Tides of Madness is the sequel to / re-implementation of Kristian Čurla’s Tides of Time, with a Lovecraftian makeover, and a sprinkling of madness…
In Tides of Madness, two players go head to head, discovering ancient knowledge, exploring hidden locations and encountering horrific creatures (by drafting cards from a shared deck), competing over three rounds to build a tableau that maximises the potential of the scoring conditions of each card - most points wins, but beware the madness!
There aren’t many parts in the box, but all of them are good quality.
- The main deck comprises of 18 oversized cards, and the art on these is amazing, simply stunning - there were several artists involved, so the styles are quite varied, but the graphic design helps to draw these all together into a coherent whole. Cards range from depictions of the chilly Mountains of Madness, to an insane vision of Azathoth, and a creepy Innsmouth to the mighty sea bound Cthulhu itself.
- The obligatory madness tokens are nice, and these highlight the main difference between Tides of Time (ToT) and Tides of Madness, this game can be lost if a player gains nine or more madness tokens.
- Even the rule book has received a lot of love, written on a tri-fold sheet of aged looking paper, that you could imagine was a Pnakotic Manuscript, with arcane symbols and illustrations setting the text off nicely.
- The game comes with a pencil and score pad which has plenty of sheets, but I would suggest laminating a couple and getting a dry erase marker if you are going to play a lot.
If anything lets it down, it’s the card backs. These feature the same art used for ToT, and they felt like a bit of an afterthought in that game, but they don’t really fit here as they use colourised versions of the ToT artwork.
Of course, having duplicate card backs does hint that there should be a way to integrate the two games - I made a suggestion on a simple way of combining ToT and Tides of Madness on BoardGameGeek which has had a few likes and some takers, but as yet there is no ‘official’ way to do this.
Anatomy of a Card
If you can take your eyes off of the gorgeous artwork for a second, you will notice that the cards come in five suits, Races (purple), Locations (red), Outer Gods (yellow), Great Old Ones (blue) and Manuscripts (Green) - each of which, no matter how nicely named, inevitably end up being referred to by their colour.
Most of the cards have Victory Point scoring conditions, for instance collect a set of X, Y and Z, or have a majority in X suit, whilst a couple have special rules that can affect your score. Finally, some cards have tentacles slithering across them, which represent madness - collect too many of these and you’ll lose the game and all your marbles!
At the start of each of three rounds, players are dealt five cards that make up their starting hand. After studying these, each player chooses one to add to their tableau, and places it face down. Once both players have chosen, these are flipped, and players exchange their remaining cards.
So after this first exchange, players will have seen all the cards available this round - it is therefore important to try and remember as much as they can about these (at least the suits / colours), to make choosing further cards a more informed decision.
Play continues like this until players exchange their last cards, that automatically get added to their tableau, and then it is time to score the round.
After scoring, before starting the next round, players take back the five cards they just played, choose one to keep (placed down), and choose one to discard (to the game box), and take two new cards from the deck (to give them a hand of five total). So at the end of the second round, players will score on six cards, and at the end of the third and final round, players score from seven cards each.
After playing a few times, and seeing all of the cards, players will probably be drawn to certain cards that suit their play style - for instance, some cards give a small number of guaranteed Victory Points for each card of a certain suit (defensive, low risk, low gain), whilst more VPs can be gained by having a majority of cards in a suit (offensive, high risk, medium gain), and one card offers 13 VPs for having a set of one card from each of the five suits (very difficult to pull off, very high gain).
Madness comes before scoring - each player takes a madness token for each of their cards with a madness icon. If one player gains more madness than the other, they can choose to gain four VPs (best in the earlier rounds), or heal one madness (best later on when madness builds up). Players then score by checking the scoring objectives on their cards.
After this, if a player has nine or more madness, they go insane and automatically lose! It is all too easy to do this, especially as some cards (like the Necronomicon) reward with VPs for having a high level of madness, and the other player could always spam madness cards your way so you have less choice about what to play.
Tides of Madness vs. Tides of Time
So how does this version of the game compare against the original? The core mechanic of choose a card, swap hands, choose another card is identical, even down to choosing a card to discard, and a card to keep (called Relics of the Past in ToT, where this makes a little more sense).
The card suits are also colour matched, and the suit symbols in Tides of Madness, whilst different, do incorporate the symbolism from ToT (for instance, the Garden suit in ToT is a green leaf, and the Manuscripts suit in Tides of Madness is a green book, with a leaf on one page), lending itself further to a game mashup.
The scoring requirements of cards are about 80% the same across the games, with a few minor adjustments to allow for the Madness mechanic.
And this is the major difference between the games - the Madness adds a very nice push your luck element to the game; take on too many madness cards (which tend to be the higher scoring ones), and you may end up a gibbering mess, but the risk is worth it, as you can gain VPs by taking on more madness than your opponent during a round.
Aesthetically of course, the most obvious difference between the two games is the Cthulhu re-skin. I think the art in both games is stunning, and whilst the Tides of Madness card art is great because, well, Cthulhu, the ToT original artwork is actually more in context (all images are of locations), and also more in tune with the theme of the game, that of actually building a great civilisation of awesome wonders and monuments.
Summing up Tides of Madness
Whilst not earth-shatteringly different to Tides of Time, Tides of Madness is a great game in its own right. The addition of the madness mechanic means you have to watch your step when choosing cards, and balance high scoring potential against losing your mind, and the new artwork is phenomenal.
This is a great filler game, which plays much faster than the 20 minute playtime on the box (I would argue you could just about squeeze in two games in that time), and fans of ToT will love it.
As similar as the games are, there is room in my collection for both, because, firstly, they don’t take up much room, and secondly, they do have a slightly different feel. ToT’s gameplay has a more relaxed feel, whilst the added push your luck element of Tides of Madness makes it that bit more tense.