The board game industry has always had a wide variety of genres. For a long time board games generally stuck to one genre. In recent years though board games have started to blend different genres together to try and create unique experiences. This makes a lot of sense as you can create some really interesting games by combining genres that you normally wouldn’t see together. While I have seen some strange board game combinations, today’s game Tricky Tides may be the strangest. Tricky Tides ends up combining two mechanics together that I never thought I would see together: trick taking and pick-up and deliver. These two genres don’t seem to share anything in common. While I have always enjoyed pick-up and deliver games, I have more mixed feelings about trick taking games. I don’t hate the genre but I wouldn’t call it one of my favorites either. While I was skeptical about combining the two distinct genres, I was curious about how it would turn out. Tricky Tides succeeds at combining two very distinct genres and turning them into a surprisingly satisfying experience.
How to Play Tricky Tides
- Each player chooses a ship pawn and the ship board of the same color. All of the players will also take an anchor token.
- All of the cubes are placed into the bag.
- The monster sighting cards are shuffled. One card is dealt coin side down to each player. Players can look at their own card, but they shouldn’t show it to the other players.
- The player who was most recently on a boat will be the leader to start the game. They will take the rum barrel token. All of the other players will randomly draw a cube from the bag and add it to their ship board.
- Shuffle the island cards and place them into a 3 x 4 grid face up. All of the cards should be placed so that the north side of each island is pointed in the same direction.
- If there are only three players, flip over the two islands corresponding to the color not chosen by one of the players.
- If there are only two players, flip over the four islands corresponding to the two colors that weren’t chosen.
- Beginning with the player to the right of the leader and moving counterclockwise, each player will place their ship token on one of the islands. You can place your ship token on one of the two islands with the ship matching your color.
- Shuffle the order cards and place one on each island on the corresponding section of the island card. The rest of the order cards form the draw pile.
- Randomly draw cubes (representing goods) and place them on the islands. Each island will receive the number of goods shown in the bottom left corner of the island card.
- Shuffle the navigation cards. Each player will be dealt eight cards face down. Any extra cards won’t be used this round. Players may look at their own cards but cannot show them to the other players.
- Players will decide whether they want to use the event cards and the monsters (see below).
Playing the Game
Tricky Tides is played over three rounds with each round consisting of six hands.
Playing A Hand
Each hand begins with the current leader playing one of the navigation cards from their hand. There are two important pieces of information on each navigation card. First there will be directions shown on the card. These will be used when setting sail (see below). Each card also has a suit (octopus, sea dragon, shark, whale).
After the leader has played a card, the player to their left (clockwise) will get to play a card. If the player has a card of the same suit as the card played by the leader they must play it. If they have multiple cards of the suit, they can choose which card they want to play.
If a player does not have a card from the suit that the leader played, they may play whichever card from their hand that they prefer.
After everyone has played a card, the players will determine who won the hand. The player who played the highest card of the suit played by the leader will win the hand. This player becomes the leader and will take the rum barrel token indicating they will lead the next hand. For the rest of this hand the players will take turns based on the card they played. The winner of the hand will start. The rest of the players that matched the suit that lead the round will then take turns based on who played the highest card. Finally players who played cards that didn’t match the suit will take turns starting with the player who played the highest card. If there is a tie the player closest clockwise to the leader will take their turn first.
When setting sail players will look at the compass on the navigation card they played in the hand. Comparing north on the navigation card to north on the gameboard, players can move their ship one space in any of the directions on the compass that are colored in. When moving players need to follow these rules:
- A player may never sail off the gameboard. Players can only move in a direction that will keep them on the gameboard. If there are no valid movement options, the player stays on their current island and can take their following actions on this island.
- A player must move their ship to an adjacent space if they are able to. Each player may use their anchor token once during the game to stay on their current space.
- Two or more ships may be on the same island at the same time.
- If a player sails through an open sea space (two and three player games), they may move to the next island card in the same direction that they were already moving. Players may also decide to stop on the open sea space.
After a player moves they will get to take their “pick up or deliver goods” action (see below). The next player will then move their ship. After everyone has moved their ship and taken their “pick up or deliver goods” action, play will move to the next hand.
Pick Up or Deliver Goods
After a player is done moving they can choose to take one of two actions. If a player lands on an open sea space they do not get to take an action.
The first action that a player can take is to pick up goods from their current island. The player chooses one color of good and takes all of the goods of that color. The cubes will be added to the player’s ship board. If a player ever acquires more than seven goods, they must discard goods to get down to seven goods. If the player is on an island the goods are added to the island. If the player is on an open sea space the goods are returned to the bag.
