The Swarm: Don’t mess with seaples!

 Author ianoble    Category Reviews, The Swarm     Tags ,


Not too often would a game with only 1 review on BGG interest me enough to purchase it, but The Swarm has a few things going for it that many of those other games do not. For starters, the designers Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer (Tikal, Tikal II and the soon-to-be released Artus) are two of the most respected and accomplished boardgame designers in the industry. Secondly, the theme is simply very unique. Each player in the role of leading a research team set on discovering the unknown marine life that has started to destroy the ecosystem. Fortunately The Swarm popped up on Tanga one day so I decided to pull the trigger.

Conclusion spoiler (For those who like to get to the point)

Stunningly beautiful artwork. Straightforward rules. Moves quickly, maybe too quickly. 2 player experience isn’t as challenging, but still plays similar to having more players.

Brief rundown of the rules (Skip if you know how to play)

2 player setup

Each round is broken down into 2 phases. The first is pretty quick and just involves each player building their hand of action cards to use in the second phase. This phase works the same in a two player game as it does with three or four, but with just less cards to choose from. All of the available action cards are placed around the board followed by 2 of 6 special, more powerful versions of the action cards, 1 research station card and then turn order cards (1 for each player). Each person takes turns picking a card with the first one being free then each card after that costing +1. So if there is a card that the player really needs he can select it, but he would have to pay for it in research points.

Something to note here is that each player starts with 20 so in the first round you can jump ahead and cherry pick a card. The first person to select one of the turn order cards gets to choose 1 of 4 special ability cards to use for this round only. Those range from giving the player an extra tile, allowing them to move their ship 4 spaces rather than 3, protection from attacks and an extra point for each researcher in their connection (we’ll get to connections shortly). Each player gets one of these cards, but the first player gets the benefit of choosing the precise card that he wants.

After each player has selected all of the cards, the first player plays one of the following cards and performs its action:

- Place a researcher on a research station OR
- Place tiles on open sea spots, connecting to either that player’s research station or boat

- Add a ship to the board, adjacent to a research station or move an existing ship 3 spaces. Each space the ship leaves take the sea tile and place it in front of you (to be placed using the researcher action).

Research station
- Place a research station and a researcher on any unoccupied land tile. This allows you to make longer connections and also gives the potential for bonus points at the end of the game if you can connect multiple sides of the board with one connection.

- Place the crab(eeple?) on any land tile, if it is not already on the board. Then move the crab clockwise around the board, skipping your own research stations, as many spaces as indicated on the card. For every opponent’s research station, that player takes damage.

- Either place a new whale(eeple?) on the Swarm Queen space in the middle of the board or use an existing whale on the board. Move up to the number indicated on the card. If you enter a space with an opponent’s boat, that player takes damage.

- Either place a new tsunami on the Swarm Queen space or use an existing tsunami already on the board. If the tsunami was placed for the first time, move it any one direction up to the number of spaces indicated on the card. If the tsunami was already on the board, you must move it so it either reaches land or moves on the board in the number of spaces indicated on the card. Any space the tsunami enters with either an opponent’s boat or research station causes damage to that opponent.

As you can see there are three different ways to inflict damage on opponents. Damage is calculated by space on the score track the opponent is on. Each space on the score track has a number of amoebas pictured on it. That is the number of points the player attacked will lose as well as the number of points the attacker will gain. This means there can be large point swings if one player is attacked twice in one round.

You might be wondering how all of this comes together. Basically you are using your ship actions to collect tiles that you’ll use to build connections to your research stations. Ultimately trying to connect all of your research stations and the Swarm Queen together with one long path of tiles. While also knocking your opponent down in points with the seaples.

Whale wreaking havoc!

Final thoughts after first few plays


This is a hard game to explain in writing because it really has to be played through a round to really understand how everything comes together. That being said, I was able to explain the rules to Lisa in just a few minutes once we got all the components setup. Playtime was only about an hour. For all of the really beautiful artwork, stunning board and very very cool wooden pieces, this is really just an abstract game. Considering that I don’t really like abstract, this one worked for me. The actions are limited enough to make it feel challenging to get all your tiles connected, but most of the time you don’t feel stuck. The attack cards cannot be ignored as hitting your opponent twice with one card can be devastating, especially if the attacker is already in the lead. Obviously playing with more players will make the number of places you can research and the amount of open ocean spaces decrease, but playing with 2 was still very competitive and interactive.

All in all, this is a pretty cool game that does a few things differently than anything else in my collection. I’m looking forward to playing it more 2 player and definitely with 3 or 4.

I hope you enjoyed this review. To find out when new reviews and articles are available, simply follow me on Twitter @ianoble.

Lisa documenting her victory

2 Comments to “The Swarm: Don’t mess with seaples!”

  • Chris K. April 17, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Thanks for the good review! From what you’ve said, I think I’ll hold off on The Swarm for a bit – my local FLGS has had a copy for awhile, but I’d like to try it before I buy it. Hopefully I can get a play in at Origins in a couple of months. I love the Seaples, though!

    You should have totally posted the picture of Lisa celebrating her victory. ;)

    • ianoble April 17, 2011 at 10:26 am

      Probably a good plan trying before buying. Definitely not a game for everyone, but I’m glad I was able to pick up a copy for cheap.

      Added the picture of Lisa. ;)

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