Sail the seven seas (or rather, twelve seas) and deliver the most goods in Tricky Tides, a fun new game now on Kickstarter.
What Is Tricky Tides?
Tricky Tides is a fun new game set in the Age of Sail.
In the game, you can take on the role of the captain of a ship. Your goal is to pick up and deliver as many products as you can. But be careful – those tides are indeed tricky, and often you can’t go in the direction you want. Oh, and there be monsters.
The game nicely combines trick-taking and pick-up-and-deliver mechanics in a way that manages to stay true to its theme.
Tricky Tides is for 2-4 players. Games last around 30-45 minutes (which is wonderfully short for a pick-up-and-deliver game). There are some small pieces (the goods you’re delivering are 1/4″ wooden cubes), so it’s not going to work for really young kids, but the game could be played and enjoyed by youth much younger than the recommended 12+.
The game is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. A pledge of $25 will get you a copy of the game when it is printed.
Tricky Tides Components
Included in the game are:
- 12 island cards
- 4 ship pawns
- 32 navigation cards
- 36 order cards
- 78 goods cubes
- 4 ship cards
- 4 monster standees
- 4 anchor tokens
- 4 monster sightings cards
- 1 first player token
- 1 cloth drawbag
- 8 event cards
Note: all descriptions of the components are based on the prototype and are subject to change.
Even though I was evaluating a prototype, the artwork on the game is very nice. The island cards, which are 2″ squares, are nicely designed. Each card has a directional arrow pointing north, an indicator of the number of goods cubes the island can have, and a space for an order card. Eight of the cards also have an indicator showing which ship can start the game on that island, while the remaining four show which monster starts there. That’s a lot for that amount of space, and yet it’s all very clear and easy to understand. So kudos to the designers for that.
The order cards are likewise great. They also have to cram a lot of info in: the types of goods to be delivered, the number of points gained for the delivery, and the monster symbol. They also have to fit visually onto the islands, and again, the design is such that they effortlessly accomplish all of these.
The next design challenge was the navigation cards. These are a critical component of the game, as they are the basis for the trick-taking section of the game. Each card consists of a compass, with one or more points highlighted, showing the direction of travel allowed if the card is played. They also have a number from 1-8, showing the relative strength of the card, and a suit, expressed as both a color and a monster symbol. The suit’s color is shown both in the color used to highlight the compass and also a small arrow in each corner, which also helps let the player know at a glance which direction north is.
The ship cards are among the simpler components. All they really need to show is the spaces available in the ship’s hold, which are represented by small squares where players put the cubes they have. There is of course a picture of the ship, but the designers decided to use the space available on the card for the one bit of quick reference the game needs–the conversion rates for the various goods.
The monster standees are nice thick cardboard. While the Kickstarter page doesn’t specify stretch goals other to say they will offer “premium components,” I for one wouldn’t be surprised to see the monsters get upgraded.
The monster sighting cards are very straight-forward, simply showing the four monsters and the points gained for collecting orders with that monster. The other components are likewise basic: the goods are standard wood cubes, and the ships in the prototype appear to have come from Catan’s Seafarers set. The first player token is a small wooden barrel.
However, it’s worth mentioning again that all of this is from the prototype, and all of the art and components are subject to change.
How to Play Tricky Tides
Setup for the game is fairly easy. Choose a starting player and give them the barrel token. Each player then picks a color and takes the ship and the ship card for that color. Each player other than the starting player then draws a goods token at random from the bag and places it on their ship card. Also deal the four monster sightings cards to the players, which they can look at but must keep face-down.
Shuffle the twelve island cards and lay them out in a 3×4 grid. Care needs to be taken to ensure that all of the islands are properly oriented to face north. (For someone like me who can be a bit OCD in game setup, it’s nice to see a game that requires it.) In a three-player game, flip the two islands that are start spaces for the unused color over to make open sea spaces. In a two-player game, flip over the four tiles for the two unused colors. Then, each player chooses one of the two starting islands for their color and places their ship on it.
Next, shuffle the order cards and place them on each island in the designated spot. Then, draw goods randomly from the bag and place them on each island according to the number printed on the card.
Shuffle the navigation cards and deal eight to each player. In a four-person game, this will be all of the cards. In two- and three-person games, set the extra cards to the side without looking at them.
Each player looks at their hand. It’s highly recommended that they rotate the cards so that they all face north when looking at them. Orienting my cards to all face the same way is something I do obsessively in games anyway, so again it’s nice to see a game where it’s required.
To begin play, the starting player plays a card face up from their hand. The other players, clockwise, also play a card. But, their card must, if possible, be the same suit as that played by the starting player. As always in games like this, if you can’t follow suit, you can play whatever you want.
Once everyone has played a card, everyone gets to move their ship. The turn order is determined by the cards: whoever played the highest-numbered card in the suit that was led plays first, followed by the next highest number, and so forth. Anyone who played off-suit goes after everyone who plays on-suit, from highest to lowest card. In case of a tie, they play clockwise.
