AQUA: Biodiversity in the Oceans review

AQUA: Biodiversity in the Oceans Review

Explore a diverse ecosystem under the sea as you build out the corral reef and discover marine life in AQUA from The OP Games. With careful planning and focus, you can create corral formations worth lots of points and attract high scoring sea creatures. This tile placement game has a lot to offer in a beautiful puzzle under the sea.

AQUA player board

Diving Deep

Players are building their own ecosystem during the course of the game, adding a new piece of colorful corral each turn. AQUA rewards players that choose biodiversity as they create space for different types of marine life. The base level of your expanding board is made of corral hexagons that you draft each round.

On your turn, you select an available tile from the display and add it to your ecosystem. Hexagon tiles have be placed with at least one side touching a matching color. You’ll create a habitat for marine life by forming a hexagon shape of a single color.

AQUA - drafting corral tiles

You’ll start by attracting small marine life that come in the form of hexagons across 6 different colors. For example, the crab tile can be placed on a hexagon space with the red color. Habitats are only formed when a hexagon shape is made. With careful planning, players can create two unique habitats with a single tile placement. This will allow you to place two small animals at once. Each small animal hexagon has a designated number of points shown on their tile.

When you have matching coral that equals more than 4 pieces of a single color, this is called a reef. Creating a reef allows you to score all the small animals that are touching that reef at the end of the game.

AQUA - small animal tiles

Monsters of the Deep

In AQUA, biodiversity will allow you to attract large creatures that are worth big points. When you’ve connected a grouping of different small animals, you can place a large animal tile over the top of this shape. All creatures in this formation have to be different colors.

Even though you cover your small animal tiles, you’re not losing those points. You’re gaining the points shown on the large animal tiles that now sit on top of your ecosystem. Players are awarded higher points for attracting animals that take up more space on the board.

AQUA - large animal tile

During end game scoring, these large animal tiles are used to multiple scores for the animal color that they are associated with during the setup of the game. It’s a challenge to create the diversity needed to place the largest animals.

After a total of 17 rounds, the game comes to an end. Players will score points on the large and small animal tiles, and the criteria on the 6 tiles that were picked during setup. You can play with the basic setup or use a variety of the other scoring tiles in the game. The level of variety adds a ton of replayability to future games.

Life Under the Sea

AQUA: Biodiversity in the Oceans is a fantastic tile placement game that has literal layers to it. Placement of every corral tile can lead to a more diverse ecosystem. There are moments in the game where the color you need isn’t available and you’ll have to adjust your strategy for a turn or two.

AQUA - corral reef scoring

Players are building their own ecosystem and there’s no player interaction other than drafting a tile that someone else might need. The game shares similarities to other tile placement games like Cascadia, Akropolis and Calico. It’s worth noting that AQUA has caused some analysis paralysis (A.P) with players who struggle with spatial reasoning. The division of colors on the hexagon shaped tiles gives you lots of options. Sometimes all those options can make you second guess the best position for the new tile.

AQUA gives players a good variety of scoring opportunities. In our first game, I anticipated the player who attracted the most large animals to win the game. Creating a series of large corral reefs can be an underappreciated way to score big points.

AQUA rulebook

After a couple games of the standard scoring, mixing in other scoring tiles are a nice challenge. AQUA is a game that will grow will you as you become more familiar with the game which is a huge win. In the back of the rulebook, there are a couple pages that are worth pointing out. This includes a solo mode, scenarios which give objectives and modify the setup, challenges which can be achieved and modifications to the game.

Final Thoughts

I had high expectations for AQUA after seeing it for the first time at the beginning of the year. The artwork from Vincent Dutrait looked excellent and The OP has had some great hits recently. The game is puzzley, colorful and loaded with strategy. The value packed into this box is on par with The A.R.T. Project, another release from this publisher that was one of our favorites of 2023.

AQUA - box insert

The tiles in the game are thick and colorful and look like they’ll stand up to a lot of play time. Being an ocean themed game, I was impressed with the in box organization of the game. Instead of a large plastic tray inside the box, they opted for a cardboard divider that you build. This eco-friendly insert was a nice touch and it has surprisingly kept everything in place, even when storing the game on its side.

AQUA offers a multi-layered puzzle with lots of variability. If you’re a fan of tile placement games, this is one that should absolutely be on your radar this year.

AQUA: Biodiversity in the Oceans is now available at your local game store, on The OP webstore or online through Amazon today.

This game was provided to us by the publisher for review. Read more about our review policies at One Board Family.

Highs

  • Every game is a puzzle with lots of scoring opportunities
  • Multi-layered tile placement leads to deep strategies
  • Variable setup and scoring variants means lots of replayability
  • Thick, durable tiles and solid organization in the box

Lows

  • End of the game can creep in quickly
  • Players who struggle with spatial reasoning can have issues

Complexity

2.5 out of 5

Time Commitment

2 out of 5

Replayability

4 out of 5

Ryan Gutowski

I'm a huge fan of strategy games and pretty much anything that involves "city building". My love of board games goes back to my childhood and passion for building relationships with others.

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