Caitlyn Paget
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I picked up Aquaretto because I was looking for a lighter board game with a fun theme to help fill a gap in my collection. I had played Coloretto and thought it was pretty good, but I really didn’t want another card game competing for the chance to hit the table. I chose Aqua over Zoo because the reviews consistently said that Aqua had a bit more strategic depth: I did playtest Aqua before buying it, and I looked through Zoo’s rules just to confirm my impression. At this point, I have no desire to buy Zooloretto or to further expand my copy of Aquaretto.
This review is of both Aquaretto and the Coworker Tile expansion.


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Value: Is it worth the price?
8(Aquaretto) / 1 (Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
Aquaretto is just a tiny bit steep for the gameplay and components that you’re getting. But is a reasonable game for your money.
On the other hand, the expansion commits a cardinal sin (IMHO) by forcing players to buy a multi-game expansion in order to get one part of it. I do not own Zooloretto, nor do I ever plan on buying Zooloretto. So I have zero interest in buying a Zooloretto expansion just to get three measly tiles for my Aquaretto game. The fact that they are sold in a single package really makes me feel exploited, it’s trying to get me to spend more money: either buying the expansion just for the parts that I want, or pushing me into Zooloretto (which I really have no need for).
I know that you can print off the expansion online – but I really like having professional components. In my game, I took a some scrap cardboard from the Aquaretto punch-outs and then wrote the Coworker tile titles on each piece with a permanent marker. So they’re definitely homemade, but they match the green background of the zoos.
What I would like to see is a small expansion of the tiles alone.


Variety: Is each play different?
3(Aquaretto) / 4 (Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
Aquaretto doesn’t really have much variety. Sure, there are different animals and the randomness of drawing a tile will make each turn feel slightly different. And then, sure, there are different places to put the animals in your zoo, or different jobs to assign your coworkers. But overall, the game feels very similar from turn to turn and from game to game. This is especially true for experienced players, because there are a few strategies that are stronger (feeding!), so the gameplay ends up focusing on maximizing these strategies for yourself while keeping an eye on what your opponents are doing.
The coworker tiles add a small amount of variety, because they open up some more options for earning points, giving more choice in possible strategies.


Replayability: Can you play again & again?
7(Aquaretto) / 8(Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
Lots of capacity here for replay, but most people will tire of the game eventually. For my group, Aquaretto hits the table pretty regularly but not many days in a row.

Slow to Master: Experience to move beyond rules?
4(Aquaretto) / 5 (Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
This game surprises me in how much there is to keep track of: the “retto” mechanism, zoo design rules, coworker jobs, animal symbols, etc etc etc. Generally, it takes a couple of games for people to get up to speed and to move beyond the rules and into strategy. But once you get there, the game starts to feel much more simple.
The expansion increases the time it takes for players to get up to speed, mostly because the coworker tiles operate in a different way than normal coworker jobs (in that only one player can claim each tile) so it’s another little bit of complexity.


Strategic Depth: Opportunity for decision-making?
4(Aquaretto) / 6 (Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
Strategy-wise, I think that Aquaretto offers an excellent balance between tactics and strategy. The tile draws and truck selections are all about short-term tactics, but then animal placement in your zoo is best done with some long-term strategies in mind. Often the strategies have to be adapted to reflect the tiles that are available, and to react to opponents’ moves, which is also great.
However, I feel that the base game is a little weak on strategy because some collections are worth more points than others. With experienced players, the game becomes a bit predictable, as feeding is the most sought-after strategy.
The coworker tiles re-balances the game so that there is no single dominant strategy, which greatly improves the game. With the inclusion of coworker tiles, Aquaretto really shines because there are multiple levels of both tactics and strategy to consider.


Player Interaction: Contact between players?
7(Aquaretto) / 8 (Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
To be successful in Aquaretto, you really need to be aware of what your opponents are doing, and to play accordingly. Placing tiles on the trucks is all about trying to predict what your opponents are going to do, to try and get the best tiles for yourself while preventing everyone else from getting the tiles that will help them. It creates a great sense of tension. But at the same time, this isn’t a very combative game, because most of the interaction happens indirectly and because the negative effects are never game-ruining.
The coworker tile expansion adds a race element into the game, because the tiles can only be claimed by one person. Because of this, I’ve upped the player interaction score, but only slightly because it doesn’t have a huge effect on the player interaction.


Fun: An enjoyable experience?
8
Personally, I always enjoy a game of Aquaretto; I’ve found that most people think that the game is fun. It’s pretty short, and relatively “nice” in the player interaction, but also very interesting without being a brainburning chore...
However, there are two aspects to the game that can turn some people off. First is the theme: I’ve played with people who find animal-based themes to be too childish or too feminine and just don’t want to play a game about an aquarium. Also, Aquaretto is a lighter game, and I’ve played with people who are bored by it. So for most people, it’s a very enjoyable game, but it doesn’t have universal appeal.


