An In-Depth Look At Ocean Crisis: Frontline Defence

An in-depth look at the newest Ocean Crisis co-op game, Frontline Defence.

Ocean Crisis: Frontline Defence is the next in the Ocean Crisis line of games. While this one is still co-op and shares the same theme, Frontline Defence is more of a smaller,  faster experience while lowering the age on the box to 6+ and upping the player count to 2-6 players. 

How to Play It

Frontline Defence is played over 6 rounds, if you can survive all 6 rounds with at least one empty space in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (there are 4 trash spaces) you win the game. 

Just like Ocean Crisis, players will be placing meeples at the same time, and then taking turns completing actions. In between rounds, trash tokens will flow downriver and new ones will come out. On your turn, players can either take a special action card that will either give them a one-time or ongoing special action, or they place their meeples along the 5 tile river to clean-up the trash. When taking the clean-up action, players will roll a die and see if it’s equal to or higher than a trash token number. If the die rolled is equal to or higher than the token, the token is taken out of the river (and out of the game). If the die roll is lower than the token, it is downgraded to a lower number (it cannot be downgraded more than once) and remains in the river. Once all actions are completed, the river flows, and trash can move into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (which you don’t want). Then you set up a new round according to a new round card – you do have to watch out as some rounds say if you have X number or trash tokens or more on a given tile you get extra trash on it.  You pretty much go on like this until either you fill-up the garbage patch and lose (just like normal Ocean Crisis)  OR you make it to the end of the 6th round and then see if there is at least one single empty space in the Pacific Garbage Patch to win. HOWEVER, even if you make it to the end of the 6th round, you are not safe. As one final action, you roll a die and must move any trash on a tile that matches the die roll into the garbage patch. 

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A Few More Notes on How its Played: 

A couple of quick notes. First, there are 6 different colored meeples (and a white one that is a neutral meeple that can be earned from a special action card) – and different player counts use different meeples – so in a 2-player game one player will have 3 colors and the other player has the other 3 colors (there are color badges you place in front of you to remind you what colors you are). However, in the 4 and 5 player games, you get to add ocean vacuum(s) equipment (there are two vacuums, and each one works differently) to help you move trash since each player has fewer meeples (not all 6 are used in those counts).  Also, there is an advanced variant which is simply mixing all 6 round cards together, out of order, so you never know what is coming. 

This time around Shepherd Kit increased the number of special ability cards (called Enhancement Cards in the rules). The cards themselves are a mix of one-time use and ones that you will keep for the whole game. To get those cards though, you need to place one of your meeples on it, instead of on the river and potentially getting rid of the trash, so it comes with a risk. In the normal game of Frontline Defence, you may have some time the first few rounds, before things pile up and you don’t have the luxury to get cards. Also, most of the ability cards are laid on the board, in 3 rows (rows I, III, and III) and the cards cannot be turned face up until the two cards in the above level, are taken. So it takes a while to get to the stronger cards. One final note on the ability cards, there is always one in each of the rows, so you can never be quite sure the card you may want is in the game. 

Something new this time around is the Rounds 2-6 cards have an ‘increment threshold limit.’ Different rounds have different limits. An example is in Round 4 – any of the five river tiles that 3 or more trash on it will get an extra trash token added to it (this part of round setup is done after you dole out the trash for the round). 

You can read the full rules here: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/187997/frontline-Defence-rule-book-english

Thoughts on the Play

Though a smaller faster lighter game, Frontline Defence, still has an Ocean Crisis “feel” – I mean the ideas of trash moving down a river and being added to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how you remove that trash is still the same. Of course, this time around there aren’t multiple rivers or an ocean wheel, or path laying, but you still have to clean up (or downgrade) trash, and you still all play at the same time, etc. 

My initial thought of the game after playing it the first time was that it was MUCH easier than normal Ocean Crisis. My Kindergartener and I were able to win the game with only 1 of the 4 trash spaces at the Garbage Patch full (you lose if all 4 spaces are full). Other impressions were that the round set-up is easier and faster, the game also doesn’t take up a lot of room on the table, and things move pretty fast and streamlined. HOWEVER, I also learned that we played wrong during this game. When you collect a power card that is unlimited you are supposed to put your player color shield on it – only the color meeple whose shield that is on the card gets it – even if the player has multiple meeples. Another thing we overlooked is the one-time use cards can be used to help another player and then discarded. 

