One of the games I got to play at Gen Con this year was Captain Sonar – a great team co-op game about moving your submarine about in secret and trying to torpedo the other team into oblivion. It’s tense and wonderful! However, if you want your seafaring adventures to be a little tamer, then you should consider Oceanos instead – I was fortunate enough to grab a copy at Gen Con, so I want to share with you my thoughts so far.
As the expedition captain, you’re manning a wonderful modular submarine into the depths of 3 rounds of card play. Starting with a basic submarine, you’ll be aiming to upgrade it to do bigger and better things, while creating a seascape over three rounds to gain points. Cards are drafted in a pretty nifty way – the start player for each turn deals cards to all other players, who then select what to play and give their discards to the start player to choose from. As the start player you’re slightly at the whim of other players and what they decide to play (either keeping something you want, or giving you something that could end up in penalty!).
So, what are you aiming to do with the cards you’re playing out to create your seascape? Over 5 turns each round, you’ll be laying cards out left to right – some will have animals (for points at the end of each round), some have treasure and coral on them (for end game scoring), some will have crystals and bases (used to upgrade your submarine throughout the game) and some – beware! – have Kraken eyes on them. All but the latter are great – for the Kraken eyes, if you end up with the most in your row of cards each round, you’ll have a penalty (from 0 to -4 and in between) taken off your score.
For animals, you’re trying to collect (I prefer to think of it as studying!) a number of unique types of these undersea critters, dressed in their dapper steampunk best. The amount of points you’ll be able to score will be limited by the aquarium tank portion of your submarine, so if you’ve gotta catch ‘em all, then you better spend some time to upgrade! As you play cards, you will see green & yellow crystals – these are used as fuel at the lovely glass bases on certain cards. When you play a base, you’re able to use crystals played previously (and not used by another base!) to upgrade a part of your submarine. Make your propellor more powerful (ie. give you more points), add some more periscopes to your cockpit (ie. get more cards each turn), increase your aquarium’s size, or expand your capacity for fuel or divers. Those last two are pretty useful – fuel allows you to spend a token to play an extra card on your turn, and divers make sure to collect treasure at the end of the game.
Speaking of the end of the game – you’ll be working towards coral and treasure points primarily for this scoring (although making sure you study more animals and have a strong propellor are also great to build up your score progressively). Coral reefs are scored by taking the largest orthogonally adjacent (vertically and horizontally!) run of cards with coral symbols and scoring 1 point per symbol. Treasure symbols can only be scored if you have a diver that will head up vertically past them at the end of the game – draw one treasure tile (valued anywhere from 2 – 4 points) for every treasure chest your diver’s able to pass.
Outside of the absolutely wonderful, puzzly gameplay, my favourite thing about Oceanos is the beautiful and detailed components and art. The components for the submarine (as well as all the other tokens in the game) are on a beautiful, hefty chipboard cardboard which makes you feel like you’re not going to wear out the pieces after a few games. The cards are sturdy and wouldn’t necessarily need sleeving, and the row-ending tiles for each player are a nice solid cardboard too. All of that pales, really, when you look at the vivid, playful illustrations from Jérémie Fleury. Every submarine has its own wonderful character, the animals in their steampunk accessories are really a highlight of the cards, and the way the backgrounds of all the cards merge into a beautiful slowly darkening background is masterful. Even the backs of the cards have pretty great illustrations! That’s taking it to the next level.
If you’re looking for a light family strategy game, I can’t recommend Oceanos enough. There’s all sorts of fun going on, it’s easy to learn and teach, and it’s a delight to play. After a half dozen or so plays, the only real thing I’ve had issue with is the luck of the cards, even with drafting. You can’t really mitigate what you’re dealt, or what you’re handed as the expedition captain – this could mean some Kraken eye penalties you aren’t prepared for, or no way to place a diver out to grab your treasure end-game. Other than that, you can have a great time pottering about in the gorgeous oceanic depths in your flavour of submarine!
Oceanos is a game designed by Antoine Bauza for 2 – 5 players, taking approximately 40 minutes. Published by Iello, it will be released widely in early September.