Is there anything Andrew Looney can’t do? Former NASA engineers Andrew and Kristin Looney started their game company Looney Labs back in 1997 with the goal to create easy-to-learn, easy-to-play games. Since that time, they have continued to create inventive, educational, challenging and fun games, and have taken home many awards and kudos. On top of being fun, their games tend to be beautiful in design and ingeniously simple to play yet strategically complex. The Aquarius 10th Anniversary Edition (or A v2.0 as it’s referred to on the box) is yet another brilliant addition to that legacy.
Aquarius is a card game for 2 to 5 players. Game play is a little like dominoes with an UNO twist. There are 5 elemental goal cards: Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Space. Once each player is dealt a goal card, they must attempt to be the first player to create a chain of seven connected elements by matching the elements cards. Each player begins with 3 elements cards and 1 goal card. At the beginning of each turn, the player draws an elements card and then plays a card by matching one or more elements on the played card to one of the cards already placed. The elements card may have 1, 2 or 4 different elements featured on it. To create a chain, the player must place an unbroken line of 7 touching matched elements cards. Sounds simple, right?
Next you add the Action Cards. This is where the dominoes playing style takes on an UNO twist. With cards like Trade Hands, Trade Goals, Move a Card, Rotate Goals, Zap a Card and Shuffle Hands, even the player with the best strategy and a winning hand can quickly turn into the loser. Because your opponent’s agenda is hidden, you have to speculate which element they have as their goal. You may be thinking, “Well, which one are they trying to match?” Because you have to lay a card down with each turn (or forfeit the turn) and you don’t necessarily want to give your goal away by aggressively pursuing it, you may choose to, or have to, lay down a chain of elements cards simply because you need to get them out of your hand in hopes of drawing more of your goal element in the next hand.
Also, if you can match 2 or more elements when laying down a card, or you play a Zap Card (which allows you to take any one card from the placed cards and add it to your hand for later use), you get additional cards in your hand. Having 4 or more cards in your hand at the beginning of each turn gives you an advantage over the other players. Making chains other than those in your goal can be a valuable tool. It helps throw your opponents off your trail. It can, however, be risky if you don’t know what the other players’ goals are. If you are playing with more than two people, odds are that you are helping your enemy out and may even be handing them a win. Still sound simple?
Now imagine you have it figured out; you know exactly who has what goals and you are one or two connections away from a win. Suddenly an opponent plays a Trade Goals card on you and they are now in control of your winning combination while you now have their less than desirable goal (or they wouldn’t have traded it, right?). What do you do now? Well, you can throw a Trade Goals or Rotate Goals card on them if you have one, or you can Zap a pivotal card in their chain. There are lots of twists and turns in gameplay and your goals and strategies are constantly shifting and having to be rethought.
While the regular gameplay can get highly complex, the basic concept of the game is matching items. Because of this, variants of the game can be taught to children as young as 3 or 4 years old by just using the elements cards for a matching game. As they get older and can learn more complex gameplay, you can introduce the goal cards into play and, later still, begin introducing one or more action cards into the mix. This aspect of the gameplay makes Aquarius a fabulous family game for all ages. My teenage son and I have been playing it obsessively for a couple of weeks now. We even came up with a solitaire version which is basically a two-player game with one person laying both hands (think Chess), but a coin toss after the game is over determines which hand was yours.
The artwork by Andrew Looney is beautiful and harkens back to the 60s and 70s with its colorful, simple designs featuring rainbows, fires, flowers, fish and stars. Printed on recycled paper right here in the USA, Aquarius is eco-friendly, too. The cards have handled some abuse well as we have been playing not only repeatedly, but in less then ideal places such as dirty school hallway floors and sticky tabletops. It fits so easily in a pocket that we took it along to the annual School Open House so my son could show it to, and play it with, his friends. We were surprised to learn that one of them grew up with the original release of Aquarius in her household, and she added that “It was fun!”
I love this game and can’t wait to introduce more of my friends to it. I’ve found myself blowing off other things I could or should be doing to play it. I’ve even been bringing it to work with me, and have it out so often that some of my co-workers comment if I don’t have a hand dealt at some point during the day. I just can’t help myself — it’s so much fun!
Aquarius 10th Anniversary Edition will be available in stores and online August 28th. You can order it from Looney Labs and Amazon.com, or check for a retailer near you with the Looney Labs Store Locator.