Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Aqua Romana

Designer:  Martin Schlegal
Publishser:  Queen Games
2 9 4 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

 

No doubt, one of ancient Rome’s most amazing accomplishments was the construction of a vast network of aqueducts, allowing them to bring the precious liquid of life to their cities and remote colonies.  Many of these aqueducts still stand today, a testament to the outstanding engineering capabilities of the designers and workers who labored to construct them.  It is about time a game has been released that deals with this subject, albeit quite loosely. 

Queen cannot seem to make up its mind regarding box size.  While not as large as those of Wallenstein or Im Zeichen des Kreuzes, Aqua Romana’s box is still extremely large and thick, which means it occupies quite a bit of precious shelf space.  The board is overly large, and could have easily been made smaller to fit everything inside a smaller container.  

The board depicts an 8×11 grid, upon which players will place the starting source of their aqueduct system.  Depending upon the number of players, each player will have 3 – 4 workmen at their disposal.  Players will use these workmen to extend their aqueducts, hoping to keep them from being terminated as long as possible.  When an aqueduct terminates, points are scored for each tile it traverses.  This is identical to the scoring found in another Queen game, Metro, and the game certainly bears many similarities to that Derk Henn title. 

 

There are an abundance of tiles depicting various aqueduct patters:  curves, straights, crossing sections, etc.  After seeding the board with a handful of these tiles, players will alternate placing the tiles in an effort to extend their system, or attempt to terminate their opponents’ systems.  

Unlike Metro, players can choose the tile they desire to place, with an important restriction.  Surrounding the playing grid is a track upon which the master builders move.  A player may only play tiles that match the type depicted on master builders who occupy the same row or column as their worker.  So, if a player desires to place a tile depicting a curve, there must be a master builder in his direct line-of-sight that depicts a curve upon it.  Since a player initially has multiple workers, he does have a decent chance of having a master builder in the appropriate location so that a tile can be placed.  

An important rule is that a player MUST place a tile in his own system if at all possible — even if the tile placement hurts the player.  Only if the player has no master builders in the line-of-sight of any of his workers can he then place a tile into the system of another player — provided they, too, have a master builder in the line-of-sight of one of their workers.  Thus, players cannot wantonly sabotage the systems of their opponents at will.  That makes the game more palatable than Metro

After placing a tile, the master builder used is moved to the next vacant space along the outer track.  If he rounds a corner, the player gets to place another tile on any vacant space on the board, but cannot add it to an existing system.  This can be important in assisting the continuance of one’s own aqueduct, or make it more difficult for an opponent to extend their system.  

If a tile is placed so that one of the aqueducts branches is terminated, that branch is scored as described above.  The worker on that branch is moved to the winner’s podium whose number matches the score.  If this podium is already occupied by another worker, he must move down to the next available podium.  This scoring mechanism is similar to that found in Reiner Knizia’s Traumfabrik, and it can be quite frustrating to be forced to score one or more points lower than anticipated.  As a consolation for having a branch terminated, the player gets to place a new master builder onto the board, positioning him where he deems most helpful. 

The game continues until all players’ aqueduct systems have been terminated.  At this point, the workers occupying the top three podiums are moved-up 4, 3 and 2 podiums, respectively.  Players then total the values of the podiums occupied by their workers, and the player with the greatest total is declared Rome’s greatest engineer.  

While the game has strong similarities to Metro, it actually improves on the system.  Players cannot simply lay tiles at their discretion, but must attempt to manipulate the master builders into favorable positions.  Of course, it is also possible to maneuver them into positions to make life more difficult for your opponents.  As such, there are additional layers of strategy which make Aqua Romana more intriguing.  

Don’t be fooled, however:  there isn’t total control here.  With four players, the master builders move often, and can quickly be out of position by a player’s next turn.  Several turns can pass without being able to place a beneficial tile, or even one at all.  On other turns, you will have limited options, and be forced to place a detrimental tile.  That can smart.  

Still, the game is fun, and it is challenging attempting to maneuver the master builders into favorable positions to keep your aqueduct system expanding.  There is more here than many tile laying games.  While I don’t think it will have the universal appeal of a Carcassonne, it should provide enough to satisfy both serious and casual gamers.  This is one of the better games in the Queen line.

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Responses

  1. This is the game to play with relatives who normally work on jigsaw puzzles. The wooden master builders belie a deep, almost soothing, tile-laying experience. Compared to Metro, this is Chess! And those wooden pieces move around the board with satisfying heft. (7/10)

  2. Lots of things to think about. Maybe to much for me. (6/10)

  3. Thank you for your review. Just played our first game this evening. It was a two player game between me and my wife. We like games that have relatively simple rules and that move quickly, so Aqua Romana was quite enjoyable. It seems to be playable at several levels of strategy, from slightly above Checkers to somewhere below Chess, and still be fun for all.


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