AquaSphere - Board Game Box Shot

AquaSphere

| Published: 2015
45 7 4

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.

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 invasive octopods, 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.

User Reviews (4)

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2
Gamer - Level 2
8
23 of 25 gamers found this helpful
“Octopod's Garden of Points”

Ah Stefan Feld…why did I have to discover your games? Why do you have to be so prolific? You clever, devious ******* you. I’m a Feld fan through and through, so take this review with a grain of salt!

Apparently this game has something to do with research in an underwater laboratory. Apparently. I mean, it’s a Feld, so it’s really about scoring points in as many different ways as possible. The term “point salad” gets thrown at Feld a lot, but whether you interpret that as a positive or negative completely depends on your taste. I like salad, so it’s definitely a positive for me.

This game hurts my brain, but in the best possible way. As with all good brain burners, your turn seems very simple (you either “program” a bot on a programming side board so you can take an action on a later turn OR you use a bot that you’ve already programmed to take an action on the main board right now) but fraught with hard decisions.

Killing Octopods nets you points, while having octopods left in a lab section steals points at the end of round.
Gaining time pays for your movement around the lab, and for placing subs, but there is only so much you can hold at one time.
Crystals get you points at the end of the round, but you also need them to advance past certain points on the scoreboard. No crystals to get across that red line? No points for you!
Placing submarines gets you more time at the start of the next round, and you get points for having all of your subs out at the end of the game.
New lab sections allow you to hold more time, more crystals, kill more Octopods and gets you end game points.
Technology cards help get you around the lab more efficiently, program more bots, get you additional time.

What I like most about the game is that all the information you need to plan your strategy is right in front of you. You even know what the board set up will be for the next turn and how the programming area will change.

What I hate most about the game is that all the information you need to plan your strategy is right in front of you…which can lead to some serious downtime while you figure out exactly what you want to accomplish.

If you’re looking for a deep, rich, thematic experience, this is not the game for you.
If you’ve never played a Feld game before, this is not the game for you.
If you don’t like games with low interaction between players, move on my friend.

If you like a puzzly, mildly brain bruising game with nice components (Octopod meeples!!) then I’d give it a try. I love it, but it’s definitely a “try before you buy” game. Unless you’re a Feld fanboy who loves to eat his salad…

 
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I'm a Real Person
10
49 of 55 gamers found this helpful
“Feld with theme???!”

Stefan Feld. ”Ah so this is a game with a million ways to score points and as much theme as there is sunny days in London”, you might say.
Well yes and no.
To me Aquasphere is a very different beast than Felds other games. Let me explain what I mean by going through the different aspects of the game.

Components:
Great quality components. The boards are nice and thick and lie down flat on the table. The different meeples are shaped differently depending on what they are, which is a nice little thematic touch, they could just be cylinders and cubes but they aren’t.
The cardstock is decent but nothing great.
A little nice detail is the fact that the black crystal are little plastic crystals. It’s a nice little detail that adds to the theme.
“Waiiit! You said theme and thematic twice now. You sure this is a Feld game???!”. Well, wait for it guys. We will get there.
Rating: 8

Artwork:
Yes this game is gorgeous. The board is filled with fantastic little details. For example the loading stations that bots go to when kicked out of a sector, has little spaces for them with cords like if they where to recharge there. The gameboard is filled with these little nice details.
Some have said they think the board looks way to busy, I disagree though. The icons and things that relate to the game-part of the artwork is larger and clearly detailed so there should be no trouble telling apart game and fluff.
The art itself is bright and colorful and the game really pops when laid out on the table.
The Iconography makes sense and it is very easy to quickly check what your possible actions are and how you get points and how many you get.
All in all the art really makes the theme come to life.
Rating: 10

Rulebook:
The rulebook is both great and bad at the same time.
How so? Well it explains the rules very elegantly and while the game might seem complex at first, the rulebook does a great job of simplifying the actions, so it is easy to digest and very concise.
It does, however, do a really bad job at selling the theme. There is hardly any fluff text. For some this is a good thing, but for me personally it is kind off sad, when the rest of the game focuses so heavily on the theme it would have been a nice way to hit it home to have the rules focus more on that aspect aswell.
Still the rulebook does what it is suppose to do: Tell the rules in the most logic and easy to grasp way possible.
Rating: 9

Gameplay (and theme):
On your turn you either: Program a bot, or sent out a programmed bot to do the action it was programmed for.
That’s it. It’s so very simple and elegant. The real depth comes with the fact that you need to plan ahead in order for you to be able to program and use your bots in the most efficient way.
You need to fight back octopods, collect crystals so you can further your knowledge of them, and collect as many knowledge points by being active in the most sectors. You spent time markers to move between the different sectors (a great thematic way to illustrate that time is limited and you cannot get to do everything before you are called back to the surface)
And this is what I love the most about this game. Time is limited and the rounds are fairly short. This is not a smorgasbord of points that pretty much lets you do whatever. No this game is very tight and at times even mean. You will be fighting against your fellow scientists in order to be the one who collects the most knowledge about these strange deep sea crystals, and reaps the most fame and glory.
To some extend this could be said about a game like Trajan too, but the main differences are: 1) Aquasphere is much tighter and 2) Aquasphere actually has a ton of theme.
From the components through the art to the mechanics this game is dripping with theme. Some might try to tell you otherwise but they are wrong. There has been put tons of thoughts into making the mechanics match with the theme, and boy does it show.
Rating: 10

