Reaping the Rewards: ‘Tricky Tides’

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Tricky Tides is a game that was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2018 and is now available. In Reaping the Rewards, we go back and look at finished versions of games we reviewed when they were on Kickstarter.

What Is Tricky Tides?

Tricky Tides is a fun new game set in the Age of Sail.

In the game, you 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 here.

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 available for $30 from Amazon, or you should be able to order it from your friendly local game store.

Tricky Tides Components

Everything in the box (except the rulebook.) Image by Rob Huddleston

Included in the game are:

  • 12 island cards
  • 4 ship pawns
  • 32 navigation cards
  • 36 order cards
  • 78 goods cubes
  • 4 ship boards
  • 4 monster standees
  • 4 anchor tokens
  • 4 monster sightings cards
  • 1 first player token
  • 1 cloth drawbag
  • 12 event cards
The Islands cards. Image by Rob Huddleston

The island cards, which are 2.75″ 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.

A selection of Orders cards. Image by Rob Huddleston

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.

One full suit of Navigation cards. Image by Rob Huddleston

The next design challenge the game’s creators needed to solve 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 with a small arrow in each corner, which also helps let the player know at a glance which direction north is.

All of the cards are very high quality with a linen finish.

A fully loaded ship. Image by Rob Huddleston

The ship boards are thick two-ply cardboard with cutout spaces to place the cubes in the ship’s store. This marks an improvement over the prototype (and it’s one of the few components that is materially different from that earlier version), as the cubes stay put on the new boards. There is also a picture of the ship, with the player color represented by the color of the ship’s sails, and the one bit of quick reference the game needs–the conversion rates for the various goods.

The Monster standees. Image by Rob Huddleston

The monster standees are nice thick cardboard. They come with a set of matching plastic stands.

The Monster Sighting cards. Image by Rob Huddleston

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 but perfectly functional: the goods are standard wood cubes, and the ships are custom-cut wooden pieces. The first player token is a small wooden barrel, which is a nice touch. The drawbag is high quality that will likely last for many play sessions to come.

How to Play Tricky Tides

Tricky Tides combines trick-taking with pick-up-and-deliver mechanics.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to be the player with the most gold at the end of three rounds of play.

Setup

Setup for the game is fairly easy. Choose a starting player (the rules say “the player who was most recently on a boat” goes first) and give them the barrel token. This player is now the leader for the first round. Each player then picks a color and takes the ship and the ship board for that color. All of the goods tokens are placed in the draw bag, and then each player other than the leader 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.

The islands set up for a 4 player game. Image by Rob Huddleston

Shuffle the twelve island cards and lay them out in a 3×4 grid. As needed, rotate the cards so 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 one face-up 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.

A starting hand. Image by Rob Huddleston

Shuffle the navigation cards and deal 8 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.

Game Play

The leader barrel. Image by Rob Huddleston

To begin play, the leader 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. However, unlike most other trick-taking games, there is no trump in this game.

Once everyone has played a card, the person who played the highest card in the suit that was initially led will take the trick and become the leader for the next round. They take the rum barrel and will both sail first and lead the next hand.

Orange can only move down to the island below, since the card played only allows movement in that direction. Image by Rob Huddleston

Now, 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 leader begins by moving 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.

A player arriving on this island could pick up two blue, two red, or two black. Image by Rob Huddleston

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. All ships have room for 7 goods in their hold. If you don’t have free spaces, you can “dump” any cargo you currently have by placing it back on the island. Goods are not replenished on islands at this time.

Orange can make this delivery, since they have the correct goods needed for this island. Image by Rob Huddleston

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, another bit of 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.

The exchange rate, shown on the ship board. Image by Rob Huddleston

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 leader begins a new hand by playing 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 wins.

Events

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.

It’s possible that events might result in more goods being on an island than normal. If this is the case at the end of the round, the extra goods remain there, but additional goods will not be placed on the island to replenish those taken in the round.

Monsters

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 the monster that matches the suit that was played. 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. Each time a monster is activated, it must be moved (if it can) and it must use its ability, but the player activating it chooses in which order to do those.

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’m glad that it succeeded in its Kickstarter campaign, and it’s nice to see it widely available. If you like trick-taking and pick-up-and-deliver games, this title nicely scratches both itches, and is one to add to your shelves.


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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