Tides of Madness is a drafting game for two players by Portal Games that retails around $15. In the interest of not just being mean to this game, it’s made of very pretty parts. Each card is fully illustrated in postcard orientation with a full-art depiction of some generic Lovecraftian thing. Additionally, each card has a set it’s from, and a mechanic that says what set it rewards. This is a basic kind of set collection mechanic, where you get X, but it rewards Y. This divides your incentives, and you’re limited you to five choices each round, presenting the game’s tension.
I am personally pretty pleased by the challenge of making a game with such deliberately narrow constraints. I’ve made other games with eighteen cards, including drafting games, and conceptually, it’s an exciting design challenge. It’s not like ‘X feeds Y’ is a bad game mechanic, asking you to track the pieces. The puzzle then is what to pick, to force your opponent’s hand and deny them potential points. Of course, a problem that follows there is how obviously separated or clearly presented those pieces are. The set symbols are ambiguous and small, making it hard to keep tracking them during the game.
The first time I played this game, my opponent and I immediately complained about its generic feeling. Not just the Lovecraftian monsters theme – though you can bet I’ve got views on how that’s handled. We felt that all but three cards were very obviously just permutations of cards in other sets. When the art is so indulgent and the cards so large, this lack of depth stands out. This game retails for very little so it can seem reasonable to be charitable about its failings. I’m not feeling charitable, though, and you should buy my cheap drafting games instead, like Winston’s Archive.