I recently picked up a copy of Oceania because I wanted a game to play solitaire. Actually, this review is just about the solitaire aspect of the game since I've not yet played it with 2 players. Solitaire games of this nature seem to be a rare breed. I had been looking for something that could be played in 30 minutes or less, and wouldn't take up much playing space. I'm also very picky about quality components. Oceania looked like it could be a nice fit to my collection.
I was very pleased with the quality of the components here. The board is a good size and the artwork on it has a great Old World feel to it. The artwork on the tiles is also very nice and seems to fit the theme of the game. I was also pleased with the thickness of the tiles. This is normally something I'm concerned about. The tiles are not as thick as Carcassonne tiles, but thicker than those in Metro, Streetcar, and Arkadia. The game also comes with a little wooden ship which is a nice touch.
Before getting Oceania, I tried to figure out the rules from what I had read in other reviews and forum posts. I couldn't really get a firm grasp of exactly what was going on in the game though. Even when I read the rulebook directly, there were points that weren't exactly clear until I played a couple of times. I think this is because I was skipping past the 2 player rules and going right for the solitaire rules (many of which are different.) The rules themselves are actually very simple, but there was something that had an "Am I doing this right?" feel to the rules.
To play solitaire, the tiles are separated into 2 piles. The first pile of tiles are printed with a blank back and are randoming selected when exploring. The other tiles have a cloud printed on the back and are used to fill in surrounded areas when they occur.
The first step in playing is to select a starting point to explore from. At the beginning of the game, this will be from one of the starting points printed on three of the sides on the board. (The forth side, the upper side, has no starting points) The bottom side has 7 starting points, and each of the other two sides have 5. A tile is then randomly chosen, and if it can legally be placed in a square leading from that point, it is placed. The tile can be turned to any orientation as long as it is a legal fit. If the tile cannot be legally placed, it is discarded and out of the game. To be a legal fit, the features on all the edges of the tile must match. Land on land, and sea (dotted white lines) on sea. The upper side of the board is considered to be sea for purposes of matching tiles.
Next, a new starting point is chosen and another tile is drawn. Instead of choosing a staring point from the side of the board, you can choose a tile in play that has a dotted white line leading from it onto a blank space. Again, if the tile can fit, it is placed. If not, it is discarded.
Play continues this way until an area is surrounded. An area may be surrouned in two ways. The first way is if a SINGLE square has all four of it's adjoining sides occupied by either a tile or the board edge. The second way for an area to be surrounded is if an area (regardless of the number of squares) has all of it's adjoining sides occupied by land edged tiles, as seen in this picture:
When an area is surrounded, it is filled in with appropriate tiles from those with the clouds printed on their backs. The game is played until there are no more starting points to play from or until all squares on the board are filled.
At this point, scoring is resolved. Each complete island is worth the number of tiles used to complete it, squared. Any empty squares are worth -20 points. The object of solitaire play is to beat your high score.
Oceania is a nice little game, but it hasn't really impressed me much beyond that. For one thing, the strategy of the game seems rather simple. The top row of the board seems the most important because it's the hardest to fill up. In games I've played, if I can fill up the top row I can usually avoid any empty squares at the end of the game. The other basic strategy to the game seems to be surrounding areas. It's actually much easier to surround areas than it is to try to place tiles directly into them.
To make the game a little more challenging, I've tried playing with this variant. When choosing a starting point at the beginning of the game, you start from a board edge as normal. If the tile fits, you place it. If not, you discard it. Here's where the variant comes in. If you placed a tile and it is possible to explore from that tile (if there is at least one white dotted line leading into an empty square), you must explore from one of these points. You then draw a tile and it fits, place it (and explore from this new tile if possible.) If not, discard it and you may then choose any new starting point to explore from. Basically, you keep sailing your ship around in one continuous exploration until you 'fail' and you then start exploring from a new point. This doesn't change the game that much, but it does cut back on your ability to focus on surrounding individual squares by drawing a minimum number of tiles.
All in all, I enjoy Oceania as a solitaire experience. I'll be on the lookout for more solo-playable games like it.
FYI: You can play solo online at www.playcatan.com
There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time.
Is the browser game working for anyone? I can place a ship, but then can't figure out how to draw the initial tile from the stack. I click on it, drag it, nothing happens. Not sure if the problem is on my end or their end.