I love science.
I love science even more when it’s in the name of a boardgame that’s talking about science.
That’s why I really like Evolution.
But wait, this isn’t about Evolution! Though it does have a pretty kick-ass app.
No, this review is about its…sequel, maybe? Where Evolution took place on land and involved evolving your land creatures into bastard predators or maybe some cute, huge dinosaur type creature that likes to eat all of the plants so other species die out (the prick), Oceans takes place in the…well, ocean (gee, I guess that’s where they got the name!) where you are evolving your sea creatures in much the same way.
Thus there isn’t even any science in the name.
Anyway, Oceans is a game designed by Nick Bentley, Dominic Crapuchettes, Ben Goldman and Brian O’Neill. The artwork is by Guillaume Ducos and Catherine Hamilton. Both the game itself and the app are published by North Star Games.
How does the game work?
Let’s take a look.
Each player is trying to develop ocean species that will eat fish, which will then give the player victory points.
You start with a hand of trait cards that you can play out in front of you. The first one you play will be your starting species. There are four areas where fish reside. The principal place you will be feeding your species from is the Reef, but then there are three Ocean spaces as well. During your turn, you can also repopulate the Reef by playing a card and moving the number of fish equal to what’s on the card onto the Reef. This will move fish from one box to another one.
This is instead of playing the card as a trait.
During the first section of the game (before one of the Ocean boxes is emptied), you play one trait in front of you. You can attach it to a species that is already out there, if there’s room (normally, species can only have three traits). Or it can become its own species.
After you play your card, it’s feeding time!
One of your species will either feed from the reef equal to the feeding value it has or, if it’s a Predator, it will attack another species that has a lower Defense value than the Predator has as an Attack value. It will eat the number of fish (otherwise known as “population”) equal to that value.
Where you play cards when you are evolving a new species matters because some traits get bonuses (or just food in general) if something happens with the species to its right or to its left. Sometimes they actually leech from them! Or maybe they’ll just get a bunch of fish as a bonus.
After feeding, one fish from each species (or more in later rounds) goes into your score pile. That’s called “aging” (I wish it was that easy for we humans to age gracefully) and if a species doesn’t have enough fish to contribute to the scoring, it dies out! (ok, maybe that’s not so graceful).
Once all of your species have aged, you can draw a “Deep” card if you wish. Either take one of the two that are face-up or draw 3 from the deck and keep one.
After that, you can discard one or more cards if you want, except Deep cards. Those can’t be discarded. Then you draw cards from the Surface deck until you have 6 cards in hand.
Once the first Ocean box is emptied of fish (either by populating the Reef or just running out of fish), then things ramp up.
A new wrinkle is added to the game. In the above pic, the new wrinkle is that two more fish are scored each round! That can be good, except that also means you have to keep your species fed even more or they’ll die out!
When the second Ocean box is emptied, another wrinkle comes out.
Once all three Oceans are empty, that triggers game end.
Whoever has the most fish cached is the winner!
Is Oceans a beautiful fish with bright colours that will make any diver marvel? Or is it a horribly spiny sea creature that everybody’s afraid of?
Since I had never played Oceans before North Star graciously gave me a code for the app, this is kind of a review of both the game and the app.
The game itself is pretty cool. I enjoyed my one play of Evolution (as well as a few plays of the app as well, especially when it evolved asynchronous multiplayer). It had some interesting strategies about developing your species, keeping them alive, and feeding as much as possible.
Oceans has a lot of that, but with a couple of differences.
First, there’s not a free-for-all when feeding from the Reef. While players can certainly add fish to the Reef, they don’t have to. There’s really no penalty for there being no food on the Reef when it’s time to feed. You just play a card first that will put more fish there.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Deep cards.
These cards don’t cost you anything to collect, but you can’t discard them and you can’t play them until after the first Ocean box empties. So they sit in your hand if you get them too early.
But when you do play them, you have to pay fish from your score pile in order to do so.
Some are cheap and have decent effects. Some are more expensive and can really have great effects. Even the cheap ones can be pretty good.
Tusks gives you 5 defense, 2 attack and it can also forage for 2 fish. So if you don’t have enough attack value to gain fish that way, you can still forage from the Reef.
Hard Shell gives you a massive 6 defense against other Predators.
Each species can have three traits, though some traits will give you an extra trait as well as other abilities.
Speed lets you have an extra trait as well as giving you 2 defense, two attack and 2 forage.
Notice the 11 up in the top left? That’s how many fish can migrate from one zone to another. You can do that instead of playing a trait card.
I also like how you have to pay attention to adjacencies, even with the other player (the app only supports two players right now). If a species has a trait where it benefits if the species to the right attacks somebody, you’d better put it next to a Predator species. Putting it next to a forager will do no good.
So the game is fun and I would definitely be willing to play it anytime it comes out to the table.
How’s the app?
Well…that’s a work in progress, though according to North Star Games, they are actually working toward that progress.
I’ll get my major gripe about it out right away, because that’s the main one that North Star says will be coming, at least hopefully.
There is not only no asynchronous online multiplayer, there’s no online multiplayer at all!
There are only two options and they are both 2-player games: play against the AI or do a Pass and Play with somebody who’s with you.
That could be cool on a road trip or something, but even when I’m playing a game with my wife, we’re usually doing it using the online functionality in the app (like in Ascension).
The Easy AI is very easy to beat. I haven’t had a chance to play the other two (Medium & Hard) and I do like how you can set the AI to play a certain way. It can be aggressive, defensive, a forager, proliferator, or even just balanced.
Multiplayer issues aside, the app is very slick. It’s easy to drag a species to feed. The ones who can feed light up so you know that they are able to at least do something.
When you you drag a Predator, the possible species you can attack light up in red (even your own, because sometimes those are the only species you can attack).
I really like the visual cues.
I also like how there is a “try before you buy” option because you can try Oceans for free. You have a limited card set and you only have the Easy AI (not even the Pass and Play mode). The full version upgrade costs $4.99 but you can buy individual packs (including Pass and Play) for cheaper if you don’t want the whole thing (but why wouldn’t you?)
The tutorial isn’t bad. It taught me the game well. I was up and playing very quickly, though I did have some familiarity with Evolution before so the concepts weren’t new.
Everything in the app is laid out nicely. The Reef and Ocean boxes, the discard pile where you place a card to migrate fish from one box to another, even your own hand.
Tapping and holding a card pulls it up so you can see what it does.
Overall it’s a pretty app that’s very functional and a fair amount of fun to play.
If you could play more than one other player and actually do it online, of course.
The artwork, of course, is wonderful. It’s vibrant, colourful, and lets you easily see what’s going on with each card.
I really like Oceans a lot!
And when it gets online mulitplayer (as long as its asynchronous), I’ll probably play it even more.
As it is, with only pass and play and playing against the AI, I’m not sure how much staying power the game has for me.
It also needs the ability to play more than a 2-player game. I found while playing the game to do this review that it was getting stale playing just one player after a while.
If you like playing AI games, though, then you’re in for a treat because this one’s pretty good.
Oceans is available on iOS and Android (free for the Easy AI with fewer cards but upgradeable for $4.99).
Many thanks to North Star Games for the free code to check this one out.