Little Deer Isle
Game Overview and Setup
Aqua Romana’s theme is building aqueducts in ancient Rome. It is a game of absolutely no luck where you lay tiles on a grid and try to construct the longest (sometimes) aqueducts. When no players can place any more tiles, all the completed aqueducts are scored.
The box contains a big beautiful board, nice thick tiles, polished wood Master Builders (on which you must apply stickers (some assembly required), and little wood Workers. The storage box could have been better thought out, but that’s nitpicking.
The rules are fairly clear with one exception. The ‘Compulsory Turn’ rule is oddly worded, at least in the English version; I think it is a mistranslation. It simply means you have to lay a tile, if you can, whether you want to or not.
Each player uses Workers to lay Tiles from their Reservoir(s) to extend their aqueducts. The number of Reservoirs and Workers depend on number of players. There are four types of aqueduct tiles: straight, curve, bridge and double curve. Any Worker can build any tile, but only if there is an appropriate Master Builder in his rank or file to direct the construction.
Thus, there are four types of Master Builders: straight, curve, bridge and double curve; four of each type plus a Master Master Builder who can direct the construction of any type of tile. For example, if a worker has a curve Master Builder in his rank or file, then that worker can build a curve. Ditto for straight, double curve or straight. If a Worker has more than one Master Builder in his rank or file, he can choose from any one of them.
Set up is quick. You place the reservoirs in the same place for every game depending on how many players there are. I would have liked to see some indication of starting position on the board itself. As it is, you have to look at the rules for the starting position (if you can’t remember). With two players, you get two reservoirs feeding six aqueducts and each player uses six Workers in two colors. With three players, you get one reservoir with four aqueducts and play with four Workers in one color. With four players, you get one reservoir with three Workers in one color.
One Master Builder of each type and the Master Master Builder are sequestered in reserve.
Let the thinking begin!
Determine starting player. Proceeding clockwise, each player chooses one of the remaining 12 Master Builders and places it on the perimeter track. Hopefully you place the Master Builder in the rank or file of one of your Workers or where one of your Workers will be when he has placed a tile. Once all the Master Builders have been placed, the next player starts to lay tiles.
On your turn you see which of your workers has a Master Builder in his rank or file. For any Worker, you may have multiple Master Builders available. You choose one Mater Builder and take the appropriate tile. Play the tile at the end of the Worker’s aqueduct. Advance the worker to the very end of the aqueduct. You may have to advance more than just one tile if you have managed to connect to an unused piece of aqueduct.
If, by playing a tile, you have extended some other aqueduct, the Worker on any other aqueduct is moved forward to the end, as well. It doesn’t matter if the Worker is yours or not. If any aqueduct runs into the edge of the board or into the side of another aqueduct, that aqueduct is closed-off and scored immediately. You can never play a tile that will connect two aqueducts together.
The Master Builders live on a single-lane track surrounding the play grid. Each time a Worker uses a Master Builder to place a tile, the Worker then advances to the new end of the aqueduct and you get to move the Master Builder clockwise around the perimeter track. The Master Builder is moved to the next open space leapfrogging any Master Builders in the way. There can only be one Master Builder on any one space of the perimeter track.
If the Master Builder goes around a corner (fountain) the Worker gets to place another tile of the same type but it can’t be connected to any aqueduct. While honoring that requirement, you can play the bonus tile anywhere. I like to place it somewhere I can hook up to it later. Or I like to use it to close off someone’s aqueduct.
After you have placed a tile, you can voluntarily close off and score one of your aqueducts.
Once an aqueduct is closed off, its Worker comes out of play and is placed on the scoring track (Podiums). The odd thing about these Podiums they can only hold one worker (with the exception of the 3 and 7 Podiums which can hold two Workers). You count up the number of tiles your aqueduct passes over (you may go over a tile twice and it counts twice), and that’s the score. Now place your Worker on the appropriate Podium. Oh wait! That Podium is occupied! Tough luck, you have to move down to the next open Podium.
After scoring, you take one of the sequestered reserve Master Builders. You hold onto it playing it at the beginning of your next turn.
This game is all about strategy. It is pretty easy strategy, not like deep chess, and doesn’t seem to lead (too often) to analysis paralysis (AP).
First strategy is placing the Master Builders at the start. Because of the way the reservoirs are laid out in the two and four player games, most Master Builders you place could also be used by your opponents’ Workers. You also need to think ahead at this point so your Workers don’t get caught without a Master Builder. And you would probably like to take advantage of the bonus tiles offered when a Master Builder rounds a fountain.
Then you have to keep an eye on the Podium and lengths of all your aqueducts (and how long they can possibly get). You’ll see that pretty soon the board will be divided into smaller and smaller regions severely limiting the total length of one or more of your aqueducts. You must take this into account along with the maximum length of your opponents’ aqueducts. If you suddenly see you and your opponent each have an aqueduct that can extend to 9 tiles and the 9 Podium is already taken, you might as well close off your aqueduct and take the 8 Podium before s/he does.
Another great strategy is interweaving your aqueducts so you extend more than one at a time (duh).
Since you take one of your Workers off the board each time you close off and aqueduct, you will be out of the game at some point. But the other players keep going; even if there is only one player. That is a good position to be in if you have the potential of laying tiles and grabbing a good Podium.
The game ends when there are no tiles played for a whole round. Don’t get caught with one of your Workers stuck on an aqueduct instead of a Podium!!!
The Worker on the highest Podium gets a 4-point bonus. The worker on the second-highest Podium gets a 3-point bonus and the worker on the third-highest Podium gets a 2-point bonus. Then add all your Podiums together and that’s your score.
I love this game.
The components are nice and the dollar value is there.
The gameplay is unique.
It is a good gateway game. I have taught it to many people in only about 5 minutes. There are some comments that the rules are too complicated, but that’s bunk; at least compared with the rules for some other games like Pizarro & Co or the Munchkin games.
My 8-year-old son has no problem playing this game and doing quite well (I can’t let him win, can I)???
It’s a solid strategy game as there’s no luck. Nothing’s hidden; everything is right there in front of you to win or lose. And if you’re a weaker player, you may want to shut down one of your aqueducts prematurely just to get the Master Master Builder over to your area of operations. Or, as I pointed our earlier, you may want to do it to grab a Podium from your opponent.
One review mentioned randomness in this game; it is not random at all. To put it another way, it is random like chess is random; if two games are played with the same moves the result will be identical.
My final thought is, why is this game way down in the rankings? Come on, fans, lets pump it up!
My wife likes this game a lot - good thing, since I bought it for her as an anniversary present. I think that in the two player game there's little randomness. However, if you've ever played with 4, you'll find that the tiles and builders can change so much by the time your turn comes back around to you that the game does seem rather random.
Great review. Thanks.