I never thought, that water can be so scary. But everything looks different under water, no matter where you look. There is no escape. It all starts with the silence. No sounds arrives in these depths. And then, you start to get a notion of that uneasy feeling. Something heavy in your guts. I was sent to the station for research, but for now I can only think of a horrific mass of water surrounding us.
There is a thing in a water. An AquaSphere. This is name of a new board game from mind of Stefan Feld, which tells us about one such research station located deep under water. Players as researchers will investigate their surroundings, drawn by Dennis Lohausen. Complete package was then published with logo of Pegasus Spiele in 2014.
Blue box hides lots of secrets and they are mostly made of cardboard. There is a pile of sectors, which after linking creates large and compact underwater station connected with corridors, but all of them are mainly divided into colored sectors. Then, there’s another map of the headquarters, with scoring scales and tree with branches connected with arrows. Players will be choosing from four large panels with places for bots and submarines and also some help text.
In addition to these, players will punch out cardboard tokens representing time as well as laboratories for every player together with their possible expansions. But now we finally find cards, especially a research deck with symbols, but also those with an overview and others allowing programming. Players service will then enter a variety of colorful figures representing scientist, engineer, bots, submarines and a pair of dice. Together, they will share pieces of octopods and twenty crystals.
Beginning of the game could take several paragraphs to describe completely. It is quite complicated procedure, that we will slightly simplify for the purpose of our text. And all of it expectedly begins by constructing main game board, which arises after merging six slices, revealing six sectors connected by central corridors. Right in the middle will be several hexagonal segments stacked on each other. Headquarters is set aside next to the main board.
And here enter chances for players to choose their color, get their own supply board and spread their bots and submarines across it. Everybody receives also a basic laboratory tile (which can be built on later) and some time tokens. Depending on the number of players, each sector will get some of those octopods and crystals. Now, depending on the card selected, players will be able to send their figures in their starting sector. These characters will be also accompanied by a card and a laboratory. They use their figures and cubes also to cheer the headquarters board – one engineer is placed on the first step of tree and others mark the scales.
Entire game consists of four rounds, in which players are selecting actions until they all pass. Main choice is from three different activities, among which the basic is to plan an action with one of player’s bots. Player positions his piece on one of the action fields on their own board, but that choice is not as free as it might seem. He can always pick only those activities, that has player’s engineer in headquarters ahead (two fields, to which arrows from his current position lead).
Second option to choose from is to activate the programmed bot and carry out planned activity. In one moment, player may have only two bots programmed and then, he must be let them go into action. There is many actions and they include first shifting the bot into the control room of chosen sector, where will he navigate scientists in same color (if the place is occupied, he will wait for his chance). That man of science may be first moved across sectors after paying time tokens.
What are possibilities, that bots offer to do? Those opportunities are numerous and include gain of various materials, or vice versa sending submarines (which costs time). Players can collect crystals, time tokens, catch octopods or pick up new research cards. Player’s own laboratory starts with just one slice and determines limits of resources, that players can keep in their possession. This building can be expanded during these actions as well.
Third and last option is to pass and place a pawn on passing scale. But before next round, players can look forward to scoring, which depends on the majority of sectors controlled, but also on the number of bots, obtained crystals or octopods caught. For all these things, players get knowledge points. And after four rounds like this, all participants can add even more rewards for their expanded laboratory and winner is whoever has the most points.
AquaSphere is quite a tom-cat. It’s not a game, that you chose as a relaxing entertainment for the afternoon. This is a really dense euro, which will not give you anything for free. There are no dice and there is no room for luck.
Players themselves are their own enemy. They are struggling alone with their plans and in doing so, they are constantly forced to further limit these options on future actions. This performance is driven primarily by headquarters board and its branching tree of actions, where every decision is a choice of paths for subsequent turns. Interestingly, crazy, but due to complexity also really fun for all those, who like to stretch their brain cells.
Game offers a decent pile of ways to get points. Profit is gained through virtually every action, which players commit to, sometimes more, sometimes less. But finding the right balance and overstepping opponents, who perhaps have a taste for same sector, is your ultimate objective. Conflicts are not rampant, but are not missing entirely, which is certainly good for the overall impression. Players confront each other directly on the board.
In addition to actions, players have also scientists pawn under their control. They move with him through the station itself and carry out activities only where he is located. All these game elements differ only by several randomly selected components at game start, but even these make the game sufficiently different. It’s mainly because of the engineer journeys on headquarters board.
Game is a true challenge from start to finish. Many things need some time, which is the main currency in the game, and players must think twice, before selecting actions. Yet the game is superbly balanced and games are decided usually only by minor errors. Everything can be beautifully planned and not just in the long term. In longer view, you are holding only a thin thread, but you have to be able to adapt and solve problems from round to round.
Rules come across a few adjustments according to the number of players. And thanks to these changes, underwater adventure really works all three possible numbers (two to four). But get ready for the sacrifice of at least 120 minutes of your time, because this game literally eats your time. Maybe it’s the fact, that its your main currency in the game.
What can guaranteed success for AquaSphere is the first moment, when you look at it. Beautiful illustration give amazing overall impression and pieces connecting towards center of the map are just beautiful. Whoever loves symmetry must unconditionally love this game.
So what is AquaSphere? It’s a box full of torture. Your brain will not be happy, when you buy this game. But in doing so, you will need every inch of your neural connections. It’s simply a wonderful and dense game, which is definitely not easy. Either at the beginning or subsequently. But elegant linking of all heaps of options and lots of chances to score points makes this a true new delicacy. AquaSphere can drown you in a sea of possibilities and you simply will not bother to gasp.
AquaSphere is the ultimate challenge for all euro lovers. Do you crumble under pressure of water in the depths of the sea? Yes, you will, because there is so much to do! Its strength is comparable with the demands, that game places on all participants in the game. But reward comes in a form of a beautifully balanced game full of immense possibilities. It all looks perfect. Game time is related to the intensity, but less experienced players are not the target group here. This is ultimately good, because AquaSphere should be given only with a prescription. Only those, who are ready for it and have enough experience, may play and enjoy. So go out and learn or buy this game immediately. AquaSphere is an excellent underwater adventure.