Friday, June 14, 2024

AQUA: Biodiversity in the Oceans - Board Game Review

What if you play Cascadia, but under water? Well, let me introduce you to AQUA: Biodiversity in the Oceans. Any draft game will feel similar to other draft games to a certain extent, but AQUA borrows a lot of its identity from Cascadia - which is understandable since Cascadia has some great core ideas. It does mean however that unless you really love this game style specifically, you might not need AQUA if you already own Cascadia. But let's dig down a bit deeper, does AQUA have any original ideas as well?

The game in AQUA is to create underwater habitats/coral reefs to attract certain animals. To do this you draft hexagonal pieces of reef that need to be fitted with other pieces in certain ways to allow for you to place animal tokens. These habitat tokens look just like in Cascadia, even down to your starting zone, except one is on land and the other under water. One major difference here between AQUA and Cascadia is that where Cascadia allows you to put your habitat tokens wherever (you score more points for fitting them certain ways though), you must fit them following certain rules in AQUA. Also unlike Cascadia where you place animal tokens every turn, in AQUA you can only place an animal token once your habitat tokens line up to fill certain requirements.

At first you can attract smaller animals, and once they are placed in certain patterns you can attract larger animals for bigger points. There is a lot of strategizing when you choose between fast, small points or try to build for larger, harder to reach points - just like any good draft game should be. There are also a lot of optional requirements to meet for extra points. Trying to keep the end game in sight while making good choices here and now works well in AQUA. There isn't much antagonizing between players, while you can pick a habitat token you don't really need simply to mess with someone else's well laid plans, it's difficult to completely ruin someone's day like in LUDO. This is a big plus point for me as it's easier to convince my kids to play something where they'll always feel like they have a chance.

The game itself is heavy, literally - all the habitat and animal tokens are in gorgeous, chunky card board that are easy to handle and fun to look at, there is some great value for money here. When I first opened the box I was worried that all the tokens would be thrown around, since the game comes with no bags to hold them. Turns out the game itself provides you with a setup that you build inside the box that allows you to store your tokens just perfectly when you want to put your game away.

I mentioned in my review of Cascadia that even my 5 yo can play it with some minor help, this is even more true for AQUA where the playstyle is very adaptable depending on who you are playing with. In essence the game is just about matching colors and trying to build shapes. Me and my kids usually just play with the face value points, whereas more seasoned players can opt in for all the extra requirements to try to gather more points. Or not - the simplest form of AQUA is a nice, quick little fix of board gaming that works well, and is easy to set up, understand and play.

It seems to be standard nowadays that draft board games come with some sort of solo mode - a fascinating trend in board games, that I hope never goes away - and AQUA has one too of course. It doesn't change much of the setup, you simply play the game as usual but try to beat certain challenges. The rule book (which has a nice, luxurious feel to it) comes with an extensive highscore board to compete against other players, or just yourself like a chaser of points in a Tetris game.

AQUA borrows a lot from Cascadia but has its own identity, though maybe not enough unless you're really into this kind of gameplay. AQUA might even be even more adaptable to different skill levels but in the end the choice probably simply comes down to what you prefer - to play with bears or whale sharks?

1 comment:

  1. As an active gamer, I have had a pleasant experience with AQUA: Biodiversity in the Oceans. Although the game mechanics are inspired by Cascadia, the establishment of underwater ecosystems is distinct and unique. It provides gradient difficulty, suitable for players of different levels, allowing you to build your own underwater world. The physical components of the game are thick and full-bodied, with impressive tactile and visual effects. According to evaluations from other players, although it may be a bit complicated, the depth of AQUA's strategy is what attracts people. Overall, AQUA is a great choice as it has both depth and ease of use for me.