Dale Yu: Review of Iquazu



  • Designer: Michael Feldkoetter
  • Publisher: HABA
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: ~60 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by HABA USA
  • Link: http://www.habausa.com/iquazu/

Iquazu (or “the Avatar Waterfall game” as it’s called around here), is the newest big-box game from HABA.  Over the past few years, HABA has been making a strong move into the family game arena, leaving the comfortable confines of the kiddie-game genre where they have been the king for quite some time now…

In this game, as the story goes, players are members of the Inox tribe and are competing against each other to recover gems which have been secreted away behind a massive waterfall.  The cover art shows a bright blue Inox girl, who looks eerily like the Na’vi from the movie Avatar – hence the nickname here of the “Avatar Waterfall” game.

In setup, the frame of the board is put together, and then the rock wall is made from a number of interchangeable strips.  A scoring strip (for the appropriate amount of players) is placed underneath the waterfall. Bonus tiles are shuffled face down and then placed on the appropriate spaces of the rock wall – essentially all spaces but those in the first 5 rows.  Water strips are balanced on plastic rails above the wall so that the games can only see that left-most six-column section of the rock wall. At the start, you will see five strips of spaces for gems and then a column to the right filled with bonus tiles.  As the waterfall moves, you always flip over the bonus tiles that you can see.


A box filled with colored gems is given to the starting player while a box of water drops is given to the player to the right of the start player.    The deck of cards is shuffled (each card simply a color of one of the gems) and the start player is dealt 4 cards. Each player later in turn order gets one additional card than the player before him.  Each player is given a player color (i.e. which color is seen in the corner of the board nearest him), and a gem of each player’s color is placed on the “0” space of the score track.

The active player is whichever player has the box of colored gems in front of him.  He first must take an action (drawing cards OR placing a gemstone). Then he checks to see if he plays a water drop.  Finally, he passes the colored gem box to the player to his left ending his turn (and starting the turn of that player).

Again, for the action, there are two choices.  If you choose to draw four cards, you simply take the top 4 cards off the deck.  There is a limit of twelve cards in your hand at the end of a turn. If you draw to a number above 12, you can look at all your cards and decide which to discard to get back down to 12.

If you choose to place a stone, you must place a stone in a mark which matches the color of your stone.  In addition, you must play cards which match the color of your stone and the space. The number of cards is determined by the location of the space.  You must play 1 matching color card to play in the leftmost available column, 2 for the next, .. up to 5 cards for the 5th and rightmost available column.  You can always play a pair of colored cards as a wildcard for any other color (i.e. two blues can be played for a yellow card).  Once you have met all these requirements, you place a gem IN YOUR PLAYER COLOR (not the color of the space!) on the designated space.

Next, look to see if you have the water box in front of you.  If so, place a water drop in the first available space (going top to bottom) in the leftmost strip of the wall.  If all the spots in the first strip are filled, them move onto the second strip, and so on.

Check to see if there is an interim scoring round – this occurs whenever the leftmost strip has all spaces filled with either player gems or water drops.  First you score rock points. The point distribution is seen on the scoring strip which runs along the bottom of the waterfall. The player who has the most number of gems in this strip will score the top (most valuable) number of VPs. Ties go to the player who has the lowest placed stone amongst tied players.  Continue to award VPs for each number on the stone.

Next, score the bonus tiles – now you look across the five visible strips.  For each bonus tiles, award the tile to the player with the most gems in that row.  Ties are broken by the gem furthest to the right, and if needed, then closer to the bottom of that row. Some bonus tiles simply award VPs.  Some allow you to draw more cards from the deck.  Others allow you to over-ride the color matching of cards played in order to play a gem, and the final type allows you to take a second action (drawing cards or playing a gem) on your turn.

Now, you must move the waterfall, take the water strip covering the next row to the right and move it to cover the row just scored.  You will now see a new set of bonus tiles on the right which must be uncovered. Again check to see if an interim scoring is necessary (if the leftmost row is completely full).  If so, repeat the above process. If not, the turn is over.   Once the scoring is done, the player with the water box passes it to the right.

Whether there is interim scoring or not, the active player passes the colored gemstone box to his left to end his turn.  But, remember that the water box only moves (and in the opposite direction!) when there is an interim scoring.

The game continues until you get to the third to final column.  The numbers on the scoring strip are marked in red to remind you of this.  When that third-to-last column is scored, the next two columns are also immediately scored (regardless of whether they are filled completely or not).  Only the points for the rocks are assigned as there will be no bonus tokens left at that time.

As the final bit, reveal all the collected bonus tokens worth VPs and add them to your score.  The player with the most points wins. There is no tiebreaker.

My thoughts on the game

Iquazu is an interesting area control game as it asks you to try to work on area control in two different dimensions at the same time.  All of the rewards are known at the start of a player turn, so you’ll constantly be calculating what is the best placement for your stones (or whether you should even just be drawing cards to set yourself up for a better play on the next turn…).

The column scores get progressively better as the waterfall marches rightward, but you might be able to sneak in some easy points by playing fewer numbers of cards to place in that leftmost column.  The bonus tiles which allow for card drawing or extra actions seem to be the ones most hotly contested as these actions tend to save you an entire turn because you don’t have to use your entire turn drawing cards…  But, if you want to go for the long play, you can place gems out on the far right of the waterfall knowing that they will help influence the bonus token race for many turns to come.

As far as components go, the art is well done as you would expect from Haba. I also like the way that they have included player color reminders in the corner of the board.  If you have people that are really tied to a particular color (as in my group), you may have to alter seating arrangements so that players can be seated near their preferred color’s corner!

The gems are colorful, and lead to a beautiful game to look at.  When playing with new players, make sure that players are placing gems that match their PLAYER color and not the color of the space on the board.  It’s an easy enough mistake to make when you’re not familiar with the game… (OK, this is really only a yellow issue. But, still something to warn the non-yellow players).

The waterfall is a beautiful thing to look at, but the raised edges of the water frame sitting on the plastic rails makes it hard for people to see the artwork close to that frame.  I do wish that there was slightly better visibility of the actual game bits. The frame also makes it a bit difficult to place the gems sometimes for adults with fat fingers. But, man, when people saw the waterfall on the table, they were sure to stop and gawk at the game for a bit, so I can see why it looks the way it does…

Thus far, in my games, the game starts to feel a bit same-y around the half-way mark.  The slightly increasing VP bonus for successive columns is not quite enough to really distinguish the first column from the sixth; though the game does get a little bit more interesting near the end as there is some jockeying that can go on for the smaller partial scoring of the final two columns (which get scored immediately after the last one).  Part of me wonders if this would go from good to great if there were a couple of columns less in the game… But I’ll still be happy enough to play it as is. It’s a solid game, and I like the challenge of trying to win multiple area control races at once.


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral. James Nathan
  • Not for me…


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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