Xu Xiu

At Origins 2004, I was listening to the "Ask Andy Anything" panel and he was discussing the 5 elements of Aquarius. I thought to myself, "What would Aquarius be like if it used the 5 Chinese elements instead of the 4 western ones, plus ether?"

This is my answer to that question.

(Andrew "Zarf" Plotkin had a similar thought at the same Origins, and also came up with a "skin" for Aquarius. His can be found at http://www.eblong.com/zarf/maquarst/.)


This is a theoretical different look for the game Aquarius, by Looney Labs. Aquarius is copyright Looney Labs. This alternative artwork is not intended as an infringement of this copyright and does not represent any actual product available for sale.


"Xu Xiu" is one of the 3 Chinese constellations that overlaps Aquarius. It's the northmost of the 28 lunar mansions, or Xiu (also spelled Hsiu), and the center of the Black Tortoise of the North. Xu means "emptiness". (It's "Tomite Boshi" in Japanese.)


The Chinese elements are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. There are a whole raft of magical correspondences associated with them. Here are the ones used in this deck:

ColorWhiteBlackGreen or BlueRedYellow
Nourishing elementEarthMetalWaterWoodFire
Controlling elementFireEarthMetalWaterWood
Celestial GuardianWhite TigerBlack TurtleGreen DragonRed BirdYellow Dragon

Some sources give the Emperor as the guardian of the center. I like the dragon better - I think it's more evocative, not elevated above the others, and easier to draw.

I used the controlling element colors as a contrast color on the card art, mostly because using the nourishing or nourished element would have resulted in yellow on white or white on yellow, and using the controlled element would have resulted in a green tiger.

Element cards:

Contrast-colored drawings on an element colored background. The layouts of the pieces are randomized, so each card is different.

Metal = mountains, Water = ripples, Wood = leaves, Fire = flames, Earth = hills. (A previous version used waves instead of ripples. Ripples looks better.)

Action cards:

Simple line drawings of the celestial guardians.

Goal cards:

The Chinese character for the element, on an element background.

Card backs:

The game cards have a plain black back, with the characters for Xu Xiu in white. The goal cards have a similar back, with a diagram of the constellation instead of the characters.

A note on quads

The original Aquarius has kind of a hodgepodge of 4-element cards - there's two of each combination, but the patterns are unpredictable. Some are rotations, some are reflections, and one is completely different. I wanted to have a reasonable but more elegant pattern for my version, so I tried to come up with a set that had each 2-element combination appear once on a long side and once on a short side. This is possible, but that's not as interesting as the diagram I stumbled on while trying to visualize this "quad-space".

It looks like some piece of ancient Chinese mysticism, which I think is just wonderful. Here's a PDF of the quadspace diagram.

Last modified March 21 2006 by Denis. Aquarius is copyright Looney Labs.