Full disclosure: A preview copy of Ocean Crisis was provided by Shepherd Kit. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Back into the fire of Kickstarter season, for us, which is exciting. Ocean Crisis, the latest from Shepherd Kit, launches soon and we’re excited to see how it evolves and shapes up. They’re the publisher of the Paleolithic series, a sequence of board games about prehistoric Taiwan that is a nice mix between family-friendly and strategic, so, enjoyed all those.
In Ocean Crisis, however, you’re playing cooperatively to try and prevent a worldwide disaster. Garbage is piling up in the ocean and it’s backing up into the various bodies of water that flow into it. None of that is good and you’ve been able to mobilize people to combat the imminent threat before it affects the local wildlife (and your communities). Will you be able to prevent the ocean filling up with trash?
So, for setup, you’re going to want to take the Ocean Board:
Connect it to the Land Board:
Give each player some Defense Team Meeples in their color:
Along with some markers, also in their color.
If you’re playing with certain player counts (2 – 4), you’ll need some Neutral Meeples on the Eco-Base (center of the Land Board):
It works like so:
- 2 players: Every player gets two meeples in two colors; put two white meeples on the Eco-Base.
- 3 players: Every player gets three meeples in their color: put one white meeple on the Eco-Base.
- 4 players: Every player gets two meeples in their color; put two white meeple on the Eco-Base.
- 5 players: Every player gets two meeples in their color.
Place two white meeples on the bottom-left town and one white meeple in the bottom-center town.
Put the Ocean Vaccum on the Dock, on the right side of the Land Board:
Place the Enchancement Tiles on their various spaces on the board:
Shuffle the Enhancement Cards and place them on the space on the board indicated for them:
Place the Mobilization Tiles on the board with the Dumpster side face-up:
The next two tiles go on the board inactive-side up:
Shuffle up the Road Tiles and put them on the board, face-down:
Decide what difficulty you’re playing on, as well, and use those Round Cards, starting with 1:
You can shuffle the others, if you want the game to be a bit more unpredictable, but barring that, 1 will tell you what Garbage Tiles to place where:
Use the higher-value grey side. If you’re playing with Missions, choose one:
And / or if you’re playing with Scenarios, choose one:
They come with their own tokens:
Set out the dice as well:
I’ll refer to one as the number die and the other as the pip die. Once you’ve done all that, you should be good to go!
Ocean Crisis is played over four to six rounds as players work together to clean up major waterways that flow to the ocean so that the ocean doesn’t fill up with garbage. Other factors may emerge, like animals that need your help, so make sure you don’t forget about them, either. If you can survive the trash until the Round Cards run out, you win!
So, play is mostly simultaneous. Each round takes place over multiple phases; I’ll explain more.
During this Phase, you look at the current Round Card and add Garbage Tiles to the river and beach according to its specifications. In Round 1, you take the indicated tiles and place them on the board, but in subsequent rounds, you’ll draw randomly from the bag. If you can’t fit any more garbage in your current area, they move on to the next area. Additionally, garbage cannot stack on a spot; only one garbage tile per spot. If you cannot fit any more garbage on the Ocean Board, it goes straight to the Garbage Patch; try to avoid that. If you’ve activated the Water Treatment Plant, you’ll add one fewer tile to (1) during this phase.
Now, all players mostly-simultaneously place their meeples on Garbage Tiles or the Eco Base simultaneously. Just, uh, y’all can’t really swim, so you cannot clean up garbage on the Ocean Board unless it’s on the beach. Once all meeples are placed, you can move on to the next phase.
Now, take actions. If you’re on a Garbage Tile, roll the number die. If your number (+ the number of meeples on the tile) meets or exceeds the number on the tile, it’s removed. If you remove it from the beach, it’s added to the Research Center, as well. If it doesn’t meet or exceed the number, it’s reduced! Flip the tile to its yellow side; it’ll be easier to get next time around.
If you placed on the Eco Base, you may draw Road Tiles equal to the number of meeples you have on the Eco Base (the white meeples that stay on the Eco Base every round are considered to be the Starting Player’s meeples) and try to build roads to various parts of the town for improvements. All roads must start from the Eco Base, but you can build to Locations to activate their bonuses (and then subsequently build through them). Some tiles will give you Enhancement Cards; you may only have one per player color (meaning each player can have 2 in a two-player game). Some let you gain extra white meeples that belong to you. Others still will activate bonuses like the Ocean Vacuum or the Research Center or Mobilization, which clears all the garbage from (2) or (3).
Now, the river flows. In order, (3) flows to the Ocean Board, (2) flows to (3), and then (1) flows to (2). As usual, only place garbage in open spaces. If the Ocean Board is full, trash goes straight to the Garbage Patch instead.
The starting player then rolls the Pip Die. Move the Ocean Current disk that many spaces counterclockwise. If a Garbage Tile stops next to an arrow, it’s sucked into the Garbage Patch. If it stops next to the Ocean Vacuum, it’s removed from the board and placed into the bag.
The normal game ends after 6 rounds. If the Garbage Patch has 5 or fewer Garbage Tiles in it by that point, you win! Otherwise, if the Garbage Patch hits 6 or more Garbage Tiles at any time, you lose.
Scenarios and Missions
If you want to fine-tune the difficulty, there are multiple Scenarios and Missions available in the game, each adding some conditions or bonuses. Generally speaking, Missions add potential bonuses, whereas Scenarios add extra challenges (and victory / loss conditions). Go with whatever works for you.
