Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef
“It has been fifteen years since the Great Battle. Fifteen years since our esteemed Engineers from the Citadel of Time made their wrenching decision and created The Fold; fifteen years since the last assemblage – and ultimate sacrifice – of the Tidal Blades.”
Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef is developed and published by Druid City Games and Skybound Games. Tidal Blades features glorious art and production values and provides epic gameplay for gamers ages 14 and up. A game of Tidal Blades takes one-to-two hours, depending on your familarity with the game and the number of players.
Setting up the Game
Below a is a shot of a Tidal Blades setup for three players, including the Angler’s Cove expansion. We shortened our setup time by creating “Start Packs” for each character, but there’s still a lot to do before you can play Tidal Blades.
Each component board highlights on the back where it belongs, so you can align the six (or seven with the expansion) boards quickly. After this, each of the locations requires its own bit of setup, whether it is laying out cards, setting up decks, or putting out a few pieces.
Finally, there is a little bit of setup each player must do on their own boards; setting out certain cards, selecting a secret goal, and more.
Expect setup to take at least ten minutes until multiple players are familiar with what to do.
Gameplay in Tidal Blades is a medley of mechanics. Start the game with two Action Disks (you’ll gain more later). These represent places your character goes to during the round. In turn order, move your character and one Disk to a location on one of the Islands in Naviri.
Each island in Naviri provides a general benefit, and each location on each island provides an additional benefit. Once you’ve acquired your location perks, you can attempt to complete an island specific Challenge from your hand.
Your goal as an aspiring Tidal Blade (defender of Naviri) is to acquire shells for defense, obtain fruit for temporary boosts and currency, and acquire or upgrade dice. Dice will help you complete your Challenges, which raise your Trait abilities. Your Trait abilities power how many dice you can roll, how many dice you can refresh once they’re spent, how many asymmetric player powers you have, and the strength of your Stunts, which are special one-time use cards you can acquire during the game.
The Angler’s Cove expansion adds a sixth island to Naviri. It also adds a fifth player (and a new Character). This expansion also adds the Outcast mechanic, which is similar to Corruption in the Lords of Waterdeep expansions.
Ultimately, your goal is to prove to the Judge that you are worthy of the title of Tidal Blade. Of course, during the competition, monsters come from The Fold to threaten the city. You’ll need to fight them off, too.
There’s A Lot Going On Here
This review features a lot less detail than usual. There’s just so much going on in Tidal Blades, it’s impossible to handle succinctly. Nevertheless, Druid City Games and Skybound Games have crafted a remarkably straightforward adventure, albeit with a lot of pieces.
I was overwhelmed with my first game of Tidal Blades. It was just me and our gamer child trying to figure out the rules, manage all of the pieces, and navigate the automa necessary in a two player game. It was too much.
Tidal Blades also has a lot going on that seems disjointed. Unlike an engine builder, where actions flow together to cause a chain effect, Tidal Blades requires you to balance a lot of disparate elements until you get to a situation where you need to have all of those resources available to you. This can also make the game feel like there are more things going on than there really are. You need to focus on a lot of little things at once.
This isn’t to say the game is bad, though. It’s a ton of fun to have to manage all of these pieces! But if you (or your kids!) are the kind of player who wants to funnel all of their energies in a smaller number of places, this may prove troublesome.
Balancing Barrier-of-Entry with Mechanics
Board Game Geek lists the following mechanics for Tidal Blades: Card Drafting, Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Set Collection, Variable Player Powers, and Worker Placement. That’s a lot. There is so much to blend in Tidal Blades it takes a certain kind of player to handle it all. On the other hand, none of these mechanics are implemented in a complex way, which could disappoint some of the very same gamers who can handle all of these disparate ingredients.
Can I Just Sit and Stare?
If you’ve heard anything about Tidal Blades before this review, you’ve undoubtedly heard how absolutely gorgeous it is. That praise is well deserved. Mr. Cuddington is the art and worldbuilding team behind Tidal Blades and they have created an absolute masterpiece. Every piece of art is rich, vibrant, and evocative. Nothing is short changed and no corners are cut. James Hudson, the brains behind Druid City Games, once said, “If we’re guilty of anything, it’s being extra.“. Tidal Blades is extra in spades.
Wait, That’s It?
One of the most frustrating things for me in Tidal Blades is that fact that it’s a four round game. In the extended, long game, there is a “Tryout” round at the beginning, before the monsters come. Even with this five round modified game, I’m still left with so much I want to do with my character.
On the one hand, this tension is excellent and leaves me wanting to return to Tidal Blades again and again. On the other hand, I’m not getting in and out of this game in a tight 30-45 minutes. The thought of bringing all of the baggage of setup, teardown, player commitment, and more makes that struggle a little unwieldy.
I don’t know how to manage it, but I would love to play a six-to-eight round version of this game.
Wait, There’s More?
Tidal Blades isn’t content to offer a feature-rich, dynamic board game for 3-5 players.
The Almanac (the second rulebook) provides an optional feature of Special Announcements. These are missives from the Judge that completely change the scoring for the game.
The Almanac also provides rules for the Tidal Blades solo mode. There are rules for allies, rules for a rival, Plot mechanics, and changing monster rewards and invasions.
Finally, the Almanac also includes rules for the Tidal Blades two person variant. In this variant there is an automa third player. If you only play games at two players this could make the game available to you, but I really didn’t care for the automa implementation at all. As noted above, my first play of Tidal Blades was a two-player affair, and the automa was incredibly confusing. Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend it.
Tidal Blades feels like the ultimate gamer flex. It features most classic gamer mechanics, it’s gorgeous to look at, and each element is easy to understand. If there’s a game to be proud to show off, this is it.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t flex down as well as I would like. I found myself longing for a “module” configuration like Taverns of Tiefenthal, where I could play a simpler game by removing a bunch of modules. Within the same game, I could flex it up to include everything for my more crunchy friends.
This is the one thing Tidal Blades really lacks. Everything else in the game is easy to understand, but having to marshal everything together at once just overwhelmed some of the gamers I played with. I would have liked to have been able to remove a couple of elements to make it a little more manageable for them.
I love this game. It’s gorgeous, it’s fun to play, and it’s got a really interesting world that leaves me wanting more. There is a Tidal Blades RPG source book coming out, and Mr Cuddington has offered enough tidbits in this game already to have my ears perked up for that.
It’s also important to not miss the “Part One” on the front of the box for Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef. Part Two is coming to Kickstarter in late 2021. James Hudson teased some of the mechanics for this in Episode 239 of The Family Gamers Podcast, and we’re excited.
Tidal Blades is a beautiful, wonderful game, if you can find the time to play, and the right people to play it with.
Get Tidal Blades directly from Skybound Games or at your friendly local game store!
Skybound Games provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef and the Angler’s Cove expansion for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef
Age Range: 14+ (10+ with the right gamers)
Number of Players: 1-4 (5 with expansion)
Playtime: 60-90 minutes (we say 60-120)