Can your civilization stand the test of time?
Android & iOS
# of Players
Tides of Time is a card drafting, set collection game from Portal Games Digital. Two players draft buildings to add to their civilizations and attempt to score points. Five cards are drafted during each of three ages, with scoring taking place between each. Once the final scoring round is complete, the total from all three ages is calculated and the player with the most points wins.
Play begins with each player drawing five cards. Both players choose one of those cards to add to their civilization and pass the remaining cards to the opposing player. This repeats until all ten cards have been played. The concludes an age (copper, silver, and golden are the three ages). Points are tallied for the current age and each player selects one card to remain in their civilization and one card in their civilization to remove from the game. The remaining three cards are picked up into the player’s hand, and two new cards are drawn to get back to five cards in each hand. The same process repeats for the second and third ages, with scores being tallied between each. At the end of the golden age, the scores from all three ages are combined for a final score, the player who earned the most points wins the game.
The gameplay is very simple and plays quickly, the minor detail we left out is how to actually score points. Most cards will provide you with a suit and a scoring ability. There are five suits in the game: palace, library, garden, temple, and stronghold (these are represented by icons in the game). An example of a scoring ability is a card which provides three points for each temple you have in your civilization. The suits and scoring abilities rarely intertwine, however. In the previous example of a scoring ability, the suit of that card would not be a temple, so playing the card on its own won’t earn you any points with its ability, you need to play it into a civilization which already has temples, or add temples later to earn the points. Other scoring abilities include big points for sets (13 points for have one of each suit, for example), points for having the most of a suit, points for having zero of a particular suit, and so on.
Most of the cards in the game provide a suit and scoring ability, but there are some which don’t provide a suit and some which don’t directly provide any scoring. One card, for example, provides a palace suit, but rather than having a scoring ability simply allows you to win any ties that arise in scoring. Another provides no suit but provides eight points if your highest scoring card provides more points than your opponent’s highest scoring card.
Tides of Time takes two very familiar mechanics (set collection and card drafting) and boils them down to a very simple form, managing to pull off a fun game. There are a few winning twists to these well explored mechanics in my opinion. First, there are only 18 cards in the deck and 13 are used in each game. This allows players to get very familiar with the card set quickly, which makes the game easy to learn and quickly provides players with the chance to play for cards they know might be coming later, a true risk/reward proposition, but those are always fun.
Also, being a head-to-head card drafting game makes things very interesting, tactically. Specifically, you will constantly be blocking your opponent and watching them do the same to you. The game comes off much more viscous than expected due to this. With such small hands, you will take cards your opponent needed even if you aren’t paying any attention to their civilization (a strategy that is not recommended). In a perfect game, you will be able to thwart your opponent’s plans while also scoring big points, a combination that is incredibly difficult to pull off.
The potential downsides of the game are tied to some of the positives. Only 18 cards makes for a very tight gameplay experience, but will that hold up over dozens and dozens of repeat plays? The physical game has a sequel, Tides of Madness released only a year after the original, which adds a negative effect to the game. Releasing a sequel so quickly with an additional mechanic is a strong piece of evidence that there was room to improve on the original game.
I like Tides of Time. I am concerned about longevity, but I think it offers interesting twists on duel games and card drafting. If you had asked if I needed another two player set collection game or another card drafting game, I would have answered ‘no’ to both. However, Tides of Time combines the two in a unique enough way that I enjoyed the game. Nothing about it is revolutionary, but to me it feels like a fun twist on standard two player set collection games rather than a retread of two well-worn genres.
Barrier to Entry
Tides of Time has a tutorial to guide you through your first game. The tutorial shows you how to perform the basic actions in the game, and touches on some of the most basic game strategies over the course of one full game. The tutorial succeeds in explaining the simple gameplay, but falls short in explaining why some of the choices are being made, which is not uncommon when developers opt for tutorials geared towards teaching the game quickly.
The downside to the simplistic approach to teaching the game is that there is nowhere in the app to find more details on the rules or to reference a rule you might have forgotten. Details like how many cards are in the deck and a card gallery are a mystery unless you play enough to count them or find the physical game rules online.
Look and Feel
Tides of Time looks great, you can tell a lot of work went into the visuals on this app. Once cards are played they leave sight and instead their buildings are rendered in 3D into your civilization, these renderings look great for a board game app. Different buildings which combine with others to score points get connected with a colorful trail to give you good awareness of how your buildings are working together. The actual effects of the cards are shifted to the side of the screen where a small horizontal display appears for each card. This shows the suit of the card (if any) along with what effects/scoring abilities it has and any potential points it could gain you. The app essentially dropped the great game artwork and replaced it with great renderings of them. I can see how this might be off putting to fans of the physical game, but I personally enjoy the style.
The only downside, visually, is the odd way the point tracking works. Turns are intended to be played simultaneously, but the app lets you play your card before scrolling over to see the AI’s choice. After you play your card, your score updates with the result of that card. However, when the app scrolls to the AI’s tableau, your score reverts to the point it was before you played your most recent card. This makes sense if you are playing in hot seat, but is an odd design choice in an AI game. Coming into the game new, it took me a few plays to understand the score ping-ponging going on.
Control-wise, the app works well. Drag a card into your civilization and then either confirm or undo the selection. The app scrolls over to watch the AI make their choice and the process repeats. There are very limited user actions needed in this game and the app handles them quite well.
Tides of Time offers local pass-and-play as the only multiplayer mode (the game uses the term “hot seat”). Given the hidden information element on the first turn, the game wisely hides the cards until you confirm it is your turn.
It’s certainly a letdown to not see an online mode in any new, non-solo/co-op, app released these days. There’s not a lot to say about it, if pass-and-play is a highly utilized game mode for you, Tides of Time will fit your multiplayer needs. If you were hoping to play online, that is not possible with Tides of Time.
The game offers three AI opponents: Easy, Medium, and Hard. There are no other options when beginning a game, simply select the AI and the game begins. It is nice to see that the easy AI is not a total pushover, something that often happens in digital ports. It is hard to know what is going on under the hood, but the easy AI seemingly targeted cards I needed to prevent me from scoring points, as you would expect any human player to do. As you learn a bit more, it won’t take long to outgrow the easy AI, but medium and hard AIs ramp up the difficulty appropriately. Without online play, it was crucial that the AI in this game was well done, and that appears to be the case.
Choosing an opponent
Golden Age civilization
The app contains a slew of achievements to chase. The achievements are well thought out, giving you some very specific, often very difficult, goals to chase. This will provide a nice set of goals for completionists to play towards.
The game also features, somewhat strangely, a separate goal/coin system outside of those 32 achievements. The most basic here is earning 10 coins for winning a game. The only use of the coins right now appears to be in unlocking avatars. Tied into these goals is a title system, you begin the game as a Settler, but can work up to a Burgomaster, Duke, and beyond by marking off these goals. All of this is fine, it’s just a bit odd that this is separate from the achievements.
The game keeps track of your wins/losses against each different difficulty level, as well as hot seat games.
The Wrap Up
Tides of Time is an interesting app. On the plus side, it is a very well made app with strong AI opponents. On the down side, no online play is the headline, with a few smaller quirks to nitpick. I have found enough to like in the game itself to want to play, but is this going to be good enough to be my one go-to in the “quick playing AI game” genre? Time will tell for sure, but I suspect not given the stiff competition, although that is a decision that will vary from person-to-person.
If you are a big fan of the game, or just want to try it out, the app does a great job there, the AI is strong and the app plays quite smoothly. However, the overall package is lacking for a new release in 2019.