When you think of civilization building games, you probably think of epic, four-hour games that take up your dining room table plus a card table extension. After all, don’t you need a lot of components and time to represent the rise and fall of entire civilizations? Maybe. But what if I told you that you could accomplish the same thing with fifteen minutes, 18 cards, 4 tokens, a score pad and a pencil? Well, you can in Tides of Time. Build your civilization, see it rise to greatness, and gain the knowledge of the ages. All in a space the size of a TV tray.
How It Plays
Tides of Time is a card drafting game for two in which each player builds and expands a civilization as the “Tides of Time” move along. The goal is to earn the most victory points by acquiring suits and combining cards in order maximize their powers and points. Some cards give straight victory points for each one you have of a certain suit in your hand. Others give you victory points if you have the majority of a suit, while others give you points if you have one each of specific suits in your hand. One card settles all ties in your favor. There are more abilities/combinations, but you can see how you need to collect cards that “go together” in order to score points.
At the beginning of the game, all cards are shuffled and five are dealt to each player. The remaining cards are placed face down to form a draw pile. The game is then played over three rounds.
During round one, both players simultaneously choose a card from their hand and place it face down on the table in front of them. Players then reveal the cards by turning them face up. Face up cards become part of the players “Kingdom.” Next, players exchange all of the cards remaining in their hands with each other. Another card is chosen to play in the same manner and this continues, with players choosing one card to play, revealing the chosen card, and passing their hand to the other player until all cards have been played. At the end of the round, players tally the victory points they earned from the objectives on the cards and these points are noted on the score pad as the score for round one.
After scoring, players take all cards from their kingdom back into their hands. Each player chooses one card to leave in their kingdom for the rest of the game (it becomes a Relic From the Past) and another card that will be discarded and removed from the game entirely. Chosen cards are revealed simultaneously and cannot be changed. Place a relic token on each card left behind as a reminder that its powers/value are in effect for the rest of the game and that it cannot be removed from play. Each player draws two cards from the draw pile to bring their hand back up to five and round two begins.
Round two is played exactly as round one except that, after scoring, the relic from round one remains on the table and a new relic is chosen to join it. At the end of round two, each player should have two relics on the table and marked with relic tokens. Players again draw their hands back up to five cards and round three begins.
Round three is played the same as round one but it ends after scoring. There is no choosing of relics, discarding or drawing of cards. After round three has been scored, players total the points from the three rounds and the player with the most points is the winner.
A Tsunami of Fun or All Washed Up?
The first thing you notice about this game when you open the box is the gorgeous art. Fantasy monuments and locations decorate the cards and are so attractive, I just want to crawl inside the cards and live there. The one bummer to the cards, though, is that the cursive font is very hard to read against the background and requires some squinting to see. Some people complain about the oversized cards, but I like them as they’re very easy to handle when passing them back and forth across the table.
And you’ll be doing that a lot, as Tides of Time is a drafting game. It’s not just drafting, though. The game offers a couple of interesting twists. The first is that you get to keep one relic after each round and you will use its powers/abilities for the rest of the game. This means that you need to think carefully about which card you leave behind. What has your opponent kept? What do you think their strategy is? What strategy are you going to go for?
You’ll also need to consider which cards have been removed from the game. Since each player permanently removes a card from the game after each round, there’s a bit of “take that” to the game. If you know that your opponent is going for a certain suit, you might want to discard a card from that suit just to spite them. The discarded cards also impact your decision about which card to keep each round because you don’t want to keep something if the card you need to make your plan work isn’t in the deck.
As if this isn’t enough to think about, you have to remember that you have a draw deck, too, and what comes out of there might impact your plans. This is the only bit of the game that’s random, and even this isn’t that random since an astute player will know what’s in the deck, if not the exact order in which the cards will come out. You may still get stuck with an unwanted card, but you can at least try to make an informed plan. Other than the card draw each round, everything else in the game is known and/or within your control, making for a tactical, mental battle.
