Virgin Seas: Review

Fairway sends his ships to sea today in this review of a recent Kickstarter delivery from Grey Gnome Games, Virgin Seas

Virgin Seas is a two- to four-player, area of control game and card/tile placement games in which players control fleets of ships and attempt to capture as much territory (or loot) as possible.  I backed this game on Kickstarter and picked up the “Blackbeard’s Booty” add-on.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The game is deceptively easy to play: play a card, place a token, and resolve combat using a Rock, Paper, Scissors mechanic.
  2. Flat, vector illustrations are nicely rendered and fit well for the game.
  3. The rule book that came with the game missed a few things that have been subsequently corrected via a post from the designer.
  4. Plays pretty well through the range of player counts.

Game play ^

In Virgin Seas, players command fleets of ships attempting to take control of as much of the play area as possible.  At the start of each game, players take one of the four fleet decks and all of the color-matching ship meeples (shipples?). Each player then shuffles the fleet deck and draw the top three cards–this is their starting hand. In addition, depending on player count, a deck of Event cards is created.

The game now proceeds starting with a first player and going in clockwise order.  On a player’s turn, they must play one of the fleet cards from their hand, resolve any battles, and draw back up to three cards.

Fleet cards are played face-up to the center of the table and must be placed next to at least one other card (except for the first)–there’s also a dimension limit depending on player count. Most fleet cards have a “faction” icon and an attack type. There are also a few special cards: islands, fortresses and factionless cards.  When played, the player places his or her shipple on newly placed card (except for islands) and then battles are resolved.

From the Virgin Seas Rulebook

Virgin Seas resolves battles in a rock-paper-scissors manner based on two things: the faction and the attack direction. There are three factions and each faction can trump one other faction: red beats green, green beats blue, and blue beats red. Factionless cards will beat any cards when attacking, but lose to any faction when defending. This trump order is applied to ships that meet the attack type.

There are three possible attack types: single, orthogonal line-of-sight at any distance; adjacent orthogonal; and adjacent diagonal.  For the first kind, players can attack any ship in a direct line of single ship, including skipping over other ships, but not islands or fortresses.  The player replaces the other player’s shipple on that card with their own.  In the other cases, the player replaces any defeated shipples with their own.

Each fleet deck also contains a single fortress card. The fortress card will protect any shipples of the same color adjacent to it in the up, down, left or right positions.

Similarly, players can place an island card. Each player has three in their fleet deck–if players have placed all their island cards, the game also ends. These cards do not attack, but will score the number of points indicated on the bottom for the player who “controls” it at the end of the game.  Control is determine by the player who has the most shipples surrounding the island at the end–first in the up, down, left right directions, but using diagonals to break ties. We play with the Black Beard’s Booty expansion which also places gems on islands randomly drawn from a bag when cards are played around it. The gems score different amounts of points at the end depending on the color of the gem.

If a player places an island, they must also draw a card from the Event deck.  Event cards generally give bonuses (adding additional ships, moving cards, defense cards, etc.), but the deck also includes three Kraken cards. When all three have been revealed, the game ends.

When the game ends, the players tally up their scores.  Players score one point for any unused Event cards in their hand. Players also score the points for islands they control (or treasure in the Booty expansion).  The winner of the game is the player with the most points.

On the green ^

We really enjoyed our plays of this game.

Art. We really appreciated the art in the game. The illustrations for simple but detailed. The use of constellations for the Event deck was also a very nice touch.

Game play. This game is pretty easy to teach and relatively fast to play. There weren’t any really confusing mechanics to explain and even less experienced players caught on pretty quick. There were some things we struggled with at first, including the fact that already placed ships don’t factor into the RPS calculation other than for defense purposes. That is, when you place a ship, it’s not ever “attacked” by the surrounding ships. This greatly simplifies combat and decision making, in a good way.

Black Beard’s Booty. In my opinion, this expansion is really necessary. It adds another interesting level to the game. We don’t really play without it. The gems are nice quality, and the random nature of the loot makes controlling islands an interesting new level of decision making.

Strategic. The game is far more strategic than I had first though. Each deck has the same cards in it and they’re roughly “knowable” after a few plays. The fact that you can draw three to your hand helps mitigate bad draws (though not completely). But the real trick is to figure out good timing for playing islands.

Shipples.  I love them. That is all.

Where is comes up short ^

Rules and components. 
The rules that come with the game leave something to be desired. The publisher acknowledged that there were some missing elements (including how to factionless ships). The cards are also not the easiest thing to place and place bits on. They tend to shift. The cards also arrived slightly curved and no amount of placing them under gigantic law books seems to have resolved that issue perfectly.

Iconography. I appreciate the that each faction has a different shield and different color making it colorblind-friendly. However, they’re so small. And resolving quickly all of the various permutations of such small icons was hard. The color is double-encoded on the ship masts, but those are frequently covered by the shipples. Add to that that the three colors are also the colors of the players (red, blue, green), it’s a bit much.

Analysis paralysis and higher player counts.  At higher player counts, this game can devolve very quickly into players analyzing the multitude of Fleet card placements, which causes the game to drag a bit at those player counts. Conversely, the way the Event deck scales with players is 3 more for each new player, increases the likelihood of drawing one of the 3 Krakens earlier, thus shortening the game. Someone should do that math.

In the hole ^

Virgin Seas is another good game from Jason Glover and Grey Gnome Games. This small box game is filled strategy, especially for a relatively small and simple game. When combined with the fact games tend to play quickly and it’s easy to teach to new players, you know you have a winner.

 Virgin Seas is in the hole for a Par. ^






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