A Quick Review for a Quick Game
Tides of Madness is a Cthulhu-themed card game for two players. To win, players must attempt to score the most points without going mad.
To start, each player will choose a card from a hand of five cards and play it face up on the table. They will then pass the remaining cards to the opposing player. They will continue to do this until you have played all five cards.
There are 18 cards. 15 of them have one of five suits that have an effect that allows it to score points at the end of the round. The other three have no suit associated with them but have varying powers. The cards are resolved in order from left to right, so the first card to the last card played. You will want to try and play cards in a certain order to maximize your points while minimizing madness.
Some of the cards have a madness icon (i.e., Cthulhu tentacles) on them. At the end of the round, you will receive a madness token for each one of these cards in front of you. If you have the most madness at the end of the round, you can choose to either score four points or remove one madness token. If you ever have nine or more madness tokens, you instantly lose the game.
At the end of the round, each player will choose to pick one card to keep and one to place back in the box. Two new cards will be added to the six cards remaining, shuffled, and dealt out to each player. You’ll continue to do this for two more rounds. The only difference is you’ll have six cards in front of you at the end of the second round and seven at the end of the third. The player with the highest score at the end of three rounds wins. The game can end earlier if someone gets nine or more madness tokens.
This game plays quickly. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll finish in about 15-20 minutes. Trying to figure out what cards to keep can be a tough decision. There are some really good scoring abilities on cards that also provide madness. Take too many of these cards, and you will probably lose due to going mad, even though you have a higher score. Play it too safe, and you may not score enough points, so there is a delicate balance.
The game has some set collection, but you’ll also want to get different suits to help with the set collection. For example, you may have a card that gives you two points for each card you have of a certain suit, yet that card itself is actually a different suit. Every card is like that. They give you points for suits and other combinations that the card itself is not a part of. I enjoy this aspect of the game.
The artwork is awesome. You’ll have a gorgeous landscape on one, a horrifying creature on another, and an eerie location on a third, all of which look stunning.
Do I think the game is fun? It’s alright. My wife and I played a few games in a row, and I was satisfied. It doesn’t have the same pull for me to want to play again as say 7 Wonders Duel or Hanamikoji. You play a card, pass the hand to your opponent, play a card, pass the hand, etc. and continue this for three rounds. I like that the set collection forces you to take cards that aren’t necessarily part of a set to get a set you’re looking for.
Would I play it again if somebody asked me to play it? Probably. Would I suggest to someone to play it? Maybe if that person is a big Cthulhu fan, but even then, the theme is just pasted on. Otherwise, I can’t see myself asking someone to play this with me. While there are some things I like about this game, overall there are other quick card games that I would rather play.
A Wife’s Perspective
Full disclosure: I like Cthulhu more than my husband does. Most of the Cthulhu-themed games we own are because of me, including this one. While I am not a Lovecraft groupie, I do like my Deep One games.
As for this game, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. On the plus side, it quick, and the cards are beautiful. But it is definitely just a filler game. I’m not even sure it is my go-to filler game. I disagree that the theme is pasted on. I think it comes through well enough for a ten-plus minute card game. That said, I am glad we didn’t pay a lot for it. I don’t remember what the normal MSRP is for the game, but I do know that we got it for about $7-8 thanks to a coupon Amazon had available AND I had some gift certificate money left from my birthday, so it was essentially free. For $7, it might be worth it for a Cthulhu fan, but I would recommend paying too much more than that. (Currently, the game is under $11 on Amazon–so worth a try!)
That said, there is some strategy to it. You need to decide if you are willing to take on madness to earn victory points. I think both times we played I went mad trying to go for the points. Your opponent can also force you to take madness tokens, which you need to try and account for but that can be difficult.
It is certainly not my favorite Cthulhu game, but how many Cthulhu games can you play in ten minutes? Most of them are several hours or more—especially if you have the expansions. And that doesn’t include the setup.
I am glad I bought it. It was worth trying out, and we always need a few more two-player only games. Now we have one. And it has cuddly Cthulhu!