Dale Yu: First Impressions of Oceanos

 

Oceanos

  • Designer: Antoine Bauza
  • Publisher: IELLO
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by IELLO

oceanos

Oceanos has been high on my anticipated list for about a year now! I first heard about it last year at Essen when shooting the breeze with Mr. Bauza, and my interest in the game only increased with the amount of pre-release hype provided by the IELLO folks that I correspond with. The terms which caught my eye were: “Bauza”, “drafting”, “little bit of engine building”. Based on that alone, I knew that this was a game that I had to try…

I was hoping to get my hands on it at GenCon 2016, but it was delayed – and as is often the case, the box with the game arrived on my doorstep on the very day prior to my departure for Essen. As such, I didn’t have any chance to play the game until my return. In the game, each player acts as the captain of an undersea exploration. The players use their submarines – each made up of five upgradable modules – to find animals, treasures, coral reefs all while trying to avoid the Kraken.

To start the game, each player constructs their submarine with the five level 1 components. Each of these can eventually be upgraded to Level 2 and then Level 3. The five components of the submarine each have a different function/special ability:

Airlock: holds 1/2/3 scuba diver tokens

Aquarium: holds 3/5/8 different animals

Motor: Provides 1/2/3 fuel tokens

Cockpit: Has 1/2/3 periscopes

Propeller: Provides 0/2/5 VPs at end of game

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The game is played in 3 rounds, and there is a deck of exploration cards for each round; these are shuffled separately. In each round, there are 5 turns. A starting player is chosen and this will rotate around the table with each turn. Treasure tokens are mixed in a bag, and a stack of Kraken tokens (one for each of the three rounds in the game) is made.

On each turn, the Expedition Captain deals out cards (from the appropriate deck) to each other player. The number of cards given equals one PLUS the number of periscopes on that player’s cockpit piece. The Captain does not get any cards dealt to himself. The other players all look at their dealt cards and then choose one of them to add to their tableau. This card is placed face down on the table. As you play the game, you will form one row of cards for each of the three rounds. Cards are always placed from left to right on the table so that you will form an ordered grid of cards. If you have a fuel token available, you can place an extra card face down in your tableau – and you place the fuel token on that extra card to show that you’ve used it. Those players now simultaneously reveal their cards. Once they are played to the table, you may not change their position.

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All unchosen cards and then given to the current Expedition Captain who then looks at these cards to choose his own card for the round. If there are not enough cards given back to him to reach his normal allotment (1+periscopes), he deals himself cards from the deck to make up the shortfall. The Captain may also use his own Fuel tokens to keep additional cards if he desires. The captain then reveals his chosen cards and adds them to his tableau. The starting player then rotates around the table and the next player becomes the next Captain. Again, there are 5 turns in each Round.

During your turn, you have the ability to take some special actions. I have already explained how to use the Fuel Tokens to keep extra cards. You can play a Scuba Diver token any time that you play a card with a Treasure chest on it. At the end of the game, that Scuba Diver token will rise to the surface (going up the column of cards that it is in) – and the diver will collect one Treasure tile for each Treasure chest it encounters on its way to the surface.

Also, you can possibly upgrade your submarine if you play a card with a Base icon on it. However, you must have also played cards with crystals previous to playing the Base card. If you have one color of crystal played previous, you can upgrade any Level 1 part to Level 2. If you have both colors of crystals present, you can upgrade from a Level 2 to Level 3. It does not matter how many crystals you have showing, just the number of different colors. Once you play a Base, the crystal count resets and you start anew to the right of the Base. You will still have a chance to use crystals at the end of the Round though…

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Which is where we are now – at the end of each Round, that is after the fifth turn, players place their Player Aid card at the end of their row for that round. Conveniently enough, there is a Base icon on this player aid card, and at this time, all players who have unused crystals may take an upgrade. Then, you use the scoring chart on the bottom of the Player Aid card to remember what you score.img_20161119_202026

For Rounds 1-2, you score: 2 VP per animal that you’ve collected (that is, different animals pictured on cards in your row, up to the limit of your Aquarium piece). Next, you take 0/2/5 VP based on your current Propeller status. Finally, all players count up the number of Kraken eyes they have on their cards in the row for the round. The player(s) with the highest number reveal the Kraken token randomly chosen for the round and lose a number of VPs (0 to 4) as shown on that tile. All fuel tokens are replaced into the submarine, but all Scuba Diver tokens remain on the board until the end of the game.

 

At the end of the game, there is a the same end of round scoring, and then two additional bits. First, you score 1VP per card in your largest coral reef – that is collection of orthogonally contiguous cards which have a coral reef pictured on them. Second, all of your Scuba Divers ascend to the surface, and they collect one Treasure tile from the bag for each Treasure chest they pass on their way to the surface. The player with the most VPs wins the game. If there is a tie, the player with the most upgrades to his submarine wins.

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My thoughts on the game

Oceanos is nice family level game with huge cardboard submarines that are definitely eye-catching. The game gives players the ability to pursue different strategies as they improve their vessels individually. Like many card games, you’ll only do as well as the cards which are randomly dealt to you – but you’ll always get at least two cards to choose from on any given turn. If you want to improve your chances, you could build more periscopes and get more cards at the start of each turn.

The ability to upgrade your sub always put the crystal cards at a premium. Everyone gets an upgrade module at the end of a round, but if you’re able to sneak in one (or two!) more sub upgrades during the course of the round, you’ll definitely be better equipped than your opponents.

There is a nice risk/reward aspect with the card choice and the Kraken penalty. As you would expect, the best cards have one or more Kraken eyes on them, and you would like to choose as many of them as possible without ending up taking the penalty at the end of the round. In the first round, the penalty can actually be quite mild – but the possible minus 4 in the last round is pretty significant.

The artwork is well done, and the cardboard submarines are nice table props. There was a misprint (or mis-cut) on one of the propeller pieces, but there was a replacement piece included in the box to remedy the situation. Overall, this is a nice family weight game, and one that my boys are enjoying with their friends. It’s maybe a bit light for my regular game group though.

 

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): When I heard about Oceanos, I was excited; the idea of an underwater exploration game in the tradition of Nautilus was very appealing. But – as I read more, I became more cautious; the mechanisms didn’t really give the feeling of exploration I was looking for. Though my expectations had dropped by enough that the actual game was a pleasant surprise. Not a great game, not a game I’m rushing out to buy – but a game I’d be happy to try again, and which with more play might make it to a “like it” rating.

 

Andrea “Liga” Ligabue (1 play): My first impression was more than positive. I really enjoyed the game played in Essen with my two kids. I found Oceans a really good family games with the right mix of strategy and randomness, great materials, a challenging theme and some good mechanics. I really like how you have to build up your exploration level after level with many different possible choices. I’m quite sure it will not be the title hardcore gamers would prefer (too much randomness) but I’m quite sure it could be a wonderful gateway game.

 

Dan Blum (1 play): This is light but quite good for what it is. I have only two issues with the game. First, I see no reason why they couldn’t have made the number of periscopes match the number of cards players get rather than making everyone remember that they get one more – it’s not that hard to remember, but it wouldn’t have cost more to print one more periscope everywhere. Second and more importantly, while the game isn’t nearly as overproduced as something like Via Nebula, it’s still overproduced – the giant cardboard submarines look cool but make the game cost more and take up more shelf space, and they’re not even that easy to play with. I would have much preferred to use small cards or small boards with markers on them.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
  • I like it. Nathan Beeler, Dan Blum
  • Neutral. Dale Y, Joe H., Karen M
  • Not for me…

 

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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