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Enter a vast, underwater cosmos: a mysterious interconnected world of tentacles, sharp teeth, and black ink, where your survival depends on your ability to adapt to the unexpected


  • 200 Population Tokens
  • 24 Species Boards
  • 1 Reef
  • 1 Ocean
  • 25 Scenario Cards
  • 120 Surface Cards
  • 89 Deep Cards
  • 1 Cambrian Explosion Card
  • 4 Player Screens
  • 4 Bonus Tokens
  • Instructions


Reef Variant: Oceans was originally designed to be played without Scenario cards and without the Deep . If anyone at the table has never played Oceans , we recommend playing the Reef Variant. Otherwise, prepare to venture into the Deep!

1 Place the Reef and the Ocean board in the center of the play area. Stack the species boards nearby.

2 Place the Cambrian Explosion card with the "Reef Variant" side face-down in the first Ocean zone.

Reef Variant: Place the "Reef Variant" side face-up.

3 Shuffle the Scenario cards and put 1 random Scenario card on the shelf of the 1st and 2nd Ocean zone. Return the rest of the Scenario cards to the box.

Reef Variant: Use Abundance and Fertile instead of 2 random Scenario cards.

4 Shuffle the Surface deck and deal 6 cards to each player, then place the deck face-down next to the Reef.

5 Shuffle the Deep deck and place two random cards face-up to form the Gene Pool.

Reef Variant: Skip this step.

6 Place the 60 reserve population tokens in the "reserve" zip-lock bag. These will get used in the last round of the game.

7 Create a supply of population tokens according to your player count (60 population + 20 population per player) and return any unused population tokens to the box.

  1. 2 player's: use these tokens (100 total)
  2. 3 players: use these tokens (120 total)
  3. 4 player's: use these tokens (140 total)

8 Roughly divide the supply of population tokens into 4 piles and place each pile into the 4 available locations: the Reef and the 3 Ocean zones. These piles do not need to be exact.

9 Reveal the top card from the Surface deck, and place it face-up to form the discard pile. Look at the Migrate number on the bottom left of the card, and move that number of population from both the Reef and the 1st Ocean zone into the 3rd Ocean zone.

10 Give each player a Player Screen.

11 The start player is the person who can hold their breath the longest. Give each player the correct Bonus Token according to their place in turn order. Place the token behind your Player Screen to score at the end of the game.

1st player2nd player3rd player4th player
2 players4 points0 points
3 players6 points4 points0 points
4 players7 points6 points4 points0 points

Object of the Game

The goal of Oceans is to thrive in an ever-changing ecosystem where food is scarce and predators lurk. The population of your species can grow by foraging from the Reef , attacking other species , or passively gaining from the Ocean .

So evolve your species to best ensure their survival. At the end of the game, you will score 1 point for each population token you accumulated over the course of the game.

The core rules of Oceans as explained in this booklet will get modified during the game

  • Scenario cards override the core rules and apply to every species in play.

  • Trait cards override the core rules and the Scenario cards, but they only apply to the species on which they are played. Most traits have an understood "This species" at the start of the textbox.

Game Play

Players take turns in clockwise order, beginning with the start player. Each player's turn consists of 4 phases:

  1. Playing Cards - Play 1 card (or 2 if the Cambrian Explosion has started)
  2. Feeding - Feed 1 species
  3. Aging - Age all of your species
  4. Drawing Cards - Discard & draw back up to 6 cards

Phase 1: Playing Cards

Play 1 Surface card during this phase if the Cambrian Explosion has not yet started. Once the Cambrian Explosion has started, you will play 2 cards (Surface and/or Deep). Cards may be played to evolve a species, or to migrate population.

In addition, you may remove traits from your species anytime during this phase. Surface cards are placed face-up in the discard pile and Deep cards are removed from the game. Check for anything that needs to be reevaluated now that the trait is no longer in play (Overpopulation, maximum trait count, etc).

Evolve: Most of your cards will be played as traits to evolve one of your species. You may play a trait on a new species or on an existing species.

Playing a trait on a new species:
  1. Take a free species board from the supply and place it so that the fish are facing away from you. A new species may be placed on either side of your existing species, or in between any two of your existing species.

  2. Place the trait along the dark-blue border on the left of the species board. The species is now in play and the trait is now active.

Playing a trait on an existing species:
  1. Place the trait along the dark-blue border on the left of an existing species board. The trait is now active.