I have played a few times since then. We played a 4-player (2 adults, 5th grader, and Kindergartener) and lost badly – like didn’t even make it to the final die roll, lost. Even with 2 vacuums, having only 4 meeples makes it a risk to go for cards, which players went for. I have played 3 players a couple of times, including with the 5th grader and 2 adults, and its come down to the die roll. The last time I played was with just the 5th grader and we kicked the games’ butt – we not only won, but there was zero garbage on the game board at the end. In that game, a lot of the cards were taken. Next time we play just two-players, we need to try the advance variant. 

When it comes down to it – it’s all about that last die roll that ends the game. With the exception of one gameplay, all the other games we have played survive until the sixth round – and then you roll a die after round 6. Any trash on the tile that matches the slot number on the die, is taking to the Pacific Garbage Patch. You are really winning or losing the game via that die roll. Now I would assume the publishers and others will argue it’s not all luck, as you need to take care of all the trash downriver, to make sure that die roll doesn’t hurt you in the end. And, I can see that point – but it still comes down to a die roll.

Answering Some Questions

  • Should I get this if I already have Ocean Crisis or over Ocean Crisis?

As far as getting this on over Ocean Crisis – it depends on what you want. If you are looking for a super-fast co-op game, with simple choices this could work for that. However, you are going to get more depth in Ocean Crisis, because there is MUCH more going on in that game, compared to this one. They have a similar feel, it’s just one is lighter. Ocean Crisis itself is one of the best family co-op games out there. However, if you are playing with little ones… well, read on… 

  • Which one should I get if I want to play with ages 4 ½ to 6 ½?

Even though this game is a list at 6+ – I think 4 ½-year-olds and 5-year-olds can handle this (my 5-year-old does) – however, they will need adult help, with what cards do, etc. Actually 7 and 8 years old may as well, the cards use iconography, and you need to look them up in the back of the rules, until you get used to the game, and learn what is what. That may take a few games.  If you plan on playing this game with 5 or 6-year-olds then I would choose this one over the bigger brother Ocean Crisis. There are easier choices to make, either go for trash or take a card. It players faster. ALSO, it players up to 6 people. There are not many good co-op games for that age range that I am aware that play to that high of a player count. 

  • What about solo?

Frontline Defence has listed 2-6 players, however, since it is a co-op, it can be played solo. I  did try it with just me playing all 6 meeples. It plays fast, however, it is a little too easy. The issue is with you having control over all the meeples, it is easier to take care of any issues you see coming up, as well as get cards. I suspect if you want to play solo it can be made harder by only allowing 5 meeples and random rounds, but I don’t know for sure, as I didn’t try it that way. 

  • You mentioned it may be harder 4-player. If I am only going only to play with 4-players, should I get this? 

That is a question I really cannot answer, as I have only played 4-players once. 

 

Final Thoughts

I have enjoyed playing Frontline Defence with my kids. I really enjoy the new ‘increment threshold limit.’ This new mechanic to the Ocean Crisis series is what brings the tension Frontline Defence because it is what is causing things to pile up so fast since you only have 6 rounds. It’s the heart of what makes the game work. In the end, though you can do really well all the way to the end of the game, then lose due to a roll of the die. While the game has its fair share of luck with the die rolls, that final “Do I win the game?” roll, while it brings a serious don’t breath moment to the game, also makes it feel maybe a bit too lucky. And when you think about it after the roll, it feels anti-climatic.  Though I will say that I haven’t played the advance variant, where you mix the round cards, so that may make the game harder, but I suspect even then at a majority of the games come down to the die roll. That isn’t to say it’s not fun, we have enjoyed our time (as I mentioned above), and I would be willing to play again if the kids really wanted to play. Just like Ocean Crisis, I love the theme of the game, and the message it is sending. I also am really  looking forward to the next bigger game in Kid’s Shepard Environmental line – Rangers of The Protection Forest

 

Meeple-Sized Summary

Frontline Defence, is the perfect co-op game for my Kindergartner, and I imagine we will be playing it a bit in the near future. It will be going on her shelf of games in my board game room, which is ‘Papa approved.’ For that age group, I give it a recommendation for sure.  However, if I want to play a co-op game with her older siblings, I will be reaching for Ocean Crisis or another co-op game. 

 

Frontline Defence will be released at Spiel Essen 2019. 

 

Thanks to Shepard Kit for sending a review copy of Frontline Defence for an honest review.