Review After One 3-Player Game
We purchased this game in part because of the rating here on the geek, more than knowing something about it, but also because of how pretty the artwork is. It also happens that my wife and kids like the ocean/beach scene in general, so that didn't hurt either.
The game comes with a drawstring bag to keep tiles in, which is practically a standard for games that require a random draw, but the thing worth noting here is that the bag is large enough to fit my hand into. I have larger than average hands, and smaller bags, such as those in Quarriors, make it hard to get hold of the right number of bits without looking/taking too many.
The tiles themselves are slightly thicker than average and should hold up very well over time. No issues with the die cut...all tiles puched cleanly from the sprues.
The player boards are average thickness and provide a base on which players can place tiles to build their undersea garden.
Perhaps my only issue with bits, and it is a minor one, is that the photo on the outside of the box makes the 'pearls' (used as money) look like they are actually pearly (like the 'butterscotches' from Citadels). However, in reality they are a white plastic bead with a flat bottom. Completely fine for the intended use, but sort of a disappointed "Oh." moment when seeing them for the first time.
The artwork on the tiles and boards is beautiful and I could practically hear the surf and taste the salt air.
A bit about game play
I won't go into the rules too deeply, but I want to touch on a few points to give you an idea of what is going on in the game.
The main mechanic involves a 'market' board with a 3x3 grid which is filled with tiles randomly drawn from the bag. Each player has a starting amount of pearls with which to buy tiles from the market. Some tiles are garden elements (sea grass, silk worms, etc.) that provide a 'beauty' score. Some tiles are trash and provide a negative beauty score. There are the oysters that produce pearls each turn, or starfish that eat oysters, plus some others. Each of these has a cost in pearls that a player must pay to get them from the market. However, a player isn't allowed to buy just one element. You must buy an entire row or column from the market. Can't afford all the elements in the row? Too bad. All the other rows contain trash? Bummer. Make the best choice you can, or pass and save your pearls for the next turn.
Once you purchase and place a tile you can't move it (except for the starfish, which move one space closer to the nearest oyster each turn), but if you can get certain tiles into groups in your garden, you will get bonus points. For example, placing 5 sea grass together will attract a sea horse, which is only available as a bonus and does not take up space in the garden.
First to fill up their garden (or you can't restock the market) ends the game. Most beautiful garden wins.
There are several things to consider as you play. First, while the pearl producing oysters are good for income, they have a negative beauty. However, you can get rid of them buy adding a starfish to your garden. You don't want to do it too early in the game though, or you're going to have a hard time buying the best elements.
If you don't plan and place elements wisely, you won't have enough room to group them for the bonus tiles.
This is a light to medium weight abstract strategy game. Perhaps on par with something like Ingenious. However, the theme is totally appropriate and makes what might otherwise be an average game great. Our 11 year old played with us and did quite well. Combined with the attractiveness of the bits, I would recommend this game for anyone that enjoys (or might learn to enjoy) abstract strategy games.