John-Michael Gariepy

Aquarius: Mystic Crystal Revelation! But is this the Mind’s True Liberation?

Aquarius.box

[Aquarius may be my article with the most posts at Guilt Free Games, but that has less to do with the expertise of my writing and more to do with Jeffrey Norman Borbeau’s decision to slap a picture of David Hasselhoff in speedos at the end of the article.  We also got two hits on GFG one day from people Googling “Free pictures of David Hasselhoff”.  I can only hope that was one person who liked the article and that was the only way they could find it again…]

This review was originally posted at Guilt-Free-Games.com.

Looney Labs is redistributing Aquarius, and Guilt Free Games got our hands on a demo copy, so I decided to give free loving a try. The rest of the players pushed me back in my chair, dumped a cold glass of water on my head, and insisted that we should play Aquarius instead. Grumbling, I put my shirt back on and shuffled the cards.

Aquarius is a groovy card game for 2-5 players. The artwork is simple and vivid. The colors alone make me want to pull out my ‘Doors’ albums. The game has a verve that, when the game is splayed out, makes non-gamers ask “Ooh… how do you play this?”

The business cards of Aquarius have either a picture of a starry night, a rainbow ribboned sky, a bubbling fishy tank, a raging inferno, swarming hills, a two-paneled combination of any of these images, or a four-paneled collage. There are also a subset of action cards that let you do things like rotate a piece, and reshuffle everyone’s hands.

Fish + Fish = One fish closer to winning.

Fish + Fish = One fish closer to winning.

On each player’s turn, that player draws a card and plays a card next to another so that one of the icons on the card you played is matching the same icon in the constellation of cards on the table. If two icons on the card you played are matching two icons in play, then you draw an extra card. If three icons on the card you played are matching three icons in play, then you draw two extra cards. If four icons on the card you played are matching four icons in play, then David Hasselhoff bursts through the door, declares that you’re his long lost love child, lifts you on his shoulders and marches you off to the circus.

I was matching cards and trying to get an edge, enjoying our little game of Aquarius, when I was informed that I shouldn’t. It came in the form of Jeff claiming that the game was terrible and that he was having a rotten time. The stars weren’t aligning; I was having a good time, and he wasn’t. What was going wrong?

Well, the game is a little too straightforward. Often, you have one obvious play, so you put your card there only to wait another seven minutes for other people to figure out where to put their cards. The abstraction of the game doesn’t help. Outside of being distracted by pretty colors, you’ve got nothing to do or listen to while other people take their turns (may I suggest rotating The 5th Dimension on your record player?).

Also, there is no ‘Dawning of the Age of Aquarius’ in this game. Harmony and understanding are forfeit when the purpose of the game is to win. Success was in reach for Jeff three times during the game, but each time he was dragged down by attentive players. Jeff loves cooperative games and hates competition. Friends wrecking his plans was harshing his mellow.

I, however, get absorbed in whatever activity I’m in. Put me in front of a project or puzzle, and I’ll keep thinking about it until I’m done. If I was stoned, I wouldn’t be any more absorbed by the pretty shapes and colors… I’d just make bad plays. Aquarius has some mysterious puzzle-like quality that tapped into that section of my brain. Had there not been people who dreaded it, I could have gone for three or four more games.

Dreamy

Dreamy

In theory, Aquarius could be a game where everyone seeks to win at the same time. If players carefully manipulate the board, they can play until the perfect wild card simultaneously matches six of every icon. When this happens, the players should hold hands stand up and start singing “Let the Sun Shine In!”

Given the odds, though, I’d put my money on David Hasselhoff.

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