A review by AG (Adult Gamer), NG (Adult Non-Gamer) and LPG (Little Pre-Gamer)
AG: Aquarena sounds fun: a look at the secret goings on in your average, everyday pond. Expect colourful violence! Backstabbing betrayals! Romancing fish!
LPG: What you talking about AG?
AG: Yes, hello: it certainly looks promising. Baptiste Le Corre's Aquarena has art from Vidu and it's published by Geek Attitude Games.
LPG: So colourful, seems exciting!
NG: Definitely vibrant colours. And that fish/creature, on the cover? Looks like it's eyeing the fly.
LPG: Dulux (plushie dog) says the fly and spider web on the cover are his favourite.
AG: That's good to know: in this game, you play as a predator, and the fly, amongst other things, are your prey.
NG: Ah, now it makes sense: Aquarena!
LPG: I wonder if other players can be eaten?
AG: That is a very strong possibility, as each player can prey upon each other's predators. The game is easily set up: you have a central, circular pond/score track to place each player's coloured frog meeple (frogle?) upon, and water tiles that snap nicely around the circumference where the main action takes place.
LPG: Just like a puzzle; very satisfying.
AG: Yes, it is tightly designed: fly tokens go on the tiles; first player gets a little heron standee.
LPG: Oooh, I love the bird! So pretty!
AG: It is rather effective. Then each player gets an identical deck of ten predators, differently colourcoded to match each frogle. You're dealt from it a hand of three cards and you're good to go.
LPG: The cards are very good: it's easy to know what the creatures are. And such nice details!
AG: Agreed: each predator type is easy to see, their ability is well noted on the bottom and their speed clearly numericalised. My minor gripe is that the blue and white player decks (more like grey) are irksomely similar, and it's a shame that the different creatures are identical across all decks.
But, I digress. Players take it in turns to place one predator card from their hand, face up, on a water tile, before discarding one card face down and refreshing their hand. Once two predators per player are splashing about, the next two are placed face down until all have four eager participants in place.
Next phase: the first player reveals all face-down lurkers on one water tile: these then gleefully go from fastest (1) to slowest (10) in a chompfest that can target fly tokens, other predators or even your own if you're not careful, all depending on what each alpha can do. The next player repeats until all is revealed, then final scoring for the round is tallied. Unsurprisingly, the more you eat, the higher your score. One of four round tokens is discarded, the heron passes to the next player, and the merry circle of life is repeated until all four rounds have gone by, with the biggest glutton being the winner.
LPG: Sounds interesting.
AG: For sure: feels a lot like poker: there's a great sense of tension, bluffing and tactical placement. Do I place a fast, powerful predator face up, trying to put off others from using that water tile? What are the odds that the face-down card is an easy prey or a real threat? Each of the ten predator cards is very unique, and you'll soon get a grasp of their uses -although a couple, such as the slow fish and the extremely vulnerable dragonfly, seemed a bit pointless -or maybe, their point is to also have weaknesses in your deck and work around them...
LPG: It's all very...tricky. Easy, but very tricky.
AG: Absolutely, one of those delightful 'easy to learn, hard to master' games, which is a great thing.
I'd say that the game is at its best with three or four players ground, although even at a chaotic max of six players it still functions quite well. I wouldn't recommend it with just two players unless some special rules were to be involved. That's because any type of lead iss hard to overcome. Be it from a lucky chain-meal or actual skill, often the player who gets into the lead continues to remain ahead.
As enjoyable as Aquarena is, there's only ten predators to juggle, so that could become repetitive. Would more cards break this finely tuned ecosystem? I'd settle for an Aquarena: Rockpools alternative setting, as I'd quite enjoy the same, but in other locales. For indeed, I'd say that I'd happily swallow up quite a few more games of this well-crafted, aquatic contest. Call me a Pike and let me loose against other fellow species: I'm most impressed by this seemingly simple, yet delightful deep product!
(Review by Stefano Ronchi)