Luck-Free: Is winning independent of luck?
6
Luck is a real factor in game success for both the base game and the expanded game, mitigated by the player’s skill. The random tile draws have a strong effect on each player’s zoo: the right tile at the right time can give an all-important coworker, or can open up new options in animal placement. But a skilled player can judge the trucks and make good choices in truck selection and timing in order to maximize their choice.
Overall, Aquaretto is a combination between luck and skill.


Theme Fit: Does it match the theme?
6
As has been shown by the “retto” series (most specifically by Coloretto), Aquaretto is based on an abstract mechanism which could be used in a game of any theme. But the zoo theme of placing animals in different pens is a great theme. And then the theme is built upon further by the different bonuses available: animal breeding, training, and feeding, as well as coworker jobs.
So the theme is well implemented in the game, even though the central mechanism can be viewed as theme-free.


Gateway: Is it good with non-gamers?
4(Aquaretto) / 2 (Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
Aquaretto isn’t well-suited for a gateway game, because there are too many rules to keep track of. It’s a bit complicated and rule-intensive for non-gamers, so I would recommend starting with other games first, and then moving onto Aquaretto. However, if your non-gamers can handle the complexity, then Aquaretto would be a good gateway.
The coworker expansion adds to the complexity, making it even less suitable as a gateway game.


Rules A-OK: Confirming it isn’t broken?
8(Aquaretto) / 10 (Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
I would say that the Aquaretto rules are just fine. But that the imbalance between possible strategies limits the game and makes variant rules more attractive.
I consider the coworker expansion as being the rule “fix” needed in the game. Once you introduce them, the game gets deeper and I don’t think many people would play the base game alone.


Teachable : Is it easy to teach?
5(Aquaretto) / 4 (Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles)
As I’ve mentioned before, Aquaretto has lots of rules to keep track of and this makes for a lengthy teaching experience. I highly recommend adding a summary card to your game, so that you can skimp on the explanation and still have the detailed information available.
I suggest that you skip the expansion when playing with new players, because it can overload them; instead, add the expansion after a game or two so that the rules can be introduced once they’re comfortable with the base game.


Least Text etc: Minimal Reading/Symbology?
7
The game is language-independent, so there is no reading involved. However there are a handful of symbols to learn: both the symbols on the animal tiles and the symbolism in the coworker placement locations (with pictorial representations on the game boards/tiles). Symbolism is definitely present, but it doesn’t slow down gameplay.

Short Set-Up: Does it set-up quickly?
5
There is quite a bit of set-up: sorting animal types for the number of players, distributing each player’s pieces, and counting out the animal tiles for the last round.
To be honest, I cheat by including all animal types in the game regardless of how many players there are. I find the sorting to be quite tedious, so I don’t do it. And I also find the animals to be cute and don’t ever want to exclude a type from the game. This changes the overall scores that are possible, but it affects all players evenly so I don’t stress about it.


Components: Are the bits high quality?
8
[i]Most of the game is made of pretty thick cardboard, with some beautiful art. Added to this are a cloth tile bag and some great wooden pieces as the “trucks.”
I have two teeny-tiny complaints about the components:
- The zoo boards have a grassy backgrounds, which often confuses new players because they thought the game was about an aquarium. It would have been nice if they’d chosen a more water-related background.
- I’ve made some blank tiles to be used for blocking off truck spaces in a two-player game (out of the leftover cardboard from the punch cards), and I wish that they’d thought of this and included blank tiles in the game. It’s less confusing than using flipped over animal tiles, especially if a truck is bumped during gameplay.

Bottom Line
I highly recommend Aquaretto as a light strategy game, for any audience that enjoys animals. It’s a particularly good choice if you’re looking for something that combines strategy, tactics, and a little luck into a single game.
I consider the coworker tiles to be a mandatory addition to any copy of Aquaretto because they help to balance the strategy avenues, which really “fixes” the game. However it is not necessary to purchase the expansion, as you can easily make your own tiles.



For those that are interested here is an overlay graph of Aquaretto compared to Aquaretto plus Coworker Tiles:


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Andrew MacLeod
Canada
London
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And when, exactly, are we playing Churchill again?
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I don't agree with everything you've said, Tathta.....but boy, I love how thorough you are! Fabulous!
 
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Caitlyn Paget
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amacleod wrote:
I don't agree with everything you've said, Tathta.....but boy, I love how thorough you are! Fabulous!


Thanks! That's the best praise there is, as not everyone will agree with each other.

Occasionally, I also come on a bit strong with my opinions - as you can see by my small rant about the expansion cost in this review. So hopefully I don't get in too much trouble for it. whistle

Shameless plug: If you like this review, then check out my other ones too...
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