I received a review copy of Oceanos in exchange for an open and honest review.
I love the idea of underwater adventures. Having your owning submarine, exploring the depths of the oceans, seeing underwater wildlife, and of course collecting treasure. Oceanos, a new game by designer Antoine Bauza and published by IELLO Games, puts players as explorers of the depths, vying to find to most sea creatures and find the most treasure! Oceanos plays 2-5 players in about 30-45 minutes.
Each player gets to pick their submarine, which is captained by a different character. The submarine is made up of five pieces that fit together like a puzzle and each piece is associated to abilities the player has to use each round – the propeller gives players victory points, the fuel tank allows players to select and play more cards in a turn, the fish tank lets players collect more fish, the cockpit gives players more room for divers, and the periscope determines the amount of cards players can select from each turn. There are multiple turns per round and the game lasts three rounds. Each turn, players will draw cards based on the number of periscopes their submarine has plus one (two cards by default), except for the captain. Each player selects one simultaneous to play and puts them face up in the proper row based on the current round. Selecting the cards simulates the submarine exploring different parts of the ocean. Once everyone has selected a card, the players give their remaining cards to the captain. The captain then chooses one of those cards to play and discards the rest. The role of the captain then passes to the next player and a new turn begins. If the round ends, intermediate scoring will happen and then play will continue with the next round deck. There is a two player variant which takes away to captain role and replaces it with a discarding mechanism – the players can choose to discard one remaining card in their hand and then pass the rest. In all honestly, I did not think the two player variant works well and I would much rather play the game with 3-5 players. With two players, Oceanos ceased to feel like a drafting game.
Back to the card play: Each card has different features, which allows the players to score in different ways between rounds and at the end of the game. There are eight different sea creatures/animals and players will scores points based on how many different types of creatures they have, limited by the size of their submarine (default is 3). For example, if I have five different sea creatures but my submarine can only hold three, I will only score for three sea creatures. Some cards feature coral that will score at the end of the game for the largest reef discovered. Other cards have treasure on them and players can send their divers to retrieve the riches below. Finally, there are cards that feature crystals and underwater bases which allow players to upgrade their submarine.
As I brought Oceanos to my game groups, I had general positive reactions to the game. The part of the game that was enjoyed by most folks was the submarine and how they could pick and choose what to upgrade. There was disagreement on “the one upgrade to ensure a victory,” which to me points to a well-balanced game when it comes to the different upgrades. Over the course of my plays, I have seen different scoring paths win the game – a huge coral reef, deploying divers strategically, and collecting complete sets of fish. The unique twist on drafting was met with a lukewarm reception. When hearing the word drafting with the name Antoine Bauza, I think the majority of folks was looking forward to a 7 Wonders type of experience. Oceanos and 7 Wonders play experience is very different and it is very important to set that expectation up front for those who have played that Bauza classic. Oceanos is a simpler take on drafting and gives a very relaxing feel to gameplay. The final gripe from my game group was the randomness of the treasure tiles. They range from value 2-4 and they are drawn at the end of the game from a bag. I understand why the tiles vary, but the game literally could come down to drawing these tiles which can be frustrating. My game group was not as forgiving as I was in this respect because honestly, I think it is a challenge to line up treasure chests in order to deploy your divers so the prospect of four points is worth it!
Taking a look at the diversity and inclusion in Oceanos, I was first drawn the the five characters that operated the different submarines. Gender representation (coded on the binary) is better than most games with a variety of characters including men, women, and children. I was hoping for more racial and ethnic diversity but out of the five characters (and the fifth character is actually 3 children controlling the submarine) only one is a person of color. That character is depicted in a picture below. Besides the limited 1 out of (7) people in the game as POC, the one character is also riding in the submarine with a tiger. Now I love tigers, but I could not help critically thinking… why?! Why include a tiger in an underwater adventure? I came to the conclusion that the tiger was used to be a context clue into the ethnic background of the character. Which… came across inauthentic and a bit tokenized/stereotyped in my opinion. With seven people featured in the artwork, I wanted more characters of color. Because underwater adventuring does not know racial barriers!
Now a very interested point on diversity and inclusion was when I was talking to a representative of the publishing company. The representative was telling me about a conversation they had about gender representation with animal. When I first read this, I was cautious, but the more I thought about it, the more truth I saw. We live in a culture that has constructed gender identity and gender expression and we tend to put these structures on the everything. This most certainly includes animals. Pet owners dress up their animals, basing a lot of their clothing choices on the animal’s biological sex. Certain animal species are associated with masculinity or femininity. The representative told me that they did not want to portray their animals in stereotypical ways (using bows and other gendered markers) and chose the animal accessories to be more neutral / challenging how we normally see those animals. One example the representative gave me was dolphins and how they are usually associated with femininity (Is this true? I never really noticed).They gave the dolphins a pipe (coded masculine) as a direct challenge. I like seeing animals with human accessories in my games and I think it works here, even though the spectrum of gender representation is not present. While I do not think this is a huge when for diversity and inclusion, it has definitely given my a lot to think about how we put gender constructions onto animals.
Overall, I enjoyed this very accessible, quick, and fun drafting game. I love the theme and the artwork is fantastic! When I play Oceanos, I do not necessarily play to win (well, of course I like winning games). But in this game, I really enjoy seeing the cards I get to draft and how I can manipulate them to upgrade my submarine. The upgrading mechanisms for the submarine is definitely my favorite part. Because of the different paths a player can take in upgrading, there seems to be multiple ways to win the game. Do I want to upgrade my propeller? That could be 15 points if I do it in the first round. Or I can upgrade my fuel tank which will allow me to play extra card each round. OR I can upgrade my periscopes to get more cards to choose from. The drafting has a little twist on traditional card drafting but it alone is not enough to make me want to keep and play the game – the submarine upgrading really makes the game compelling. This is one I can bring out with anyone, teach the rules, and have a great time exploring the depths of the ocean! Check it out at your friendly local board game store!
Final rating: 3.8/5
See more at: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/192860/oceanos