Dale Yu: Review of Aquamarine

  • Aquamarine
  • Designer: Matthew Dunstan
  • Publisher: Postmark Games
  • Players: 1+
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • played 6 times with preview Print-and-play copy provided by publisher

aquamarine

Well, the COVID Pandemic is into its third year (of who knows how many), and so many things have changed as a result.  One thing that has clearly affected our hobby is the nebulous “supply chain”.  Game releases are delayed constantly – sometimes due to production issues (can’t get the materials to make the game), sometimes due to shipping issues, etc.

A new company, Postmark Games, was founded to sidestep some of these issues – by offering only print-and-play games… Once the games are ready – there’s no delay!  Additionally, this method of game distribution would be better for the environment as there will be less packaging (as in no packaging), and less waste in printed materials, as the gamer can print up game sheets on demand – so only print what you plan to use!  Postmark Games has chosen to take their funding to Kickstarter – asking supporters to pledge funds in return for the game files.  The first game in this line is called Voyages – the description from the publisher, and we reviewed it prior to its successful KS campaign.  

The second game from this company has just been announced – Aquamarine.   The backstory per the publisher: “Dive deep down into the ocean and discover a vibrant underwater world in this exciting single-sheet print at home game. Manage your oxygen reserves as you plunge beneath the ocean surface. Will you seek out fish and coral in the narrow sea caves? Or race to be first to reach the ocean floor? On a turn 2 dice are rolled for all players. Using one of the dice results, players will mark their game sheets to show the position of their diver. The lower value dice might limit your options, but if you pick the higher value, you must use an amount of O2 equal to the difference. Choosing when to strike out is vital for seeing the most on your limited time beneath the waves!

Like the first release from the company, this game will be print at home.  In the press kit that I have, the kit includes both a nicely illustrated color sheet as well as a low-ink, environmentally friendlier black and white version.  I’ve played on both, and to be honest, I much prefer the black and white as I find it easier to see what I’m doing.

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Regardless of which map you play on, each player will get an identical blank map at the start of the game.  Currently only 1 map is included in the press kit, but the designer tells me that there should be multiple maps available by the time the KS campaign finishes.

The map shows a cross section of the ocean, with 3 ships floating on the water at the top, and then a myriad of things to discover as you explore the water – fish, coral, jellyfish, shipwrecks, air bubbles, manta rays and more.  The game is played over 24 turns, which sounds like a lot, but each individual turn generally takes less than a minute to complete.  There is a timer in the bottom left that helps you track the turns played, and it also splits the game into day and night phases.  (I have also started writing numbers in my areas each turn to help my track easier)

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Over the course of the game, you’ll take three expeditions.  Each one must start from a space directly beneath one of the boats at the top, and each one has its own dedicated air tank of 12 air points – this is important because as you can see in the timer, you score for squid in the night and manta rays in the daytime.  Each game starts with a d6 roll to decide where you start on this timer; and this variability will lead to a changing get of priorities.

On each turn, one of the players rolls 2d6.  Players each choose one of the die values to use this turn.  When a number is chosen, players must then draw a rectangle consisting of the chosen number of squares.  If the higher die roll is chosen, players must mark off air equal to the difference between the numbers on the dice.  Also, if a pair is rolled, all players get a bonus of +2 to the number and they are not restricted to drawing rectangles – they can make any shape they want.  Each time you make a new rectangle, it must be orthogonally adjacent to the shape you drew in the previous turn.  The new shape cannot overlap any previously drawn shape, and it must not touch (even at a corner) any shape from a previous dive.

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As you dive down, you will also use more air as you go deeper in the water.  There are dotted lines marking the “-1 Air” and “-2 Air” zones.  If your turn ends in one of these, you must mark off the stated number of Air points EACH turn.  However, if you enclose air bubbles on a turn, you do not mark off any air at all (neither for choosing a higher number nor for your end of turn location).

Once you draw you shape, check to see if you need to cross anything out.  If you enclose both types of coral in a shape, all the coral is crossed out.  Also, if you enclose a Stingray or a Squid at the wrong time of day, you’ll have to cross it out.  You won’t score any points for items crossed out.   If you fully enclose all the parts of a shipwreck, you’ll unlock one of the 6 bonuses found at the top of your sheet.

Flags are bonus points that can score huge points.  They are often difficult to get to as they are hidden in crevices and corners.  Note that you can only score one flag per dive.  Also, try to avoid the jellyfish as they are always worth a 2 point penalty.

Your current dive automatically ends if you have no air left at the end of your turn.  You can also choose to voluntarily end a dive and simply start a new one from the base of one of the boats.  You can start a second dive from a boat you have used before, but remember that you cannot be adjacent, even diagonally, to any shape drawn from a previous dive.

At the end of the 24th turn, players tally up their points.  There is a chart in the lower right where you can sum everything up.  I have found it easier to leave myself little notes in the margins and hashmarks in the scoring boxes to keep me from having to look at every shape drawn on my board; I just add up the little numbers I have left myself in the scoring area.

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The player with the most points wins. There is no tiebreaker.

My thoughts on the game

Aquamarine is a very clever roll and write game, and though I will admit to having some burnout on the genre, I very much enjoyed my introduction to this game.  After 6 games, the map is pretty familiar, but the promise of multiple maps to play on in the full version means there should be enough variety to not grow tired of the game.

The feature of Aquamarine that holds my interest is that you have enough different choices to make in each game that cause each individual game to feel different.  First, as I mentioned above, there are six different places to start on the clock, and this will make the Squid and Rays become valuable at different times in the game.  Also, you have the option to choose between the numbers rolled, and this can lead you in quite varied paths.  You likely won’t have enough time (nor air) to get all the way to the bottom of the board on each of your three dives, so figuring out which dives you want to shorten can be an important strategic decision.  Also, if you activate a shipwreck bonus, you’ll possibly be motivated to go for different features on the map than you would normally target.  You can try to get a shipwreck early and give you motivation on later turns, or you can try to get one late and simply choose the bonus which you have done the best in so far.

Pay careful attention to the location of the flags and the air bubbles.  The flags are worth a lot of points, but Dunstan has put many of them in awkward locations. They are sometimes hard to get to, and there is often some risk involved if you are targeting one of them – as you might not get a roll which allows you to encircle the flags.  The air bubbles can really prolong a dive, possibly saving you as many as 7 air bubbles from being marked off your sheet.  The rules also allow you to hold your breath a bit at the end of your dive as there is no penalty for needing to mark off more air than you have left in your tank.  You simply cross off all remaining air points and then you must start a new dive on the next roll.

As you explore, nearly everything can score you points (though again, the jellyfish are always a penalty) – so the key here is to figure out how to maximize your score.  The bonuses can help focus your play, but it will take some time to fully enclose a shipwreck as well – so you’ll have to take that into account also.  The bonuses should not be taken lightly as I felt they were too difficult to get in my early games, and I lost every time to players who got nice bonus scores at the end of the game.

Like Voyages, I think that there is a lot of entertainment to be had in this roll and write, and I like the concept of printing up just enough sheets that you need in order to play.  It’s a new model for gaming, but one that I hope picks up some steam.

If you are interested in learning more or to back the project:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/postmarkgames/aquamarine/

It is currently slated to go live July 19, 2022

 

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

 

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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