Our review


Underwater experiments




Program robots, collect information


Playing a game designed by Stephan Feld usually means that you have many different possibilities to score Victory Points (VP) but that you also need to be ready to change your strategy according to the actions of your opponents: AQUASPHERE is no exception. Remember Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus from Jules Verne’s book "Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea"? Well, looking at Aquasphere graphics players are transported back at those times to reach a laboratory underwater in a unknown Ocean: they are part of a team of scientists that is analyzing a new type of crystal whose utilization will remain … secret.


The box is well filled with good quality components, but does not have a mounted board: instead we have to assembly 6 sectors to form a round Research Station.


Photo Aqua 1


Each player will receive a personal board and a base lab. The first is used to initially stock 16 Robots and 6 mini-submarines. On this board players will also place the "programmed" Robots, ready to be used on the Station to perform actions. A reminder of "how to get Victory Points (VP)" is printed on one side of the board.


Photo Aqua 2


The second is a small laboratory that should be expanded with extra sectors. Players will find those sectors on the main Station during the game: improving this mini-lab will also improve the players abilities and the final score.


Another underwater building is called "Headquarters" and is used to program the robots and to decide the turn order.


The box also includes: 6 hexagonal "center tiles", to be stacked in the middle of the Station; 30 "lab expansions", for the players mini-labs; 41 "research cards" that give benefits to the players who take them; 38 "time markers” (the “money” of the game); 20 black plastic "crystals" and 15 pink wooden "octopods”.


Before starting the game we have to place lab expansions, research cards, time markers, crystals and octopods on each of the six sectors of the station, following the indication of the central tile. Each sector has 8 "operative" zones:

- 6 COLORED ACTION zones where the players will send their Engineers to perform actions

- 1 CENTRAL zone that will be occupied by a "programmed" robot, and

- 1 LOADING zone where are moved the robots that finish their task.


Once everything is in place the Headquarters must also be prepared: each player place the first of his two Engineers in the entrance and, using a randomly selected "program card", the seven zones of the building are filled with one of the seven programming tiles. Two colored cubes per player are finally placed on the “0” case of the VP track.


To win the game you have to gain more VP than your opponents and this task can be done basically with three different possibilities:

(1) - Gaining VP during a round, killing octopods or using special bonuses from cards

(2) - At the end of each round, for the control of a majority of the sectors, collecting crystals and having displaced robots on the Research Station.

(3) - At the end of the game, after 5 rounds: but we will see it later




Each player, on his turn, may execute ONE action. Then turn passes to the player on his left and the game proceed in the same way, one action per turn, until all players pass: the first to pass will be the “first player” on the next round, and so on.


There are two kind of actions:

(a) – To program a Robot

(b) – To activate a Robot


(a) - To PROGRAM A ROBOT a player has to move his Programming Engineer on the Headquarters, starting from the ENTRANCE and moving inside the building along one of the possible paths: arrows printed on the basement help to remember which are the alternative. You cannot back step once you moved inside one of the seven rooms.


Photo Aqua 3


Each room contains a “Programming Tile”: each tile has a different icon and is used to program a Robot to do a certain job, The player who selected a room takes one of his Robots from the reserve on his personal board and place it on the related colored section: for example, if you entered a room with a disc showing an Octopod you will place a Robot on the Octopod icon (pink) of your board (and you will use it later to kill octopods). Players may have a maximum of TWO programmed Robots in their board at any time: if they wish to program more Robots they must first use or eliminate one of those already programmed.


When their Engineers reach the top three rooms of the Headquarters the players cannot program more Robots (unless they own special cards) so they may only “spend” actions on the Research Station or … pass. In the latter case the Engineer exit the Headquarters and is placed on the “next turn order” track. The first to exit will be the first to play on the next round, and so on.


(b) - To ACTIVATE A PROGRAMMED ROBOT players need to send their Chief Engineer in one of the 6 colored cases in a Sector of the Research Station, selecting an action related to one of their programmed Robot: for example, if you have 2 robots programmed for killing Octopods and collecting Crystals you may send your Engineer in a PINK (Octopods) or BLACK (Crystals) sector of your choice. Then you will perform the action related to this color:


- Action GREEN: used to expand the personal mini-lab. Place the Engineer in the green case and a Robot (programmed for the green action) in the central case of the Sector eventually pushing an existing robot in the loading zone. Then take the first expansion tile of the stack and place it on your mini-lab

- Action YELLOW: used to take new Time Markers (TM). Place the Engineer in the Yellow case and a programmed Robot in the Central case. Then take as much TM as your mini lab allows you.

- Action BLACK: used to acquire new crystals. Engineer in the Black case and a programmed Robot in the center. Then take the available crystals (you may keep as many as your mini-lab allows you).

- Action PINK: used to kill Octopods. Engineer on the pink case and a programmed Robot in the center. Then kill as many Octopods as your mini-lab allows you.