The new first player (who also gets the starting player token at this point) can move their ship one space on the board. However, they can only move in one of the highlighted directions from their card. If they played an eight, they can move in any direction, but if they played a one, they can only go one way. You cannot sail off the map, so it’s possible you won’t be able to move at all, but you must move if you can.
This adds a cool new layer of strategy to the traditional trick-taking game. You have to decide if you want to play high and try to take the lead, or low to duck it, but with an understanding that the higher the number, the more movement options you have.
It’s also worth noting that in a four-player game, all of the available cards are in play, so card counters can gain an advantage. However, in two- and three- player games, some of the cards aren’t in play, and no one knows which ones.
When you move, you go to one of the other islands and can pick up all of the goods of a particular color. You place these on your ship, assuming you have room. If you don’t, you can “dump” any cargo you currently have by placing it back on the island. Goods are not replenished on islands at this time.
Instead of picking up goods, you have the option of fulfilling orders on islands if you have the right goods. To do this, place the required goods back in the bag and take the order card from the island, placing it face up in front of you. Then, draw a new order card and place it on the island. Orders have given point values, making the harder-to-fill ones more valuable, but they also each have a picture of one of the monsters on them. At the start of the game, each player is given a monster sightings card that bestows additional points for gathering up orders with particular monsters. So, added strategy: it might be more valuable to pick up a smaller point order that has the right monster instead of a bigger point one that doesn’t.
You can also trade goods. Three sugar (white), three tobacco (green), two silk (purple), two spice (orange), or one gold (yellow) can be swapped for one of any of good when fulfilling an order. These values are printed on the ship cards for reference.
Once all four players have moved, the new starting player (the person who played the highest suited card) plays a card from their hand, and play continues until everyone has two cards left in their hand, at which point a new round begins.
Set up the new round by replenishing the goods on each island to bring their total up to the number printed on the card. All of the navigation cards, including any that weren’t played that round or that weren’t in play (in two- and three-player games) are shuffled and eight more are dealt. Play continues for a total of three rounds.
At the end of the game, everyone adds up their points. You get the total of the points on the order cards you completed. Then, look at your monster sightings card and add your bonus: you get three, two, or one point for each order you completed with the matching monster. Finally, using the conversions listed above and printed on the ship card, you get a point for each group of goods left on your ship. The winner is the one with the most points. In case of a tie, the winner is the one with the most completed orders. If there’s still a tie, then the one with the most remaining goods wnis.
Two additional ways to play are included with the game. The first is a deck of event cards. During setup, these are shuffled and placed facedown near the board. After everyone places their ships, the first event card is drawn and read aloud. All players are affected by the event for this round. At the beginning of each additional round, a new event card is drawn.
Another optional way to play is to use the monster standees. At setup, each monster is placed on its island (the four islands that aren’t coded for starting ships.) After each hand, the player who played the lowest on-suit card activates a monster. Monsters activate before anyone moves a ship. Monsters may move one space in any direction, except that two monsters may not be on the same island. Each monster has a special ability.
The shark eats goods off islands. The activating player takes one goods cube from the island and places it on their ship. The octopus moves goods: the player can move one cube from the island with the octopus and move it to an adjacent island, or vice-versa. The sea dragon changes goods into other goods (with its magic fire breath). The player chooses one type of good on the island and replaces the cubes with an equal number of goods of a different type from the bag. Finally, the whale allows the player to draw 3 random goods from the bag. One is placed on the island with the whale. A second is placed on an adjacent island in one direction (player’s choice) from the island, and the third is placed on the next island in line in the same direction.
The player activating the monster can move the monster and then use its power, or use its power and then move.
Why You Should Play Tricky Tides
My family and I really enjoyed playing Tricky Tides. It is surprisingly deep, with multiple layers of strategy involved. There’s the card game element that forces you to think about how to play your hand and whether or not you want to take tricks, but at the same time you have to think about how the card you play will impact your movement. There are times when you might use a less-than-optimal card play because you need to move in a particular direction, but at the same time, doing so might mean you move after another player, who could swoop onto the island you have in mind and take the goods you were aiming for. Conversely, you might choose to make the “good” play with the cards, just to gain the turn order advantage.
In addition to teaching them Hearts at a young age, we have several other trick-taking games, so my kids are used to that mechanic and have become quite good at it. However, the mechanic isn’t necessary common in board games these days, so you might have to explain it to your kids.
But we also have several other pick-up-and-deliver games, and while I’m a huge fan of Firefly and Merchants and Marauders, I have a hard time getting the kids to sit down and play them because many other titles in that genre are long games. And that again is a great thing about Tricky Tides: it’s short, with each game lasting about a half hour. So it’ll keep the interest of even those who don’t like long games, while at the same time providing levels of strategy for the more serious gamers in your group.
All in all, I think Tricky Tides is a really great game. I will be backing it on Kickstarter, and suggest that you do as well. And I can’t wait to see, and play, the final version of the game once it’s released.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.