Reviewing board games that shed a tear.

Aquatica - Board Game Review | The Tabletop Crier

Aquatica boardgame box


a review of the boardgame Designed by Ivan Tuzovsky
Players: 1-4    Time Investment: 30-60 min
Two tear drops for Weeping

Game Aesthetic


The main game board and the cards are standard quality but the two things that really shine in this game in terms of components are the player board and the Mantas. I have never played a board game that has a mechanic for raising locations where the components themselves can make it easier to understand. Location cards safely slide up and into the player board due to the three-layer cardboard design without being damaged. It's amazing! Picking up, placing, and flipping over Mantas has a rewarding tactile feedback and the detail on the molds for these minis is fantastic. The stingers on the end of the Mantas are sharp, by the way, so be careful. My only complaint with the Mantas is the symbols painted onto them can be difficult to see, especially if they are colors closer on the spectrum to gray.

Aquatica king card, starting characters and trained manta miniatures
Players get a King, starting character cards, and 
a set of trained mantas

Artwork by Irina Kuzmina, Andrew Modestov, Oleg Proshin, Artur Varenyev, and Marat Zakirov

It's not entirely clear with this size of an artist team who contributed where but I can understand why you would need a team this big. The main game board has a gorgeous underwater scene in the background, all of the player boards have sea creatures pulling up locations, then there are the locations themselves, the Kings, starting character cards and finally the ocean character cards. That is a TON of art, with all sorts of variations in scenery and color. I've played the game a few times now and still couldn't tell you if there were any repeats. The style of art in this game could easily be printed and framed for the wall, and there is an impressive sense of depth and distance. In a time where we've been inside for too long, all of the seascapes are a welcome feeling of escape.

Aquatica character and location cards
The Sea Horse brings forth a wave of new locations using Scout

The First Turn


The two main resources in this game are Coins and Power, so it's at least obvious in the beginning of the game that you need these in order to acquire locations. They didn't make a fancy player board for locations for no reason! From there, you'll understand that playing cards are how you take actions so acquiring cards with the appropriate resource type is a viable move. The game makes resources acquisition a little tricky in that you do not hoard them so you must be able to pay at the moment of purchase. This helps make resource management more approachable since you only need to plan for those moment to moment. You luckily also have four starting "trained Mantas" that will help augment your actions one time until you flip them (note: flipping is a separate action and refreshes the ability).

Aquatica is one of those games that requires you to have a main action of playing one of the Character cards from your hand, so the gameplay is straightforward in terms of the category of action but not necessarily in the type or style of action you take. In other words, Character cards all have different abilities and it's up to you to choose what you want to do with them. They will allow you to Recruit new Ocean Character cards to augment your starting deck, Buy Locations (at the top of the location card, the value next to the coin icon), Conquer Locations (at the top of the location card, the value next to the trident icon), Raise Locations, Score a fully risen Location, or Scout for more Locations.


Aquatica conquering location card
Legioner is great for conquering locations if you're low on coins

Rewards and Objectives

Very prominent and obvious at the top of the main board are four goals. The base goals are to have 8 Character cards in hand, 5 Locations on the player board, 3 or more Locations in the Scoring pile, and 2 or more Wild Mantas. Being first to each of these goals will cost a trained Manta but are worth eight points each, which is very good. Be careful doing this though, since this is one of the end game conditions!

Rewards is by far the most difficult to understand and assess in the game, mostly because you can get so many of them working independently of each other on the Location cards. This is especially true when you start raising locations and ignoring some rewards to gain others. You will find yourself possibly overcalculating Raise effects, trying to gauge whether it's time to start pushing for fully raising a Location -- and therefore Scoring it later -- or milking it for its benefits for as long as possible.

Though it's not a formal reward, learning how to use the synergy of your cards, Mantas, and locations to make powerful turns is my favorite thing about this game. I honestly have not been able to consistently be first or second on all the base goals yet, and the game box comes with additional goals to make gameplay varied. Time and repeated plays will tell if I can ever justify adding the new goals! I fully plan to get there.

Ability to Pivot

If you picked a Location that you end up not liking later, your only choice is to Raise it fully and then Score it. Since you cannot just replace Locations at will, if you have not set up your character cards or available mantas in such a way to speed up this process you'll have a spot on your player board that's just stuck. You almost always want to be keeping locations partially raised to your benefit for only so long as it makes sense and then retiring them immediately after. 

The inability to pivot is also true with whether you have missed out on recruiting the right characters. If you're still stuck with your starting hand, you'll be having useless turns just getting your cards back from the discard pile and opponents will be making more progress than you. In this game you want to have an excess of resources and you never want to be just barely paying for something or relying too heavily on mantas.

Aquatica locations goal manta placement
It may be daunting at first but
getting the five locations goal is doable

Game End

There are three endgame conditions: 1) one player has accomplished all 4 goals, 2) the Location deck runs out, or 3) the Ocean Character deck runs out. When this happens, every player takes one more turn and then scoring starts. You get 1 Prosperity point for each Character card in hand, including the king; Goals points, and Prosperity Points shown on the Location cards that made it into the Scoring Pile. The player with the most points wins, and ties are broken by number of Mantas in the player's reserve.