Review: Tides of Time20 Mar 2019 0
Review: Tides of Time
Released 10 Mar 2019
The digital arm of Portal Games has been very quiet over recent years. In fact, it was way back in 2010 when they released their first and still rather brilliant port of strategy board game Neuroshima Hex. Now Portal Games are back with Tides of Time, a micro-card drafting game that follows in the footsteps of Love Letter. However, this time around instead of a multiplayer game of courtly intrigue and bluffing, we have a two-player empire-building face-off, which plays like a simplified version of 7 Wonders.
With a deck of only eighteen cards to work with, players compete through three ages to develop the most prosperous civilisation. At the start of each era, both players are dealt a hand of five cards. These cards represent the various buildings and monuments that can be constructed. Each card will belong to one of five suits, and most of them will also have a point-scoring objective. Players select a single card and drag it into their play area; there are no resource costs to worry about since all buildings are constructed for free. The players will then exchange hands and from then on, it’s rinse and repeat until neither player has any cards left to play.
The monuments that the players managed to construct are then evaluated. Scoring will usually depend on having the most of a particular suit or require you to collect different sets. The Sky Pillars monument, for instance, belongs to the temple suit but scores points for each pair of cards that belong to the garden and library suits. Whereas the Golden Ziggurat is part of the garden suit but scores points if the player who built it has the majority of monuments that belong to the palace suit. Some buildings have special abilities like The Roof of the World, which doubles the value of the player’s most numerous suit. At the end of the first two eras, players must elect one of their buildings as a relic from the past, which means that it will remain in play until the end of the game. They then choose a second building to remove from the game. Finally, each player will draw two new cards and then the next age will commence. The player with the most points at the end of the third era wins.
The first thing that strikes you about Tides of Time is the wonderful graphics. The large cards are adorned with some beautiful and evocative artwork. This is complemented by some eye-pleasing graphics used to depict the buildings when they are placed into the play area. Another nice touch is the way that at the end of each era the monuments crumble into dust. Trails of lights attempt to help you see at a glance which buildings trigger scoring opportunities. However, I didn’t find this feature especially helpful. A better option is to check the icons along the right hand side of the screen, which record all of the cards that you have played along with their respective suits and scoring potentials.
Tides of Time is a simple game and the interface only has to manage the manipulation of a hand of cards. It does this reasonably successfully, although if you do not drag a card directly upwards to the play area, there is the chance that you will actually place a neighbouring card by mistake. All is not lost though since a simple tap of the undo button will take back your last move. I think there is a problem with the screen formatting, as sometimes you cannot see the full image of the cards when they are close to the edge of the screen without carefully dragging them to a more central position. The game also forces you to play out the last round of each era, although you have no choice other than to play your remaining card, this could have been handled automatically. Options are limited; you can play a quick match against one of three AI opponents or take on a human challenger in hot seat mode. I managed to beat the first two AI opponents on my initial attempt, thankfully, the third one put up more of a challenge. At the moment, there are no online options.
It is really only the special power cards that make Tides of Time anything more than a really simple set collection game. You have the high scoring but risky Maze of the Damned, which requires ownership of a card of each of the five different suits – no easy task, even in the third era when you already have two cards already in play. In contrast, The Eye of The North scores points for each suit that you do not have. The Kings Nest doesn’t score any points directly but does allow the owner to win all ties for suits. Whilst The Molehill scores points for each of your suit majorities as long as they consist of just one single card. Unfortunately, even with these welcome nuances, the game still suffers from a lack of variety.
All eighteen cards are going to show up every time you play, indeed you will end up seeing many of the same ones turning up time and again in the space of a single game. By the second turn of each era you will be aware of all of the cards in play and the game begins to feel more like a test of memory than skill. The drafting can also often feel more like a negative way of putting an end to your opponent’s plans rather than actively improving your own position. This can be especially true when one player is trying to preserve an advantage. It can feel like the second leg of a football match in which the team with the advantage is happy to grind out a dour draw.
As a quick playing micro-game this digital version works much better than Love Letter, whose lifeblood is so dependant upon the social interaction between players. I really like how the game handles the advancement through the different eras. Many buildings fall only to rise again, others persevere as relics and some crumble never to be seen again. Deciding which cards to transform into relics and which ones to destroy creates the most interesting decision points. However, the Tides of Time’s lack of variety means that you soon feel like you have seen all that the game has to offer. There is nothing inherently wrong with Tides of Time, it just feels artificially constrained by its microgame pretentions. This lack of substance, alongside the limited options, results in a game more likely to crumble to dust rather than become a lasting landmark.