Today, I designed, assembled, and played my first quick game of Bubble Net, where you play as a pod of whales using a spiral of bubbles to herd a school of fish into a tighter and tighter ball until you can m0nch them.
What is bubble-net feeding?
Bubble-net feeding is a cooperative feeding method used by some pods of humpback whales and Bryde’s whales. Because it is a learnt behaviour rather than an instinctive hunting technique, not all groups of whales use it.
It appears to be a variant of the “lunge” feeding method, where a single whale will descend below a school of fish and then lunge upwards from the depths with its mouth open, then swallow the fish and stream the seawater out through their baleen.
Bubble-net feeding whales will work together to herd fish into a tight, disoriented cluster within a spiral net of bubbles, then strike upwards together and feed.
How does the game work?
The board is divided into the 32 named points of the compass, called the Azimuth Segments, which are further divided by the spiral and a central line into sectors. Each sector fits one fish.
The Fish cards match the board segments. When a fish icon appears in a segment, that’s where the fish attempt to escape the Bubble Net.
Players act as a pod of 3 whales, one of whom blows the spiral of bubbles, with the other 2 pod members helping herd the fish.
I started with 64 fish, 2 pod members, and 10 bubbles, 3 on the board. I played through 27 cards.
As expected, as the spiral got tighter, it became harder for the fish to escape, but there were still enough escapes that I felt like it was a struggle and there was strategy required to try to cover my bases, plus making sure I herded fish back into the centre.
The rules I played were simple.
Start with 3 bubbles in the first 3 spaces of the spiral. Place a fish on every space until you reach the central spiral (64 in all).
Every turn, lay 1 bubble, which pushes all the fish in that azimuth segment (each of which matches a compass point) one space inward. If there are more than 1 fish in any sector, the extras get pushed further inward. If they reach the centre, they are nommed immediately.
Move the 2 other pod members, who have the same effect. They must always move.
After the moves, draw one Fish card.
The lines on the Fish cards match the Azimuth Segments on the board. If a bubble or a whale is guarding that Segment, nothing happens, otherwise, move all fish out by one space. If any land outside the spiral, they escape.
Bubbles follow the spiral, one after the other, but pod whales can move anywhere and control their whole Segment.
Once you have all 10 bubbles in play, take the last one and move it to the front each time.
Continue until all the fish are gone.
At the end, I had lost 24 fish, and nommed 40, and felt like I made quite a good whale pod, for my first hunt. My first test took 35 minutes, including taking photos of every move, so it’s probably about a 20 minute game at real speed. I like it a lot, it feels meditative and soothing.
It works nicely solo, and would also work with any number of players as a sort of group solo, with each player having their own board, but sharing the Fish card. The winner is the one who has the most fish in their belly.
Here’s a little video about making the prototype and playing the first test.
Kind of cool to look at my most complete prototype next to my very latest!