When a strong and interesting theme combines with vibrant, colourful artwork it’s usually a recipe for some great times around the gaming table. Oceanos, from Iello, is definitely blessed in those departments, so why then, has it left me a little underwhelmed?
Players, to your submarines! We’ve some exploring to do.
Oceanos is all about underwater exploration and treasure hunting. Players choose a captain, enter the relevant submarine, and dive, dive, dive! The idea is that over the course of three rounds of play, each player will find treasure, capture sea creatures, build coral reefs, discover crystals, and upgrade the various sections of their craft. This is done via a card draft in which the round captain deals cards to the other players, said players then choose what to keep and what to give back to the captain, who then chooses what they themselves will keep. The cards are turned over simultaneously revealing the choices and play continues clockwise around the table with a new round captain.
Those are the basics of play. However, the beauty of the game lies in the details in-between.
One of the strongest features of, Oceanos, is its ability to offer a variety of potentially winning strategies to each player, and the trick is for the player to choose wisely. Do you go for a quick upgrade of the holding tanks and then try to capture a wide and varied selection of sea-life? Do you gamble on finding treasure on the sea bed and hold fire on dispatching scuba divers to retrieve it right until the last moment? Or, perhaps you go for the cards with big rewards but accept the risk of running into the Kraken? Yep, there’s a Kraken, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
What we found while playing was that best laid plans tend to go awry as the cards fall, but there’s no harm, and actually a lot of fun, in seeing tactics move and tumble like they’re on the open sea.
The game, much like many others, is decided via point scoring. Creatures collected scores points, more variety and bigger numbers scores more points. Treasure scores points, however, the score isn’t known until the end of the game when a lucky dip scenario unfolds with each player taking as many treasure tokens from a blind bag as their scuba diver has collected. Plus, there are points for each players largest connected section of coral reef, so it’s always handy to pay attention to that little side-line.
And then, there is the all-important upgrading of the submarines. How a player chooses to upgrade their craft, and when, is critical to their chances of success. Each of the five sections is upgradeable, and each reaps differing rewards. The propeller for example is a straightforward point scorer, the bigger the propeller, the more points it’s worth.
The next section houses fuel tanks. Each sub starts out with one fuel resource, this can be played during a round to allow the player to keep two cards from the draw instead of the usual one. The upgrade adds additional fuel tanks, with a maximum of three possible, meaning that captains can actually end up keeping three extra cards per round if they have maxed out fuel tanks.
The cockpit upgrade builds additional periscopes. The more periscopes a sub has, the more cards that captain receives at the draft. One periscope allows two cards, two periscopes, three cards and so on. As you can see, a combination of periscope upgrades and fuel tanks offers some serious exploration potential for the skipper of the sub.
Then we have the holding tank. Initially it can carry three sea creatures, but with some upgrading can climb through five and land eventually at room for eight salty critters. Each creature is worth a couple of points at the end of the round, so again, if this is the focus it has great possibilities for reward.
Finally, the front of the sub is home to the scuba divers. This works in very much the same way as the fuel tanks, but with one major difference. When a round ends the fuel tanks are refilled, but once a scuba diver is played, it stays played and cannot be reused further along in the game. Now, this means there is the chance to upgrade and use additional divers, but, where to place them is key to success. How the divers work ties neatly into how the rounds play. Round one takes place just below the surface of the ocean with cards laid out left to right to form the exploration track. Round two goes a little deeper. This row of cards are placed directly below those of round one, and then round three, the deepest exploration track, goes beneath round two. Now, if you find treasure on a card in round one, and then on a card in the same column from round three, placing the diver on the deepest card means it will collect that treasure from round three, and then swim up and collect the round one treasure! Confused? I think I am, but believe me, it works and is crystal clear when viewing the play area.
As easily as points can be gained, they can also be lost again. During exploration it is possible to use cards that carry the red eye of the Kraken upon them. Although these cards are often quite valuable, the player that has the most eyes at the end of the round has to flip over the Kraken token, revealing a minus number that is subtracted from their score. As each round begins the Kraken grows in size, and the potential points loss grows accordingly. It’s a neat little addition to play that gives the captain some serious pause for thought.
Having read to this point, you might still be wondering why I left the game feeling a little underwhelmed. And, it probably comes down to how our games panned out. Playing was a lot of fun, and everyone seemed to be having a good time trying to figure out when to upgrade and which tactics to adopt. It felt like a close game that anyone could win, and then we reached the final play. Everything was tight right up to the point we divvied out the scuba diver treasure, and the great divide took hold. Those that had utilised the divers basically completely obliterated those that hadn’t, and the other tactics, such as coral reef building and animal collection paled into insignificance by comparison. And it’s this that has left me worried about the future of Oceanos at our table. If winning comes down to getting a good run with the divers and only those that enjoy such good fortune are in with a shot, then I’ll say I’m going to be openly disappointed. It feels like an overpowered tactic largely because the treasure tiles are worth some serious points. Two treasure tiles can be worth the equivalent of four animals, and at the end of one of our games I got to draw seven tiles!
Anyway, that’s my biggest concern with the game. In terms of actual play, Oceanos, delivers a great deal of fun and a nice (seafood) platter of strategy. The rules are simple and easy to teach, the action is well-paced, and the components look really good on the table. My other, slight, moan, is that the box art looks considerably better than the artwork on the cards and submarines you’ll play with. Not that what’s in the box isn’t first class, with vibrant cartoony artistic strokes and images as clear as a tropical sea, but it doesn’t capture the atmosphere that is evident on the box cover itself. That was a little bit disenchanting.
But, these aren’t niggles that will kill the game, at least not yet. I can see the power of the scuba diver being used more tactically in future plays by everyone at the table, and then perhaps the levelling of the scuba diver will see other tactics become more important to victory. I hope so too, because, Oceanos, is a really fun game that I was thoroughly enamoured with right up until that final score count took away the shine.
The components are all nicely made, although a couple of the submarine pieces did require a nudge to fit snugly into place.
One for the Kids
Oceanos is a really good game for all the family. Once again I had the crew all keen to play, so we enjoyed games with ages ranging from six to sixteen in terms of the younger family members, and each of them found the game to be engaging and fun to play. I tend to gauge whether a game is good for all the family based upon how my youngest takes to it, and with Oceanos, he was playing unaided within a couple of card drafts.
Harrison, six, said, “It was good and I really liked building my submarine!”
Holly, eleven, added, “It’s a good game, I liked how the captain changed every round and how you go deeper into the ocean. I also loved the upgrades! I think it would be good if you could go even deeper into the ocean to make the game longer and maybe find even more valuable treasure.”
Overall, Oceanos, is a very enjoyable game with a cool theme, and some nice artwork. It’s simple to play but has enough strategy to remain interesting for repeated visits to the table. Our plays were with four and it was a slick experience, the game states it can play from two to five, and based on initial impressions I can see how scaling down to just a couple of players would still prove a rewarding experience. However, I do wonder if over time the simplicity might see the game become a little stale and I still have lingering concerns that the scoring is imbalanced. But there is enough here that I can happily recommend, Oceanos, as an asset to the game collection. It’s a solid family orientated game with a great theme and, as ever, will look great on the table this Christmas in place of the usual fare.
A thoroughly enjoyable game, bathed in simplicity and vibrant cartoon looks, but with a serious undercurrent of strategic gameplay that will hopefully keep this one returning to the captain’s table for a long time to come.