The ocean is a vast, mysterious place that we still haven’t fully explored. Filled with sea creatures, treasure from ships sunken long ago, and the terrifying Kraken, a journey under the sea promises fame and fortune on land.
But you’re not the only one trying to discover the wondrous unknown. Compete with fellow submarine captains to bring back the best underwater treasures, and find out if things really are much better down where it’s wetter – in a world we call Oceanos.
How It Plays
In Oceanos, you’ll play as a submarine captain rushing out to explore the ocean for fun and profit.
You start with a basic submarine – a single periscope to find your way, a small aquarium to store fish specimens, a diver for treasure collection, and a little extra fuel.
Each turn, you get 2 cards, each representing a small section of the ocean you might explore. You choose one card, then pass the other back to the dealer. (The dealer gives herself no cards, but chooses one from the other player’s discards). Pretty simple.
The cards have icons on them that reward you in different ways, and you place the cards in nice even rows from left to right. Each round, you start a new row, so at the end of the game you’ll have a nice big ocean display.
Of the icons: fish reward you with points, but only if you catch a variety of them. Coral Reefs award 1 point per icon, but only from the largest contiguous reef. Treasure chests let you draw treasure tokens at the end of the game, but only if you send out a diver to collect it. Fortunately, the diver is trained and will collect the treasure from the card he’s placed on, then swim directly upward and collect additional treasure from any card he passes into.
Kraken eyes means you’ve drawn the attention of the Kraken; whoever has the most at the end of each round loses some points.
Finally, there are crystals and bases, which in combination let you upgrade your sub. You need a crystal first and then a base to upgrade a part. If you want to go from level 2 to level 3, you’ll need a crystal of each color (green and yellow) and then a base.
There are 5 parts of your submarine that can be upgraded. Periscopes give you more cards to choose from each turn. Fuel can be spent to play an additional card from your hand before passing the remains back to the dealer, so upgrading your fuel tank gives you more fuel to spend. The central part of your sub, the fish tank, increases the number of fish you can hold, starting at 3 (for a maximum of 6 points) to 8 (16 points). The nose of your sub holds divers, so upgrading that recruits more divers to go collect treasure. You can also upgrade the tail of your sub, which gives you points at the end of each round.
You play five turns, the dealer changing players each turn, and that completes a round. Then you score fish, submarine tails, and the Kraken penalty before refilling your fuel tanks and beginning the next round.
After the third round, you also score your Coral Reefs and treasure chests. Whoever has accrued the most points claims victory!
A Sailor Went To Sea, Sea, Sea, to See What He Could See See See
From designer Antoine Bauza, famous for such hits as Takenoko, Hanabi, and perhaps the most well-known 7 Wonders, comes this quirky, colorful, drafting-ish, tableau-building-ish, steampunk-ish sub-nautical game of exploration. Ish.
Oceanos may not be the deepest, most strategic drafting game of all time, but it’s got a lot of heart. It’s difficult not to get immersed in the colorful underwater world as you upgrade your submarine, discover a wide variety of interesting creatures, and find underwater treasure.
It’s hard to classify what genre this game fits into. It most closely resembles a drafting game – after all, you are dealt cards, you choose one of them, and pass the rest along. In fact, in some ways it feels like a distant cousin to 7 Wonders.
But it blows the door wide open with a number of twists. You get a brand new hand every turn, so it almost feels like you’re drafting more against the deck (and the dealer) rather than every other player. Then, with the functionality of your submarine, you can both increase the hand size from which you are drafting and draft multiple cards from the same hand. Gone are those rough turns where you get the exact two cards you need in a draft, but can’t take them both.
This serves to make Oceanos a bit more family friendly. The pressure is taken off, and you can just enjoy the exploration. Not that there isn’t some tension in deciding when to use that fuel or which submarine part to upgrade (there is).
For what really is a particularly abstract game, it’s impressive how “thematic” everything turns out to be. You’re exploring the ocean with your sub, and choosing a card is like choosing which direction you want to go. Getting more periscopes may not be super-realistic from an engineering standpoint, but it makes sense that if you could see better you would have a better chance of finding the best underwater route. And then spending extra fuel lets you travel farther, allowing you to play more cards. It might not “click” with your players right away, but if you can get them to think in this way it makes the game easier to remember how to play and more enjoyable.
I love that you build a scenic underwater landscape as you go along. So it’s not exactly a panorama – the card backgrounds loop seamlessly without variance in a repetitive pattern – but it still looks nice at the end. The submarine is cool, too. You literally add new parts, giving the game a tactile connection to the player. Moreso than, say, laying down a card that describes your new abilities.
As a family-oriented game, Oceanos strikes a nice balance between simplicity, choice, risk, and reward. There are no resources to worry about spending or having enough of; you just choose a card. There are only 6 different types of icons to worry about, and only 5 ways to score points. Visual reminders abound, and it’s impossible to NOT score at least some points each round.
But there are choices, and choices that matter. In order to win, you’re going to have to score points in all five categories, and lots of points in at least one or two. But sometimes, you’re going to have to choose between getting that crystal to upgrade your sub, or getting that extra coral reef to ensure you can keep expanding. You can get a lot of points with treasure chests, but you can’t guarantee you’ll get treasure chests at the right time to line them up vertically, so it’s a risk. It’s an especially big risk in the third round, where you need those treasure chests to place your divers for maximum effect.
Then there’s the sub. With 5 different parts to upgrade, which do you go for first? The obvious choice – fuel, because who doesn’t want to play extra cards? – isn’t as powerful as it first seems. After all, what good is playing an extra card if it doesn’t get you anything? So then you want those periscopes, which are especially handy. But none of those directly net you points, whereas upgrading your fish tank or your tail provides an immediate reward.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game remains pretty balanced regardless of which route you pursue (assuming, of course, you play the rest of the game at least somewhat intelligently). There’s a unique strategic balance between scoring smaller amounts of points early and often versus setting yourself up for a big chunk of points right at the end. Either way works. I remember one game in particular where my wife upgraded her fishtank and tail early on instead of fuel. For a short time, she felt like she was locked out of the race, unable to line up more upgrades without the extra fuel, but in the end she tied for first place thanks to those early points that kept adding up. That proves there’s room for experimentation and exploration within the game’s strategy.
Like many family games, there is plenty of luck to factor in. You might never draw the right cards at the right time to maximize your score. You may go big on divers only to get a handful of cards lacking treasure chests right at the essential moment in the final round, or draw only 2’s from the treasure bag. You might not get very many crystals to upgrade your sub. These things can factor in a victory or loss, but overall the amount of control you have over what you do with what you get outweighs the luck. It gives you enough to do so that you feel like you earned your points (or made mistakes and lost points because of that), while preventing a huge point gap between experienced and inexperienced players.
Some of you may not be interested in that sort of game, and that’s fine. It’s a family-oriented affair, and for what it intends to do, it does well. It sets up quickly, it plays in about thirty minutes, and it’s easy to teach. Flourishing with beautiful components, a grand sense of exploration as you build up your own section of the ocean, and a tactile connection to the gameplay with the puzzleboard submarines, Oceanos is memorable and interesting, and I rather enjoy it.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Iello Games for providing a review copy of Oceanos.