Aqualin by Thames and Kosmos
Playtime: ~20 minutes
Perfect for: Duos who enjoy quick strategy-laden tile drafting and placement games.
Aqualin is a game of tile arrangement and set making! The game contains a 6×6 gameboard grid and 36 tiles: six different sea creatures each in six different colors. To begin Aqualin, one player decides that they will score colors, and the other animals. The 36 tiles get flipped facedown and then 6 turned right-side up to form the market.
The goal of Aqualin is relatively simple: to make the largest contiguous groupings possible of either colors or creatures (depending on the player) on the board. On a turn, a player may slide any one single tile already on the board as far they can/want either horizontally or vertically. The only caveat is that other tiles serve as barriers. After that, the player drafts a tile and places it on the board, and a new tile from the pool gets turned face up to refresh the market. Play continues until all tiles are on the board, and then scoring commences—1 point for each group of two; 3 points for a group of three; etc. all the way up to 15 points for a group of six, and the player with the most points wins.
What works in Aqualin is the fantastic pairing of simple rules with highly engaging and cerebral gameplay. Learning and playing Aqualin is a very easy undertaking, making it accessible for gamers of all ages, but mastering it and winning consistently requires far more effort. In some ways, Aqualin feels like a “classic” game of skill in the vein of chess, checkers, Othello, or go—ones that you could play over and over again without fatigue because of their universal appeal given their interactive nature. Aqualin falls easily into this category. The basic concept, coupled with its speed and depth, creates very high replay value.
Players who do not like direct competition games, or ones that require thoughtful planning, may not enjoy Aqualin as much as others. When players first begin playing Aqualin, they will likely be trying to optimize their groups efficiently. However, as individuals become more experienced, game styles might evolve to be more aggressive by making moves to purposely foil opponents. People seeking something a little more friendly (or less thinky) might want to choose a different option.
Aqualin is a fantastic two-person game that comes very highly recommended for gamers and families of all ages.
Recommended if you like: Checkers, Othello, Go, Mahjong