  2. A species may have multiple copies of the same trait (trait effects are cumulative), but the maximum number of traits on any species is 3 unless a card explicitly allows for more.

An explanation of each of the 12 Surface traits can be found in the Reference Guide

Migrate: Instead of using a card to evolve, you will sometimes use a card to migrate population.

The number of population tokens you migrate is equal to the migrate number on the bottom left of the card you play.

Choose a board location; either the Reef or an Ocean zone. Discard a card from your hand to move population to the chosen board location from one other board location.

If the migrate number is greater than the available population, only move what is available.

Phase 2: Feeding

Choose 1 of your species to feed. It may either forage to take population from the Reef, or attack to take population from another species.

Important Feeding Rules

  • A species may not forage or attack unless it would take at least 1 population.

  • A species may not forage or attack unless it has an open space on its species board . A species may not take more population than open spaces on its species board.

  • You may never place a population token on the space with the fishbones unless it is the only available space on the species board.

  • Whenever possible, a species must take its total forage or attack value. You may not choose to take less to avoid overpopulation.

Forage: Add up the green icons on the traits of the feeding species to get its forage value. Take that number of population from the Reef and move them to the forager's species board.

A species that does not have any green icons on any of its trait cards automatically gets a forage value of 1.

A species may never forage if it has regardless of whether it has other forage icons.

Attack: Choose any other species to target for an attack - including your own! Add up the red icons on the traits of the feeding species to get its attack value.

Take that number of population from the target's species board and move them to the attacker's species board. A species that does not have any red icons on any of its trait cards automatically gets an attack value of 1.

A species may never attack if it has regardless of whether it has other attack icons.

There are several things that can happen during the feeding phase.

Phase 3: Aging

If the Cambrian Explosion has not yet started, remove 1 population from each of your species and place it behind your player screen in your score pile. If the Cambrian Explosion has started, place 2 population from each of your species into your score pile. Score all of your population if you cannot score the full amount.

A species goes extinct if it is not able to age the full amount. When a species goes extinct, discard all of its traits and put the species board back into the communal supply.


  • Although only 1 of your species will feed each turn, all of your species age!

  • If your species is reduced to 0 population on another player's turn, it does not go extinct. You will have an opportunity to feed it during your next turn before your aging phase.

Phase 4: Drawing Cards

Go through each of the following steps:

  1. You may draw 1 Deep card:

    • Draw the top face-up card from a Gene Pool pile. If a Gene Pool pile is emptied, flip the top card of the Deep deck face-up to form a new pile. OR

    • Draw 3 cards from the Deep deck. Choose 1 to keep in your hand, and place the others face-up on each Gene Pool pile.

  2. You may discard any number of Surface cards from your hand. You may not discard Deep cards.

  3. Draw from the Surface deck until you have a total of 6 cards in your hand (Surface and Deep). If the Surface deck runs out, shuffle the discard pile to form a new deck.

Your turn is now over, and play passes to the player to your left.

Core Concepts

Defensive Traits

Traits with black textboxes are defensive traits that may prevent a species from attacking it. Some defensive traits have a shell icon. Each shell icon reduces the number of population taken from an attack by the number in the shell icon.

Shell icons don't reduce the attack value of the attacking species, just the number of population it takes.

Species take 8 fewer population than their attack value when attacking this species

Adjacency Arrows

Every species in Oceans lives in the same environment: the left-most species of each player is adjacent to the right-most species of the next player. Many traits trigger based on the feeding of an adjacent species.

The arrow icon at the bottom of a trait refers to the species immediately adjacent to that side.


Feeding may trigger a gains icon on another species, including a species belonging to another player. When a species gains population, it takes the number of population in the blue gains icon from the 1st Ocean zone.

If the 1st Ocean zone is empty (or becomes empty), continue taking population from the 2nd Ocean zone, and from the 3rd Ocean zone if the 2nd becomes empty.

If the 3rd Ocean zone becomes empty, place the 60 "reserve" population into the 3rd Ocean zone so that every triggered trait is able to take the proper amount of population.

Feeding Example:

If the Tentacled species on the left attacks the Filter Feeder on the right, it will take 1 population from the Filter Feeder's species board.

Additionally, the species in the middle will gain 1 population from the Symbiotic trait, and gain 2 population from each of the Bottom Feeder traits (for a total of 5 population).

