Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef & Angler’s Cove Expansion

1-4 players (1-5 with expansion), Competitive, Worker Placement Monster Battling

Designer: Tim Eisner, Ben Eisner

Artwork: Lina Cossette, David Forest

Publisher: Druid City Games

Release Year: 2020

NOTE: This review is for the Deluxe Edition of the game, which contains plastic resource tokens and miniatures for the characters. A small review of the Anglers Cove expansion is at the end of the full review.

Origin Story

This one popped on my radar during my Kickstarter frenzy of 2018 when I was gobbling up every new game I could. The colors and artwork are what originally drew me in but as I got to looking more and more, the gameplay itself really called out to me. A couple years later it was delivered along with the 5th player expansion (which I will also be reviewing), let’s see if it lived up to the hype.

Overview of Gameplay

This is a pure worker placement with added mechanisms. On your turn you will be placing your mini+token on a particular action space on one of the boards and collecting the items marked on that space along with an extra item based on which board you place on. Then you can choose to attempt a Challenge card in your hand that aligns with that specific location by rolling your acquired dice. Completing challenge cards not only give you luscious end game victory points but also help you battle the big bad monsters that are terrorizing your shores by giving you extra dice during your battles with them. During all of this monster battling and challenge completing you will be gaining levels on your four different abilities on your player board. As you go up on these you will enhance multiple things for your character such as how many dice you can roll, how powerful other cards are, how many dice you can return to the active state and special unique card abilities for your own character.

Players will go around and around placing their tokens and taking their spaces goods while completing challenges and possibly fighting monsters in four increasingly longer rounds. I say possibly because you are never required to fight the monsters on the board, HOWEVER, not doing so will incur penalties that differ between monsters. BUT, fighting monsters will destroy all the dice used to fight said monster, causing you to spend more time later acquiring more dice. It’s a delicate balancing act with fighting monsters, do you instead focus on completing challenges where your dice only exhaust and don’t get destroyed? I mean those are worth a decent amount of points by themselves…..but oh man, one good attack of a monster can net you quite a bit of points in just one go. You see, for every “hit” you make on a monster that will net you one point at games end. So, going into battle a monster with, ohhhhh, let’s say 4 dice, will get you four more points IF you can hit with each one of them. And honestly as long as you have enough shell shield tokens to defend with, it’s easy as pie.

Let’s talk about the shell shields for a moment. Whenever you attempt a challenge or fight a monster you will choose how many dice (up to your “Focus” attribute level plus 1 for every fruit resource you pay) you will be rolling. Oh but that’s not all, you will also roll a damage die at the same time which determines how “injured” you can become during the attempts. Whenever that damage die rolls an X symbol you will need to place a shell token that you have acquired on your shell shield card. This card also allows special abilities based on how many shells there are on it, once you get to four shells you can remove those to change the face of any die rolled to whatever symbol you want. Once you get to six (the maximum you can have on the card) you can refresh your exhausted dice. That’s it! Therefore, you can keep rolling to your heart’s desire as long as you have shell tokens to spend. Once you complete or bail on a challenge or monster, you still get to increase your player ability trackers by the icon and amount you rolled. So, if you rolled 2 focus and 1 Spirit on the dice then you go up by those amounts on those particular player board trackers. However, if you can complete the challenges you also get to keep those cards for end game points AND for bonus dice used for fighting monsters as I mentioned earlier.

Once each player has placed all their tokens for a round, the round will end with one of the monsters possibly invading and causing some issues with players that did not partake in an attack on them that round (which is another good reason to attack them). There are two spots for monsters on the board with the first one coming out moving down to the second space during round end. When rolling the die for monster attack, depending on the spot it resides depends on the chance it will attack. That initial spot it will only attack on a roll of 6-8 on a d8. However, once it moves to that second spot it’s much more likely to attack, being on a roll of 1-5. If not defeated, the monster will eventually move off the spaces and flee, depriving everyone of that sweet, sweet monster booty. I mentioned how fighting monsters destroys your dice but you can ever only have a maximum of six dice anyway so it behooves you to at least partake in one monster battle during the game, ESPECIALLY if the attack it does is a bad one for you. In any case, whoever has the most points by the end of round 4 is the winner!