- Action BLUE: used to place new submarines. Engineer in the blue case and a programmed Robot in the center. Then take your leftmost submarine from your board and place it on the first available space on the Sector, paying the requested TM. Finally mark as many VP as indicated in the Research Station central tile.

- Action RED: used to acquire Research Cards. Engineer in the red case and a programmed Robot in the center. Then take the first available research card of the sector and mark as many VP as indicated in the Sector’s central tile

- Action WHITE: used to program a new Robot. Engineer in the white case and a programmed Robot in the center. Then take a new Robot from your personal board and program it as is printed on the white case of that sector (a colored icon will tell you which robot to program). This action is particularly interesting when you were unable to program the right Robot in the Headquarters





"Unfortunately I cannot give you more information about the kind of researches that we are doing or the actual results, but I will show you some interesting details of our job". The Director of the Base said.


OK, let's follow him and let's have a close look at the Base's activities.


Each Scientist (player) has his own mini-lab (beside his personal board). This laboratory has the form of an hexagonal room with a first sector already assembled: the icons printed on the laboratory (and the ones that you will add during the game acquiring new extensions) will allow you to store a certain number of Time Markers (4 at start), Research Cards (2 at start), Crystals (2 at start) and you may kill a certain number of Octopods (2 at start). Each initial sector has a letter (from A to F) that will be used for the set-up. During the game you may try to add up to 5 extra sectors to complete your laboratory: each sector will add extra storage possibilities and/or extra letters. Particularly important are, in the first round, the sectors that add extra TM because they will give you more flexibility during the action phase.


Photo Aqua 4


While we are following the Director we are informed that it will take time to pass from one sector to another one, as all doors are hermetically closed and you need a code number to open them.

In game terms this means that you have to pay a certain number of TM to move from one sector to another: four of the doors cost 1 TM to open, while one of them cost nothing and the sixth cost 2 TM. Therefore you have to carefully plan your moves in order to have the right number of TM to move and to eventually perform actions. This is one of the reasons for which I suggested to try to get early a sector that allows for extra TM to your lab. Another reason for doing so is the possibility to convert 3 TM into ONE programmed robot of your choice per round: this action is particularly strong in the MIDDLE GAME, when you desperately need a specific action but you cannot program a robot on the Headquarters.


Scientists alternate their turns using the Programming Engineer in the Headquarters to program new robots and moving the Chief Engineer in the Research Base to perform actions. This "linear" and simple concept was too ... easy for Stefan Feld and therefore he introduced a few extra rules that add interaction to the game and a further brain effort to the players.


When a Chief Engineer moves to a new sector he has to select a color for which he already has a programmed robot: then he moves this robot on the center case of the sector. If this center is empty the robot stands here, but if another robot already occupy the center it must be displaced, even if it is of the same color of the new one (this happens if you perform, for example, a second action in the same sector). The displaced robots are moved in the Loading Corridor and when the latter is full they must go back to the players boards (all but one per color). Unfortunately this will reduce the VP that the players will receive at the end of the round because only empty robot places in their personal board grant VP and only if ALSO the submarines spaces under the robots are empty. Therefore don't forget to move 2-3 submarines to the Station before placing robot Nr. 5 and the following ones .


Now I am sure that you start to be a little confused and in effect all beginners have the same question: which are the "best" robots to program at the beginning of the game? If the position of the discs in the Headquarters is favorable the best combination (in my opinion) should be: go for the Extra Expansion with TM, then use the extra TM that you were able to store to program a robot of your choice on each round and try to place Submarines 2 and 3 in the first and second round,.




Being a Oceanic Research Center it is obvious that we notice a lot of movements and items underwater through the glasses of the Base. Particularly interesting are those BLACK CRYSTALS: we are not allowed to know which will be their final use but we may consider their effects on the game. In the Headquarter board we have a circular VP track, with RED LINES every 15 cases. When we get some VP we advance one of our colored cubes on this track but we are allowed to pass a red line only if we pay a black crystal, otherwise all extra VP are lost. Therefore we need at least ONE crystal per round to be able to proceed without problems. The second reason to collect Crystals is that at the end of each round they grant some VP to their owners: 1 VP with 1 Crystal, 3 VP with 2, 6 VP with 3, and so on.


We also see a number of OCTOPODS that have a very kind aspect and a promising pink color ... but are in effect another "handicap" created by Mr. Feld for our entertainment. In effect at the end of each round if there are Octopods in a sector where the central position is occupied by one of your robots you lose VP: 1 VP with 1 Octopod, 3 VP if the octopods are 2, etc. So it may be a good idea to try to eliminate those damned octopods during the round, sending your Chief Engineer in a section containing 2-3 octopods and kill as many of them as you have icons in your laboratory (the initial 2 and the ones that you eventually got with extra sections). Killing octopods will also give you some VP: 1 VP if you kill just one of them, 3 VP for killing two, etc.