The second action that a player can take is to deliver goods. If a player has all of the goods shown on the order card of their current island, they can deliver the corresponding goods. Players can also exchange three sugar, three coffee, two silk, two spice, or one gold for a good of their choice. The goods shown on the order card are taken from the player’s ship board and returned to the bag. The order card is then taken and placed face down in front of the player. A new order card is added to the island to replace the one that was taken.
End of Round
The round ends after six hands have been played (each player has two cards left in their hand). Each player discards their last two cards. If the previous round wasn’t the third round, the players will prepare for the next round.
- Add cubes to each island so the number of cubes on the island matches the number in the bottom left corner. If there are more cubes on the island than the number on the island card, the extra cubes remain on the island.
- All of the navigation cards are shuffled and eight cards are dealt to each player.
- The leader will begin the next round.
End of Game
The game will end after the third round is completed. Players will count up the points they scored during the game to determine who will win the game. Points will be scored as follows:
- Players will score points equal to the numbers on the order cards they collected during the game.
- Players will then look at their monster sightings card. Each order card that a player collects will have one monster on it. Each card will score points for this monster based on the chart on their monster sightings card.
- Finally players will score points for the goods remaining on their ship board. Players will score one point for each three sugar, three coffee, two silk, two spice or one gold left in their cargo hold.
The player who scores the most points will win the game. If there is a tie, the player with the most order cards will win the game. If there is still a tie the player with the most goods still on their ship will win the game.
At the beginning of the game all of the event cards will be shuffled. After everyone has placed their ships to start the game, the top event card is flipped face up. The text on the card will effect the rest of the round. Any effects from a card are applied before a player can pick up or deliver. In rounds two and three the event card is replaced with a new card before the first hand is played.
At the beginning of the game each monster is placed on the island that shows their icon.
At the end of each hand the player who plays the lowest card that matches the suit that the leader played will get to activate the monster. The monster will be used before any player can set sail. The monster will be moved one space and the monster’s special ability will be activated. The player can do the actions in either order but must do both if possible.
The player who activates the monster can move the monster one space in any direction following the same rules as a ship unless an event card applies different rules. Monsters cannot stop on open sea spaces. They also can’t move to an island occupied by another monster.
Each monster also has its own special abilities. None of these special abilities can affect gold cubes.
- Shark: The shark will eat one good from its current island and add it to the controlling player’s ship.
- Octopus: The octopus can do one of two things. First it can move one good from its current island to an adjacent island. Otherwise it can move a good from an adjacent island to its current location.
- Sea Dragon: The sea dragon can turn all of the goods of one type (on the island it currently occupies) into goods of another type. The new goods are taken from the bag, and the goods that were replaced are returned to the bag. If there are not enough of the good the player chose left in the bag, the player will only replace enough of the goods with the chosen goods left in the bag.
- Whale: The player will randomly draw three goods from the bag. If the player chooses any gold goods, they will replace those cubes with new cubes. The player will place one of the goods on the island that the whale currently occupies. They will then choose a direction (north, south, east, west) and will place one of the goods on the next adjacent island in the direction chosen. The last good will then be placed on the next island in the same direction. If a good would be placed in an open sea space, the good is returned to the bag. The player has to place at least two goods on the gameboard using this ability.
My Thoughts on Tricky Tides
When I first heard that Tricky Tides combined trick taking and pick-up and deliver mechanics I was skeptical. I didn’t know how you would be able to combine two mechanics that don’t share a lot in common and blend them into an actual good game. Being a fan of pick-up and deliver games I was hoping that the trick taking mechanics and the associated luck weren’t going to ruin the rest of the game. After playing Tricky Tides I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised as the two mechanics actually work surprisingly well together. As Tricky Tides is a combination of trick taking and pick-up and deliver mechanics, I think the best way to look at the game is to look at each mechanic individually.
I began this review by saying that I am not a huge fan of the trick taking genre. I actually think the premise behind trick taking games is pretty interesting. There is a decent amount of strategy around figuring out which cards to play each turn. The more you play trick taking games the better you will get at them. The problem is that most trick taking games rely on a lot of luck. Whoever is dealt the best cards usually has a big advantage. There is no way to overcome bad card draw luck. For this reason I have always felt that trick taking games were missing something. The best trick taking games that I have played have relied on other mechanics as well.
The good news is that Tricky Tides relies on more than just the trick taking mechanics. You aren’t just trying to win a hand so you can start the next hand. The trick taking mechanics determine turn order for the rest of each hand. The card you play also determines where you can sail your ship. Navigating your ship is key to your success in the game. Players need to figure out where they want to go and try to play navigation cards that will get them to their destination. In addition to just playing cards to win the hand, players need to pay attention to the directions on the card they play to make sure it will take them to where they want to go. This actually requires players to plan several turns in advance to make sure they have the cards needed in order to get the islands they want to visit.