Components/Game Board

I mean this is one gorgeous game in all aspects…..HOWEVER…..there are some component/board choices that are a bit…..excessive in some cases. Now, I’m never one to say something is “over produced”, in my mind I WANT that over production. I go wild for the fluff in games and think it only adds to the experience. That said, I did find some of the component aspects very fiddly here. The first one, and most sad of all, are the miniatures themselves. I absolutely LOVE miniatures in my games and these are no exception. They look fantastic with excellent detail and I love the sculpts. BUT, they just don’t really belong here and this is the first game where I really struggled with this as I always find some reason to include minis in games even if they could do without. But in this game they just get in the way and I hate that they do. Let me explain, so on your turn you are supposed to place your mini AND one of your colored tokens (which are very nice plastic screen printed tokens) on a spot. On your next turn you would move your mini and add another token to a new spot etc etc. First of all, the bases for the minis don’t stack well on top of these tokens so they are always falling off or sitting offset. Second of all, why place the mini at all? Each player’s tokens are colored to their player board so you can easily see whose is who. In a game where you are playing as one, single character that has to move to different spaces on different boards BUT also block the last space moved, it’s just not feasible to use a single mini. Another option would be to include multiple minis for each player or just not use the mini in the game at all (which is what I’ve started doing to my eternal dismay). It does remove a bit of the theme from the game by not using the mini itself but the fiddliness of it was just bugging me too much.

The second questionable component choice are the tiiinnnyyyyy little player tracker tokens. These little babies are tiny little square cardboard tokens you use to mark the spaces of monsters you hit and to mark the Champion track when you get ahead on it. These little things epitomize the very essence of the word Fiddle. Incredibly small and hard to grasp, a pain in the butt to get in and out of the storage solution and SO many of them for each player. They sit in a little pile next to each players board ready to fiddle up a monster card and then once said monster is defeated, they sit in a pile next to the boards ready to be counted at the end of the game for 1 point each. I absolutely hate this method of tracking and WISH there would have been a dial counter instead for these.

And finally my last questionable component choice actually pertains to the board itself, or should I say “boards”. The game board comes in many different pieces that need to be laid out in a particular way. This is 100% unnecessary and only goes to extend the game setup time as you need to reference the backs of each tile to know where they are placed (thank goodness they have that reference). To be honest I’ve sat here and thought about the purpose of this method of the board state and I came to the conclusion that they decided on breaking the board up into pieces for two reasons: Theme and Expandability. Yes, each tile represents a different island you can visit with each one pertaining to a different symbol for the challenges and yes with the tiles broken up its SUPER easy to add expansion tiles to make the board state larger (which they did with the 5th player expansion). BUT, I can’t help but sit here and imagine all these fiddly tiles on just one larger board with the card spaces outlined and the incredible artwork adorned all over to make it pop. Don’t get me wrong, I think the game looks incredibly impressive fully set up and at play. It has an amazing table presence but it’s also super fiddly and increases the setup time exponentially when compared to a single board.

Now, with all my quibbles out of the way let me just finish by saying WOW! This game (Deluxe Edition version) has some spectacular components otherwise. I mean even with the minis being rather useless during my plays, these are some outstanding sculpts that I would be willing to display. The player boards are excellent with round trackers built in to manage your ability levels. The cards are all linen finished and have a great feel to them. The dice are all unique and screen printed and have a good weight and feel to them. There is also a really cool plastic dice tray arena that you can pass around to easily you’re your dice in. The plastic shield tokens and squishy fruit tokens are a nice touch as well. I mean it’s an impressive package all around and it’s such a shame that the miniatures couldn’t be more useful.