During the game you have also the opportunity to acquire a certain number of RESEARCH CARDS: you may store as many cards as you have icons in your laboratory and none of the cards may be discarded, even if it is exhausted, so you have to pay high attention to your selection. Each card offers an advantage to his owner: some may be used any number of times; others may be activated only once (you decide when); others must be activated immediately; some are activated only at the end of each round.


Photo Aqua 5


The advantages are various but you have to select a card if it will be useful for your strategy. For example, if you decide to go for the octopods it may be useful a card that gives you 2 TM each time that you kill at least one of them; if you prefer to play on submarines you may select a card that allow you to pay half the price for each of them; if your intention is to place as many robots as you can you may take a card that will allow you to place a Robot during the end turn phase, paying just 1 TM; and so on.


Beware: at the end of each round all the TM are eliminated (those on the board and the ones owned by the players, if any). So remember to use all your TM during each round, if possible! It seems a stupid recommendation, but very often players remain with an "odd" number of TM that are not enough to make any action, so they are lost ! Hopefully before the start of the following turn you will receive as many TM as you have submarines on the Research Base (and this is another good reason for placing submarines).


At the end of each round players receive: 6 VP to the player with most robots in central cases of the Base (3 VP for ties); "x" VP for the number of Robots placed on the board (provided that the related submarines are also on the board); "x" VP for owned crystals. Finally players subtract the eventual penalties of the Octopods and the final result is the number of cases that you may advance on the VP track. Remember: if you need to cross a red line you must pay a crystal.




At the end of the 5th round players make the usual calculations and then we have a final VP check where you are rewarded for your performance in the Research Base:

- You get 1-2-6-10-15-21 VP if you have 1-2-3-4-5-6 different letters in your laboratory. Please note that some of the sectors have TWO letters and therefore it is possible to get all 6 letters without having completed the laboratory.

- But if you completed the laboratory you will get 5 VP extra

- And if ALL your submarines are in the Research Base you also get 5 VP extra

- Then each TM that you still own at the game's end will give you 1 VP extra


Of course the player with most VP is the winner.


It took to me and my friends three complete sessions of gaming to understand how to play well AQUASPHERE. Please note that rules are easy to understand and the rulebook is very well organized: after the first game we only needed copies of the Research Card appendix in order to remember the effect of each card, but we never had the necessity to go back to the rules for clarifications. The problem was ... what to do ? and which strategy is the best ?


Looking at your labs may help you: all of them have a different letter and this means that players start each with a different programmed robot (for free): this may help you for the first turns, but I suggest that you carefully look at the Headquarters board. At the beginning of each turn (including the set-up) a special card is turned up and the DISCS are placed as indicated by the card. So take a few minutes to think about the best "path" that you may follow inside this board. You always have the opportunity to get THREE programmed robots but you need to decide where to move first: if you select the left path you cannot move on the right side of the board later and vice-versa. So you need to program your moves in the round looking at the discs that you will be able to reach.


You all know the "Murphy's Law", don't you ? Well you may be certain that you will never get the perfect path that you needed !!! But again I wish to remind you that if you have enough TM you may purchase a programmed robots per turn so remember this opportunity when you decide how to move.


Hopefully after the first 2-3 games you finally have a good perception of the game's flow and you may start to make your own strategy but, as it happens on all Feld's games, you must remain flexible because interactions between players is very high and someone else may do "that" move before you. So you always need a second choice plan !.


We appreciated very much AQUASPHERE, but obviously this is a game for expert players and for people that really wish to deeply explore every game. Unfortunately nowadays many good games are published every year and sometimes the players try them only 1-2 times before passing to a new title and very often good games are left aside only because they are not so "immediate". If you are one of those gamers do not go for AQUASPHERE as you need to play it at least 4-5 times to understand and appreciate it and to play competitively.


Pietro Cremona


Players: 2-4

Age: 12+


Designer: Stefan Feld

Artist: Dennis Lohausen

Price: ca. 35 Euro

Publisher: Hall Games / Pegasus Spiele 2014

Web: www.pegasus.de

Genre: Development game

Users: For experts

Version: multi

Rules: de en + fr jp pl

In-game text: no



Easily-understood and well-structured rules

Some introductory games necessary

Lots of interaction, so plan an alternate strategy


Compares to:

Complex worker placement games


Other editions:

Asterion Press, Arclight, Matagot, Fullcap Games, others are announced.


My rating: 6


Pietro Cremona:

Another hit from Stefan Feld and, as usual, a very interactive game with many possible tactics


Chance (pink): 0

Tactic (turquoise):3

Strategy (blue): 2

Creativity (dark blue): 0

Knowledge (yellow): 0

Memory (orange): 0

Communication (red): 0

Interaction (brown): 2

Dexterity (green): 0

Action (dark green): 0