Review: Water Lily

By Melissa Rogerson
23 February 2011

Publisher: GameWorks SàRL
Designer: Dominique Ehrhard
Artist: Vincent Dutrait
Players: 2-5
Ages: 7 and up
Playing Time: 5-12 Minutes
Rules Language: English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Frog.
Game Language: Language Neutral
Game Played: Bought copy.
Number of Plays: More than 10 (3, 4 and 5 players)

I didn’t make it to the Spiel! game fair in Essen last year. Instead, I warned my kids that the next few days were earmarked as “Mummy’s Special Time”, timeshifted my life to European Time, and spent four evenings hidden away in my study, glued to  BoardGameGeek’s streaming video channel, chatting with other avid viewers and occasionally texting friends I saw wandering about the fair in the background. (Shame some of them didn’t have their phones on, Dale).

As a result, I saw way more game demos than I would have even if I’d been to the fair – and my wishlist grew accordingly. Of course, some weren’t for me, and others weren’t for, well, anyone, but there was plenty that was of interest and had me – on rare breaks – scanning the house for places to put more shelves.

Fast forward several months, and Fraser and I made a pilgrimage to Melbourne’s big game discounter. That’s the big (game discounter) not the (big game) discounter, in case you were worried. We took my wishlist and our credit cards, which was probably a dangerous combination. (Note to self: Next time, plan to pay CASH).

See, when we shop for games, we generally use a highly scientific method. We walk around the shop and grab the things that interest us, making a big pile on the counter, until common sense suggests that we really need to stop if we are going to (a) fit the games in the car (this did not work in Essen) and (b) buy groceries and petrol and all those important things.

As we strolled, a few things leapt off the shelves at us – or at our children, who have proved themselves to be nearly as good at buying games as Mummy and Daddy. The Harry Potter Hogwarts Lego game was joined by Priests of Ra and Pick-Up Sticks (Mikado) and then by Munchkin: Fairy Dust (at least until we explained that there wasn’t REAL Fairy Dust in the attractive pink sachet). And by Water Lily, a rather gorgeous-looking game by Dominique Ehrhard, with artwork by Vincent Dutrait – coincidentally, one of those games which I had seen demonstrated and had marked as a “want”: “Looks like a really nice kids game. Good demo on the bgg live stream from spiel 2010. What will availability be like?”

Seems I had my answer. Availability was good and the price was even better.

Breaking it out the next day, we had the other answer – we had a great new family game, which was enjoyed by adults as well as by kids. Otto, at 7, was particularly keen – and the rules were simple enough for her to explain the game all by herself.

There are two things that you need to know about Water Lily before you play it.

  1. It is overproduced. Ridiculously overproduced, even. Gorgeous to look at, even down to the green cloth bag with screen-printed frog – that seems to have no use in the game whatsoever, other than for storing components between plays. But it looks great! Roll on overproduction, I say, if you can bring it in for such a reasonable price.
  2. It has the second slimmest theme for a boardgame EVER. OK, maybe the THIRD slimmest theme.

Water Lily is a game for 2 to 5 players. We find it takes around 5-12 minutes to play, depending on how deeply the other frog princes want to think. It’s probably best with fewer than 5 players, as that means that not all colours are taken.

The story is simple, if a little odd. Princess Water Lily and her sisters have decided to get married. All the frog princes from around the kingdom are competing in the Royal Race, and the winners will marry them and become Princes. But the girls aren’t interested in the overeager early arrivals. They prefer a Prince who takes his time – but he must be there by the wedding, of course.

At the start of the game, the board is assembled. Like Niagara and Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, as well as other children’s games, the game uses both halves of the box to support the game board.

Water Lily box showing insert (in bottom of box) and lid

Box, pre-setup

Water Lily board setup showing starting frog positions and other game components

Box setup with boards - and frogs - in place

There are twenty frogs in the game; four in each of five colours. Importantly for a family game, at least in our family, one of those colours is pink, although (disappointingly) the pink frog princes do not sparkle with fairy dust like the Munchkin cards might. Before the game starts, they are stacked in five piles of four differently-coloured frogs as indicated at one end of the board. (Stacking order is clearly shown on the board). Between them and the special chutes which will take them to their warty green princesses is a sea of water lilies.

At the start of the game, each player receives one of five secret waterlily tiles – each showing a frog wearing a hat and carrying a flag in one of the five player colours. Like many a bluffing/deduction game, these tiles are kept secret until the end of the game.
Frog princes are smart enough to know that marrying a princess is a good idea. They are not, however, smart enough to understand the basic zig-zag. Each frog prince can move as far along the diagonal path as the height of the stack of frogs he starts his move on, but only in a straight line. Players can move any frog that is on its own or that is on the top of a stack. So a frog that is on the top of a starting stack of 4 can move up to four spaces along a path. Pretty simple, really.

