategy. They're expensive to deploy--and get more expensive as the game progresses. You do get VPs for them, and they do open up more slots to score VPs with your Bots, but if you deploy them all, you only score 5 VPs. It seems much better to upgrade your Lab, and only put a few subs out. I have yet to hear of someone getting all 6 subs out and also winning the game. It's a small thing, but keeps it from being a perfect 10, I think.
Jeremiah-- I really enjoyed the theme and the aesthetic design, as well. Lots of bright, vibrant colors, and, of course, for some reason we kept wanting to quote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Firestone--I love the colors and the vibrancy. I'm sure there are some graphic designers who poo-poo the design, but I think it's great. (But then, I also love the look of Power Grid, so what do I know...?)
Firestone's Final Verdict--AquaSphere is already my front-runner for Game of the Year. Yeah, I know it's still early, but last year One Night Ultimate Werewolf was my front-runner in January, and it was still there on the throne at the end. I loved AquaSphere from the first moments of my first game. If you like meaty Euros, take a trip to the AquaSphere.
Jeremiah's Final Verdict--This game is very thinky. As it is with most games with an area-control element, you're going to be all up in everyone's business, but that's what makes it fun. Just don't be surprised when the shoe is on the other foot... AquaSphere is a really fun, deep game that also features a great set of components, and great looking art! This will continue to be a featured event at our game nights. What a great game!
Theology of Games would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing Jeremiah with a review copy of AquaSphere. (Firestone paid for his own, because...Feld.) This in no way affected our opinions of the game.