Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Review: Submarine

Leo Colovini's new game is called Submarine. In Submarine, up to five players send their bathyscaphes under the ocean waves in a race to recover artifacts from the lost city of Atlantis.

Submarine is one of a new line of games from Rio Grande Games and Winning Moves. It comes in a smaller box (about 8 inches square and roughly an inch and a half deep) but it packs a lot in such a small package. Inside the box is a full sized game board depicting the undersea ruins of Atlantis. You'll also find a deck of 75 half-sized cards; the same size as found in Ticket to Ride, and Attika, to name just two. There are also five sets of wooden markers: representing a recovery ship and five bathyscaphes for each player. Rounding out the contents are small game boards for each player and a set of sixty five round cardboard disks depicting 12 different treasures and one "joker" in each of five colors.

The rules for Submarine are printed on a single glossy full color sheet of paper, folded in half to form a four page rulebook. The rules are very simple, just the way I like them. You can easily just gather everybody around and read the rules together in five or ten minutes. Here's a brief summary to give you an idea for what the game is like.

The game board is divided up into a grid with six columns and five rows (one of which is above water and represents the surface, the other five are all below water and represent various depths).

Each player is given one of the jokers (which looks like the other treasure disks but has a picture of a muscle on it instead of a treasure). The treasure disks are randomly distributed on the board so that there is one disk on each of the first underwater rows, two disks on each of the second underwater rows, etc. The deeper you go, the more treasures there are to recover in each space, but the more expensive they become as you'll see later.

Each player gets their own supply deck of around a dozen cards (the exact number depends on how many players are in the game). Each card bears one of five colors that match the colors on the treasure disks. From that deck of cards, each player draws a hand of three cards. These cards will be used to recover treasures. After each turn, you draw from your supply deck to bring your hand back up to three cards (provided there are enough cards in your supply to do so).

Players take turn placing their bathyscaphes on the board and then the game begins.

On your turn you first move your recovery ship to a column in which you have one or more bathyscaphes and then you may take one action for each of your bathyscaphes in that column. Each bathyscaphe may either recover treasures or move. Moving is simple, either move your bathyscaphe to any other column, or move it up or down one row. Recovering treasure is also simple but it comes at a cost. For each treasure you recover you must discard one card from your hand with a matching color. If there are bathyscaphes belonging to another player between you and the surface (at your level or higher on the board) then you must give up some of the cards from your supply deck: two cards for each of your opponents' bathyscaphes. Those cards go directly into your opponents' supply decks. The cards are effectively a currency. Your supply decreases every time you recover treasure and it increases every time you are in a position to collect a toll from one of your opponents.

In lieu of paying any recovery fees, you can simply replace a treasure with your joker. The joker then becomes available for recovery, just like any other treasure. Also, any time you recover more than one of the same type of treasure, the excess treasure behaves just like a joker. Very often it is possible to recover a joker or a duplicate treasure "for cheap" from one of the shallow locations and then turn around and swap that joker for some expensive treasure deep down that otherwise might have been too expensive to recover.

The winner is the first player to recover the most treasures when the game ends. The game ends when one player has collected a full set of twelve treasures, or if all treasures have been recovered from a column, or if no player has enough cards to recover any more treasures.

Submarine is a game of simple mechanics and moderately deep strategy (if you'll pardon the pun). There is very little luck involved and there is plenty of potential for clever play. It's simple enough for the whole family to learn and short enough to play a couple of times in an evening. All in all, I'm quite happy with it. It's a little bit light for a Colovini game but that can definitely be a good thing. It's definitely a worthy addition to any family game collection.


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