Players: 2-5 Ages: 11+ Game Time: 30-45 mins
In the 2-5 player dice strategy game Ocean Pods designed by Lee Miller you play as a marine biologist trying to study the great ocean mammals. Players draft resources to attract whales and dolphins to their pod and complete research for points. However, biologist beware: whaling and fishing boats block the path and plastic leaks into the ocean. In this semi cooperative game, only one player can win, but you all can lose if you do not clean up the plastic during the game! We all need to do our bit, and this game dips its toes into the crowd funding pond, and has an important message to splash all over.
The setup is really easy with Ocean Pods, the first thing to do is to separate the cards into two stacks, these are "Ocean Pod" and "Research Objectives". Shuffle the Ocean Pods deck to create the draw deck, then lay out six cards to generate your research pool. Place the ocean cards in any order down the side from top to bottom and place the boat (red disk) on the start position. I would like to point out that the disc should really be a little boat just to add to the game's theme! Now shuffle the "Research Objectives" and deal one to each player, making sure you keep these secret from the other players. Finally, place the dice (white and blue) within reach of all the players and you're ready to begin! Play starts with the last person who went to or was in the ocean, since I just went to Spain it was me!
Ocean Pods takes place over several rounds, each player taking actions.
The first player rolls the blue bonus die and the white dice into the 'pool'. The number of dice available in the pool will be one white die per player plus one die. For example, for a four-player game there will be five white dice. The first player resolve the outcome of the blue bonus die by removing it from the dice pool and claiming the subsequent bonus depicted on it, this does not get rolled again until the next player becomes the first player in the next round.
The bonus die actions that can be taken are as follows:
Get double resources on the next die you choose
Reroll any/all dice (two of the faces)
Collect all plastic
Wild – choose any result
Players then take turns to complete the following actions
1. Collect resources via the dice pool
Collect resources to attract animals to your pod. Different animals need different resources.
To do so, remove a white resource die from the pool and claim the resource depicted on it (taking into account any double bonus if you are the first player).
FISH – This represents the fish diet of the Ocean Pod animals from minnows to sharks and rays. KRILL – This mainly represents the diet of baleen whales, who feed through filters, krill, plankton and algae.
WILD – Choose any resource die and claim the resource on that die without removing it from the pool CRAB – This crab icon represents the various crustacean diets of many ocean animals. SEAL – This icon represents the “meat” diet such as pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) along with other whales and dolphin species. OCTOPUS – This icon represents cephalopods such as squid, octopus and cuttlefish that whales and dolphins eat.
As the game progresses, rather than choosing a resource die, players can select the plastic token in the pool instead. This will not be an option early in the game. This can prevent the lose condition of three plastic tokens in the pool, and the tokens score points at the end scoring phase.
There is no limit to the number of resource tokens a player can hold.
2. Conduct research
This is attracting animals to your pod. Once per turn, players can claim (research) one Ocean Pod animal card by discarding resources (tokens) equal to the cost on the card. The animal in question can only be researched if the boat is NOT in that matching ocean (tropical, cold, deep, coastal). The player places the Ocean Pod card in front of them and then checks their Ocean Pod points total. If they reach 12 points it triggers the final round. Take the top card in the deck and replace any researched animals so there are always six cards available.
When all players have completed their turn, it is the end of the round.
At the end of each round, three things will happen:
1st – move the boat down one space (if you reach the final space on the last ocean card then go back to the start space at the top). 2nd – anytime the boat moves onto a new ocean card place a plastic token in the Ocean Pod. If this is the third plastic token the game ends. 3rd – pass all dice clockwise to the next player who will be player one and gets the blue dice as the first player bonus! This feels a little moot in a two-player game.
When three plastic tokens are present in the Ocean Pod the game stops. The plastic impact was too great for the ocean. All players lose!
When any player reaches 12 points via Ocean Pod victory points (not bonuses and plastic points) they announce they have 12 points. At the end of the current round play stops and players enter the scoring phase. The winner is the player who has earned the most points; this includes adding any victory points from research objectives and plastic bonuses. In the result of a tie, the player with the most plastic tokens wins. If it's still a tie – both players share victory - YAY!
I really am impressed how the message of reducing plastic has been applied to the production of this game; no plastic film wrap on the box, no plastic wrap covering the cards, it just has a paper bind holding them together! The quality is nice and I am generally happy with how the game has turned out. The artwork by Raquel Paolini Madrid is beautiful.
Conclusion - Ocean Pods
So let's break it down for you in our key areas:
Replayability - It is replayable, quick and works much better with more than two players.
Production Value - It is what it is; when trying to keep costs down and keep a game plastic free some quality features can be affected.
Theme - Love the theme. Who doesn't like ocean creatures?!
Complexity - We were playing this game after the learning very quickly so not complex at all.
Rules - Written well and overall easy to interpret.
Uniqueness - Really not unique from a dice and card combo BUT the theme applied is what makes this game!
Value - Really excellent value, we have had a production copy of the game so it's close to how it will go out to backers along with retail.
Molinarius Games have a really lovely ethic and are striving to do things differently. It's not too late to change! This game is made from mainly sustainable products and 100% recyclable (not that you would EVER throw this game away). Molinarius are offsetting their entire carbon footprint and looking to improve and instigate further change, and for that this deserves a spot on your shelves. I am giving this a score of 4/6 Your friendly DoaLG Founder
I quite enjoyed this game and was pleased to find that it reinforced its environmental message by being 100% recyclable. Overall, this game is pleasantly light and is a solid family game night option suitable for fairly young gamers. However, there are a few points that let it down. Firstly, the artwork inconsistencies; while all the animal card art is beautiful and have synergy with each other and the dice, the ocean cards and plastic tokens are dull and feel like parts from another game. Second, the rules as written don't quite work as a two player game. By having the mechanic of rotating first player (and the bonus dice) it means that both players get two consecutive turns (one as second player then another as the new first player). This can however be easily resolved by removing the notion of first player and rounds. Simply take turns and move the boat each turn. Then each time the boat is in the first spot of an ocean zone the bonus dice can be rolled. As there are three spots per ocean zone this will naturally switch between players. Lastly, the theme, semi co-op nature and threat level were all a little relaxed in my opinion. This is mainly due to plastic pollution increasing only once every three rounds when the boat enters a new ocean zone. This is a very slow build up given that it can be cleared any turn simply by collecting plastic instead of a resource. Again, this can be easily fixed by adding an add plastic result to the white dice and when this appears add a plastic token but you may still choose to remove plastic or take a resource. This would also fix one other issue I found. The dice have different odds. Each white die favours one of the five food types by having two sides the same. Additionally, the rules do not explicitly state that players cant choose which dice they use. Therefore, it is theoretically possible to select a more favourable dice. However, that detracts from the fun. This is a fun little game, but I feel it just needs a little refinement to become the game it is meant to be 4/6 on the DOALG dice rating.
Keep gaming everyone
If you are intrigued then you can still see details at Molinarius Games website (www.molinariusgames.com) including where you can buy a retail copy of this game! Donations to the Ocean Generation (https://oceangeneration.org) charity will be made for each game sold by Molinarius Games.