If the Tentacled species attacked again, it would take another population and the middle species would gain another 5 population (leading to overpopulation).


After each feeding, resolve everything that was triggered from the feeding, then check for overpopulation.

Overpopulation occurs if any species has a population token on the space with the fishbones. Each species that overpopulates loses population until only 5 population remain on the species board. The owner of the species may put the lost population in the Reef or in any one Ocean zone.

If a species overpopulates when resolving its own feeding, it may not feed again this turn even if it has a trait such as Tentacled that would normally allow it to feed again. Triggering another species to overpopulate does not end your feeding.

A species will overpopulate if it has a token on the fishbones when you check for overpopulation

Scenario Cards

Creatures must adapt for survival, not only to compete with other species in the ecosystem, but also in response to various environmental opportunities and threats that arise. These influences are represented by Scenario cards.

There are 2 types of Scenario cards. Blue Scenario cards have ongoing effects, and Purple Scenario cards have events that get triggered. Blue Scenario cards are active whenever there is no population in its Ocean zone.

Purple Scenario cards get triggered each time the Ocean zone is emptied. This might happen multiple times during a game if population is migrated (or moved because of a Deep card cost) back onto its Ocean zone.

Scenario cards activate when the last population is removed from its Ocean zone. Make sure to resolve everything triggered (like gains and overpopulating) before activating the Scenario card.

Scenario Card Icons

Scenario cards are designed to change the feel of the game. Some Scenarios make it more difficult for your species to thrive. Others lead to more aggressive gameplay between the players.

We put icons on the Scenario card to help you tailor your game. During setup, make sure to remove any Scenario cards that might hinder your group's experience.

Scenario cards with the teeth icon create a more aggressive environment

Scenario cards with the diamond icon are more complex

Scenario cards with the lightning icon are events

Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian Explosion is a period in Earth's history when a proliferation of new species came into existence. It took place over 500 million years ago and lasted for about 25 million years.

Scientists don't know what caused the Cambrian Explosion but it was likely due to an increase in oceanic oxygen levels.

The Cambrian Explosion starts when the 1st Ocean zone becomes empty, and continues until the end of the game. Remove the Cambrian Explosion card from the 1st Ocean zone as a reminder that it will never be deactivated.

If the Cambrian Explosion begins during a player's playing cards phase, they may immediately play a second card (Surface or Deep). If it begins afterwards, they may not return to their playing cards phase to play a second card.

During the Cambrian Explosion:

  • You play 2 cards per turn instead of 1.
  • You score 2 population during aging instead of 1.
  • You may play Deep cards as well as Surface cards. Deep cards have an extra cost.

The Deep

Lurking deep below the surface lie mysteries so bizarre they seem unnatural when first discovered: massive predators, glowing horrors, and beautiful luminescent creatures.

These species hardly seem possible in the realm of biology, and yet they turn out to be real. The Deep represents the wonder of scientific discovery, with traits ranging from actual marine biology to the fantastic. Venture into the deep at your own risk!

Every card in the Deep is unique, powerful, and has a cost if you use it to evolve a species! They may be played to evolve a species or to migrate population.

To evolve a species:

  1. Pay the cost of the Deep card you are about to play by moving population equal to its migrate number from your score pile to the Reef or any one Ocean zone.

  2. Place the Deep trait on a new or existing species.

To migrate population:

You do not need to pay a cost when using a Deep card to migrate population. Remove the card from the game after playing it.

Tailored for You

The Deep is unique in its design. You can tailor it to your personal tastes without hurting the balance of the game.

After each game, we encourage you to remove any Deep cards you didn't like. Additionally, you can add cards (even multiple copies) that bring you joy.

Over time, you can create a version of Oceans that will produce the experience most fun to your game group; a legacy of your adventures in the Deep!

End of the Game

The last round of the game is triggered immediately when every Ocean zone is completely empty of population. Place the 60 population tokens from the "reserve" zip-lock bag into the 3rd Ocean zone and continue playing as normal.

The game ends when the final player in the turn order completes their turn, even if there is still population in the Reef.

Players score:

  • 1 point for each population in their score pile.
  • 1 point for each population on their surviving species.
  • the points listed on their Bonus Token.

The player with the highest score wins.

In case of a tie, the tied player with the most trait cards on their species wins. If there is still a tie, the first person to get a job on a fishing boat in Alaska is the winner!

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