One of the biggest problems board gamers have is not just learning a new game, but then remembering how to play it after a prolonged period of not playing it.
There’s no such issue with Aqualin, a cute, abstract tile-laying game by Marcello Bertocchi, published by Kosmos.
Sure, there’s a theme here but really it’s just to add appeal to the admittedly lovely, tactile components – it does feel like an abstract puzzle. Rather than gathering aquatic creatures together, it does just feel like you’re lining up matching types. Which isn’t necessarily a criticism, just an observation.
In Aqualin, one player will be attempting to group tiles by colour and the other player will be trying the same with creature types. On a turn, first players can move an already placed tile as far as it’ll go in a straight line (before hitting the edge of the board or another tile), then place a tile of their own on the grid from their face up selection of six tiles. Once placed, they’ll then draw another tile from the supply and the next player takes their turn in the same way.
The game ends when all tiles have been used and the board’s grid is filled. Each player then scores for their chosen type: 1 point for two joined up tiles by creature or colour, 3 points for a group of 3, 6 points for four tiles together, 10 for 5 and lastly, a massive 15 points if a player can get all six tiles of one creature type or colour to be touching on the grid.
It’s fast to learn – you can genuinely be up and running in a minute or so – and only takes around ten minutes to play. Each player will need to really keep an eye on both their opponent’s supply and their particular tile types in order to do well; despite the simplicity of the game, being successful at the overall matching puzzle takes a good deal of concentration.
The components are lovely for the most part; Bakelite tiles that are solid, well made and stand out well against the almost pastel colours of the aquatic board.
However, there are a few issues. A few of the colours are too close to each other in terms of their shade; I did have difficulty telling some tiles apart in that sense (though my specific colour blindness doesn’t help with that).
Also, there’s no score pad – and, though there’s a really handy way of breaking the scoring down by groups included in the rules, it’s still a pain to get everything noted and this should have been a no brainer for inclusion. An opaque bag to draw tiles from would also have been a useful and thoughtful addition to what’s provided here.
The board feels a little thin too, but that’s certainly not the end of the world. The theme really doesn’t feel particularly integral to the game either; those players expecting an aquatic experience will be disappointed with just how abstract Aqualin feels.
Overall, however, Aqualin is a game that’s really easy to pick up and play; it’s almost the very definition of ‘easy to play, hard to master’ – and it can be enjoyed by players of just about any age.
If you don’t mind its abstract nature and understand that it might take a little while to actually get good at it, Aqualin is a pretty cool two player game. There’s a certain amount of passive aggressiveness in its chilled out, sort-of asymmetric gameplay which is unusual, but not unwelcome, making for a somewhat unique two player tile placement game.
You can purchase Aqualin from Amazon here.
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