Maybe it is just because I am not at expert at trick taking games, but there is quite a bit of luck that goes into the trick taking aspect of the game. Unless you add in the monster mechanics, higher valued cards are always better than lower valued cards. Winning hands is pretty important in the game as it allows you to control which suit will be played in the next round. The other players are kind of at the mercy of the leader. If the player plays a suit that forces you to play a card that will send you away from your destination, it can really mess up your strategy. The other reason why high value cards are better is because they give you more movement options. One cards only allow you to move in one direction while an eight card lets you move in eight different directions. Players can usually find a way to get to their destination, but there will be times where players are forced to move in a direction opposite of what they would prefer. Therefore whoever is dealt the most high cards is going to have a pretty big advantage in the game.
When you choose which navigation cards you want to play you always have to keep an eye on which order cards you want to collect. Choosing which order cards that you are going to ultimately pursue is an interesting decision. There are a couple things that you have to factor in before you make the decision. The first thing you have to analyze are what goods are currently available and which are going to be the easiest to acquire. You may really want an order card but if there aren’t enough goods available or they will be hard to acquire you can’t really pursue it unless you want to trade a lot of goods in for goods that you are missing. The next thing to consider is the value of the cards. Some cards are more valuable than others, but they also require more goods or more valuable goods to acquire them. Their higher value also makes them bigger targets for the other players. The final thing to consider is your monster sighting card. If you can acquire cards featuring one of your top two monsters you can make a lower valued order card just as valuable as one of the most valuable cards.
This brings me to the pick-up and deliver mechanics. The pick-up and deliver mechanics are pretty typical of the genre. You travel between islands picking up goods and delivering them to other islands. On each island you visit you can either pick up goods or deliver them. This is usually a pretty obvious decision as if you have the necessary goods to deliver you were probably already planning on delivering to the island. When picking up goods though there is an interesting decision to make as players are able to take all of the goods of one color. In most situations you end up having to decide between taking one more valuable good or several less valuable goods. Both options are valuable and your decision will come down to which order card you are trying to acquire.
I think the reason why all of these mechanics work well together is that the game does a good job finding the right balance between being easy to play and having enough strategy. Tricky Tides is more difficult than your typical mainstream game, but it was actually quite a bit easier than I was expecting. The game has a few mechanics that you have to learn, but the mechanics are pretty straightforward. I would guess that it will take most players five to ten minutes to teach the game to new players. Then it might take a couple hands to know exactly what you are doing. After the brief learning period though the game is easy to play. Despite being easy to play there is still quite a bit of strategy in the game. Your decisions will have an impact on the game which keeps the game interesting.
While I would probably recommend playing your first game without the event cards and the monsters, I would recommend eventually adding them as they add more dimensions to the game. The event cards mix up the gameplay by adding/tweaking mechanics each round. A lot of these events are interesting and they force players to adapt their strategies each round. Meanwhile the monsters do a good job mitigating some of the game’s luck. The monsters do a good job giving the player who plays the lowest card that follows the hand’s suit a special ability. If you are stuck with a lot of these cards you normally would be at the fate of the leader. You can use the monsters though to rearrange goods in your favor. In some ways I could see purposely trying to play the lowest card in a hand just to take advantage of the monster’s special ability.
Despite being made by smaller publishers I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the game’s components. The game’s components do a really good job supporting the theme. The game’s artwork is great. The art style is a really interesting blend of old timey nautical and sci-fi elements. In addition to the good artwork the game’s cards are well deigned where it is easy to find the information you need. The navigation cards could have maybe made it a little easier to find the north side of the card, but otherwise I don’t have any complaints. On top of all of this the game uses wood for the goods cubes and the ships.
Should You Buy Tricky Tides?
I was skeptical at first when I heard that Tricky Tides was a combination of trick taking and pick-up and deliver mechanics. The two mechanics have so little in common and I wasn’t a huge fan of trick taking games in general. While the game had no reason to work, it ends up working surprisingly well. The trick taking mechanics and pick-up and deliver mechanics are not particularly original on their own but they actually supplement one another really well. The reason they work so well is that the game is the perfect compromise between being easy to play and yet having enough strategy. Tricky Tides still relies on quite a bit of luck but it is surprisingly fun to play. On top of all of this the game’s components are quite good.
My recommendation basically comes down to your thoughts on trick taking and pick-up and deliver games. If you hate one of the two genres or could care less about both, I don’t think you will enjoy Tricky Tides. People who really like one of the two genres though and think the premise sounds interesting should really enjoy the game. If that describes you I would recommend picking up Tricky Tides.
If you would like to purchase Tricky Tides you can find it online: eBay