Has anyone ever played Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania for the PC? It’s a simulator game where you have to manage a zoo park, creating the perfect habitats for both land and sea animals. You have to manage employee wages, ticket prices, customer comfort…all that jazz. Well, Aquaretto, while having a zoo park theme, has none of these features. Yet, the question remains…is it a good game?
In Aquaretto, you’re tasked with building a zoo (a rather small one) to see who can earn the most points by the end of the game. At most, you’ll have about five different species of animals in your zoo at a time, depending on whether or not you’ve upgraded the size of your park.
Enough about that…let’s take a quick look at the components, setup, and game mechanics before heading into the review.
Animal & Offspring Tiles – There are a total of eight animal types, represented by square plastic tiles. There are eleven adult and two offspring tiles of each animal type.
Coworkers – These little meeple men are awarded to players as they expand their zoo. They provide bonus points at the end of the game, depending on what function they are assigned to.
Delivery Trucks – There are three spaces on the wooden delivery truck. Players will be drawing adult animal tiles and adding them to the delivery trucks. Ultimately, players will choose one truck (and only one truck) in order to add more animals to their zoo.
Water Zoo Board – The main board each player receives that serves as their zoo. It can be expanded with small and large expansion boards, for a price. Large expansion boards allow one more animal type to be added to your zoo, which can be helpful as players are limited to having a total of only three animal types in their zoo at the beginning of the game.
Depot Board – This side board is also given to players at the beginning of the game. This serves as a reserve pile for animal tiles that can’t be placed. Players receive a penalty at the end of the game for how many animal types are in the depot, so it’s wise not to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa just because it looks cool.
Coins and Coin Tiles – Coins serve as money in the game and are awarded to players as they add more animals to their zoo. For whatever reason, there are thirty coins and ten coin tiles…the manual says that there is no difference between them. So…then…why…make…meh. Whatever.
Round Wooden Disc – There’s a red wooden token included in the game that is placed on top of a stack of tiles that, when used, signal the game end. More on that later.
Depending on how many players are playing, remove a set number of animal types from the game. Do not remove dolphins, orcas, or sea lions! They are part of a special scoring mechanic that give players bonus points when coupled with a coworker.
Begin by separating the remaining offspring tiles from the adult tiles. The offspring tiles have a circle on the front and back of them. Place the offspring tiles either off to the side or in between the players so that they are within easy reach. Flip the adult tiles face down, shuffle, and put them into stacks in the middle of the table. They can be of any size, except make one stack fifteen tiles tall and put the red wooden disc on it. These tiles will only be used when all other stacks have been used and will signal the game’s end.
Place as many delivery trucks as there are players into the middle of the table or within easy reach of players. In the two player variant, there are three trucks, though some spaces on two of the trucks are blocked off by unused tiles.
Each player receives one coin, a water zoo board, two large and two small expansions, and a depot. Players begin with only the water zoo board and depot with the option to purchase the expansion boards later on.
Place the coworkers within easy reach of players.
Players take turns doing one of three things:
1) Draw a tile from any stack (other than the endgame stack) and place it on one of the trucks.
2) Take a truck. This ends your turn and any future turns that you may have until the end of the round. You MUST wait for your opponent(s) to perform their actions, in turn, until they themselves take a truck. A round ends when everyone has taken a truck. In the two player variant, the face up animal tiles in the truck not taken are discarded from the game.
3) Players can perform money actions, which include paying to move animals tiles from your depot to your zoo (one coin), paying to move animal tiles from your opponent’s depot to your zoo (two coins), paying to discard an animal tile in your depot (two coins), and buying an expansion board (small = one coin, large = two coins).
In regards to placing the animal tiles on your board, different animals cannot be adjacent to each other, though diagonal is okay. If a fertile male and female animal tile inhibit the same “basin” or habitat, you receive an offspring tile from the supply.
Players receive money and coworkers for every tier they reach in regards to how many like animals inhibit a basin. Coworkers can be placed on various parts of the board to provide bonuses. Bonuses can range from getting a point for every coin you have to reducing the penalty for how many animal types you have in your depot by half at game’s end.
Players continue expanding their park until all of the stacks are gone and the players start drawing from the stack with the wooden disc on it. The game then ends after everyone takes a truck and distributes the animals. Players receive 1 VP for every animal tile they have in their park + coworker bonuses – one / two points for every animal type in their depot, depending on whether or not they have a coworker there.
I’ll start by saying that the game is fairly light in terms of strategy. The only thing I had to really think about was making sure I had room for the animals I had taken from the truck I selected. There’s also a bit of thinking in regards to which animal tile you should place on which truck…if you see your opponent eyeing a truck that contains one or two animals that they have in their zoo already, you could be a jerk and place the tile you just drew, an animal that they don’t need, on that same truck. This forces them to bite the bullet and take the truck anyway or pick a different truck.
My eleven year old son, Vinnie Jr, enjoyed building his own park but quickly fell into the trap of not giving his basins enough space to expand away from each other. Placing animals takes a little bit of planning as you’re only allotted so much room and thus, only so much potential money. He often took animals that he needed but ended up not being able to place them because his other basins were in the way. Regardless, he did an excellent job for his first time playing and nearly won.
Is Aquaretto a good game? In short, yes…but it’s not going to appeal to everyone. I would recommend this game to families with younger kids or as a filler in between longer board games, with an emphasis on the words “families” and “kids.” That’s not to say that adults won’t enjoy it, but some may be turned off by its simple and somewhat cutesy nature.
Final Verdict: 5/10