There's something in the ocean, and it's up to you to find it with ships and researchers. But there are also dangers in the sea. This is the premise of The Swarm, a decent but flawed combination of strategy and puzzle game for two to four players.

The board of The Swarm has swarm tiles, face down, on the ocean spaces and land tiles along the four sides of the board. Each player stars with a research station and one researcher. A research point track runs along the sides of the board, a turn order area shows the order of play, and action cards are placed along the side.

First, players use research points (which ultimately determine the winner) to buy action cards. The card at the left costs zero, the next one costs one research point, the next costs two, and so on. At the right of these cards are two special cards, a Research Station, and finally turn order cards (that determine the turn order for the next turn; they also let the player choose one of four special cards). Cards are purchased one at a time, and as they are bought the remaining cards are pushed left, so ultimately remaining cards cost nothing. And each player has a Wild Card that can be used once per turn

After all the cards have been bought, players play their action cards. The Research Station card lets a player place a Research Station, with a researcher, on a land space on the board. The Ship card lets a player place a ship next to a Research Station, then move their ship(s) a total of three spaces; as a ship moves over a face-down swarm tile the player takes that tile and places it in front of them. Danger cards let players place or move a Whale, Tsunami, or Crab to damage players through their Ships or Research Stations. Most important is the Researcher card, who lets a player add a researcher to a research station -- or place swarm tiles.

Players put swarm tiles on the board so their links (each has two to four links) connect with either a research station or a ship. A player can only place a number of swarm tiles equal to the number of researchers they have in play. Players earn research points for two- and three- link tiles, and at the end of the round players score research points based on their longest connected system. A player also puts their colored tokens ("buoys") on a placed tile, and other players can only join a placed tile by adding a tile with more links, or using the special "Golden Tile" card; these let players share the space. At the end of the game (after four turns for two players, three turns for three or four players), players also get points for connecting two, three, or four sides of the board by connected systems.

There is a good deal of strategy in The Swarm. Using the points that give victory to buy cards needed to achieve victory is an interesting mechanic. Tile placement is challenging, as creating long connected systems can be tricky; it's also impossible to truly block someone off. The Ship-Research dynamic is also challenging: You need to move lots of Ships to get the tiles for your connected systems, but you need lots of researchers to place them.

The Swarm also has its problems. The menaces aren't that menacing. If an opponent hits you with a Whale, Tsunami, or Crab, you lose research points (based on how high your score is) and the attacker gains the same number of victory points. However, since the score doesn't get very high until the end, the effect of this is minimal. There's also very little background to the game: Is the swarm alien or natural? Is it harmful, beneficial, or sentient? (The center tile is called the swarm queen.) Why is the Crab giant but the Whale and Tsunami don't destroy ships or research stations? (The novel by Frank Schatzing, on which this game is based, provides more information.)

The Swarm is more interesting than exciting, more planning than thrilling. This is one game I'll enjoy playing occasionally.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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