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Writer, EFL teacher, web developer, amateur chef, and gamer. When out of the classroom and offline, Jay is eating homemade tacos on his balcony while reading a rulebook. He enjoys his expat life in Taipei. 

#27 Ocean Crisis (2019)

Designers: Chen Jhao-Ru, Hsien Pu-Jan, Lin Chi-Wei
Artist: Yang Meng-Jung
Publisher: Shepherd Kit
Published: 2019
Player Count: 2-5
Time: 30-50 minutes

Jack, Julia, Bean, and Fluffy have gone on numerous adventures; they’ve tracked Bigfoot, fought against a glutinous dragon, excavated ancient Egyptian ruins, and have even traveled through time. However, nothing has prepared them for the terror that sleeps beneath the sea—Garbage Island! Join the Shepherd Kit crew of adventurers as they work together to clean up their waste-ridden city and save their fellow citizens against the ever-growing horror of human waste. Will they be able to work together to clean the city, the rivers, and the beach in time?

Ocean Crisis is an educational co-operative family board game from Taiwanese board game publisher, Shepherd Kit. Players work together to clean the city, recycle waste, create stricter city ordinances, offer first aid to marine animals, engineer city roads, and save their local ecosystem.

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Components

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Yes. That is a paper bag. It is odd to begin a review with a picture of a paper bag, but Taiwanese publisher Shepherd Kit has done something quite commendable. Other than the plastic surrounding the game box, there is ZERO plastic in the game. No plastic bags. No plastic components. No spruces. Everything comes pre-punched and placed in these paper bags. Shepherd Kit has not only developed and published a board game about recycling but has also gone the extra mile to ensure the game itself is as eco-friendly as possible. If you have never seen a Shepherd Kit game, then you are in for quite the adventure. Shepherd Kit’s high level of quality in its games is something I hope all board game publishers aspire to reach and exceed.

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Hello, Adorable Insert. When game publishers care about all those little details, everybody wins. And yes, you can fit the expansion in the original base game box if you so desire. YES!

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Double-sided garbage tiles drive this game. Ocean Crisis comes with an excellent heavy linen bag to help store all those pesky garbage tiles that you will be drawing and cursing throughout the game.

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Four millimeters. Who makes a four-millimeter 29-page thick rulebook? Ocean Crisis is by no means a complicated game; it is a family game after all. Shepherd Kit filled this rulebook with dozens of pictures, clear examples, a comic, introductions to all the characters, and articles about how scientists are battling polluted beaches and oceans. WOW!

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To quite the great Hasan Minhaj: Oh, to be white!

To quite the great Hasan Minhaj: Oh, to be white!

Ocean Crisis has premium components without being over-produced. Thank you! Several Taiwanese board game publishers use the denser and brighter white cardboard in their games, but none of them look as bright or as radiant as Ocean Crisis. The white cardboard really brightens the game board as well as the overall gaming experience. The rulebook is 4 mm thick and very clear. The card stock is not that great, but Ocean Crisis really isn’t a card game. The cards are mostly placeholders and could have easily been cardboard tiles. The wooden components, especially the big dice, all have an excellent tactile feel to them. Most importantly, Ocean Crisis has table presence. Gamers and non-gamers will be stopping by your table, asking what game you are playing, and then ask how long until the next game. It is that gorgeous. This is how you make a family game. You make it bright and colorful, and the kids will come running to the table when you pull this off your gaming shelf.


Red 5 to Eco Base! Red 5 to Eco Base!

Red 5 to Eco Base! Red 5 to Eco Base!

Gameplay

Ocean Crisis is a co-operative game; however, unlike most co-operative games out there on the market, there is only one way to lose. Sadly, when teaching Ocean Crisis, I cannot go into my usual spiel of explaining the various ways to lose in a co-op game. Too many outbreaks? You die. Not enough cubes? You die. Not enough cards? You die. You die! You die! You die! (You really should make it to more of my game nights.) I do however appreciate the binary conclusion to Ocean Crisis. If you prevent Garbage Island from devouring your city for 6 rounds, you win; otherwise, pull up a chair, pull out the popcorn, and watch in captivating horror as Garbage Island consumes your beach, your suburbs, your river, and your city. Hide your kids! Hide your wife!

Gameplay in Ocean Crisis consists of 6 rounds. Each round consists of 5 phases.

1. Setup Phase - Look at the current face-up Round Card. Deploy garbage tiles to the designated locations along the three river sections and the ocean. Garbage tiles are randomly drawn from your sexy linen bag.

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2. Planning Phase - (aka The Meat) Players will discuss and plan where to place their Defense Team meeples or workers. Players simultaneously place all their workers. They either (A) construct roads from the Eco Base at the center of the city or (B) clean up garbage tiles along the three river sections or the beach.

3. Action Phase -

(A) Players at the Eco Base draw road tiles equal to the number of workers they placed. Any road tiles drawn by Neutral meeples at the Eco Base belong to the current starting player. Roads must start from Eco Base or be placed adjacent to previously placed road tiles. Players can openly discuss how to place their road tiles, but the tiles must be played in turn order. If a road tile connects to an Outer Location, the player placing the connecting tile immediately receives the bonus.

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Bonuses include: gaining unique player abilities, gaining more workers, immediately clearing all garbage tiles in river sections 2 or 3, activating the Water Purification Center (helps clean river section 1), activating the Ocean Vacuum (helps clean the ocean), or making the Research Center incredibly more efficient and thereby making garbage easier to clean.

