Designer Reiner Knizia has often been accused of adapting the same mechanics for a wide variety of different games. This actually can be a good thing, as he often institutes some clever twists which give the system a completely different feel. The same accusation can certainly be leveled against his fellow designer Klaus Teuber. Teuber has made a career of morphing his game systems into a seemingly endless series of similar, yet different games. Witness the endless Settlers series, Lowenhertz / Domaine and the latest offspring of the Entdecker series: Oceania.
Oceania can easily be described as Entdecker-lite … VERY lite. It is clearly designed to be an introductory level game for non-gamers as it has stripped down the Entdecker game system to its most basic level. Being tossed with the excess baggage is a big chunk of time, too. Oceania can be played in 10 – 15 minutes, which should provide some appeal as a filler even for gamers.
Oceania is played on a small board with a 7 x 5 grid superimposed upon it. As in Entdecker, a player will place the ship token either along one of three board edges, or onto a previously laid tile. He then flips over a tile and, if possible, places it immediately adjacent to the location of the ship. Each tile will contain from 0 – 4 pathways and perhaps a section or two of land. If the tile cannot be placed so as to continue the path of the ship AND properly align the land and water on the tile to the adjacent tiles, the player’s turn ends immediately and he places this tile in front of him. These tiles will result in negative points at the end of the game, but the player does have the option of placing these accumulated tiles during the course of the game, thereby reducing or even eliminating the potential of suffering negative points.
If a player successfully places a tile and it contains a section of land, he may place one of his scouts onto the land. Each player possesses eight scouts, ranging in value from 1 – 3 each. Ultimately, if a complete island is formed by one or more tiles, the player who possesses the most scouts on that island earns victory points equal to one point per tile comprising the island. If an island fails to completely form by the end of the game, or if both players tie for the most scouts, no points are earned.
If a square of the grid becomes completely surrounded by other tiles, the correct piece which will fit into that space is automatically placed. It is possible that entire sections of the board will be rendered inaccessible, which usually results in some islands being destined to be incomplete at game’s end. The game ends once all areas have been explored, of if the tile supply depletes. The player with the most victory points is the most renowned explorer and wins the game.
In spite of its simplicity, there are a few choices to be made. Since forming islands and obtaining the most scouts on the islands are the key objectives to the game, choosing the starting location for the ship on each of your turns is very important. The idea is to place the ship in a location that will maximize the chances of successfully placing a tile, as well as increasing your chances of successfully forming an island, or closing one wherein you have the majority of scouts present. Certainly, there is no guarantee you will reveal a tile that you need to accomplish these objectives, but you have to play the odds.
Choosing whether to place one of your scouts and, if so, which one, is also an important decision. Since each player only possesses a total of 8 tiles, it is quite likely these will expire before the game does. A player must assess which islands will be worth contesting, and which ones to leave vacant.
A final factor to consider is the acquisition and subsequent placement of “un-playable” tiles. As mentioned earlier, if a player is unable to place a tile on his turn, he keeps that tile in front of him. On a subsequent turn, the player may opt to place one of these tiles as opposed to drawing one at random. This can certainly prove advantageous as if a player possesses the correct tile, it will enable him to place the tile he needs and avoid negative points at the end of the game. However, there is a cost. In order to place one of these tiles, the player must forfeit one of his scouts. Still, this is often worth the cost. Thus, one tactic to exercise early in the game is to place the ship in a position where it is unlikely that you will draw a tile that will be playable. This will give you a tile that you can use later in the game when the proper situation arises.
I’m not sure gamers are going to give Oceania a very good reception. It is very light and quite simplistic. The decision pool isn’t very deep. However, it could well be a decent game to play with folks who haven’t been exposed to many games beyond most of the fare found at Toys’ R Us or other giant toy stores. I can envision that this is a game I might have played with my wife when we were dating or shortly after being married. I’m not sure the game will have a long shelf-life, however. As folks become exposed to games with greater depth, it is likely the game will be relegated to the dark corners of one’s closet.