A prototype of the expansion was provided by the publisher; however, my opinions are my own
The components shown in this preview are prototypes – artwork, quality, and gameplay are subject to change
Released in 2020, Oceans is the newest entry in the popular Evolution series by North Star Games. This game allows players to simulate an oceanic ecosystem with creatures whose survival depends on their ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Players take turns creating, evolving, feeding, and aging their aquatic creations.
Legends of the Deep is an upcoming expansion for Oceans that introduces a bit of fantasy into the scientific ecosystem. It includes a deck of Legend Cards – beautifully-illustrated tarot-sized cards depicting a variety of divine creatures with powerful abilities. Many of these cards take inspiration from cultural myths around the globe.
The cards are introduced as a draft, after which each player has four legendary creatures in their hand to play. A player may have only one Legend Card in play at a time, and a population cost must be spent to activate it (similar to Deep cards in the base game).
The expansion will also include a Solo Mode, where players can face off against an automated opponent. I am not a solo gamer, so for this preview, I will focus on the competitive aspect of Legends of the Deep.
The competitive addition to Oceans: Legendary Edition integrates nicely with the original mechanics. It doesn’t add unnecessary complications or out-of-place gimmicks.
This expansion increases variability and strategic opportunity without increasing the game’s weight. The new abilities are easy to understand and integrate smoothly. Oceans already has plenty of variety in the Deep traits alone, but the Legend Cards allow players to have unique powers before the Deep traits can be activated. It gives strategic direction right away, allowing people to build a plan around their mythological creatures if they choose. This makes the first phase of the game more dynamic. Players can plan a strategy in the drafting phase, choosing cards that might be played in a sequence together. Alternatively, players might prefer to remain tactical and simply play and swap cards that best meet the environmental demands.
In my experience, the Legendary Cards don’t increase the game length – if anything, they speed the game up by giving players a significant engine boost early on and allowing the game to reach the Cambrian Explosion a round or two quicker than usual. The second phase of the game has always been the most interesting to me, so I appreciate that the expansion seems to help get me there faster.
Several notable artists were commissioned to illustrate the tarot-sized Legendary Cards, and the result is stunning. Despite the number of artistic contributors, these cards share a similar style. The base game (and from what I can tell, the entire Evolution series) features vibrant, watercolor-style art that reminds me of batik fabric. It is very distinctive and gives the game a unique visual identity. The new Legendary Cards do not share this art style. To be fair, this issue is present in the base game as well – the Deep Cards are not always visually cohesive with the Surface Cards. This doesn’t bother me but I feel it’s worth noting.
I heard about this expansion quite a while ago, and I remember being concerned about the shift in theme. I love Oceans as a scientific ecological simulation game. I was very hesitant to introduce anything to the game that veered it into fantasy territory – a theme that is ubiquitous in the board game hobby. While I felt fortunate to receive a prototype copy of the expansion material, I won’t lie – I was skeptical.
I am pleased to say that my concerns were put to rest after my first play. Despite the mystical slant, these cards essentially acted as Deep Cards+. The artwork and theme of the expansion have a fantastical tone, to be sure. To justify this, I imagine my section of the ocean as influenced by a unique culture or mythology that ties all the species together. I never felt these myths interfered with nor distracted me from the game’s core purpose. This remains a science-themed experience that revolves around balancing an intricate ecosystem and healthy population management. Biology still rules these waters.
This is the type of expansion I tend to enjoy. I already love the base game of Oceans so I was pleased to find that the Legend Cards don’t interrupt how the game functions. There is more asymmetry from the get-go with these cards. New life has been breathed into the pre-Cambrian Explosion portion of the game and that is incredibly refreshing. Despite my initial reservations, Legends of the Deep won me over.
If you’re interested in learning more, please check out the Kickstarter campaign for Oceans: Legends of the Deep.