Game Buzz: Oceans

In 2014, Dominic Crapuchettes and North Star Games took a Russian design called Evolution: The Origin of the Species, and turned it into a new game simply called Evolution. North Star was primarily known for its party games like Wits & Wagers and Say Anything at that point, so Evolution was something of a departure for them. In speaking with Crapuchettes for my review of the game, I learned that they were planning to turn the game into a fairly large brand. Which, over the intervening years, they have. The latest entry into the series is

image by BGG user SynapticAcid

Oceans is a co-design between Dominic Crapuchettes, Nick Bentley, Ben Goldman, and Brian O’Neill, Kickstarted last year by North Star Games and now being delivered to backers. It’s a 2-4 player game about adapting species to underwater life, and attempting to sit atop the food chain.

The game comes with a Reef and an Ocean board that are used for tracking ocean population. When setting up the game, these are stocked with fish (different numbers for different player counts) – they have raised borders to contain and separate the pieces. You’ll also be using two random scenario cards that are placed in the first two zones of the Ocean board (Abundance and Fertile are suggested for use in your first game). There’s also a deck called The Deep, from which two cards are laid face up. It’s recommended not to use The Deep in your first game. Each player gets six cards from the Surface deck, as well as a player screen.

image from North Star Games website

On your turn, you’ll do four things – play a card, feed one species, age your species, and then discard/draw up to six cards.

PLAY CARDS: You’ll play a card to either evolve a species or to migrate population. Evolving species means adding traits to the various species. You can either add it to a new species (placed to either side of any existing species, or between them) or to an existing one (though you typically can’t have more than three traits on any single species).

If you choose to migrate population, you’ll look at the migration number on the bottom of the card. You’ll move that number of population from one board location (the Reef or one of the three Ocean zones) to another.

FEEDING: Feed one species, either foraging population from the Reef or attacking another species. To forage, add up green icons on the traits and take that number of population from the Reef, moving it to that species’ board. If you attack, you add up the red icons on traits and take that number of population from another species board. It doesn’t have to be an opponent’s, you can attack your own.

Some traits prevent species from foraging or attacking, regardless of how many of that color icon you have.

AGING: Remove one population from each species you have, and place them behind your player screen. If a species can’t age enough, it goes extinct. Discard all of its traits and the species board.

DRAW CARDS: You can draw one Deep card, either one of the face up cards in the Gene Pool, or three cards from the top of the Deep deck of which you can only keep one – the other two go face up on one of the Gene Pool piles. After this, you may discard as many Surface cards as you want, then draw back up to six (this total includes Deep cards). Play passes to the left.

When every Ocean zone has been emptied of fish, the game continues until everyone has had the same number of turns (using reserve population if needed), and then it’s over. You score one point per population in your score pile, one point per population on your surviving species, and the points shown on your Bonus token (which was handed out at the start of the game). The high score wins.

image by BGG user aelfric_brewer

Though in the Evolution line, this is its own game. It uses a similar system, but with lots of changes. For one thing, it’s turn-based, rather than round-based. For another, it has this shifting economy of population you’re drawing from rather than an increasingly limited supply of food. Then, there’s The Deep, which adds some really powerful traits at the cost of population you have in your score pile.

Happily, they have continued to use the beautiful watercolor art of Catherine Hamilton (this time, also credited with Guillaume Decos), so that, plus the adding of traits to species, makes this seem very similar to the original Evolution game. I think it looks like a lot of fun, and I look forward to checking it out some time in the future.

That’s it for today – thanks for reading!

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