Publisher: Kosmos Games
Designer: Marchello Bertocchi
Artist: Sophie Rekasowski
Release date: 2020
Age 10+ (5+)
Favouritefoe #favouritefoefunlearning score: 7.5/10
Please click below to see my one minute rapid review video of Word on the Street
Sea creatures and cereal – that’s how we do breakfast in our house!
It also tends to be two player time, as Shadow Meeple is most definitely not a morning person.
But that’s ok because it gives Mini-meeple and I quality time together to play the tile-laying abstract strategy game Aqualin from KOSMOS Games!
And, although I have already reviewed Aqualin, I wanted to share my thoughts in an educational context; how it can encourage and develop growing gamer skills!
Sea-mple Set Up!
If you haven’t seen Aqualin before, guaranteed you are going to want to touch it when you do. Big chunky square tiles await you, and they are very tempting in an I-must-resist-and-not-nibble-them-like-sweets kind of way!
Setting up Aqualin is simple; tip out the tiles and lay them in a pool face down. Give 6 of those tiles to each player, and then place the 6 x 6 grid board between you. And that’s it!
The object of Aqualin is also simple; score more points than your opponent. To do that, you have to use your pattern recognition skills. And whether you are the player seeking to group the sea creatures into colours, or the one hunting down species, the object is the same; match, group, score! And, as you probably guessed, the bigger the school of sea-creatures, the more points they are worth!
Learning how to group tiles is almost as simple as the set up itself; on your turn you place a tile from your hand onto the board, and then replenish it by taking another from the pool. Before placing, however, you have the option of sliding an existing tile on the board to another spot (either horizontally or vertically).
As you may have gleaned, that moving step can be useful in multiple ways. As well as being able to move a tile to expand one of your own groups, you can also use the action to block your opponent from growing theirs.
Will you try to achieve a number of small groups, or go for one mega school on the board? With the player space changing every turn, you will need to keep your tactics flexible so that you can react to your opponent’s moves.
The game ends when all the tiles have been plaiced(!) and the board is full. Scoring then begins, and groups attract different point values depending on the number of matching tiles achieved.
Mini-meeple grasped Aqualin very quickly. With pattern recognition being a skill practiced daily in a wide variety of contexts, he was able to spot existing groups from the first game. He blows me away daily but he really excels at games where he has to use his “super lenses” to spot things, and Aqualin is no different.
Furthermore, he was confident enough to try and grow (as well as block) sets of matching colours and species (depending on which side he plays), developing his cognitive skills and putting both visual and spatial abilities into practice.
In the early plays, I found myself inviting and encouraging him to look a little more closely for spaces on the board where he could combo-match or make things even trickier for me as the available player space decreases. Having played it multiple times now, however, his turn times are speeding up, and he rarely misses an opportunity to block me!
I think what draws Mini-meeple to Aqualin is the small, compact package, and simplicity of the components. Just one small board and 36 tiles. No deep rule set, no timers, no complicated Chess moves to remember. 18 moves. 15/20 minutes; definitely in the right duration bracket for a starter abstract.
And although Mini-meeple is always a big fan of colour-pop, strongly thematic games (what 6 year old isn’t?!), he is also now really enjoying thinkier, simpler games which is a wonderful development to watch and encourage.
Plus, as always, he loves being able to score the game at the end. With different group sizes achieving different point values, this is a great mathematical practice added-value bonus for us!
One small issue we have found is that it can be easier for the person playing colours to see, plan, and therefore score with their groups. The sea creature shapes are different, but the tiles are predominantly dark blue with the shapes quite subtly illustrated. As such, Mini-meeple does better on the pattern recognition when he plays colours. It is also therefore a colour dependent game (which any players with colour vision deficiency will need to bear in mind, unless they are a dab hand with some DIY stickery!).
Overall, Aqualin is a great little family abstract; portable, durable, quick to learn, and fast to play. Challenging us to use our pattern recognition and visual skills, this game is a keeper in the #favouritefoefunlearning library!
If you would like to check out my 1 minute rapid video review of Aqualin, please click here
[please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review but any opinions expressed are my own]