(Edit: 5/7/20 – I forgot to link to the review when I posted that they’ve updated the app. It’s still not awesome, but it’s not bad anymore. And it’s temporarily (as of this writing) free!)
There’s something to be said for seeing ages and ages of the world and society appear and disappear in the span of, oh, say, five minutes.
What’s that you say? How is that possible?
Sure enough, it showed up on Friday and I quickly downloaded it and took it for a spin.
The quick-playing card game designed by Kristian Čurla with art by Tomasz Jedruszek, Chris Ostrowski, Dan Pellow, Blake Rottinger, Artur Sadlos and Rafał Szyma was published by Portal Games (hey, I think I’ve heard of them!).
How does it play?
Let’s take a look.
Tides of Time is kind of a set collection card-drafting game for two players and it only has 18 cards. It takes place over three rounds, between which there will be scoring of the cards in your tableau (Kingdom).
Each player gets a hand of 5 cards.
On your turn, you and your opponent will place one card face-down in front of you. Then, you will both reveal the card and place it in your Kingdom.
Fifteen of the eighteen cards have one of five suits (3 cards each) on them while the other three don’t (like the Sapphire Port above).
All of them will have some kind of scoring ability or a set collection goal.
Once both players have placed their cards, they pass each other the rest of their hand. Then they do the same thing with their new cards, placing one face-down in front of them and then revealing simultaneously.
You do this for all 5 cards, and then you score the cards in your kingdom.
Some will give you points for having a majority in a suit. Others will give you points if you have a set of certain suits. And some (like Gods Baths above) will just give you points for each card of that suit you have.
After scoring, you will choose which card to keep in your Kingdom, which one to discard from the game entirely, and the other three cards go back to your hand. Then the buildings (except the “relic” you chose to keep) get wiped away by the sands of time.
The second and third rounds work the same way. You draw two cards to replace the one you kept and the one you discarded, and then you play again. Your relics already count as in play for your set and card collection, so you already have a head start in subsequent rounds.
Scoring rounds are cumulative, so at the end of the game, add up your points from all three ages, and whoever has the most is the winner!
Is Tides of Time a wonder of the ancient world or is it a dilapidated shack that will get wiped away by the sands of the ages passing?
First, I’ll comment on the game before going into the app itself.
Tides of Time is an interesting little game, quick and easy to play for two players. The smallness of the game (only 18 cards!) works well for it, though I could see it getting a bit boring after repeated plays. I think it would be something to be trotted out occasionally, not binge-played.
I like the bit of set collection there is, and also the three scoring ability tiles. The King’s Nest lets you win all ties, so if you have a bunch of majority cards, it’s good to get a hold of that one.
Unless your opponent gets the Roof of the World (Double the amount of your most numerous suit) card!
The drafting mechanism really works well because sometimes you have to take a card you don’t want to because you know that card will give your opponent beaucoup points.
I definitely like the game, but I’m not sure for how long I would play it before it becomes a bit boring (apparently the game’s sequel, Tides of Madness, adds a madness mechanism that really spices up the game).
How is the app?
The app is…ok.
It looks really pretty, though the area where you play your cards could be a bit crisper. It looks kind of muted, which may be because the cards themselves (and the buildings that are put on the board to represent those cards) are so vivid.
The card art is beautiful.
The user interface is fairly clean. You hold your finger on a card to bring it up to read it (it’s still a bit difficult to read on my iPhone X so I can’t imagine what it would be like on smaller phones, but on a tablet it works great).
The cards in your Kingdom are noted as well as what their scoring ability or goal is. It clearly tells you what suit (if any) the card is as well so you know what you’re collecting.
The game also has three levels of AI. I beat the Easy AI on my first game, but I haven’t beaten the Medium in three tries (I had her down after two rounds in one game but in the 3rd round, she rebounded and won 28-27). I’ve never played the game before, so I’m assuming experts at the game would have no trouble. And who knows about the Hard difficulty?
Tides of Time has two modes of play: solo against the AI and Hot Seat. Sadly, there is no online multiplayer yet. My buddy Dave over on his post on BGG says that Portal will be implementing online multiplayer later “if the app is well-received.”
Sadly, that probably means it’s never coming.
Not because the app sucks (though as I said, it’s only “ok” for more reasons I’ll get to below), but because many players won’t buy an app unless they can play it with their friends all over the world.
I think this will hurt sales, and probably enough that Portal will consider the game “not well received” and thus never implement it. We’ve been burned too many times by companies who say something is coming “later” and then it never materializes. People aren’t going to buy a game on that promise anymore.
What else is wrong with the app?
Probably the most egregious issue is the lack of rules within the game.
There is a tutorial, and it does give you the basics of scoring and how the game plays.
However, there is a ton of stuff missing, and there’s no in-game rulebook to actually look up the rules of the game. I had to download the rules sheet from BGG.
For example, I had no idea when I bought the app and started playing it that there were only 18 cards. I didn’t know that there are only three cards of each suit.
Sure, the tutorial showed me how to keep my relic and discard a card out of play.
But I had no idea that you then put the other three cards back in your hand and draw two more.
There’s also no card gallery, so you only see the cards when you play. You can’t look at all the cards and get an idea of what they do before you actually play the game.
The rule sheet is only two pages (or perhaps even one page front and back, as I’m looking at the PDF), how is it not possible to actually put it into the app?
Finally, the ongoing scoring updates are really confusing. The numbers seem to change on a whim when the scene shifts from my kingdom to the AI’s, though I think that’s because it works the same way in the Hot Seat 2-player game.
In the Hot Seat, the first player plays a card and it shows up in the list of cards on the left and their score is adjusted. Then the scene shifts to the second player’s Kingdom. Any points scored by the first-player’s just-played card disappears as it shifts because the 2nd player doesn’t know what card was played yet until they play their own.
However, it seems silly to have that in solo play against the AI. It just seems like the numbers are jumping up and down like crazy for no reason. Once you get used to it, it’s not an issue, but it mystified me for a while (especially if you never play Hot Seat).
All in all, the app isn’t bad and the game is fun. It plays in 5-10 minutes and would be a good way to pass the time for a while, at least in small increments. I am considering it a challenge to beat all three AIs, so I may be playing for a while!
However, the lack of a rulebook and card gallery, and even worse the lack of online multiplayer, really drags the app down to just the “adequate” level.
Sadly, I think that will mean Tides of Time is not “well-received” enough to implement online play, which is a shame (and I hope I’m wrong). Once you get going in the game and have all of the cards down, it’s actually pretty good and I would love to play it online.
Then again, maybe Portal Games could spend the time they would use to do it in this app and fix the broken online multiplayer in the otherwise fabulous Neuroshima Hex app that they recently reacquired the rights to?
Just a thought.
Tides of Time is available for $5 ($7 CDN, unfortunately) on iOS and $5.49 (so I’ve seen) on Android, though Android appears to be having some issues at the time of this posting. Hopefully they’ll be fixed soon!