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[Review] Oceania

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Joined: 03/23/2011

The two-player versions of Klaus Teuber’s big box games have had a good start with the Settlers of Catan card game and Starship Catan (little brother of Starfarers of Catan). Klaus was able to excellently transfer both games over successfully to a two-player spectrum, both of them equaling or exceeding their ancestors, at least in my opinion. Now Oceania (Mayfair Games, 2004 - Klaus Teuber) has been released, a one or two-player version of Entdecker. And that’s what surprised me (that the game was possible to be played by one player). It is certainly a rare thing amongst board games.

Oceania is indeed a fun, light game and works well in a casual, easy setting. It’s very similar to Entdecker but is stripped of any complexity that game had (not much). There’s an awful amount of luck in the game, enough to probably scare some players away, as the game can sometimes seem like a crapshoot. The one-player game is an interesting exercise but is even less of a strategic game and only a temporary diversion. If one is looking for a nice, pleasant game with a smattering of strategy, this might be of some interest; but it’s merely that - a distraction.

The theme of the game is that of players discovering new regions in virgin waters, seeking the largest islands. A board made of thirty-five squares is placed in the middle of the table, with three of the borders marked with dotted circles, denoting that exploration may start from these spots. Each player is given a group of scout tiles in their color (gray or white): five with a value of “1”, two with a value of “2”, and one with a value of “3”. There are sixty sea tiles in the game, each one of seven different combinations of sea and land on their four sides. (All sea, three sea - one land, two sea on facing sides - two land on facing sides, two adjacent sea - two adjacent land, three land - one sea, all land). Twenty-five tiles are set aside into sorted six sorted face-up stacks; these reserve tiles are denoted by little white clouds on both the front and back of the tiles. The remainder of the tiles is placed face-down into the box and shuffled around, and then three are randomly removed from the game. One player is chosen to go first and takes the wooden explorer ship.

On a player’s turn, they must choose the starting point for their expedition. They can place the ship on any of the circles on the edge of the board or a sea tile with an unfinished dotted white line on it that has already been explored by either player. The player draws a random sea tile and places it so that the dotted lines on each tile match up. The tile must also match any adjacent tiles or edge of the board; if the player cannot make it fit, they must place it face up in front of them, where it will lose points for them at the end of the game. If the tile fits and has any land on it, the player may place one of their scout tokens on one of the land sections. After the player has placed a tile or put a tile in front of them, play passes to the other player.

Players may play a tile in front of them instead of randomly drawing but must discard one of their unused scout tokens to do so. Also, if there is ever an area on the board that is completely surrounded on all four sides by sea tiles or the sides of the game board, the surrounded tiles are filled in with the appropriate tiles from the reserve stacks. When the last tile is placed on the board either finishing the board completely or discarding all of the regular sea tiles, the game ends. Players score each island on the board immediately. An island has a point value equal to the number of tiles making of the island, but only if the island is completed. The point value of the island is awarded to the player with the highest value of scouts on the island. In case of ties, neither player gets the points for the island. Each player then loses two points for each tile still in front of them. The player then who has the highest point total is the winner!

The single player game is played the same way, except that the player need not place scout tiles, as they are all scored for him; as long as they are completed. Islands score differently; however, scoring the square of the number of tiles making it up. (A nine tile island = 81 points.) When a player can’t place a tile, they discard it instead of placing it in front of them. At the end of the game, a player also loses twenty points for each tile on the board they haven’t filled in. The goal of this game is to see how high of a score the player can accumulate.

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The game certainly has a seventeenth-century feel to it, with the artwork on the board. The tiles are nicely but simply illustrated, being a little bland but at the same time not crowding up the board. When the whole board is finished, the layout does look very nice albeit a little more blasé than say, a Carcassonne board. Still, the tiles and tokens are of good quality, and the little clouds that denote the reserve tiles are quite ingenious; they make it easy to tell the reserve tiles apart from the regular ones, yet fit in with the artwork on the board. Everything comes packaged in a fairly small box that states, “Klaus Teuber’s Classics” (does this mean more are to come?)

2.) Rules: The rules are printed on four four-color pages with several illustrations. All of them are fairly clear, although I ran into some confusion about the “surrounded” tiles; and even now still don’t think the rules explain them that clearly. Fortunately, at, there is a tutorial that very clearly explained the game. In fact, all of Klaus Teuber’s games are explained there in a very clear and simple way for beginners. I taught the game easily to a number of people, and everyone quickly understood it; it’s actually easier to play than to explain.

3.) Time: The best feature of the game is how quickly one can play it; a game takes only about ten minutes. This keeps the game from getting boring and drawn out and allows players to play several games in a row if they really like it. I was able to play the single-player game in less than five minutes and quickly banged out several games in a row. If you are seeking a fast and engaging two-player game, this is a good candidate.

4.) Single Player Game: I’ve played the game by myself several times, trying to get the highest amount of points I can. Sadly, I don’t think I’m improving with time; my game scores fluctuate from negative 100 points to a positive 250. There’s no real strategy; one simply must use mathematical statistics to determine the best place to start their exploration and hope the tile they need comes up. Still, it’s strangely satisfying, more than other solitaire games, such as Yahtzee. I wouldn’t buy this game based on the single-player experience, but it’s a nice addition.

5.) Strategy: Most of the strategy is pretty straight-forward, just figure out what tile you need, and hope you get it. But there is one clever trick I learned - to deliberately choose a bad area to explore at the beginning of the game, hoping to get a tile you can’t use. This tile just might come in handy at the end of the game, and the loss of a worker token is worth it. Other than this tactic, the game offers pretty much standard fare in the strategic realm.

6.) Fun Factor: The fun factor with one player is decent, but I enjoyed it much more as a two-player game. Because of the short time span it takes to play the game, I was able to fit in multiple playings since I got it; but I wonder if I play it so often because of how short it is, or how fun it is. I’m afraid it’s possibly the former - the game is interesting and fun, but nothing much more than any other two-player games I have.

So, the two main reasons that I would recommend the game are its theme, as exploration may interest some people, and its time factor, as it plays out extremely quickly. There’s a smidgen of strategy, but it mostly involves calculating odds and hoping for the best when one draws a tile. (The rules give other strategy hints, but I found them all fairly obvious). I did not dislike the game; I keep playing it, and I have a host of games to choose from. But if one already has a pile of two player games, this game really introduces nothing new and can only really be recommended on basis of its time and ease of play.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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