Saturday, July 4, 2015

Systems Saturday - AquaSphere (2014)

My buddy John got hold of a copy of AquaSphere (2014) at the Gaming Hoopla just this last Spring.  He told me it looked good but was tough to tackle at first.  I scoffed, inwardly, and suggested he bring it by a local game day.  He did.  He, I, and another had at it but halfway through the other dropped out.  We persevered and finished the game with some adjustments while definitely getting some things wrong.  It's a tough game to approach.  Undaunted, we immediately set it up for a second game with just us two players.  Again, I am not sure we fully got everything right.  Just a couple days ago, we had the chance to try it again but with four players.  We got a couple things wrong but consistently so.  We *will* get things right the next time.  Yup, there will be a next time.

The description from Board Game Geek is as follows:
News from the depths! The AquaSphere is a research facility stationed deep below the ocean's surface, and your skilled team — consisting of an engineer, a scientist, reprogrammable bots and exploratory submarines — is trying to gather as much data as possible.
The game board in AquaSphere has two main areas: A research station comprised of six sectors in which your scientist conducts experiments and a headquarters where your engineer supervises preparation of the bots. During each of the four game rounds, you take several turns, and on each turn you either:
  • Use your engineer in the headquarters to program a bot; each round you can choose from three of the seven actions. 
  • Have your scientist bring a bot to a sector to perform an action.
Through actions such as improving your lab, sending out submarines, collecting crystals, and examining octopuses, you expand the abilities of your team or gather knowledge points, which are necessary to win. Additional challenges result from the limited size of your lab, which is your personal stock; you can increase the size of your lab, which makes life easier, but this costs valuable time.
AquaSphere is a challenging game of strategy and tactics with different paths to victory that requires planning in advance as well as skillful use of short-term opportunities.

I won't lie; this game tries hard to get in your way when you want to play it.  It's got rules that are hard to keep in mind, it has tons of fiddly-bits, the initial setup is not fast and the repeated setups between phases during intermediate scoring aren't "friendly" either.  If someone gets through these aspects, and gets used to them, it can certainly be a rewarding play experience and a very fun game.  And fast, too.  This game should be very fast for folks who are familiar with the setups.  I could see two-player games of this being knocked off in a half hour.  I'm not kidding.

But where does this leave the game for the average player or collector who wants something he can pull off the shelf from time to time and play with new people?  I'd still recommend it.  It would require that the game owner know the game well and handle all of the setups.  Bit of a "I'll take care of this, don't you bother learning this stuff, here's what *you* need to know to play."  A hockey player might know how to run the Zamboni but it's not a requirement.  The pay off from playing AquaSphere more than makes up for how difficult it is to approach.

A look under the hood of various Games, Rules and Systems.
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