A sample mid-game setup for Water Lily

Water Lily Mid-game

The goal, of course, is to hold back your frogs whilst ensuring that your opponents’ frogs arrive way too early. Without giving the game away about which colour is yours, of course. The game ends when all five frogs of one colour have reached the palace. At this point, the board that covers the chute is removed and points are tallied: 1 point for the first frog in each chute, 2 for the second, 3 for the third and 4 for the fourth. We like to wait to reveal colours until scoring is finished. The player whose team of frogs has the highest score is the winner, and the various weddings can duly occur. (I believe that in some families there may not be frog-kissing at this point, but that is currently an unconfirmed rumour).

Sample Water Lily end game positions. There are frogs in each row, with one row having 5 frogs.

Sample Water Lily end game positions

How much strategy there really is in Water Lily is anyone’s guess (although I am sure that someone reading this has done the numbers). You can manipulate moves by landing on or moving off other pieces, and can stop other players from moving your pieces by placing other frogs on top of your own. I’m no cunning strategist, but I think the options here are fairly limited – enough to distinguish a “good” player, but not enough to guarantee victory for the person with the best grasp of abstract strategy. In other words, a good solid family game where anyone can be competitive.

Yellow frog prince


Other Opinions from the Opinionated Gamers:

Patrick Korner: I’ve played Water Lily twice and thought it was an excellent, enjoyable family game. The only thing that kept me from bringing it home was luggage space (I can hear some of you laughing, please stop now, thanks) since, as Melissa mentions, the game is monstrously (froggishly?) overproduced. But if you can grab it from your friendly local/online game store, then you’ll find a gorgeous, reasonably priced and fun little exercise in memory and frustration that your kids are certain to whup you at.

Greg Schloesser:  Water Lily is a highly enjoyable family game that keeps children engrossed and adults engaged.  It is easy to learn and plays exceedingly quickly – ten minutes or so.  When playing with adults, the game takes on a more tactical nature, as players cagily maneuver frogs so as to delay the movement of their own.  With children, the game is far more random, but still fun.  While the idea is to keep the identity of one’s frog family secret, in reality this is difficult to accomplish.  By mid-game, adults and astute children will usually know the identity of their opponent’s frogs.  This certainly reduces the effectiveness of one’s efforts, but fortunately doesn’t really reduce the fun. Water Lily is ideally suited as a family game, but works well as a light filler with adults.  The components are top notch, and the chute mechanism is clever and enjoyable.  It is exactly the type of game that should be in the game closet of anyone with young children … and it won’t send adults screaming into the streets at the mere thought of playing it.

Patrick Brennan: (1 play). It’s got two things I dislike in kids games – secret identity (so there’s no cheering through the game) and hidden trackable information (which means you have to work your memory skills rather than concentrating on the fun). On the plus side, the components are great and the movement mechanism is a nice one for kids to learn. If adults are playing it’s a cagey affair of moving slowly but getting on top of stacks by mid-game but forcing other colours to move long distances early in the game. It all seems pretty obvious so it’s hard not to give away your colour unless you’re playing pretty randomly. As anyone can move any colour, your result is at the whim of other players – even more so once your colour is guessed. With kids it ends up being, well, fairly random who gets moved when it’s not your turn and your play is generally just to make the best of whatever the situation is when it gets back to you. The game is decent and it works, but in the end it’s an abstract game dressed up in kid’s clothes which wasn’t satisfying or enjoyable enough to earn more play.

Fraser McHarg: (two or three plays)  Having played Spy Alley and Von 0 auf 100 with the kids neither they nor I mind secret identity. I think they, or possibly I am projecting here, like the potential misdirection possible.  When this was first set up it looked impressive, but it didn’t look like there was going to much do, but after the rules explanation and the first couple of turns some of the possibilities became clear.  Do I pretend to be someone else?  Do I try and set my pieces up for future moves hoping nobody finishes the game before I can actually realise that plan?  I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had playing this.  A good family game.

Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! (1) Melissa Rogerson
I like it. (3) Patrick Korner, Doug Garrett, Fraser McHarg
Neutral. (2) Jonathan Franklin, Greg Schloesser
Not for me … (1) Patrick Brennan

About Melissa

Melissa lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she plays games with her husband Fraser and their two adult daughters. She works as a lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction and researches tabletop games. Find out more about her research at
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3 Responses to Review: Water Lily

  1. Tero Moliis says:

    Hello Melissa!
    Thanks for the great review. I will now definitively try Water Lily with my nephews! Also, I was wondering how old your kids were, because if they are over 7 or so, I hope you get a chance to try out our game Hornet with them as well! It is a great family game, where kids can very evenly compete with us “smarter” adults! Thanks and best regards!

  2. Melissa says:

    Hi Tero,
    I’ll definitely look out for your game! My kids are aged 7 and 12.

    • Tero Moliis says:

      Thanks a lot for your kind reply Melissa. I look forward to hearing your comments then. And I am sure your kids are going to enjoy the game very much, trust me! Best regards and have a very happy spring!!

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