I brought the family to Meeples Cafe again on 19 May 2013 (gosh, I'm really far behind in my blog posts), and we tried a bunch of new games. Aquaretto was one of them. It's the sister game of Zooloretto, a Spiel des Jahres winner, which is based on an older, clever card game Coloretto.
In Aquaretto, you build a marine zoo. Unlike in Zooloretto, you now collect dolphins, seals, penguins, killer whales, hippos and even crocodiles. The central mechanism is still the same. On your turn, you can choose to draw an animal tile from the bag and add it to a truck which has space available, or you can choose to not draw a tile and instead claim a truck and all animals on it. The crux of the matter is you want to collect only a few types of animals, and you want to collect many animals of those types because they give you points. You try to avoid collecting too many animal types because that would give penalty points. What differs from Zooloretto is instead of having animal pens with a fixed number of spots, you get one big piece of land where you can freely cluster your animals. You are only allowed three animal types initially, but if you expand your land you are allowed more types. Space is still finite so you may still run out of space, but there is more freedom than in Zooloretto.
You can recruit workers, who score points for you at game end. How they score points depends on what jobs you give them (i.e. where you place them). Cashiers give you 1VP per leftover coin. Trainers (who are placed in the animal area) give 1VP per adjacent dolphin, killer whale and seal (no you can't train hippos; it would be cute, but no).
I have already expanded my marine zoo twice, at the top left and bottom right, using the 2x2 expansions. I have not yet used my 3-spaces expansions (on the left). I have two workers, and both are working as trainers. I'm lucky to be able to collect all three of the animal types that can be trained - seals, dolphins and killer whales. Animals with lightning icons are naughty animals which cannot be trained - they don't help the trainers score points.
I have always preferred Coloretto to Zooloretto. It is probably simply because it came first and I am used to the simplicity. The additional mechanisms in Zooloretto just feel a little superfluous and unnecessary to me. No bad, but if I want to play a 45-60 minute boardgame, I'd pick something else. In the Coloretto family, I prefer the 20 minute card game version to the 45-60 minute boardgame version. When I read the rules to Aquaretto, I thought it would be more straight-forward than Zooloretto. However after playing it, I find it slightly more complex. Although the core mechanism is the same, the peripheral systems are quite different, so I think it gives a different feel.
Aquaretto has a spatial element, unlike the fixed sized animal pens in Zooloretto. You have a bit more freedom in animal placement, and you have to plan and manage it. There aren't many action types, so the reference card that comes with the game is an adequate reminder. Anyway most of the time you are either drawing an animal tile or claiming a truck. One thing you have to constantly remember though is for every third animal of any type you get to claim $1, and for every fifth animal of any type you get to claim a worker. This can be easily missed in the first few games, but I think it soon becomes second nature. This aspect is interesting because it creates additional value for those 3rd and 5th animals that turn up. It adds a bit more spice to the truck selection.
Chen Rui (6) asked us to not take the truck that she wanted. I said you can't do that.
Shee Yun (8) beat both Michelle and I (both over 35). Good genes!
I would say Aquaretto is more an alternative version of Zooloretto than a more complex version (it is very slightly more complex) or a more advanced version (it is not an improved or refined Zooloretto, it is taking Coloretto and going in a different direction). It is definitely a family game. It moves at a brisk pace, and there are enough moving parts to keep it interesting as a boardgame. I am biased towards the minimalism of Coloretto, but I must admit it's descendants are pretty decent light-to-medium weight boardgames.