Open Ocean (Featherstone Games, 2020)

Basic details: 1-5 players; 30 minutes; competitive; beat your own score solo mode

Dates played: April 29, 2021; May 2, 2021

Gist of the game: You are a marine biologist and reef expert trying to repopulate parts of the ocean (I’m making this up, because I don’t remember any cutesy intro from the game. There might have been one, but I forgot to paraphrase it in my notes, and now the game is put away and I’m on the couch so here we are). In an effort to build up the healthy reefs, you strategically place coral and at times, creatures, into the reef in the hopes that these organisms will, in turn, attract more life to the reef until it is thriving again. The player to do this most successfully, with the largest number of points, wins the game.

The setup for 2 players is in a different area in the instruction manual, but I can’t find a difference between the two sets of rules, so let’s say this covers how to play a 2+ player game.

To set up the game, each player is given a starter coral. Any habitat bonuses, event cards, and variant cards not being used are removed from the game and all remaining cards are shuffled and placed as a deck. Each player receives 6 cards from the deck as their starting hand. 8 cards are placed face-up around the deck to form the ocean (in the 4 orthogonal and the 4 diagonal locations adjacent to the deck).

The ocean will always have 8 cards in it. Any card taken from the ocean is immediately replaced with a new card from the deck. If the ocean ever has no fish cards, all cards in the ocean are discarded and the ocean is replenished with 8 new cards. If the ocean ever has 3 sharks in it, they trigger a feeding frenzy, and players lose their highest scoring unprotected fish from their reef and then the ocean is refreshed (discarded and replaced). Players try to attract cards from the ocean to their personal reef using the cards from their hand. Attracted cards must connect to the card that attracted it.

The game is played over 3 rounds, with each round having 5 turns. Each turn as three phases: players pick a card from their hand and place it face-down in front of them. When all players have chosen their card, in turn order they reveal and play the card onto their reef, resolving any accompanying action. Third, after all players have played their card, players pass their hand to the player on their left. Players take their new hands and the new turn begins. When players are left with only 1 card in hand, they discard this last card and the round ends. The ocean is refreshed and players receive a new hand of 6 cards.

Cards indicate their placement rule, their point value, and their action. There are 2 placement rules. Some cards can be placed diagonally adjacent while others must be placed orthogonally adjacent to another card. Actions include attracting fish of various size to a player’s reef; exchanging a dolphin card for a fish card from another player’s reef and immediately playing it; swapping a shark card for one fish card in the ocean, immediately playing it; and refreshing the ocean, taking one of the new cards and immediately playing it, connecting the sea turtle to this new card.

Cards cannot be played below the starter coral, which forms the bottom row of the reef. Coral and anemones must connect to each other, but can do so diagonally. There can be no random, free floating coral or anemone. Anemone cards protect the 8 surrounding cards from being removed from the reef. Little fish are played surrounding a coral or anemone card or next to a matching little fish card (to form a school). Medium fish must be placed next to a small fish or a matching medium fish (to form a school). Large fish must be placed next to a medium fish or a matching large fish (to form a school).

At the end of the third round, the game ends and the reefs are scored.

Points are given for the following: a) the total number of points displayed on the cards in the reef; b) 1 additional point for every fish card in a school; c) increasing numbers of bonus points for having several colors of coral in the reef; d) any bonus cards being used.

Color commentary: The only thing I’m not really sure if we’re doing correctly is that we’re playing using chain creation. That is, let’s say I play a reef card. Then I attract a small fish from the ocean, which in turn attracts a medium fish from the ocean, which in turn attracts a large fish from the ocean. Is that right, or do you stop with the small fish? Not entirely clear, but the chains make the most sense, I think, so that’s what we’ve been going with, and I think it works fine, though the game does end up super sprawling and too large for our 3x4ish table.

In addition to the special cards identified above (dolphin, shark, and sea turtle), there are also crabs, but they are not explained anywhere in the instruction manual so far as I can tell, and their action symbol seems to be a combination of two existing actions in a way that does not make sense to me.

Overall, this is a fun game with two main strategies so far as I can tell: go for schools (preferably of 3 point fish), or go for 1-2-3 chains (assuming this is the correct way to play) without neglecting the coral which, if you can play a variety of colors, can earn you a rather substantial number of points but also keep you with placement options in case bigger fish for chains are not available. M followed the first strategy in our first game, (M here; my strategy was schools in the first in the first game and chains in the second. The problem is that the cards rarely went my way in the second and so I can see why it might not have been clear.) I followed the second, and won by 1 point. In our second game, I’m not sure what his strategy was, because he says he forgot about the school bonus, but he was playing a lot more coral cards, and beat me by 1 point. I was still trying for the 1-2-3 chains and corals, but paid a little more attention to schools, especially as the ocean was less cooperative and accommodating in the second game. So both games were close and the strategies seem viable and at least a bit dependent on the luck of the draw on the ocean

Thoughts from M: Now I don’t know where you were born, but if you’re like me and grew up on the Artic Northwestern side of Southeast St. Louis, we had a name for games like this and it was Not Monopoly (Petra here: that is absolutely not where M is from. He was also dictating this to me in an overloud horrendous faux-Southern accent) (M asserting myself here: I just get fightin’ mad when I read these words. I try to respect e’ryone, and I’m feelin’ mighty disrespected right now. Also I did not dictate these words. I’ve learned my letters). We called games like this Not Monopoly because they were not Monopoly. It was an apt description back then and it remains so today.

This was a fun game with good but not great graphics (box art excepting). I will have to think about it and/or play it some more to figure out which strategy is most likely to be successful more often. I didn’t realize until the second game that you could build reefs diagonally (Petra here: oops. Probably bad explanation on my part. What can I say? It’s not like I’m a professional teacher whose job it is to explain complicated things to people in ways they can understand…), which is interesting and adds a new wrinkle because you have a lot more directions you can build your reef from and let your reef grow. Playing this on a bigger table would be really interesting because you could let your reef branch out basically however you wanted, rather than having to be mindful of whether or not Petra would be physically able to place a card somewhere. It was also sometimes hard telling our reefs apart because there was definitely some intermingling, but that’s a logistical issue that can be fairly easily addressed by playing elsewhere.

Petra rating: 7/10

M rating: 7/10

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