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Do you want to rebuild a coral reef?

Open Ocean

First time designer and illustrator Joel Bodkin smashes onto the scene with this beautiful tile drafting/laying game. 

WBG Score: 8.5/10

Player Count: 1-5

Published by Featherstone Games

Designed by Joel Bodkin

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Fallen Deep

I first saw this game on Instagram and the visuals immediately captivated me, so, I signed up on the designer's website to get a print and play file. I would encourage anyone with access to a printer to do the same. 

I spent an evening slowly printing, laminating and cutting the pieces out. There are a fair few and it took a while, but I find this process quite enjoyable and slip into a calm state that I am rarley in during the rest of my life!

I finished making the game around 1am, and then played till 3am, chattingthe entire time with Joel, the designer! 

He has so much passion for what he has done, and I was captivated by his enthusiasm and excitement for the game. 

Stop gushing and tell me about the game already!

Alright, so the game plays beautifully. I have played solo many times and the two player with my wife. The games plays up to five and it is very easy to pick up for younger players.


The mechanisms are simple: You start with a piece of coral that is unique in colour to you, then acquire new fish, coral, sharks, dolphins and turtles tiles to expand your reef. You are looking to gather schools of fish and gain as many colours of coral as possible. Lay a new piece of coral and a new small fish immediately comes over to your forming habitat. Lay a small fish and a medium fish joins them. A medium tempts in big fish. Simple. 

You acquire the tiles from the central ocean reserves. As you expand your reef the fish and other animals are attracted to what you have created and come and join your new world. The theme is oozing throughout this game in looks, feel and mechanisms. 

You may not always have what you need in the central ocean pool, so laying a turtle allows you to refresh the eight tiles available here and choose one of the new ones. You can lay up to three turtles in your reef per game. 

Solo Reefs

As you become familiar with the game you can also add in habitat bonuses that get you extra points. This is how the solo feature works as you task yourself with completing the three tasks within three rounds. This adds a lovely extra in game challenge above just simple points scoring. You feel you are making a more specific and thematically accurate reef too, providing the local wildlife with exactly what they want. 

The game is live on Kickstarter now. Go check it out! We recenlty sat down withth Joel to talk about his background in the industry and how he feels about the kickstarter so far. 

Tell us about Open Ocean, how did it come about? 

Open Ocean was born from observing how everyone in my family plays games together.  We love playing games, but there is often a negotiation about what to play because we each enjoy something different.  Lily (7), loves pattern recognition and placement (her favourite game is Kingdomino and Azul); Walt (10), enjoys open and hidden info strategy and planning (he loves Splendor and chess) My wife Allison loves drafting, puzzles and light engine building (she loves Clank! and Quacks of Quedlinburg


I wanted to make a game where everyone thoroughly enjoyed one aspect of it.  That’s what Open Ocean evolved into over time, but it started out of a different drafting game that I was working on that is still waiting to be finished. Now I LOVE drafting games, I feel like they strike a great balance of strategy, reading the people you are with, and a little bit of serendipity.  But I felt like every time we played one as a family, the thing I missed most was the player interaction.  It always felt like we were playing multiplayer solitaire, and everyone became quiet as we played. 


I wanted those "Aw man you took my thing" moments.  I wanted the anticipation of those "Wow that was an awesome play that actually came together." moments. I also wanted to avoid too many take that mechanics because while fun for some, it ends up not being fun for all.   


One day on my drive to work, after a Protospiel weekend I had this idea for a shared pool of cards that everyone was competing for. It naturally lent itself to the idea of fish, and it all just came together quickly in my head. I sketched it out on a piece of paper in between meetings and I brought it home and pitched it to my kids. I was surprised when they both said, "Dad you have to make that game!" So, I made a quick prototype with free icons and card sleeves and we started to play with it! I took it to another Protospiel the next weekend and met some fantastic guys who loved drafting games. They were awesome and we sat and played, prototyped, changed rules and just talked about the experience for two hours and by the end of that we had about 80% of a game, and it was fun! 

