Who would have thought that combining dominoes with flower-child graphics would make such an appealing game? Looney Labs is releasing a 10th Anniversary edition of Aquarius, their groovy domino-like card game. I got a chance to test-drive the new edition, which features new graphics, some new cards and alternate rules for preschoolers.
I played several games of Aquarius with my wife, my kids and my regular gaming group (mostly high-schoolers), and everyone agreed that this one’s a keeper. It’s easy to learn, quick to play, appealing to look at and makes for some good lightweight strategy between rounds of something heftier. It works with two to five players, takes less than half an hour per game, and retails for fifteen bucks. The game will be released on August 28th, so take a look at my review and grab a copy at the end of the month.
As you can see from the photo, Aquarius cards are brightly colored and pretty simple: there’s text on the Action cards (“Move a Card,” “Trade Goals,” etc.) but the rest of the cards have one to four panels featuring the five elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Space. To play a card, you need to match at least one element. Each player has a Goal card which shows one of the elements: your goal is to create seven connected panels of that element.
The trick, though, comes in the action cards, which allow you to move cards, “zap” cards (by putting them into your own hand), or even mix up the goal cards. You could find yourself with six connected panels of Water and then suddenly needing to work on Fire instead. There are also bonuses for matching more than one element when playing cards, which encourages players to match elements other than their own.
The alternate rules modify Aquarius for younger players by introducing a piece at a time: first, just as a simple dominoes game; then, introducing the idea of goals without using any action cards; finally, using a single action at a time. I played the matching game version with my two-year-old and five-year-old and they both picked it up pretty quickly (although the two-year-old needed a little help getting the card orientations correct). I think after a few more times practicing with the matching, my five-year-old will be ready to start playing with goals.
The high schoolers and my wife and I all enjoyed it just as much. The possibility of having the goal changed makes it interesting, although I did think it might be better to remove a few of the action cards if you prefer a more stable game.
In keeping with the theme, the cards have flowers, rainbows and VW buses, and the player with the longest hair goes first. Even if you’re not a hippie, you have to admit at the end of the game that the table looks really cool. The one thing I didn’t care for? The new “eye-catching two part box,” which uses more cardboard than necessary and seems counter to the spirit of this earth-loving peace-and-love game. (Boxes that are too large for their contents are a personal pet peeve of mine, so take that with a grain of salt. Personally I prefer a tuckbox that’s the same size as the cards; it’s more portable and saves space in my game closet.)
Wired: Groovy graphics, quick to play and quick to learn, great for both toddlers and adults.
Tired: New box is a waste of cardboard. If you have short hair, you won’t get to go first.
Verdict: A “family game” that lives up to that name, Aquarius is an excellent addition to your games collection. It doesn’t allow for terribly deep strategy, but even the most hard-core gamers need something lighter from time to time.