A to Z Gaming: The Spill

We worked together to contain oil flowing from an offshore rig while saving the marine life in The Spill, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

The Spill
Players: 1-4
Time: 50-60 Minutes
Designers: Andy Kim
Artists: Kwanchai Moriya
Publisher: Smirk & Dagger Games

In The Spill, players take on the role of specialists called to the scene of an oil rig disaster. They are working together to hold the oil back and protect the marine animals. If the players can sop up enough oil and save enough animals before their time is up, they’ll win the game.

Game play

The Spill is set up with the board in the center of the playing area and the oil rig assembled in the middle of it. The animal tokens are placed on the marked spots of the board on their healthy (clean) side. The bag of dice (black oil dice and blue weather dice) is placed nearby.

The situation board is placed to the side — it tracks the the animals that have been rescued, the amount of oil removed from the area, and the number of spill-outs. Players choose a goal for the game and place it near the situation board.

No matter the number of players, choose four specialists to play for the game. The players should take the specialist card and a set of weather tokens, which are placed on the card with the blue side up. Each specialist starts in a different quadrant of the board, and their start space is determined with a roll of a die.

Each specialist also chooses a resource card to add to the bottom of the situation board. This is done by dealing out two cards for each specialist to the player controlling that character. They choose one and discard the other.

The starting spill is created by dropping eight black oil dice into the rig. The dice are placed in the numbered spot corresponding to the rolled number and in the quadrant of the rig where they landed. They are placed starting on the ring closest to the rig. At the start of the game, only one die is allowed in each sector and no dice are allowed to land on a space with an animal — if that happens, re-roll the offending die.

Then players begin to take turns. On their turn, the player will start by dropping a number of dice into the rig (except on the first turn of the game). The number will depend on the chosen difficulty of the game, the number of spill-outs they’ve experienced so far (a spill-out occurs when a single sector has three dice), and whether or not the previous player took extra actions on their turn. The dice are placed in the same manner as the starting oil dice. However, this time if an animal is occupying the same space as a die, turn that animal over to its contaminated side. If more than three dice would be in a sector, place an “Spillout” indicator under that sector, and place the extra dice into the next empty space, moving clockwise.

There are a few weather dice in the bag, which are blue. These will be dropped into the rig like the oil dice, but then they will be activated and taken out of the game. The weather is usually bad, causing players to have diminished abilities for their next turn, like making it harder to move or rescue animals.

Then the player has four action points that can be spent on a number of things: 1 point to move their ship 1-2 spaces; 1 point to rescue a healthy animal in their sector, 2 points to rescue a contaminated animal (but only if it doesn’t share a space with oil), 3 points to remove an oil die from the game, 1 point to push back an oil die (into the bag). They may take up to two extra action points, but they’ll need to place one die for each onto the situation board — those dice will be added to the spill by the next player, in addition to the normal number of dice.

If the player rescues an animal that completes a set of the different animals rescued, they’ll collect an orange cube. Similarly, if they finish a row of oil that has been removed from the game (as tracked on the situation board), they’ll also collect an orange cube. These will be used at the end of their turn.

When they’ve finished their actions, there is a clean up phase. If there are any animals that still share a space with an oil die, the animal goes to the sick bay (spaces on the corners of the main board). The active player flips any weather effects to their inactive side. And any orange cubes earned are moved to a space on one of the resource cards. The resource cards must be charged before they can be used, but once they have the requisite number of cubes, any player can use the card on their turn, and then discard the cubes and card. The resource card is replaced by another card from the deck.

Then players check for win and lose conditions. If sick back holds either three of the same type of animal or one of each type, players lose. If the board has six or more spill-outs, they also lose. However, if they have met the conditions on their goal card, they win. (The goals can include things like saving a number of sets of animals or removing a number of oil dice from the spill.) Also, if the bag of dice is empty, players will win at the end of the current turn as long as no lose conditions are met.

If they haven’t won or lost, play continues with the next player.

My Thoughts

We saw a demo of The Spill at Pax Unplugged a couple of years ago, and I was instantly drawn to the theme and … well, the dice tower! We put in a pre-order based on that demo.

I like how this game takes a very serious topic and brings it to the gaming world. It doesn’t make light of oil spills. Instead it gives players a sense of how difficult they are to get under control with a challenging, but fun, game.

It is very hard to win — at least, it is for us. And I get that you don’t want it to be easy, since it is based on such a serious topic that is not easy to solve. On the other hand, it can be frustrating to pay a co-op game that fells impossible to win.

But ultimately I enjoy the game play. I like the feeling of dropping a handful of dice in the tower every turn and hoping that they don’t land in your trouble spots. Then I enjoy the puzzle of figuring out what you can do to keep the situation at bay on your turn. Is it pushing back some oil or rescuing animals? Maybe you are on the complete wrong side of the spill to help out much, but there’s always something to do.

Three Quick Questions

How is it as a 2-player game? The Spill works well as a 2-player game. Each player controls two characters, so you still have four total special abilities on the board — and (perhaps more importantly) four boats moving around the spill site to keep things at bay.

How about the art and component quality? The toy factor is high with this game, but it works and fits in with the game thematically. The components are high quality — though, I have the Kickstarter edition, so I have some upgraded wood pieces that would be cardboard chits in the retail edition.

Will this stay in my collection? The Spill will stay in our collection. We are enjoying co-op games, and this one combines a. serious theme with a fun game. We want to try to get better at the game, so we need to hang onto it!

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