The sky have begun to darken; waves continue to lap on the shore, crashing harder and harder as time passes. Collecting the artifact will bring you closer to the great Old Ones, but send you spiraling slowly into madness. The chanting begins to fill your head and you began to chuckle against your control. Will you be able to find the most artifacts before your foes? Or will you descend into madness long before then?
Tides of Madness is a sequel to the 2015 game Tides of Time. Like its predecessor, Tides of Madnessis a quick 2-player card drafting microgame, consisting of 18 cards and three short rounds. However, it adds a new element, Madness (it is a Cthulhu game, after all), and some additional ways to score.
Like its predecessor, Tides of Madness packs its gameplay into relatively few components. Included with the game are a pad and pencil for tracking scores, a handful of Madness tokens, and 18 cards. The cards are divided up into 5 suits of 3 cards each, corresponding to locations and creatures in the Cthulhu Mythos, with the remaining three cards unsuited. Each card has different scoring criteria that can help you earn points, and about half of the cards have Cthulhu-like tentacles on one side, indicating that they provide Madness.
To begin the game, shuffle the cards and deal 5 to each player. Then, each player selects one card to play, and these cards are revealed simultaneously. The remaining cards are passed to the other player, and the process is repeated until each player plays the final card they were passed. Then, drafting portion of the round is over and play moves into the scoring phase. First, players take a Madness token for each card in their tableau with the tentacles of madness on it. The player who had the most Madness for the round can choose to either take a bonus 4 points or remove one of their own Madness tokens, but if the players tie for Madness, neither one can take this bonus. If either player has 9 or more Madness tokens at this point, the game immediately ends and that player loses. Otherwise, players will score points for the cards in the tableau. Many cards score points based on the suits of that player’s cards. For instance, score 3 points for each card of a given suit or 7 points for majority in a suit. For cards where you score points based on majorities, you must have an actual majority — ties award no points. There is also a card that earns you points for your accumulated Madness tokens, one that can double the score of another card, one that scores you points for each suit you don’t have represented, and several others.
After points are tallied in the first and second rounds, players take the five cards they’ve just played back into their hand. They choose one card to put back in their tableau — it will remain there for the subsequent round(s) — and one to remove from the game. Each player then draws two more cards so that they’re back up to five, and a new round begins. The second and third rounds play just like the first, except that during the scoring phase players will have 6 and 7 cards played, respectively, and thus will have more opportunities to score. At the end of the game, provided neither player has accumulated 9 Madness tokens, the player with the highest combined score from the three rounds is the winner!
We borrowed the original Tides of Time from a friend, and I really didn’t care for it. It just felt like there were too few cards and actions, and things just didn’t seem to click. I think what this game needed, for my anyway, was a theme. The game play is basically the same, which was fine before (I’ve admitted in the past that I have trouble with card drafting for whatever reason, so this may have been one of my original issues with the game). I think the game did a good job adding the theme to the game that already existed and upped the ante by adding in the madness. The card art was beautiful and really added to the theme, but I was a bit disappointed that they choose to use the same card backs as the original. It didn’t really tie in to the theme and I thought it looked very “1980’s bus seat fabric.” Overall, this is a really great 2-player game, but it would have been interesting to see how they could have made it play with more people.
- Theme adds more dimension to a more bland original
- Card art is beautiful
- Would have been nice to have them play with more people
- If you don’t care for the theme, it’s not necessary to have both games
Often, a reimplementation of a game will surpass the original in some regard, whether it’s due to a better theme (which may explain why there are so many versions of Love Letter) or a new or different mechanic (such as the special roles in The Resistance: Avalon, which is why I prefer that version). I believe that Tides of Madness has both of these advantages over the original Tides of Time. While Time had really great artwork and solid gameplay, its theme was really pretty lacking. The Tides of Time in the title referred to the ability to retain one of your played cards for the next rounds, but if memory serves, the actual theme was pretty generic fantasy. While I don’t know that the Cthulhu theme necessarily matches the gameplay still, it’s at least a more concrete and (to us, at least) more engaging theme. In addition, the Madness component, while a small thing, is a really great addition to the game. The Madness cards can be a bit more powerful and give you more points, but you have to be careful not to play too many. And even if you think you’re safe because playing the most madness during a round can let you remove one of your tokens, you could run into what happened to Amber and me during our first game, where we tied for Madness in the second round, leaving Amber with 7 and pretty much no hope to not pick up two more in the final round. I also really like the cards with new scoring abilities, though most of the scoring criteria are still based on the suits of cards, which doesn’t lead to very much complexity, especially since the game is two-player only. In a lot of drafting games, you can pay attention to your neighbors and draft cards you know they need to keep them from scoring points (or whatever). However, with this game, it feels almost as though this spite-drafting strategy may hurt you more than your opponent, because taking a card they need will probably not score you any points, and with a game this quick and short, every card you draft really does matter. Altogether though, Tides of Madness is good mechanically, has excellent artwork, and for less than $10 packs a good game into a small and portable package. This game would be recommended if you like card drafting or the Cthulhu theme, and if you often play games two player.
- Decent drafting game using relatively few components — good for gaming on the go
- Great artwork and depictions of Lovecraftian creatures and places
- Not a lot of complexity, but understandable for essentially a micro card game
- Theme still not that closely integrated with gameplay