Waterworks, table top plumbing at its finest

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Gimmicks and fads in games will come and go. The best games are always the simple ones. They’re ones that are easy to start but hard to quit while still challenging you. Waterworks is a card game that walks the line between gimmick and classic…the real problem is, you’ve probably never heard of it.

Waterworks card game

Waterworks, still fun after almost 40 years.

Plumbing has never been more fun

When it comes to card games, I’m pretty bad. I’m not very good at rummy, poker, euchre or even Uno, for that matter. Board games were always more my style, but Waterworks was an exception to the rule. Released in 1972, well before I was born, Waterworks was a game I always remember having in the house and wanting to play. Waterworks is a very visual game and I think that’s why I liked it so much. It was a card game that didn’t rely on knowing number patterns or scoring points.

If you’ve ever played the Pipe Dream style video games, like the one from the NES days, then you’ll be able to jump right into Waterworks. The goal of Waterworks is to connect your water faucet to your water spout. That sounds simple enough but you can’t just start laying down pipe willy-nilly, you have to carefully match card orientation from start to finish to keep your water flow uninterrupted. Again, this might sound like an easy challenge but standing in your way are lots of leaky pipes and unexpected turns…all thanks to your opponent.

Waterworks card game

Those darn lead pipes! Use a wrench to keep the water flowing.

Competitive pipe laying

Waterworks supports up to four players, although I’ve only ever played with two, but even then it’s a mad dash to lay down your own pipe while finding the best time to screw over your opponent. In Waterworks every person can play their cards in on any other players’ plumbing. You draw your random pipe card and then decide if you want to discard it, use it to get yourself closer to the victory, or use it to throw off your opponent. However, you’re not limited to just giving your opponent bad cards, you can apply a strategy if you want.

Along with “good” pipe cards that carry water ever closer to the end, there are also “bad” pipe cards that show leaky pipes. You can give a leaky pipe card to your opponent at any time – assuming it matches card orientation – and your opponent can’t win unless they repair the leak. You can repair a bad pipe by simply laying down a non-leaky pipe card on top, which may take time, or you can take the easy way out and spend one of your wrench tokens to instantly make a repair. Of course, you only have a few wrenches and once they’re gone, they’re gone, so you want to use them judiciously. You can also confuse your opponent by adding non-leaky pipes to their plumbing. This might not sound like much in the way of punishment but consider that your pipe card may divert your opponent’s plumbing in a way that didn’t expect…or in a way in which they have no matching cards in their hand, which means they’ll have to draw cards and waste time until they get one. If you really want to mess with your friend, just lay down a T pipe and watch them scramble to find a cap.

To win at Waterworks you must first have at least 15 pipe cards between the start and finish. Once that requirement is met you win, assuming you don’t have any leaky pipes or open ends. Like real plumbing, your pipe paths have to make sense and they can’t be left open. Fifteen cards might not sound like much of a requirement but when you consider you have to match card orientation and that you’re at the mercy of random card pulls, you’ll find that most game sessions require far more than the 15 card minimum. A game of Waterworks goes pretty fast too, maybe 15-20 minutes at most, even for an “intense” game. But if there’s one thing Waterworks does well it’s that it makes you want to play again and again. You may only intend to take a 20 minute break to play cards, but you’ll soon find yourself wasting an hour trying to best your friend at quick draw plumbing.

Waterworks card game

When was the last time you saw a drain in your throw away pile?

Plumbing in style

I mentioned that gimmicks in games are a typical sign that a game isn’t quite as fun as its bells and whistles may suggest. Waterworks is a good example of how to balance gimmick with gameplay. The pipe cards in Waterworks are modeled after real pipes, both galvanized and copper, whereas a modern version would probably be all cartoony and childish. The draw and throw away pile is in the shape of an old bathtub that comes complete with a drain! And the wrench tokens you use to make quick pipe repairs are incredibly detailed and they’re even metal, another thing you probably wouldn’t see in a modern card game. The wrenches were always my favorite part of the game, mostly because they looked real and were brass. It also didn’t hurt that they were the perfect size for my GI Joe action figures, which makes it even more surprising that these little wrenches survived my childhood.

When you look at the whole game, the entire design and presentation of Waterworks is a real gem. Everything from the logo down to the instruction booklet are all wonderfully designed and follow the style of the time. I don’t recall the last time I saw a card game manual with varying typefaces and tons of pictures to explain how to play. Like I said, Waterworks is a very visual game and that’s even true when you’re learning how to play, and that’s pretty rare (and awesome). As a bonus you’ll also get a box that features a wonderfully 1970s family enjoying the game…although it appears like they’re enjoying it in their underground lair. And is it just me, or does the mom remind you of the mother fromĀ The Wonder Years?

Waterworks card game

If this happy family doesn't make you smile, you're a robot.

Four decades of plumbing fun

Waterworks was probably a gimmick game in when it came out almost 40 years ago. I don’t know how popular it was or how long it lasted before it fell off store shelves, but I think Waterworks is a game that deserves a little revival. I have to say that an 40th anniversary edition would be pretty sweet! I’d like to see a Super Waterworks that has a double-sized deck and requires you lay down twice as many pipes before you can win. I want to see my plumbing snake all over the room so I can wallow in my own pipe-laying glory…or maybe that is just a pipe dream.

Brian is a freelance writer that blogs, tweets, plays with Hot Wheels and even co-hosts a weekly podcast.

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Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at RedlineDerby.com while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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