GAME REVIEW: Oceanos

It’s time to get into your submarines and explore the depths of the ocean!  This debuted at Gen Con, but only in a limited amount of copies.  I believe about 200 were there.  I was lucky enough to grab one.  In fact, this was the first game I picked up on Day 1.  It just looked so pretty and it is designed by one of the best gateway game designers, Antoine Bauza (Takenoko, 7 Wonders, Tokaido).  How is it?  Let’s find out!

OCEANOS (2016) Designed by Antoine Bauza; Published by Iello Games – For 2-5 players and takes about 30-45 minutes to play. 

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Each player pilots their very own submarine to explore the ocean with, searching for different kinds of sea creatures to put into their aquarium, send out divers for buried treasure chests, collecting coral reefs… but watch out for the kraken, who could hurt your journey to be the best ocean adventurer.

Despite the grandiose presentation, it’s actually just a simple card drafting game.

Before I get into the actual mechanics of the gameplay, let me talk about the subs.

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Players start out with their own custom submarine.  There are 5 parts to each sub.

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The front holds your deep sea divers (either 1,2 or 3).

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Your top holds your character and shows how many periscopes you have (1,2 or 3).

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The middle is your aquarium where you hold all the animals you collect in each round (you can either hold 3, 5 or 8).

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Your gas tanks holds either 1,2 or 3 gas tokens.

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And finally your propeller at the rear contains a number of victory points 0,2 or 5.

You see your submarine has 3 different levels for each section of your sub.  Everyone of course starts at level 1, but there are ways to upgrade your sub throughout the game.  I’ll explain the important of each section later, but first, the gameplay:

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The game is played over 3 rounds.  There will be 5 turns per round.  During a turn, the captain (which will rotate each turn) will give each other player exploration cards equal to their periscope +1. So at the start of the game, the players will receive 2 cards.  Each player will choose 1 card to play face down in front of them.  Then the players will give the cards they don’t want to the captain, who will then choose one card from those and pick one to play face down in front of them.  Once all players have chosen a card, it is revealed and placed face up in front of them.

For the next 4 turns of the round, players will continue to play cards in front of them, adding cards to their row, which will go from left to right.  You always play a card to the right of the previous played card.  In round 2, players will place the cards below the first row, and for round 3 players will place the cards below the second row, so at the end of the game, there will be three rows of card in front of you.

What are on the cards?  Various things that will help you score per round, and at the end of the game.

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There are 8 different types of sea animals to collect (sometimes 2 are even on a card).  At the end of the round, you will score 2 points for each animal that you have in that row, if you have the space in your aquarium.  For example, if you have 4 animals but your aquarium can still only hold 3, then you only score 3 animals.

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There are 2 different colored crystals (green and yellow) which will help you upgrade your submarine.

There is also a sub base that’s also on some cards.

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When you play any colored crystal, and then a base after it, you can upgrade a level 1 section of your sub to a level 2.  If you have a yellow and green crystal before you place a base card, then you can upgrade a level 2 to a level 3.  Once those crystals have been spent, they can’t be spent again.  Also, excess crystals you have when you upgrade are lost.

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There are also reefs on some cards.  At the end of the game you will score your largest connected coral reef at 1 point per card.

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Then there are treasure chests on some cards.  At any point during the game (you should probably wait until round 3 though), you can place one of your deep-sea divers on any column of cards in front of you.

At the end of the game he will dive down and collect all the treasure chests in that column.  You get to draw that many treasure tokens from the bag, worth 2,3 or 4 points respectively.

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Finally, there are kraken eyes on some cards.  Whoever has the most kraken eyes in their row at the end of the round, they must reveal the kraken token and take the penalty listed (which will be negative points).

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To explain the sub section in more detail:

The front with the deep-sea divers give you more chances to draw treasure tokens (which really could be game changing).

The top with the periscopes allow you to receive more cards to choose from each turn.

The middle aquarium allow you to hold more animals, and score more points per round.

The gas tokens allow you to play an extra card on your turn.  At the end of the round, you get all used tokens back to be used for the next round.

And finally the propeller just scores you points at the end of the round.

At the end of each round, players will score animals collected, propeller points minus any points taken from the kraken.

At the end of the 3rd and final round, players will also score their reefs and collect treasure tokens.

Whoever has the most points after that is the winner.

There was an awful lot of explanation wasn’t there?  But really, this is a rather simple and quick game.

I will say this.  The components and presentation are fantastic!  The artwork is among some of the best of the year.  I love that each sub has sections to build on, and can get even cooler looking throughout the game.  But for a simple card drafting game, it’s absolutely overproduced…… and that’s entirely okay by me!  I have no problem with a simple game being pimped out.  It just looks so cool and it gets players into the theme even more.  Those subs are just so cool looking!  I love how every one looks different from each other.  I think my favorite is The Grabber!

The gameplay itself is quick and easy, especially if you’ve already played a card drafting game.  I love looking for the different sea animals I need (and their artwork is terrific too), and trying to connect a long coral reef.

But getting the right crystals and trying to play a sub base in order to get cool upgrades is the real fun for me.  And it’s difficult to figure out which section is the best to upgrade first.  Do you upgrade the propeller right away so you’re guaranteed points at the end of the round, or should you upgrade your aquarium first to fit more animals to score….. or do you go for periscopes so you have more cards to choose from….. or do you take the gas tokens to you can play more cards each round….. and don’t underestimate the deep-sea divers.  I did in the first few games I played.  I thought it was the weakest section of the sub, and never really concentrated it.  But if you can get all 3 of your divers out at the end of the game, especially if you have lots of treasure chests in some of your columns, then that can be more powerful than all 4 sections combined.  You see, lots of cool decisions to make.

I can see some people complaining that setting up the game might take too long for how light the game is, but for me it’s worth it.  You can even play it twice in an hour.  This game also scales very well I think.  I usually don’t like card drafting games for 2 players, but the variant works quite well.

This game finally got its retail release during the last couple of weeks!  Yay!  If you love card drafting games, and think the theme looks fun…. and if you think the idea of building your own submarine seem cool, then you won’t want to miss this.  Just remember that this is just a card drafting game.  It’s not some deep strategy game, though there is some strategy there.  It’s a fun, overproduced filler that I am having a lot of fun with.  This will play really well with families too.  I even played this with a 3 and 5-year-old and they loved it!  In fact, they both beat me.

The design by itself isn’t mind-blowing, but the production values really elevate this game to an outstanding level.  This is a wonderful card drafting game with a great theme and astounding artwork.  Highly recommended!

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