And this is what makes the game so fascinating to me. You will know which card your opponent discarded from the game, as well as which one they left behind each round. However, thanks to the fact that all cards are played/discarded simultaneously at the end of the round, you won’t have the information until the next round. You make your decisions based on what you think is likely to happen. If you’ve guessed wrong, you can still make adjustments, but the game tests your ability to think on the fly. If, for example, you were really hoping that the Ancient Divide would still be in the deck but your opponent discarded it after the first round (or kept it for themselves in the first round of the draft), what can you do now? What’s your plan B? It keeps you on your toes.
During the first round, you can pretty much do what you want and focus simply on racking up points. All of the cards are in the game and you only have to worry about what’s still in the draft and which cards your opponent is playing into their kingdom. After that, though, your opponent will have a good idea of your long term strategy. They will know what relic you kept. They will know which card you discarded and how clued in you are to their strategy. There will be new cards in the draft to note and contend with.
In subsequent rounds, this becomes one of those games where actively denying your opponent the cards they need is just as viable of a strategy as is going for the cards you need. In fact, you may have to make exactly that decision. If you see that you’re not going to be able to put together much for yourself, your strategy may have to shift to making sure that they don’t get what they need, either.
There’s also a memory element at play here. Astute players will be able to quickly note which card their opponent has removed from the game and adjust accordingly. It’s also to your advantage if you can keep track of what you’ve handed over to your opponent so you can make educated guesses about what you might get back and how that might best combine with what you already have. Once you know the deck, you can also know what’s left in the draw pile to help you in your strategizing. I’m not always a fan of memory games because my brain tends to be pretty flaky. However, there are only eighteen cards in this game. Even my poorly functioning brain can handle that many.
Of course, the flip side of a game with such a limited deck and a memory element is that people who are new to the game will be crushed by a player who knows all the cards. Tides of Time is best when played among two players of equal skill/exposure to the game. This means that it’s not great game to break out with people who have never played it before, unless you can restrain yourself from crushing them while they learn. This makes it a great couple’s game, though, since two players who play all the time will be evenly matched. And the benefit of playing it with the same people is that the game really opens up to you and you start finding more strategies and combinations. There’s enough game here to play for a long time, despite the small card deck.
All of this combines to make for a unique kind of brain burn, yet Tides of Time is not a heavy game. With such a short playtime (under 20 minutes in most cases), you don’t have too long to suffer from the pain. Thanks to the thinky-ness of the game and the short play time, Tides of Time scores high on the “Let’s go again,” meter. You just know that the next game will go in your favor, or that you’ll be able to get a better handle on your opponent’s strategy in the next game. It’s one of those games that, while small and quick, can consume a whole evening because you can’t let it go.
I wouldn’t recommend Tides of Time as a first drafting game, however. It’s got a lot going on and is more complex than a true gateway game. Someone who’s never drafted before might get frustrated trying to track the draft plus all of the other twists in the game. I’d stick to something like Sushi Go for a non-gamer.
We really enjoyed this game although I will admit that, despite the lovely art, the theme of civilization building is a bit thin. You don’t really start from nothing (or some dumpy building or empty lot) and build up to magnificence, as you would in many civ games. Instead you’re simply trying to acquire cards that are all basically the same level of awesome. It’s more a matter of doing interesting things with the cards you get than trying to actively “build up.” Everything is equal in its usefulness, it’s simply a question of whether or not it’s useful to you at the time. Even so, it is fun to see how your little kingdom comes together at the end. If you’re inclined, you can tell a little story about what you’ve built and fill in the gaps.
Tides of Time is a great entry into the catalog of micro games. It’s a great filler or a fun game for weeknights. (It’s also portable enough that it’s a good vacation game.) There are enough decisions and control to make it a thinky experience, but it’s not the sort of game that requires a whole night to play. To me, it scratches the same itch as 7 Wonders (note that I’ve not played 7 Wonders: Duel, so I cannot compare the two) or Elysium, but in a much shorter amount of time. And since it doesn’t require as many players as those games to be at its best, it’s a solid choice for us as a couple.
iSlaytheDragon.com would like to thank Portal Games for giving us a copy of Tides of Time for review.