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Game Preview and Interview: Upon a Salty Ocean

Andrea Ligabue
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I was curious to learn more about Upon a Salty Ocean – being released by Italian publisher at Spiel 2011 – because I know the designer, Marco Pranzo.

At the first PLAY: The Games Festival in Modena, Italy in 2010, he won a contest by designing a special game with Moonghs, the characters from Martin Wallace's Moongha Inavders that are also the mascots of PLAY. The game was simple as it was constrained by the promo cards available at the event, but Marco's skills were already evident. So I did the reasonable thing and asked him for more details.

Marco sent me images of the early stages of the game board and they show the evolution of the game up to when started work on it.

Liga: Please, Marco, tell us how you got the idea for this game and what is new in it?

Marco Pranzo: I got the idea for this game reading the book Fish on Friday by Brian Fagan. In the book the author explains the importance of fish and salt in the history of Europe. Due to religious norms there were several days in the year when it was forbidden to eat meat. Therefore there was a demand for fish and the main way to store it for long periods of time was to have it salted. At the time ships left the harbors loaded with salt in order to be able to process fish directly on board.

Prototype game boards, versions 1 and 2

What I found interesting is that incidentally the high demand of fish pushed for an improvement of naval technology and the development of new ships such as caravels and carracks, and in the end this made possible the discoveries of the Americas by Columbus and the Great Banks of Newfoundland by Cabot.

The game is a classical German-style resource management game with a tight integration between mechanisms and theme. Actions require money and the cost is incremental because it grows every time that action is performed.

Prototype game board, version 6

Liga: Can you explain in more detail how the game works?

MP: The players are rich merchants in Rouen. At the time Rouen was the main French harbor, and one of the main activities was to fish in the ocean. The players have to accumulate money as after the fifth turn, the King of France, Francis I, arrives in the city and the richest merchant will be declared the winner.

However, the coins are also used to take actions, so the players have to find a trade-off between accumulating money and spending money for doing actions. There are four types of actions:

1. Navigation: A player can either move ships from Rouen to the sea and fish for cod or herring, or move a ship back to Rouen.
2. Harbor: A player can either build a ship or load them with salt.
3. Market: A player can either sell their fish and salt to the market, or to buy them from the market and store them for later.
4. City: A player can either build a building in the city – with buildings providing bonuses, special abilities and additional points at the end of the game – or build a salt mine.

The cost of the actions increases each time during a round that any player uses that type of action. What's more, the price of the goods is influenced by other market actions and by events. Hence it is important to sell at the right moment.

Liga: It looks a gamer's game – is it?

MP: Upon a Salty Ocean is mainly a game for gamers, but it is not too complex.

Nearly final game board

For more details, read the longer game description on the game's BGG page or download the rules, which are available in various languages on the website.
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