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Aqualin Review, A simple to learn but difficult to master abstract tile laying board game

I love discovering new two-player only board games, especially games that are easy to learn but difficult to master, with bonus points for having a small footprint. Aqualin fits all of those criteria

Aqualin is a two-player only tile placement game featuring excellent component quality and quick, simple to learn, rules.

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What do you get with a copy of Aqualin?

Aqualin was designed by Marcello Bertocchi and published by KOSMOS in 2020. It features artwork from Sophie Rekasowski. This two-player abstract strategy game takes minutes to learn and under half an hour to play. Aqualin has a nice low MSRP of $19.95 US

Aqualin was nominated for the 2020 Golden Geek Best 2 Player Game award.

In Aqualin players manage groups of sea creatures represented by tiles. One player is trying to group them by colour while the other is trying to group them by type. Once tiles are placed, points are awarded to the players for groupings of two or more tiles. The more tiles grouped the more the points earned.

One of the things that stands out about this game is the really great quality of tiles, which you can see for yourself in our Aqualin Unboxing video on YouTube.

These tiles are Azul quality, though not nearly as colourful. Each tile features one of six animals, in one of six colours. The game also comes with a board, which is really nothing more than a six by six grid to place your tiles on, and a very clear and succinct rulebook.

 

How do you play Aqualin?

The first move in a game of AqualinAqualin is very simple to learn.

One player plays creatures while the other plays colours. First, you mix up all of the tiles face down and flip six face up. Then the starting player picks a tile and places it on the board and reveals a new piece.

Each turn players have the option to move one tile on the board orthogonally in a straight line until it hits another piece or the edge of the board.

Then they take a new tile, selected from the face-up tiles, and place it anywhere on the board.

Finally, they flip a new tile face up.

A finished game of Aqualin, a fantastic two player only board game

This continues until the board is full, at which point you add up the scores. 

Players score points for each group of orthogonally adjacent tiles in their type (species or colour), with two tiles scoring 1 point, three tiles scoring 3 points, four tiles scoring 5 points, five tiles scoring 10 points and finally, if someone manages to get all six matching tiles to touch, they get a big 15 points. The player with the most points wins.

That’s it, that’s all there is to it. 


Is Aqualin worth buying?

Near the end of a game of AqualinAqualin is one of those easy to learn, yet difficult to master, abstract games. The rules are very simple and it’s not until you start playing, sliding pieces around, that you realize how much depth there really is to this game. In this way, Aqualin has a very Chess-like feel where players will try to plan multiple turns ahead.

Unlike Chess though the board state can change a lot during a turn and it’s common that your long term plans will get ruined by an opponents move. Due to this Aqualin can end up being more tactical and reactionary than strategic. I wouldn’t specifically say that this is a bad thing but it’s worth knowing before you dive in. I personally would have preferred a bit more strategy, though I don’t see how that could be added without ruining the balance that is present in this game.

 

Physically the quality of Aqualin is top notch. I really like the look and the feel of the tiles and I love how small and portable the game is. My wife and I are always looking for games we can bring with us to play at coffee shops and brewpubs and Aqualin is great for that. It’s only really the board that takes up any significant amount of space and we’ve been considering getting some kind of roll up mat with a 6×6 grid on it for playing this on the go. An added bonus of this would be that we could use it for both Aqualin and The Duke, another two-player tile laying game we love that features the same sized grid.

My daughter playing AqualinA surprise to me with Aqualin is how much my oldest daughter has been enjoying it. Since getting the game it’s become a favourite for her to play with both me and my wife. She and my wife play it together often and enjoy it more than I do. Note it’s not that I don’t enjoy it myself, it’s good, but there are other two-player games I will reach for first. For me, it sits just under Onitama, The Duke and Patchwork as far as my two-player game hierarchy goes, and the fourth spot isn’t a bad place to be.

One complaint I do have with Aqualin is the choice of iconography and the theme.

The theme is totally pasted on and in the middle of playing the game, it’s not always easy to see which tile is which at a glance. I personally think the gameplay of Aqualin may have been improved if they used geometric shapes instead. Something like the tiles from Qwirkle, as opposed to the very angular fish and crabs we have here. Though my podcast co-host Sean actually thinks that the slightly ambiguous shapes are actually a highlight of the game and very much that way by design so that it isn’t easy to differentiate them at a glance.

Early in a game of AqualinOverall, our family has really been enjoying Aqualin, it’s a solid addition to our stable of two-player games. It’s great looking, quick to learn, and difficult to master, which is a magic combo for any good abstract game. It’s got the bonus of being small and portable, which makes it perfect for gaming at pubs or cafes as well as breaking out at home.

If you are a fan of two-player abstract strategy games I don’t think you would go wrong picking up a copy of Aqualin.

If you are looking for a thinky filler that’s great for two players and is simple to teach to new players, Aqualin would be a good choice.

If what you love about abstract games is long term plans involving looking three or four turns ahead, you may find Aqualin frustrating as the board state changes so frequently. You may just love it though, so it’s up to you if you want to take the time to check it out.

A close up of the Aqualin tilesIf you are looking for a cool, thematic, underwater game, I would skip over Aqualin.

This is a purely abstract game with one of the most pasted on themes I’ve ever seen. I get schools of similar animals gathering, but different animals of the same colour is too much of a stretch to me. As noted above I think I may have actually liked the game more if it just used geometric shapes.

Finally, if you aren’t a fan of chess-like abstract strategy, two-player, games I don’t think Aqualin is going to win you over. That said, given the super flat and short learning curve, and quick gameplay time, I still recommend you give it a try if you can, you may be surprised and Aqualin just might win you over.

 

I’m very happy to add Aqualin to my growing collection of great two-player only board games.

I’m always on the lookout for other great two-player games. What are your recommendations? Let me know in the comments below!

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