First Impressions – Aqualin

Aqualin box cover

There’s something fishy about this game…

Under the Ocean

“I’ve bought a new game!” announced Sarah. “It’s a watery game.”

She looked very pleased with herself. Sarah does like games that involve water. She’s the reason we own Oceanos and Deep Blue. This game, Aqualin by Marcello Bertocchi, was one I hadn’t heard of. Still I’m always happy to give something new a try.

It’s a lovely little box containing a lovely little game.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this. Aqualin is a two player, abstract game where players try to make contiguous sets by taking it in turns to place tiles on a grid. The tiles show various fishes in various colours and this leads onto the really interesting bit about this game.

The Twist

You see, one player is trying to connect tiles of a matching species together. Meanwhile, the other player is joining up tiles of the same colour. Additionally, a player may move one tile before placing their tile for the turn.

Now, if I can get the blue seahorse and yellow seahorse to meet and break up that yellow block…

That’s really it. It’s so simple! At the start of the game you’re merrily moving tiles and laying tiles and wondering where the challenge is. But before you know it that wide open board has filled up almost to the point of bursting. Your choice of moves is becoming more and more limited. It’s like the walls are closing in, inducing a near-claustrophobic feeling.

“I’m so clever, tucking that green fish out of the way but, oh no!, I’ve left my red starfish vulnerable! Sarah is going to move it and mess up that big block of starfish I’ve got. I just know it! Gnnrrr!” This and similar thoughts were soon whizzing round my brain.

After 15 minutes it’s all over and time to tally the points. It’s a good job it’s that quick or my brain would have dribbled out of my ear. I can imagine one of the key points of development was working out the human limit for this puzzle. A 6×6 grid was it; 7×7 would have been too much. I pity the poor playtesters who’s heads exploded like a scene from Scanners!

First impressions? I’m really impressed! This will definitely join Hive and Jaipur as a go-to pub game for Sarah and me. Oh, and the lovely Azul tiles don’t hurt either.

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