Board Games

Under the Sea

I love the ocean. I have had the liberty of growing up within a driving distance of the sea. My fascination originally started with sharks but eventually expanded to all ocean life. An often-cited fact is that we know very little about fauna and flora that live in roughly 70% of Earth’s surface area. In Oceans, players will simulate a dynamic underwater ecosystem by creating and evolving species of fish.

Oceans is the next game of the Evolution series by designers Nick Bentley, Dominic Crapuchettes, Ben Goldman, Brian O’Neill, and published by North Star Games. The retail edition of the game will support 2-4 players, but the limited and deluxe editions support up to 6 players. The game plays in 60-90 minutes for ages 12 and up.

On your turn, you will play a card, feed one of your fish, and then age all of your fish. Each player in Oceans receives a grip of cards that all describe different traits of ocean life. Some of the characteristics you might encounter include filter-feeder, schooling, speed, shark cleaner, and more! Feeding your fish allows you to forage from the Reef, gain fish from one of three Ocean Zones, or attack your opponents’ species and take their fish. Aging your fish scores you victory points. Once all the ocean zones have emptied, the player with the most victory points wins!

It is apparent how much development work went into Oceans. The gameplay is how I like my peanut butter: smooth. The mechanisms that makeup Oceans are, at their core, straightforward. The way these actions overlap helps paint a vivid picture of ocean life growing and changing. Everything from the stunning illustrations dawning every card to the fun little fish tokens helps engross the players.

Engine builders were one of my favorite types of games when I first got into board gaming. I have had the luxury of playing quite a few different popular engine building games. Most notably, I have played Terraforming Mars, Race for the Galaxy, and Wingspan. One of engine building’s chief complaints is that the game can become “multiplayer solitaire.” No two words strike fear into the hearts of gamers than the thought that you have no interaction with the other players around the table.

Oceans’ level of player interaction is reminiscent of the Splotter classic Antiquity. Players eventually will feed off one another, but I cannot purposefully shove a stick in my opponents’ bicycle spokes. Preventing all-out aggression allows for intriguing and unexpected developments in species and traits around the board. 

Oceans is a lovely mid-weight game that creates a unique experience every time you play it. It isn’t doing anything particularly new, but it is doing what it does well. The box feels unnecessarily large, but its size is just a representation of the amount of game you get in the box. No matter how you spin it, Oceans is a polished gem.

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