In 2015, Portal Games introduced the world to Tides of Time from designer Kristian Čurla. Tides of Time is a fast-to-play card drafting game for two players where each person played as an ancient civilization and worked to build the most prosperous kingdom. Now, Portal and Kristian are back and have given us the sequel – Tides of Madness.
Tides of Madness is set in the H.P. Lovecraft mythos, and has each player taking on the role of an investigator trying to discover ancient knowledge and secrets beyond the grasp of time and – in some cases – the human mind. Each player will contact mysterious cults, explore hidden locations, encounter horrific creatures, and learn unspeakable words. The horror of this ancient knowledge may prove to be too much to bear for weaker minds, and one investigator – or both – could be lost forever to the madness.
To set up Tides of Madness, shuffle the 18-card deck and deal five cards to each player. Set the remaining cards aside to be used in later rounds. You’ll also need to place the 20 Madness tokens nearby where both players can access them. Also, place the included scoring pad and pencil off to the side. You’ll use these at the end of each round to calculate each player’s points.
Tides of Madness consists of 18 cards. These are broken into five suits – with three cards of each suit. There are also three cards that have no suit. The suits in the game are pictured to the right and are – in order from top to bottom – Races, Locations, Outer Gods, Great Old Ones, and Manuscripts. These suits are shown in the upper left corner of each card. Of the 18 cards, eight of them are dangerous to play. They are the more powerful cards in the game, but induce madness to the player who plays them. Each of these eight cards are easily identified by the tentacles along the left side.
Every card also has a name (in the lower right corner) and an ability (in the upper right corner). Most of these abilities are scoring objectives that will reward victory points if the objective is met at the end of each round.
Playing Tides of Madness is really simple. Each player will look at their hand of five cards and choose one to add to their tableau. This card is placed facedown on the table until both players have made their selection. Then, simultaneously, players reveal which card they chose by flipping them over. The players then trade hands (i.e. the four cards they did not select), and will select their next card from these four cards. After revealing the second card chosen, the remaining cards are again swapped, a third card chosen, and so on until each player has selected five cards. These five cards are used to calculate the score – and Madness – for each player during the round (see Scoring below).
At the end of the scoring phase, each player will collect the five cards in front of them to form their new hand of five cards. Each player will select one card to keep on the table for the remainder of the game, placing this card facedown until both have made their choice – revealing them to each other once they’ve both been chosen. They will each also select a card to remove from the game by discarding it, face-up, to the box. This will leave each player with a hand of only three cards. Deal two cards from the deck to each player to bring their hand size back up to five cards. Then play the second round exactly as the first round was played. Each player will select a card, pass their remaining cards to their opponent, select a new card, and so on until all cards have been chosen. At the end of the second round, each player will have six cards in front of them – the five they selected during the round plus the card they chose to keep at the end of the first round. Calculate the score – and Madness – for the second round.
Players will then pick up the five cards chosen during the round – leaving the card they chose to keep after the first round on the table – and will each select a second card to keep and a second card to remove from the game. Two more cards are dealt from the deck to each player (this will exhaust the deck completely), and the third round is played exactly the same as the other two, with players selecting a card, trading hands, etc. At the end of the third round, each player will have seven cards in front of them – five chosen during the round, and two cards kept at the end of each of the previous rounds. Scores – and, of course, Madness – are calculated for the third round. Then all three round scores are totaled together to give a final score. The player with the highest total is the winner. In the case of a tie, both players share the victory.
At the end of each round – after each player has selected the five cards they wish to keep – scoring is calculated. First, look at the five cards in front of each player. Any card that has tentacles along the left side (like the Necronomicon show to the left) have induced a bit of Madness. Each player should take one Madness token for each card they have that has driven them a little bit mad. Then look to see which player acquired the most Madness for that round. That player can choose to either score four extra points or heal one Madness by discarding one token. If there is a tie for most Madness, no player gets this choice.
Then each player will check their cards for their scoring objectives and score points for any of the scoring conditions that have been met. There are several ways to score. Players can score points for each card of a specific suit, for having a majority of a specific suit, and collecting sets of suits. There is also a card that gives one point for each Madness token a player has acquired. If a player has nine or more Madness tokens in front of them, they have been driven insane by the knowledge they’ve encountered and lose the game immediately. If both players have nine or more Madness, they both go insane, and there is no winner.
Tides of Madness is a fun, quick filler game for two players. It is simple to play, but has a good depth of strategy and allows for a bit of “take that” between players – by allowing you to take cards you know your opponent needs (since you can always see what cards they’ve chosen to keep). The artwork is gorgeous, and really captures the madness-inducing mythos of Lovecraftian lore. It’s great to see some of the Great Old Ones depicted, but …. Cthulhu doesn’t induce Madness?!? What?!? And, while I’m sure it’s done for balance purposes, the fact that the Races and Manuscripts contain more Madness than the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods seems odd to me. From a realism standpoint, I’d think encountering one of these beings would induce far more Madness than simply reading a manuscript or studying a race. That’s a very minor gripe though (and is probably just me being picky). This – in no way, shape, or form – takes away from the game. The gameplay itself is very solid. When it’s time for a light – but still strategic – filler game between sessions of heavier (longer) games, look no further than Tides of Madness, especially if you are in the middle of a Cthulhu-themed game night.