Aquadukt: Because Spelling Things Wrong is Cool

Aquadukt is one of those games that was never very well-received. People complained that it was too chaotic, that there was too much luck in it. Because of that, it has been largely forgotten. You never see stuff about it on Dice Tower lists, you rarely, if ever, see it played at cons, and heck, I would venture a guess that most gamers who got into the hobby within the last decade haven’t even heard of it. That’s a shame.

Aquadukt (Bernhard Weber, 2005) is a lightweight Euro game. It plays in about 30 minutes. It’s primary mechanisms are dice rolling, tile laying, and route building. I would classify it as a slightly deeper, next-step filler game.

The game is played out on a square grid with 20 designated areas, each made up of 4-6 squares. The areas are numbered 1-20. The goal of the game is to construct houses and build canals to supply them with water. Players get a number of tiles in their color showing 1-4 houses on them. These tiles are separated by number, so that each player has a stack of 1-house tiles, 2-house tiles, etc.

On a player’s turn, they may take one of three actions:

1. Place up to three house tiles. To do this, they roll the 20-sided die, and may place a house tile on a space in that numbered area. If they do so, they may roll again and place another tile. If they have placed two tiles, they may roll once more to place a third. If, after any roll, the player does not want to place a tile in the rolled area, they may instead end their turn. If they roll an area that is full, they simply re-roll.

2. Place a well. This is where canals begin. To do this, a player simply places one of the glass beads on any intersection of spaces. (I should note that there is a rule dictating how far apart wells must be from one another.)

3. Place up to two canal pieces. Canal pieces are placed in between two spaces, and they provide water to these adjacent spaces. Once a well has been placed, players may begin building canals from it. Each source may have canals coming off it it in up to two directions. This means if players have placed canals going north and west off of a well, no one can place canals south or east. When placing canals, players may either extend an existing canal, place a new canal coming off of a well (provided that there are less than two, of course), or may make a double canal. Double canals are represented by two canal pieces, and they provide water to the two adjacent spaces on either side, instead of the normal one (really awesome). A canal can never increase in size, however. In other words, I can’t make the third piece in a canal a double until the first and second are also doubles. (Sorry if this is a bit confusing. I feel like I’m not doing a very good job explaining this.)

If a board area gets filled up with tiles, players look at all tiles in that area. Any tiles that are not receiving water (i.e. not sourced by a single or double canal), are immediately removed and returned to their owners. This frees up spots for new houses to placed, and leads into another interesting aspect of the game: if you wish to place a tile on an empty space that already has water, it must be your lowest available tile. This is why players must separate their tiles by value at the start of the game, so everyone can easily see what players’ lowest tiles are.

This makes for some interesting strategy. Getting “free points” by placing a tile in an empty, watered space is awesome, so it may be in players’ interest to get rid of all their low-value tiles early, in order to maximize this payout. For example, let’s say I had managed to put all my 1- and 2-value tiles on the board early in the game. Then, later on, I have a chance to place a tile in a vacant space with an adjacent canal. Since my lowest tile is 3, I can grab three free points.

This strategy is nicely counterbalanced by the randomness of the dice roll. You can roll and place a tile up to three times on your turn. Of course, this means you will inevitably roll undesirable areas. If all of the activity on the board is happening in one part of the board and you roll an area that is nowhere near said activity, that sucks. You either have to place a tile and try again, or you can stop. Because of this, it can be a good idea to keep your low-value tiles to use as “throwaways.” If I roll a bad spot, I can place a 1-value tile there in order to keep rolling and try again.

This creates a nice push-and-pull. You have to decide if it’s worth keeping low-value tiles to use when you roll poorly, or get rid of them for those moments when you can get free water.

Some people take issue with the action of placing a well. They complain that everyone else gets a chance to decide the directions the canals will go before you do, because the action of placing a well is your entire turn. This means that, if I place a well in hopes that it’s canals will go toward my tiles, everyone else can divert the canals away before I get to act again. It’s true, this can happen, and it sucks when you’re on the receiving end. However, I don’t think this is as big a problem as some do. To me, it just means you need to be all the more strategic about when and where you place the wells. Try to place them in such a way that you’ll benefit from canals in any direction. Or try to wait until you’re fairly certain your opponents will not be building canals on their turn, so that you can decide their directions on your next turn. Or try to turn a single canal into a double, so that it hits your tile two spaces away. Or just don’t place them at all. Make your opponents do it instead, and try to reap the benefits. In my opinion, the well placement action is not problematic. It just forces you to make decisions.

As for the dice rolling, I can see why some people don’t like this. As in any game with dice, there is always the possibility of getting screwed by bad rolls. The thing is, Aquadukt never forces you to use a bad roll. Every time you roll the dice, you have to make a conscious decision or whether or not to place a tile. Is it worth it to suck it up and waste a tile on a bad roll in order to get another chance at a better spot? It almost has a slight push-your-luck thing going on, but you have some control over the randomness.

(Speaking of the dice, I’m going to pause for a slight tangent here. I have owned two copies of Aquadukt over the years. In both cases, the D20 included in the game was severely lopsided, making it favor certain results over others. I believe this is a common problem with this game, and a pretty stupid oversight by Uberplay. If you get this game, throw away the D20 and use a different one. Tangent over.)

Aquadukt is not a perfect game. I have played it with people who liked it, and people who didn’t like it. I personally enjoy the game, and I think fans of fillers will as well (haha, “well”). It feels somewhat interactive, if indirectly. You don’t attack people in the game, but there are ways to mess with your opponents, moments of “Oh, you wanted the canal to go that way? Boy, it would be a real shame if some jerk made it go THIS way…”

Additionally, the game is quick. We’re talking 30 minutes. Individual turns are very fast, leaving little downtime. You do one of three things, that’s it. New players will understand the game in a matter of minutes, and will be able to effectively strategize right out of the gate. Some games take a couple playthroughs to grasp. This one takes one to two turns. Another user describes Aquadukt as deeper than it seems. I tend to agree. I’m not saying the game is deep. It’s really not. But there is more depth to it than you might think. There are subtleties that reveal themselves as you play.

I won’t recommend this game to everyone. For some/most people on the Geek, it’s going to feel too light/chaotic. I get that, even if I don’t completely agree. I think fans of fillers will dig it, though. As an added bonus, it’s very accessible to non-gamers. It’s pretty easy to find on the cheap, so if you’re of the lighter game persuasion, give it a try!

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