I played it the next day with my kids and they loved it and had so many new ideas for additional cards and mechanisms because it was sea creatures! From there it's been a year of play testing and doing the art (which is one of my favourite parts) I took it to GenCon and showed it around to some folks.  They were very complimentary and said I should consider self-publishing it since it was 90% done already.   

That is a fascinting story. Thank you. You say the game is "fun", what do you think it is that makes it fun, unique and exciting? 

The Ocean - I feel like it strikes a great balance of strategy and surprise! You can see what you are going after when you choose your card but based on where you are in relation to the first player, it could be a gamble. 

Positive Player Interaction - Hate drafting is a thing, and honestly, it's not really that fun to be on the receiving end of.  I tried to create a point system and card interactions that focused on building your ecosystem vs penalizing others.  Even when you steal someone's creature from their reef with a dolphin, they still get a point.  It softens the blow but keeps it competitive for kids and families! 


Layered complexity - I wanted you to be able to dial up or dial down the complexity based on who was at the table.  So, I built in multiple ways to play with bonuses, habitat goals and depending on which stretch goals get hit, event cards that affect the draft.  

Solo Mode Drafting - This is one thing I'm particularly proud of because sometimes you just want to play a thinky puzzely drafting game by yourself. 

Well having played the print-and-play over 25 times now, I would agre ewith all of that. If you could play the game with any game designer who would it be and why?

Hard question!!  So many great people out there designing games. So if I was going to fill up a table of four I would have to say Mark Rosewater, because his "Drive to Work" podcast has had a huge influence on the way that I think about, design, and communicate what makes a great game to others.   Second would be Gabe Barrett from BGDL.  He's doing a lot right now to spread ideas, resources, and positivity in board game design and has been another driving influence and inspiration.  Third would be Nicky Case! They are an amazing game designer, but not necessarily of board games. They have this amazing site full of “explorable explainables” that help make really meaty and important concepts really tangible through bite sized digital games! Every designer should go and check it out because it really demonstrates the way that games can change the way people think about and show up in the world.   They’ve had a huge impact on both my personal and professional life and would love the opportunity sit any play with them!  

Great choices! What have you learned from developing this game? 

Invite people in before you are comfortable, especially your core audience. In my case I am making a casual game, and kids are my core audience and it has just been an absolute joy to have the chance to design with them. Put something on the table not knowing if it will work and ask people to help you. Be open listen to and write down any and all feedback and say thank you. Always show people what you did with what you gave them and say thank you again.  

Wise words indeed, and hopefully useful for others looking to start their first Kickstarter. What's needed for the game to be complete between now, end of Kickstarter, and the start of dispatching to backers? 


During the Kickstarter, I'm hoping we unlock new art stretch goals, and additional habitat bonuses, and new events cards.  This is where I need the KS community to help make this game the best it can be.  Ideally, I would love EVERY card to be unique so when your reef is on the table, it is truly one of a kind. I want to beef up the habitat bonuses so that Solo Mode play is even more challenging and varied each game!  

So the base game is done 98%. I need to make some tweaks to the rules based on some feedback and just minor packaging updates. 

I started this process with my manufacturing partner to make sure I wasn't designing something we couldn't achieve at a great cost. We have gorgeous prototypes that are production ready and deliver a game experience we are both proud of. 

If the campaign goes well, I'm working with my partners to be able to be deliver Open Ocean before the Holidays. We have a lot of collective experience in our day jobs in delivering on tight timelines, but don't want to over promise because there is a lot going on in the world that is out of our control that can cause delays. 

Well it has certainly started well and you have smashed your target on kickstarter, congratulations! How do you feel?! Did you think you would get this much support this quickly?

As a first-time board game designer and project creator I have been amazed and humbled by the overwhelming support!  I am thrilled to have Open Ocean funded in 24 hours and can't wait to get this game into people's hands.  I love making games, it is one of my favourite things to do and the opportunity to share that passion with the rest of the world literally is a dream come true!  I want to thank you personally for giving me a much-needed boost in motivation as I prepped for the campaign and I can't wait to meet up someday (hopefully soon) and play some games together!  

Likewise! It would be awesome to meet and play some games together one day. Good luck for the rest of the project. I can't wait to get my hands of a final copy. Please all do go and check out Joels kickstarter page here.  

open ocean
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