Teaching Evolution Through Board Games
Playtime: 60 minutes
Teach time: 25 minutes
Game difficulty: Medium
Timespan: around the Cambrian period
Key educational concepts: evolutionary arms race, adaptation, interspecies interactions
Favorite rules video: Watch it Played- How To Play
Create your own cards template: FILE
In Oceans, players evolve their species to outsmart other player’s species competing for the same limited food. To get an edge in an ever-changing ecosystem, players can adapt their species to the multitude of predators, increase their foraging efficiency or reproductive rate. Avoid other predators by evolving inking, transparency, speed, or schooling. Points are scored for populations of your species and for the species you left at the game end. The player with the most points wins.
Oceans is a card driven game where every card has multiple uses. Each turn, players draw their hand up to six cards. They play one card to create a species, add a trait to an existing species, or migrate fish about habitats. You then feed one of your species (either attacking another species or foraging in the reef). Then you age all your species removing one* fish from its population (*sometimes this is more based on other abilities). Any species with no population go extinct at the end of your turn. Then other players take their turns. It is worth pointing out that Oceans, and other games in the Evolution series, possess the most amazing artwork. The imaginative and bright watercolor art perfectly weaves the elegance of gameplay with its evolutionary theme.
Learning and teaching the game
Oceans is a reasonably easy game to learn and teach. Compared to our highest-rated game from some of the same designers, Evolution: Climate, Oceans is more streamlined and easier to learn.
Oceans has great value for use as an educational resource. However, the changes from other games in this series impede gameplay at larger player counts (turn-based vs. simultaneous play). Further, many changes central to the gameplay don’t make a lot of evolutionary sense. For example, the ability to cancel and reactivate the Cambrian Explosion, and the associated deep cards, makes little biological sense. This tactic is a crucial strategy to minimize someone with an overpowered deep species. Also, the loss of the explicit climate connections present in Evolution: Climate narrows the potential curricula topics in Oceans. With that said, we think this game is an excellent hands-on activity to complement a curriculum on evolutionary arms races and interspecific interactions.
Oceans is a phenomenal game full of rich strategic and tactical decisions. As stated above, it might be my favorite game in the series. However, for educational uses, I still believe Evolution: Climate is the best. I highly recommend this for most high-school and college students.
Comparisons to the Evolution series
Oceans represents the third major published iteration in the Evolution series of games (by North Star Games). The shared design history between Oceans and the Evolution series is apparent. However, Oceans is also quite different and merits its existence in a crowded market. There are four significant changes in Oceans compared to its ancestors. First, Oceans scales spatial context of the gameplay up from a single population with one watering hole, into a biome with many feeding sites. Second, each round an individual of your species ages, removing one of their population into your score bag. Third, you actively feed a single species each round (* some species break the rules and feed when others are feed). The feeding a single species per round changes the round-to-round calculus, from constant attention to all species to focusing on efficient feeders that require less frequent feeding. Lastly and perhaps most unique, the gameplay of Oceans is played over two eras. In the first era, you craft your species with the core evolutionary building blocks in ‘surface’ cards. Just as you get your menagerie of species flourishing and fine-tuned, the Cambrian Explosion happens. This allows players access to ‘the deep’ cards, which represent 120 unique cards, each feeling overpowered and game-changing. The explosive ‘deep’ cards instantly change the power dynamics established, allowing for a thrilling gameplay. As a pure strategy game, I am torn whether Evolution: Climate or Oceans is my favorite. Let’s give Oceans a few months for the newness to fade, and then I’ll revisit this post.
Box cover (Image credit: Dominic Crapuchettes)
A few of the surface cards (image credit: Dominic Crapuchettes)
A few species mid game (image credit: kalchio)
Game components (image credit: kalchio)
Images from 88 'deep' cards (image credit: kalchio)