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Subject: A fun combination of strategy and "Gotcha!" for older children rss

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Pete Belli
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Sea Monsters is a children's game with an age of exploration theme. It was published in 2007 by Briarpatch and is designed to be enjoyed by 2, 3, or 4 kids at least five years old. I paid three dollars for my copy at the thrift store.





The object of the Sea Monsters game is a simple race challenge across the Atlantic Ocean. The first player to reach the New World is declared the winner. While it might appear to be just another roll-and-move game there are decisions to be made by the players during the competition. Movement is based on the result of a single die roll but since there will usually be several options available to the player mindless space counting is avoided. The quirky sea monster die and the event cards add some interesting wrinkles.





The board is a simplistic representation of the Atlantic Ocean, the coast of Western Europe, and parts of the New World. I really liked the map for a couple of reasons. First, it is attractive and fits the theme. More importantly, it could offer younger players an entertaining introduction to the geographic locations of the colonial powers, their historic flags, and a cartoonish illustration of the exploration of the New World. I'm serious about the educational elements of this game. I can assure you with complete confidence that a large percentage of the American public -- and we're talking about adults here -- could not recognize the flag of Spain.





Each player has three ship tokens. Since the result of the movement die can be divided among the vessels however a player chooses, there will frequently be meaningful decisions after a roll of the dice. Movement is relatively unhindered (no diagonal course changes, though) and only the land spaces are prohibited.

I should mention that the components in Sea Monsters are sturdy and should be able to absorb a lot of abuse from energetic children. The cards are thick; the board and tokens are solid. My thrift store copy had obviously been played but still looked good.





At the beginning of the game each player receives a "Port of Call" card which indicates the destination for this voyage. These four colonies (roughly corresponding to Canada, New England, the Caribbean, and Brasil) help a player chart a course at the start of the game but an unlucky "Typhoon Card" can blow a ship off course and force that player to exchange destinations with another player. I developed a strategy (Yes, there is strategy in this game for five-year-olds!) of sailing along the center of the board... this kept my options open if a switch was required and helped to deceive my opponent about my actual destination in America.

The lower end of the publisher's suggested age range might be a little optimistic to me. The cards have quite a bit of text and a satisfying play experience would require an adult or older sibling to read the instructions on these cards. There is also a frustration element that could be a problem with young players. More on that later when we discuss the sea monster rules





The blue movement die contains Sea Monster images and this result will force the player to roll the green Deep Sea die and check for a random event. Two of the results require a player to draw a Typhoon Card and follow the instructions. The event could be Blown Off Course (mentioned earlier) or Drifting Out To Sea which allows a player to another explorer's ship. The most exciting card activiates a sea monster!





The nasty sea monsters begin the game lurking quietly under the surface of the ocean. When the monsters are activated by a die roll the player could move one of these beasts up to three spaces. A ship attacked by a sea monster must return to its home port in Europe. After this rampage the sea monster slips back beneath the waves until it is activated again.

There are important tactical choices to be made with these sea montsers. Obviously, it would be advantageous to attack an opponent's ship which is close to a Port of Call and send it back to Europe. Other options are available when no enemy ship is in range. The number one priority is positioning a sea monster along the enemy's presumed route so the leviathan can be used on future turns. The second priority is moving a sea monster away from your estimated course to the New World, forcing your opponent to waste time getting the beast back within striking distance.

I mentioned the frustration apsect. Young children might get upset when a ship is repeatedly sent back to the start space. My opponent -- a lady of high intelligence who has personal experience in these matters -- told me that in her opinion the average kid who was five or six years old would have trouble with this.

The is another strategy element here. Two ships may occupy a single space so a clever navigator will position his ship in the same square as an enemy vessel. This will probably prevent the enemy from attacking with a sea monster. In addition, the island spaces are safe from an attack by one of these beasts, so a wise captain will seek shelter in that square.





The play experience is enjoyable until something ugly happens. In our sample game a French ship was turned back by a sea monster just a few leagues away from its destination in the Caribbean. Two of the eight Typhoon Cards permit a player to attack an enemy vessel anywhere on the board. These psychological "nukes" can wreck a player's strategy and this rule was the only serious flaw I found in the game.

I could strongly recommend this game with a quick disclaimer about the WMD sea monster rule. There is quite a bit of strategy here and plenty of decisions for children to make. I'd say any well-adjusted kid at least eight years old would be thrilled to play Sea Monsters.

I'm not all that well-adjusted (and I'm a middle-aged Geek) but I would be delighted to try it again.
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Mike Heine
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Pete. Thanks much for reviewing this one. I had been on the fence and passed on it in the past, but decided to pick it up today at the local Goodwill.
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