Player Count Differences
There really aren’t major ones; it’s a perfect-information cooperative game, so you can play at any player count as long as you have 10 active meeples every round. At higher player counts it does create some tension because everyone wants an Enhancement Card, but it’s not always efficient to try and get five of those in lieu of, say, getting Mobilization Tiles or the Water Treatment Plant. I don’t really have a strong player count preference but I rarely get 5p games played, anyways.
- Don’t forget your Scenario Condition. If you forget about it, you might set yourself up to lose no matter how efficient your trash process is, which would be kind of a bummer.
- Watch out for (2) and (1). They will flow into (3) and (2), respectively, which tend to get doubled each round. You do not want to ignore (1) doubling to 6 and then (2) doubling to 12. That will fill up the Garbage Patch lightning-fast, which will incidentally lose you the game.
- Your Enhancement Cards basically give you a job to do. They’ll let you specialize in what garbage you want to remove, so go about doing that.
- If you haven’t gotten an Enhancement Card by Round 4, maybe … don’t? It might not be worth it, by then, since you’ll have such a diminished return on the overall utility of it. You basically will only get one round to use it (if you’re getting it Round 5), so maybe focus on trying to clean up garbage instead, especially if the only one left is like, the one that lets you automatically reduce garbage before rolling or something.
- Mobilize, but mobilize intelligently. You’re going to want to use those tiles when you’ve got 4+ tiles in (2) or (3), so make sure you’ve done two things. First off, they should be easy to access. Build towards them but don’t complete the circuit until absolutely necessary. Second, you should, yeah, wait until you’re getting overwhelmed by trash in those sectors. Cleaning out (2) means you’ve got two rounds (at least in Standard) where nothing will end up in (3) or the Ocean (since 2 -> 3 -> Ocean), which is excellent. This lets you focus on getting other Locations online and ready rather than worrying about what’s hitting the Ocean Board or the later-stage river.
- Getting those extra Meeples is pretty helpful, too. It’s a 30% bump to your workforce, usually meaning you can get extra Road Tiles or clean up the beach more easily or something. Just remember that the white meeples cannot benefit from Enhancement Cards and you should be pretty covered across the board. They can get Road Tiles, though.
- Don’t over-road. There’s a real temptation to burn all your meeples early trying to get roads, and I think that’s a bad idea. You’re guaranteed to get some roads every round by virtue of having those extra white meeples there (in 2- to 4-player games). You don’t want to run out of Road Tiles before the game ends. Just try to manage your desire to get everything all at once; you need to clean up the trash. Especially on the beach.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. It’s a really good theme! We don’t have enough conservation-themed games and I really like that it makes it really clear what the impact of decisions can be. If you take care of trash upstream, the downstream effects don’t propagate nearly as aggressively. If you convince other people to help you, you can get a lot more done. And sometimes the best way to take care of pollution is to go and clean up trash yourself. It’s a great set of lessons for kids to learn, and the game does a solid job with the mechanical implementations of these. Very solid connection to the theme.
- The path-building element is a lot of fun. I really like that you have to choose both what to prioritize and what’s available. It’s one of my favorite mechanics, and I think it works really well, here.
- The Missions and Scenarios are a nice way to granularly modify the difficulty of the game. Is Standard a bit too easy (but Difficult is a bit too hard)? Add Scenarios and Missions to move that needle a bit in either direction. It lets players have a real fine-grained control over their gameplay experience and I really like it (which is good, given that the upcoming Catastrophe expansion is more Scenarios and Missions).
- The art is really good. I love ocean themes in games, and they did an excellent job making this game very vibrant. The cover is a bit aggressive, sure, but ocean conservation is serious business.
- Family-friendly. This, like the Paleolithic series, is definitely a game that you can get into with your younger gamers that’s still interesting for adults. I mean, it can be really tough, too! I got wrecked on my first game at Difficult, which kind of dazzled me.
- Drawing a Random Enhancement card is mildly unsatisfying. A draw two, keep one sort of deal would be a bit more amenable to me, only because I’m not a big fan of every power (personally) and I’d prefer to not have to waste time trudging around for another one.
- The Garbage Patch can be mildly confusing. It’s sort of the classic “extra lives” vs. lives problem in a video game. In plenty of games, the lives counter is how many extra lives you have. So when it hits 0, you have just the life you’re on right now. Others, it’s just a counter of how many lives you have. So when it hits 0, you lose. The Garbage Patch is an example of the latter, but (at least anecdotally) most of the games I’ve played are examples of the former (Burgle Bros., for instance). This can throw players off on their first game (and potentially lead to a loss, which is unfortunate). A symbol on the last space would be a potentially solid fix to let players know that’s a loss (like Pandemic).
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Ocean Crisis is great! I’m personally a big fan of thematic games, cooperative games, and games with path-building components, so, that’s all here and I’m here for it. Generally speaking, I think the game is nice; high-quality components (as you’d expect from Shepherd Kit) certainly help, but there’s also just a lot of content. The game’s pretty big, lots of difficulty levels, lots of modes and scenarios and missions to choose from; you could spend a lot of time with this (and use it as a pretty compelling lesson on the impact we can have on ocean conservation efforts, in my opinion). That’s a good theme for a game, though. It presents a global challenge and tasks the player with coming up with workable solutions. It doesn’t make it seem like it’s an insurmountable problem, but rather a problem that can be chipped away with the right team. It’s an optimistic game (and a fun one), and I’m really glad that it’s been made. Anyways, if you’re looking for a cooperative game with a fun conservation theme that’s family-friendly and pretty challenging, I’d definitely recommend checking out Ocean Crisis! I’ve enjoyed it a lot.