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SPIEL '17 Preview: Iquazú, or Majorities on the Falls

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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German publisher HABA kicked off its family game line in 2015 with Adventure Land, Spookies, and Rüdiger Dorn's Karuba, which went on to pick up a Spiel des Jahres nomination in 2016.

The company released more family games in 2016, and for 2017 it's going even bigger, releasing Karuba: The Card Game (as well as a Karuba Junior for its traditional audience of younger players), the somewhat traditional roll-dice-to-get-stuff King of the Dice (to be previewed later), the abstract-ish card-laying game CONEX, the firecracker-tossing Boom, Bang, Gold, and the game I'm talking about today: Michael Feldkötter's Iquazú.

A glance at the cover of Iquazú might have you thinking of Avatar, but the gameplay is set in the Iguazú Falls located on the border of Argentina and Brazil. I'm guessing that "Iquazú" is how Germans spell "Iguazú", although the name change might be used to indicate that the action in this game takes place on an alternate Earth, one in which the Inox tribe — which includes you — wants to hide their gems for safekeeping behind the Iguazú waterfalls. To do this, they have called upon their water dragon Silon to temporarily block the flow of the river so that they can embed their gems in the rocky walls behind the falls.

All of which is a familiar genre premise to set up the somewhat fiddly, yet extremely cool mechanism that represents the falls, which can be seen below in this set-up for two players:

Okay, that shows you the bits in the game: a box of gems in four colors with each player using only one of those colors, a box of wooden water droplets, cards in three colors, a scoring track, and...something in the middle that isn't exactly clear. How about we look at this close-up image instead?

Several turns into a two-player game

Yes, there we go! The colored spaces on the rock wall represent holes where you can stash gems. Why are these spots in three colors? Because otherwise you wouldn't have much of a game. In terms of the setting, I'm not sure what these colors are supposed to represent — perhaps the different colors of vines down which you must rappel in order to reach this location — but whatever it is, these colors matter during the game, so pay attention to them.

On a turn, you either draw four cards from the deck (with these cards showing one of the three colors on the rock wall) or you play 1-5 cards of the same color to place a gem on a hole in the rock wall of that same color. Why 1-5 cards? Because the more cards you play, the farther to the right you can place that gem.

Underneath the dragon are numbers 1-5, showing how many cards you must play to place in each column

What's the point of all this? Distracting yourself from the terrors of the outside world? Perhaps so, but more specifically you want to place gems in a better way than your fellow tribe members, and the only way such things are measured are in points.

More specifically, each column of the rock wall will be scored once during the game, and when it's scored, the player with the most gems in that column scores the most points available for that column, the player with the secondmost gems scores the secondmost points, and so on — but note that in a game with n players, only n-1 players will score points in a column. If players are tied in gem count, then the player with the bottommost gem breaks the tie. Let's assume that they took more chances rappelling down the rock face and are now being rewarded.

But wait, there's more! Whenever a column is scored, you also look for majorities in each row, with a bonus token being given to whoever has the most gems in that row; ties are broken by whoever has the gem farthest to the right, with the bottommost right position being the final tiebreaker. These bonus tokens net you:

• Points, which can be hidden for now and added to your score at game's end for a "surprise" ending
• Cards, with you spending those tokens whenever you choose
• A joker ability so that you can fill a hole by discarding the right number of cards without care for their color
• An extra turn, which is the best bonus of all, so fight for these!

You can use as many bonus tokens as you want on a turn, and since the points for each column escalate as the game progresses, you'll likely want to save these for critical turns in the future.

My green gem is far behind near the end of a four-player game — so sad

That's almost the entire game. All of these components assembled in this elaborate structure are in the service of you either drawing cards or spending cards to place a gem each turn — with one exception. The last player in turn order at the start of the game holds a box of water droplets, and at the end of this player's turn, they place a droplet in the highest empty space in the leftmost column. The dragon is moving slowly across the falls, and the water is starting to drip down as it moves.

This drip-drip-drip functions just like any other drip-drip-drip you've encountered in music or movies. It's a timing device, something to ensure that the game keeps moving; more importantly, the drips pressure you and influence what you want to do because they will fill open spaces in the current column, perhaps locking in majorities that you wanted to challenge, whether the lone vertical column that will be scored or the five bonus actions available when that scoring takes place.

Scoring in four steps: score points & bonuses, remove part of the falls, slide the falls right, replace falls and reveal new bonuses

As much as Iquazú is about majorities, the game is also about timing. I've played five times on a preproduction copy from HABA — four times with two players and once with four — and the more you play, the more you start paying attention to the rhythm of the game. You know that 0-n gems (or possibly more due to bonus turns) will be added to the board each turn, along with one water drop; you see what everyone is fighting for, whether due to intent or due to them having certain cards; you know that in at most x turns the column will fill, the waterfall will advance, and bonuses will be distributed, so what will you do in those turns?

Timing plays out in multiple ways during the game. If a column fills and scores, and the next column is already full, then it will score as well — but only after you've slid the waterfall right, hiding the leftmost column of gems and revealing a new set of bonus tokens to be distributed. Yes, more bonuses! The cost to place gems in the rightmost columns is high, but they'll factor in to you winning bonus tokens multiple times, probably more than paying back that investment although you don't know what the bonuses will be until the waterfall moves.

Another timing element comes into play each time a column scores, because after doing everything else, the player holding the water droplets pass them to the right, thus shifting responsibility to someone else, while also giving them more control over when a scoring takes place. When you have those droplets, you can close two spots in the leftmost column, giving you a greater opportunity to score when the time is right; if you have an extra turn bonus, your control is even greater — which might inspire someone else to close the column so that you have pass along the waterbox before you get much use out of it.

Bonuses during set-up before you add the falls

The final three columns score all at once, with a huge payoff for the leftmost column and middling (yet still meaningful) points for the two remaining rock columns. The final two columns of bonuses are nothing but points since other rewards hold little interest by that point. You should have already spent your collected bonuses for cards, extra turns, or (far less rarely) color-changing joker powers. Leave nothing in reserve!

The rock wall is comprised of five double-sided game boards

In short, Iquazú plays out like multiple, old-school overlapping area majority games, with the moving waterfall shifting the balance of each player's holdings over the course of the game. Despite its straightforward gameplay Iquazú takes a while to set up, but the waterfall structure is ingenious, exemplifying the effort that HABA puts into a design to create a particular experience during play.

Your box will likely have external graphics...and an insert
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