Sum up:

To me this is Felds best design to date. It is so elegant and simple to play, yet has tons of depth.
And finally Feld has made a game that has theme, and this without compromising the mechanics. For some reason this game has not gotten a lot of buzz, which is sad since it is one of the best Eurogames out there.
Final Rating: 10

 
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Canada
Z-Man Games fan
I play red
Indie Board & Cards fan
8
34 of 38 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“We're Gonna Need a Bigger...Sphere?”

In AquaSphere, you and 1 to 3 friends are scientists in an underwater research station. Your task is to recover and analyse a novel kind of crystal, as well as to conduct further research. AquaSphere is a 2-4 player game from Stefan Feld, where you try and score the most points over 4 rounds.

Which is the most accurate description of the experience? And does it matter?

Components

To be honest, I’m not sure if this is my first experience with a game from Tasty Minstrel Games or not. I’ve seen games with good and merely OK parts from Stefan Feld, so I really had no preset notion of how good or bad to expect the components to be. The first thing that intrigued me about the game was the box art. It’s pretty freaking awesome. So my hopes were raised. Once the game was setup…I’m not sure my hopes were met.

The game contains 1 Research Station; 1 Headquarters; 4 Player Boards; 6 Center Tiles; 6 Base Labs; 30 Lab Expansions; 38 Time Markers; 41 Research Cards; 3 Setup Overviews; 7 Program Cards; 7 Programming Tiles; 4 sets of player pieces (1 Engineer, 1 Scientist, 6 Submarines, 16 Bots, and 2 Counters); 20 Crystals; and 15 Octopods. Partridge in a pear tree not included.

The cardboard is thick, the player pieces and Octopods are made of wood, and the Crystals are a nice thick plastic. The player boards are REALLY thin and feel kind of cheap. Which sucks as personal player boards are always cool.

The artwork and colour scheme? The game is incredibly colourful, but nothing about it really pops on the table. The shades of red, blue, and green are all on the darker side. And the box cover style really doesn’t translate to any of the cards or boards. In fact, the board itself is a little cluttered. Which is a shame. It is nice that the board (the Research Station) is made up of 6 different pieces to make sure each play feels unique, but it could have been a little bigger. Black outlines that better separated each of the pods may have helped as well. A few times when playing the game players (myself included) have had to confirm symbols with others to ensure they were making the move they thought they were.

Set-Up

Two of my favourite words when it comes to games are “variable setup”, and AquaSphere has a lot of that.

To start you’ll want to give each player a player board and matching player pieces. Next each player will get a random Base Lab. Next you’ll randomly put the Research Station (main game board) together and surround each sector with a Lab Expansion and Research Card.

The next act adding to the variable setup, is the Program Cards. Only 4 of them are selected and they determine the setup of the Headquarters. Using the first of these cards, players will place the 7 Programming Tiles as depicted on the card.

Players will then place their Scientist in the pod that matched the letter on their Base lab, and will place one of their subs in the same pod. Based on the pod that each player starts in, they will program one of their bots on their player board. Next, players will get either 3 (if they are starting in a pod with a zero time cost door) or 4 Time Markers (if they are not starting in a pod with a zero time cost door).

Finally, select 4 center tile cards based on the player count, and add any subs, crystals, or Octopods as indicated on the tile. Once that is done, remove the top tile from the pile.

Determine a starting player and you are ready to begin.

Game Play – Basics

AquaSphere gives players four possible tasks on theirs turn: program an action, unprogram an action, take an action, or pass and take the first spot available for player order.

There are a 3 ways to program an action. The first is by moving Engineer up the Headquarters and programming the action as listed in the corresponding spot on the Headquarters board. Players may also pay 3 Time once per round to program any action. And finally if a player has previously programmed the PROGRAM A BOT action, they can program by performing that action. Players program an action by taking the player Bot with the smallest value on their player board and moving it to appropriate programing symbol on their player board. Players may have a maximum of 2 actions programmed.

If a player chooses to unprogram a Bot, they move the Bot to the lower Bot section of the player board and take two Time from the general supply.

To take an action the player will first move their Scientist to the pod of the Research Station they want to perform the action (paying any Time cost as indicated on the doors of the pods) and then move the bot that is programmed to perform the action in to the center of the selected pod. The player will then perform the actual action.

If a player passes, they move their Engineer to the first turn order slot on the Headquarters board.

The player who scores the most point after 4 rounds wins the game.

Game Play – Advanced Tactics

The game really comes down to take an action and program an action.

The 7 actions that can be programed are:

EXPAND THE LAB (Green): Expand your lab by taking a piece from the lab section and adding it to your own lab. This usually gives you extra storage capacity, and helps you earn a lab bonus at the end.

