Oceans: Legends of the Deep Review

Oceans: Legends of the Deep will be on Kickstarter November 1

If there’s any doubt that Oceans is the wilder, freer, more combo-tastic game in the Evolution series, the Legends of the Deep expansion puts that doubt to rest. The original Evolution game is a rather stolid experience, albeit one that rewards repeated play and a developing meta. By having a limited card set it encourages people to memorize what’s available to stay one step ahead of their opponents. It’s a game that’s developed a dedicated following for a reason; it matures, over time, into a mind game as much as a resource-euro.

Image from North Star

Oceans, with its “every card is different” Deep Deck, nudged the series closer to the Wingspan (or Terraforming Mars or Race for the Galaxy or Magic: The Gathering or…)–inspired zeitgeist of having a giant pile of potential card interactions to play around with. It’s less pure, perhaps, than the emergent strategies that can be developed by people working with a more limited toolbox, but in its variety it more easily inspires the frisson of discovery—of seeing two cards interact in a genuinely new and exciting way. Such games aid even the new player in feeling like they’ve discovered an interesting tactic, because, of course, if you shove enough card effects into each other something interesting is bound to happen. Some might argue that’s a cheap reward, but we’re talking about board games here. There’s room for both simple and complex pleasures, and I enjoy both. But I can only dive into the complexities of so many games, so the less intimidating Oceans is my Evolution game of choice.

If you too enjoy Oceans’ combo-digging tendencies, you’re going to be head over heels for the Legend of the Deep expansion, which kicks that aspect of the game into overdrive. It’s an unassuming deck of oversized cards, but it pushes the game into something close to Cosmic Encounter with how powerful these cards can be. In one game I was able to play Poseidon, god of the seas, himself, which allowed me to go wider than I’ve ever gone with species creation. I couldn’t make new species fast enough. I ran out of table space. One of my friends consolidated all of his species down to one mega-leviathan, which had no evolution or feeding limits. Not all of the cards are quite so dramatic, but you draft a hand of four, letting you step up the abilities throughout the game until you can trigger your most powerful effect.

Image from Noth Star

The rules are simple: a quick pick-and-pass draft of four cards, one of which can be played during one’s turn. Only one can be active at a time, though (unless you have the card that lets you ignore that rule), so you might have a strategy of shifting from one ability to another during a certain portion of the game. And that’s it. It’s a small expansion, but it packs a wallop. I haven’t tested it, but I imagine it causes games to play more quickly. I know my plays with Legends of the Deep have felt like a bull (shark)-rush into the end game where you only get a small handful of turns to execute your final strategy and grab as many fish as possible. It’s less about small, meaningful decisions throughout as it is about seeing and executing something epic.

For that reason I probably won’t play with Legends of the Deep every time I play Oceans, as I enjoy both versions of the game in different ways. It’s good for a shakeup; something fresh.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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