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IQUAZU

Reviewed by Herb Levy

IQUAZU (HABA, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 50 minutes; $49.99)

 

Peace and prosperity are things that people the world over have wanted. So it is with the Inox people in the Land of the Waterfalls. But as is so often the case, evil rears its ugly head. It seems that the hostile Rhujas want to capture the valuable gemstones of the Inox. The only thing to do is to hide them! So the Inox have decided to place their gems into the hardest to reach and most dangerous place: the rock wall behind the Iquazú waterfall! As members of the Inox tribe, players will attempt to hide their gems within the waterfall with the most skillful earning the win in this new Michael Feldkotter design: Iquazú.

Iquazu has a 3D type board where four pieces are put together, puzzle style and, in the center, five interchangeable “rock strips” which indicate where gems may be placed. Bonus tiles (light and dark backed) are randomly placed on the bottom strips (with the dark reserved for the final two strips) and the first row of bonus tiles revealed. An overlay of a “water frame” with 8 “water strips”, arranged so that only five rows of rock strips are revealed complete the waterfall simulation.  A “point board” (based on the number of players) slips into the side.  Gemstones, in the four colors of the game (red, yellow, purple and green) are poured into the gem holding box as are “water drops” into theirs. The 60 card deck is shuffled and a starting hand of cards (four for the first player with each subsequent player getting one more than the previous player) dealt. The first player is given the gemstones box; the player to his right receives the water drops.

Cards are the way to place gemstones and on a turn, a player has two choices: draw four cards (there is a hand limit of 12 cards) OR place a gemstone. 

Cards are all of a single value, in white, blue or orange, matching the colors of the spaces on the rock strips. To place a gem stone in the first row, only 1 card need be played with its color indicating which SPACE in the first row a player’s gem will occupy.  Placing a gem in the second row (or third or fourth or fifth) requires the play of 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5 cards). The gem is placed on the first empty spot of that color in that row. Play continues until it is the turn of the player holding the water drops box. After that player goes, a water drop MUST be placed on the first available space (regardless of color) in the first row or (if none available) second. The gem box then gets passed in clockwise order and the water drop box in counterclockwise order to the next players and we do it all over again.  

When all the spots of a top row are claimed (by gem or water drop), scoring immediately occurs. The player who has the most gems in the row receives the top value on the point tile with second and third place awarded accordingly. If there is a tie in the number of gems in a row, the deciding factor is the gem farthest down the row. Bonus tiles are distributed in similar fashion but this time by looking at the gems in the columns. Again, if a tie, the gem furthest down, closest to the tile, acts as tiebreaker. Bonus tiles will grant you additional Victory Points, allow you to take another turn, use any color cards as the color you wish to place gems or give you the opportunity to draw 2, 3 or 4 more cards.

With scoring done, the water strip at the end of the board is removed and placed at the beginning, shifting the play area one space to reveal a new row and five more Bonus tiles. Play and scoring continues until the third to last rock strip is scored. Bonus tiles are awarded as well. The final two rows are a lesser value but, even if they are not complete, score too. Any Bonus point tiles held by players are then added to their score. The player with the highest final total wins!

In a time when some themes are mined to the point of super saturation, the theme of Iquazu is certainly different and the cleverly constructed board suggests the waterfall with its sliding board that covers and reveals rows of sites for gem placement well. Players need to think in several ways: placement of gems on the first row for immediate payout versus placement on higher level rows (at the cost of more cards) for future rewards. Couple that with the payouts from columns of those bonus tiles, all of which have value, and there is a lot of decisions to make in a seemingly simple game. Bonus tiles are all good and it is easy to see that value in extra Victory Points, taking a double turn and drawing more cards. But don’t ignore that Wild tile.

Essentially giving up a turn to draw cards is sometimes necessary but good to avoid. With that Wild tile allowing ANY color to be the color you need, judicious playing of this tile can help you claim spaces on higher rows before someone else grabs them. This can mean winning tiebreakers which can translate into a sizable amount of Victory Points, especially in later turns. Iquazu is fairly simple and straightforward. Turn order, though, tends to complicate things. 

As mentioned, you have the gem box going one way and the water drops going the other. This constant shifting is counter intuitive and can get quite confusing, especially in a game targeted for a less “serious” audience. In our plays, a common complaint was that the player who was first was somehow being skipped! (Not true, of course, but the perception was there.) Since initial turn order compensates players going after the first player with more cards to start and because the filling in of a row is variable due to placement being allowed on ANY of the five rows in play, we suggest a modification in turn order to eliminate this perception: NO shifting of ANY of the boxes. Once a column is filled, the next player IS the first player making all those box shifts unnecessary. 

Iquazú is a nicely produced game (with its 3D board and sparkling gems) of criss-cross positioning with some card management thrown in. In recent times, HABA has sought to make a mark on a more mature market and they have done well with Adventure LandKaruba. and Meduris.  Iquazú is a welcome addition to the line.  – – – – – – — Herb Levy   


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