Take Time (Yellow): Pick up time tokens. Time is the currency used for moving around the board, launching submarines, and (once per round) programming another robot.

Take Crystals (Black): Obtain crystals. To advance past parts of the scoring track, you will need to spend crystals. You also gets points at the end of the round for having extra crystals.

Catch Octopods (Purple): Blast octopods off of the station. You’ll score points based on the number of ‘pods you’ve blasted. Octopods left behind in sections you control will cost you points at the end.

Place A Sub (Blue): Launch a submarine. This costs time, but gives you points that depend on the round (early on you only get 2, but in the last round you’ll get 5). Subs also let you get bonus time between rounds, and help you score more from your Bots.

Take A Research Card (Red): Obtain a special power, and some points (just like subs). There are many special powers, from one-time boosts, to bonuses for carrying out certain actions, or the ability to program extra bots between rounds.

Program A Bot (White): Program a wild-card bot. The white action lets you program another ‘bot, depending on the station you’re in. Each section has a different colour of program on it.

Upon multiple playing there are two big things when it comes to victory: you can never have enough time, and you need to build a full research lab. The add-on tiles for the research lab can expand the amount of Octopods you can capture, Time you can collect, Crystals you can hold, and cards you can have. Which is nice…but they also have numbers from A-F. These have 2 functions: 1) they let you take control of the pod with the matching number 2) you get 21 bonus points if you have all six letters. Considering controlling the majority most pods in the Research center is worth 6 points at the end of each round, taking Time and building your Lab are actions you simply MUST do.

Another aspect of the area control is what happens when another player takes over an area you are controlling. When that occurs your Bot goes to a storage locker of the corresponding pod. These lockers can hold a variable amount of Bots depending on the number of players. If you manage things right and get a lot of subs and Bots on the board, you can rack up a lot of points.

The research cards are one part of the game I need to focus more on. Not only do you score points for grabbing one, but you also can get bonus points from using the cards. If you can grab two cards in the early rounds that match up, it leads you to a certain strategy you may not have planned to do.

Theme

Did I ever feel like I was leading a research team in an underwater research facility? No. In fact I’ve heard other players can the Octopods aliens. Is there any reason why going through the door on my left takes no time, but it takes two to go through the door on my right? No. Does this really matter?

Not really, unless you are playing with people who need role-playing and to get in to character there’s enough of a puzzle to keep you engaged.

That being said I do tend to enjoy Euros where the theme makes the game look good when setup on the table. I don’t get the same amount of joy seeing AquaSphere as I do Five Tribes, Castels, or Terra Mystica. Even the overly brown Bruges from Feld has a more appealing look.

Replay Value
There is a lot of variation from each game to the next. Or at least there is in the setup. The strategy? I’m not so sure. Because some actions feel more important than others, the games I’ve played haven’t vaired that much. The game may get better with more plays. It’s possible that the Headquarters setup combined with Research Cards could lead you to prioritizing an action besides Time or Lab expansion.

But I’m not sure of the abstract puzzle you are given is engaging enough.

Over All Impression.

After multiple plays, the best way to sum up AquaSphere is that it is a 2-4 player game from Stefan Feld, where you try and score the most points over 4 rounds. If you are a big fan of Feld, I think you are going to enjoy this game a lot. As for me, without an “A-HA!” moment I’m not sure when I’ll be asking for AquaSphere to hit the table again. At the same time…I wouldn’t turn down the chance to play it again.

The game can go long, and there is a bit of a learning curve to it. But there is a lot that works. Is it a good game? Yes. The rules and mechanics make sense, and does deliver some a nice Euro experience. But it’s not a great game, and it’s not something I feel like other players NEED to play. In fact, if I could give 1/2 points in my rating of the game, AquaSphere would be a 7.7 and not an 8.

In like the idea of worker placement with a variable board and different costs associated with where you can place your workers. But I never feel like I was building an engine like in Caverna or Russian Railroads. The area control aspects REALLY change the feel of the game from the traditional worker placement, and I’m not sure if it works.

And after multiple plays that’s a weird place to be in.

 
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4 of 6 gamers found this helpful
“Convoluted”

We all know the board setup of AquaSphere and if you don’t you should watch some reviews. Problem is however that youtube reviewers are so positive. Well I didn’t like it.
From the first move you get the feeling that the game grabs you by the throat and it doesn’t let go until the end. And not in a good way. There are so many things that you are not allowed to do. Furthermore it is so hard to plan ahead because a lot of things are random.
An example is the resource Time. It’s hard to get time to achieve something, and then when you score you can’t pass the 25/50/75 point mark because you have to sacrifice a black stone. Why?
Then there are octopuses, you get 1-3-6 points for removing them, but you need to build your own ship so it can actually hold 3 octopuses, and if you end the turn on a hex with octopuses you get penalty points. Why?
You can program a robot to perform a role but only some are available at any point, and destroying one gives you time – why?
Pushing robots away so that only 1 of each color remains – why?

The game has a theme but it tries to implement too much, losing everything.

Furthermore, explaining the game takes 20+ minutes before you can even consider making a move, and the game just takes too long.
Some may like it.

 

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