Whether prowling the waters as a hungry shark or lurking out of sight amongst shadows and reeds as the wily octopus, players of new board game Kelp will battle to the bitter, bloody end using two vastly different sets of components, mechanics and goals.
Designed by Carl Robinson and published by Wonderbow Games, Kelp takes a classic cat-and-mouse, hide ‘n’ seek scenario and mixes it up with two player roles specifically designed to bounce off one another in tense moments. The shark will sniff out the octopus’ hiding place within its forest of fronds, sharpening its senses and cornering its quarry. For its own part, the octopus can either hide or chase down its own food in order to seize victory.
How this works on the table is what makes Kelp so intriguing. The player controlling the shark will build a bag of dice over the course of the game that they can use to quickly manoeuvre the board’s ocean currents. Those same dice are also used to rummage through potential hiding places in an attempt to ferret out your eight-legged foe. The shark starts with only a few dice but will become deadlier every turn as new dice are added to the bag, mitigating their bad luck. Alternatively they can invest dice in new, powerful abilities befitting an apex predator.
The octopus player will employ less of a tactical approach and more strategic use of resources, namely a deck of cards. Each of the octopus’ potential hiding spots are denoted by a block with a symbol on it hidden from the shark player. By revealing it, they can play cards from their hand that affect the board - think swapping around tiles or shuffling them back into the bag, throwing the shark off your trail.
As the smartest member of the mollusc family, the octopus can also add ability cards to their deck or winnow out undesirable cards (Kelp calls this deckbuilding mechanic Learning). Some of these aid the octopus player in collecting food tiles on the board, and others are used as a last line of defence if the shark manages to sink their teeth into one of their tentacles.
Three different scenarios can trigger the endgame. If the shark fails to find the octopus by the time they place the seventh and final die on their hunger track - which ticks up each turn - they are too exhausted to continue the hunt and must give up. Alternatively, the shark wins if they successfully attack the octopus. This is much harder than it seems, as the octopus’ cards allow them to sacrifice limbs and other advantages to skate by with their life. The octopus player can also clinch victory by gobbling all of the krill on the board before the shark finds them.
Kelp’s production value and art direction is quite striking - illustrator Weberson Santiago paints both creatures as intelligent, desperate and gorgeous in their own right. Robinson and the team at Wonderbow have clearly considered the layout of the board, all the way down to representing the shark with a miniature but not the octopus - the elusive creature stays hidden even from the real-life players. Kelp is Robinson's first professional design with the publisher who previously created Hunters of the Lost Creatures card game.
The Kickstarter campaign for Kelp runs through December 5th and seeks to produce a physical edition of the game that will start shipping to backers in October 2024. A retail run is planned following the crowdfunding campaign, so you should be able to find this fascinating example of competitive hide ‘n’ seek in local game stores next year.