Updated: Jun 13, 2021
On the face of it Aquaretto appears to be a simple retheme of Zooloretto with meeples because, well, games have to have meeples. But actually it’s an entirely different animal.
You are the manager of a Water Zoo, planning where exactly on your big grassy field you can build your basins for all the aquatic animals that are arriving (somewhat randomly) at your Zoo. Luckily you have some offers of land from local farmers which is available for purchase, so you can expand a little, but space is still tight and what with the WSPA rulings on just how much space you need for each separate species things are going to get tough.
As if that wasn’t enough you also ended up working as a one-man Human Resources department as you attempt to control your unruly crew of meeples, making sure that they carry out the most important jobs in your zoo!
Well, I may have embellished that a little, but it’s still a fun game. Let’s take a look in the box:
5 Wooden Trucks
30 Wooden Coins
1 Red Wooden Disk
10 Coin Tiles
88 Animal Tiles
16 Offspring Tiles
10 Large Expansions
10 Small Expansions
5 Player Boards
16 Wooden Co-Workers
1 Cloth Bag
It’s Rio Grande and that means good quality. All the bits are great and the artwork is easily the best in the Zooloretto series. The animal choices too are a little more traditional than Zooloretto which doesn’t feature some of the more popular animals like Lions or Tigers even after all the expansions to the game.
The player boards may seem small and the expansions a bit fiddly but all of this makes a lot of sense when you understand how this game differs wildly from Zooloretto. If I do have one gripe and it’s a minor one, it’s the square tiles for the babies. I know it looks neater if all the tiles are square but it also means they end up getting put back in the bag and then you have to find them and that’s just a little annoying. Bring back round babies!
Playing the Game
Each player starts the game with 1 Player Board, Two Small and Two Large Expansions (with the coin side face up that shows how much they cost to buy.) a depot and 1 coin.
A wooden truck is placed in the centre of the table for each player and up to eight types of animals are placed into the bag, along with the coin tiles, depending on the number of players. Unlike Zooloretto there are three types of animal that are always in the bag Dolphins, Seals and Killer Wales (Orcas), regardless of the number of players.
Next 15 random tiles are drawn from the bag and marked with the Red Wooden Disk, these trigger the end game conditions exactly like in Zooloretto.
Now play can begin, again, exactly like Zooloretto you have 3 options on your turn:
Draw a Tile and Place it on a Truck
Perform a Money Action
Take a Truck
If you choose to draw a tile you must place it on one of the available trucks.
Possible money actions that can be taken are:
1 Gold – Buy Small Expansion
2 Gold – Buy Large Expansion
2 Gold – Discard top tile from you Depot
2 Gold – Buy top tile from another Player's Depot
1 Gold - Move a Co-Worker
The round continues until all players have taken a truck, if you have taken a truck you take no further turns that round.
Unlike Zooloretto, you are not just aiming to fill four enclosures as best you can in this game, in fact diversifying early on can be a very bad plan.
When you take a truck you place any animals on it into your zoo. They must be placed so that they are touching (not corner to corner) with another tile of the same animal type. If you have no animal of that type in your zoo you can place them anywhere to start a new basin. You cannot have 2 basins with the same animal types and different animal types cannot touch one another (except corner to corner).
In addition, your starting zoo can only hold 3 different animal types. For each large expansion you purchase you may have 1 additional animal type in your zoo (for a maximum of 5 types)
Any animal that cannot be legally placed in your Zoo is placed in a stack in your Depot. Only the top (visible) tile in the Depot can be bought or moved. In addition once an animal has been placed on your player board it may never be moved.
When your basins (groups of connected same type animals) grow larger they earn you bonuses. For every 3 animals in a single basin you get 1 coin. For every 5 animals you get a Co-Worker. This means you score a bonus at 3, 5, 6, 9, 10 and 12.
Co-Workers can be placed in 4 ways:
Fish Shop – For each Co-Worker here you gain 1 additional point at the end of the game for each tile with a Fish Icon.
Cash Desk – For Each Co-Worker here you gain 1 additional point at the end of the game for each coin in your supply.
Trainer – Placed in an empty space on the board you gain 1 additional point at the end of the game for each Trainable Animal (Seals, Dolphins and Orcas without Lightening Bolt Symbols) adjacent to the trainer (Horizontally, Vertically or Diagonally)
Depot – If you place a worker on the depot you half the negative points you will score at the end of game for tiles in your depot.
The game continues on until a tile is drawn from the stack marked with the red disk (when the bag runs out of tiles). The current round is played out and then scoring is done.
1 point per tile in your Zoo
-2 Points per type of tile in your Depot
Any bonus points you score from your Co-Workers
Aquaretto is known as the Big Brother in the Zooloretto family and it’s not without good reason.
The limited space on the boards (19 spaces on your main player board) means you must plan ahead or you could end up not being able to add to your basins.
This constant planning does draw focus away from the other players and there is certainly less of a screw your neighbour feel than in Zooloretto. Trucks with a high diversity (3 different animals) are usually bad for you.
Co-Workers are vitally important in scoring, if you have fewer than the other players you are most likely going to lose as almost all co-workers double the value of at least some of your tiles.
All in all Aquaretto feels like a faster and more grown up game. Placement of tiles and Co-workers takes consideration in order to score maximum points. Of course the random element (drawing tiles from the bag) and the risk element (other players taking your truck) prevents the game from being entirely strategic.
There are even tactics as to when and how you place your expansions. In basic Zooloretto the only real decision was when to expand (usually when you had the coins and nothing better to do with them.) Aquaretto however has a freeform system for placing the expansions, meaning you can place them where you need extra space as long as they continue at least 1 row or column of your zoo.
The way that the Depot works (with a stack) means that you can control your excess animals in a more strategic way. For example if you need additional coins you could place an animal another player needs on top so they can buy it from you, or if you would rather they didn’t have it you can bury it under other animals so they either have to buy the top tiles or do without. Unfortunately, you cannot alter the order of the stack so animals you didn’t have room for but wanted in your zoo can also get buried where you can’t access them. Still it’s nice to have more control than the barn offers in Zooloretto.
In my opinion Aquaretto is the perfect stepping stone from Zooloretto into medium weight euro games. There is a lot going on but it plays fast so even if you lose you can play again and try a different tactic. I give Aquaretto a big thumbs up for families with older children (pre-teenager) or for those looking to get their children into playing more “grownup” games.