Thursday, January 12, 2017

Oceanos (IELLO Games)

Antoine Bauza is the king of card drafting games. His genius gave birth to the supremely popular titles - 7 Wonders and 7 Wonder Duel. Now, he is back at again, but instead of visiting the ancient world, we are going deep underwater in the game OceanosOceanos is a game for 2-5 players, age 8+. It takes 40 minutes to play and retails for $40. In this game, you are the captain of a submarine. You must upgrade your submarine so that you can travel further, explore/catalog more animals, discover more coral reef, and send your diver for treasure. Just watch out for the Kraken!

Setup
1. Have each player choose a color and give them all the Submarine pieces of that color, as well as their Scuba Diver and Fuel Tokens.
2. Have each player assemble their Submarine with only level one pieces.
3. Place one Scuba Diver and one Fuel Token on their respective places of the Submarine.
4. Randomly select one Kraken Token of each size. Stack them smallest to biggest with the Kraken side visible, not the points.
5. Separate the Exploration Cards into three piles, based on their back. Shuffle each stack and put them in separate face-down piles.
6. Put all of the Treasure Tokens in the bag, and put it aside for later.
Game Play - The game plays over three rounds of five turns.
1. The Expedition Captain deals out the Exploration Cards to all players except himself, based on the number of Periscopes on their Submarine plus one.
2. Each player secretly chooses one Exploration Card and places it face down. The leftover Exploration Cards are given to the Expedition Captain.
3. All players, except the Expedition Captain, place it their card in front of them, going left to right. Cards from following rounds will be placed in a second row and third row, underneath row one and row two respectively.
4. The Expedition Captain then chooses one card from the cards given to him and follows the same placement rules.
5. The player to the left becomes the new Expedition Captain.
6. You can also do the following additional actions - A. Use a Fuel Token to play an extra card. B. Deploy a Scuba Diver on a card with a treasure chest on it. Upgrade your submarine after playing cards with crystals and a base on them.
Scoring
At the end of every round, you can place your base at the end of your row and perform an upgrade if capable. You then gain two points for each unique animal, 0, 2, or 5 points depending on your propeller level, and the person with the most Kraken eyes on their cards gets the Kraken Token, which will cause them to lose points. After doing this for all three rounds, you score one point for each coral in your biggest coral reef (orthogonally adjacent) and retrieve the treasures your Scuba Diver collected. Highest score is the winner.

Review
If there is one thing I can say about games from IELLO, it is that the artwork is something they strongly emphasize. Jérémie Fleury gives both a unique captain and unique theme to each submarine, giving each a high level of detail. The Kraken tokens also show distinct artwork, starting with a baby Kraken, moving up to an average Kraken, and ending with a full blown giant Mama (or Daddy) Kraken! The cards themselves have simple artwork, as there are a lot of symbols that too elaborate of artwork could detract from the gameplay. The animals drawn though have a little bit of style all their own.

As for the mechanics of the game, I love drafting cards. It is one of my top five mechanism I like to play with. Where this game's card drafting differs from Bauza's 7 Wonders is that you don't start with a handful of cards each round and only ever pass them left or right. You start with a few cards, and everyone passes their "junk" to the starting player, Just remember that one man's junk is another man's treasure. The starting player just might find the perfect card for him among everyone else's discards. I think this is a clever improvement on the standard card draft. In 7 Wonders, especially at a max player count, you felt you were playing two+ separate games, as you really only ever had a modicum of control over the players to your left and right, not the people further down the table. In Oceanos, your choices affect everyone.

The only knock I have against this game is the way the submarines were cut and fit together. They were cut in a jigsaw fashion, which don't all fit together as nicely as one would like. Sometimes when you are assembling your submarine pieces, you have to force pieces a little more than others. Over time, you wonder if some of the smaller interlocking pieces will break off.

The one complaint aside, I found this to be a very fun and engaging game. When comparing it to 7 Wonders, I feel it is a lighter introduction to card drafting that is useful when teaching games to children and newer gamers. However, don't mistake this lighter nature of the game for an inferior game. The mechanics are solid. The art is beautiful. And the theme is strong. Add to it that this game has its own strategy to figure out. Which cards do I keep, and which cards do I discard? When should I use my fuel token to play that extra card? Which submarine parts do I upgrade, and which victory route do I pursue? Will you have the biggest coral reef and the most unique animals cataloged? Or will you go for the best submarine and the most treasure chests? Those are decisions you'll have to make on your own, but I promise you'll have a fun time exploring the ocean's depths!

This game was provided to me for free by IELLO Games in exchange for an honest review.