(B) Players along the three river sections or along the beach may clean garbage tiles. Each worker rolls the die without pips (0, 2, 2, 3, 3, 5). If the die result plus the number of workers on said garbage tile is greater than or equal to the number on the garbage tile, the garbage tile is removed and placed back into your sexy linen garbage tile bag. Huzzah! If you failed in your cleaning attempt, flip the attempted garbage tile over to its reduced side. (The reduced side is always on less than the original side.) If the removed garbage tile was from the beach, place the rile on an empty slot in the Research Center. When the Research Center is full, players choose one of the 6 (or 4 if the Research Center Accelerator tile has been placed). The city government then passes a city ordinance and all future matching garbage tiles must be placed on their reduced value side.

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4. River Flow Phase - Garbage tiles in river section 3 move to the beach action. Garbage tiles in river section 2 slide to section 3. Garbage tiles in river section 1 slide into river section 2. If there is an overflow, the garbage tile moves along the river to the next section. If the Ocean is full, then the garbage tile is placed onto (and becomes part of) Garbage Island!

5. Ocean Current Phase - The pip die is rolled, and the Ocean Current Disk is rotated counterclockwise accordingly. If a garbage tile stops next to one of the two arrow locations, it drifts into Garbage Island. If Garbage Island is ever six-tiles long, all hope is lost and the players immediately lose the game (and their city). If hope remains, discard the current round card and begin the setup phase for the next round. If it is already the end of the sixth round, the Defense Team has saved the city from Garbage Island!

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Negatives

Random output in games, in many ways, can be like your first love—exhilarating, explosive, disheartening, and cruel. The core mechanic of garbage removal heavily relies on a die roll. There are ways to mitigate this randomness (more workers or bonus enhancement cards); however, this will be divisive among gamers. I don’t mind the tradeoff. The random output could crush your well laid out plans, but the thrill of the die roll speaks to so many child gamers—exciting instant binary feedback.

There isn’t too much strategic depth to the base game. Every round, you really only have two choices: build roads or clean up garbage. Even then, you are only building roads to become more efficient at cleaning garbage. There are difficult decisions to be made in the game, and they do appear more often the harder you make the game—more on that later. It is important to remember that Ocean Crisis is a family game; it isn’t supposed to burn your brain with complex strategic or tactical decisions.

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Final Thoughts

Ocean Crisis is not just good; it’s damn good—and as vicious as the mouth to Hell.

Ocean Crisis has so much going for it. The keystone to its strength of design is its strong use of theme. Everything from the art to the game mechanics strongly revolves around its highly approachable theme. I would argue that one factor that led to Pandemic’s now 10-year success was its highly approachable theme. Ocean Crisis shares this in spades. Who doesn’t want to help clean our environment, clean our oceans, and prevent Garbage Island from devouring your city?

Ocean Crisis is a gamer family game.

The Catastrophe Expansion is a must!

The Catastrophe Expansion is a must!

While you should NOT go into this game expecting high levels of deep strategic gameplay, there are difficult decisions to be made—especially if you play on difficult (or for the bravest of fools… impossible). Ocean Crisis also comes with three difficulty settings with an optional “impossible” first round card. The expansion, Catastrophe, also comes with special event cards that can be added in between the round cards for added difficulty. The base game is excellent in its own right; however, you really should explore the three mission and three scenario cards. (Catastrophe adds two more mission and two more scenario cards.)

Missions and scenarios add extra twists to the base game and really amp up the replay value and difficulty. An oil spill makes garbage tiles harder to clean. A shark swims in the ocean eating garbage tiles, but can die from overeating. A dolphin, once rescued and healed at the local hospital, will help you clean garbage tiles in the deep ocean. A 100-year-old sea turtle needs to lay her eggs, so you must help her keep the beach clear of garbage. Save a beached whale and more! Players can play with one added mission or one added scenario or both!

Even with the added scenarios or missions, game length still hovers right at that hour mark—perfect for family game night. That game time can naturally be cut down with experience. Ocean Crisis is a co-operative game, so it is prone to quarterbacking. I never really have this problem as I just don’t game with those people. While rogue players can sometimes destroy all chances of victory in co-operative games, Ocean Crisis is slightly forgiving with its players. Don’t worry. You can still lose—painfully and quickly.

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There is some randomness with the die rolls, but the added excitement and tension really add to the overall gaming experience. Every child I have played Ocean Crisis with, responded well to the die rolls and loved (and hated) those die rolls.

Overall, I cannot recommend Ocean Crisis enough. It is an excellent gamer family game and it is one of my first suggestions when gamers with kids ask me for recommendations.

In a market that is so overloaded with new games that people speculate whether or not there is a bubble, it is super refreshing to find superb niche board game publishers like Shepherd Kit. With a strong focus on producing high-quality educational family-friendly games, Shepherd Kit has been making a name for itself for several years in Taiwan with its “toy kits” that were marketed towards educational systems and children. Since 2015, they have been experimenting with board games. Paleolithic (2018) received positive reviews from critics and gamers for its simple yet deep gameplay. Ocean Crisis (2019) continues this success and has made Shepherd Kit one of the Asian board game publishers to keep an eye on in the years to come.

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TL; DR

Gamer: Cardboard East STRONGLY recommends Ocean Crisis for gamers searching for co-operative games that are age appropriate for their kids. OC is easily one of the best gamer family games on the market today. I would still recommend OC for gamers who are looking for fun co-operative games that can be both relaxing and tense.
Family: Cardboard East STRONGLY recommends Ocean Crisis for family game nights. Ocean Crisis is easily one of the best gamer family games on the market today. I have played this game with third graders with much success. The educational background of OC is an added bonus and allows OC to be more than just an already great gaming experience.
Party: Cardboard East does NOT recommend Ocean Crisis for the party environment; however it is simple enough for gamers and non-gamers to enjoy with a glass of their favorite booze. Cheers!

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