Box/Storage

The box for the deluxe edition is SUPER long although relatively thin. But boy howdy are those some NICE GameTrayz located inside! For those that have read my other reviews I’m sure you’ve become accustomed to how I howl at the moon for a nice storage solution and, for me, Gametrayz are the king of storage solutions. Everything has a place in that box, even the plethora of dice has their own respective tray that not only keeps the dice organized by type, but can also be removed and sat on the table for ease of access when playing. There are a couple nice plastic trays for the shell and fruit tokens as well. Most of the rest of the storage solution is meant to keep the cards organized and the player tokens separate and steady when stored. HOWEVER, there is one aspect that this tray does fail, which is a rare occurrence for GameTrayz specifically, and it’s with those tiny fiddly player hit tokens again. There are just so many of these little cardboard beasts and the space to store them is FAR too small. It’s basically impossible to dig your finger into that space to get them out leaving you to have to just dump them out making a giant mess of mixed up tokens. On top of that storing them is almost a puzzle since they BARELY fit. Again, this is a rare thing for Gametrayz to fail on storage and even more interesting that they happen to fail on the most annoying component in the game, making that particular component MORE annoying.

I mentioned the length of the box because there is no way you will be able to fit this one in a standard Kallax shelf unit. This is one where you will have to sit it atop the shelf unless you have SUPER deep shelves. I believe the Standard version of the game has a more economical box size BUT I haven’t seen it first-hand so cannot confirm.

Visual Appeal /Theme

Absolutely spectacular in theme and visuals! There is an entire book of lore written around the stuff going on in the game and this is brought out through the gameplay with you performing challenges and fighting monsters. Visually, this game just screams fun. Each of the boards is adorned with beautiful artwork and colors that beckons you to place your character there. It really does create an excellent visual appeal of the area and like I mentioned before, the table presence this game exudes is off the charts because of it. Over all, HIGHLY impressed with the artwork and theme that has been brought into this game.

Rulebook

The rulebook is something else that was just overproduced. Gawd, I hate saying that term but seriously this is one that actually SUFFERS from the overproduction. What I mean is that the book is just too damn BIG! And I’m not talking about the thickness, I’m referring to the page size. This is almost like a fold out magazine article or something on how ridiculous the page sizes are. Who thought it would be a good idea to create a rulebook that is SO huge that it is unruly to have on the table or even hold while trying to learn the game?! It’s a massive pain to say the least and thank goodness there are smaller rule reference cards….ALTHOUGH those cards don’t list the end of round steps so you will have to resort to the back of the “Almanac” rulebook. Yes, there are two huge rulebooks. One has the general gameplay directions and the other, the Almanac, has the card explanations and location actions. I mean, it IS handy to know those things but omg just having ONE of those overly large books on the table is well more than enough. Now, having to deal with two of these gargantuans just pushes me over the edge.

As for the rules as written, they are ok. I was able to make my way through the book/s with just a few questions. They are easy to understand but some of the rules are just kinda all over the place, leaving you to search. Like, the amount of words used to explain a monster battle is insane covering a couple pages…..but again the pages are massive and spread wayyyy out. I felt like a ton of the explanations could have been shortened and condensed quite a bit. Overall, FOR SURE not the worst I’ve read as written but definitely the most unruly to learn from based on the size of the pages.  

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

The player interaction here is decent when compared to other worker placement games. Your characters will take up spots and prevent others from taking those specific spots but mostly that is just for the bonus resources per spot. Otherwise, anyone can place anywhere and still gain the location bonus regardless of spots taken. The big area for interaction is the Champions track as players will be vying for the top position on that track to gain extra points and any ties will negate points for all. Another area of competition is when battling the monsters. Since the hit spots on each monster are first come first served AND they can be filled up rather quickly, it behooves players to get in there first to nab the most lucrative of spots, specifically the spots that award champion track advancement.

I’ll tell you I’ve had a ton of fun playing this one. I LOVE the amount of options you have at your disposal from all the different locations and variety of ways to achieve victory. Do you try to acquire more “Stunt” cards that give you all sorts of benefits based around your Spirit level? Do you run over to the market and spend your fruit to buy cards that also benefit you in some fashion or do you save your fruit for allowing you to roll more dice during challenges? The individual characters each have a 100% unique deck of upgrade cards that allow you to modify your character to your playstyle if you upgrade another one of your player board tracks. There are even unique starting score cards that kind of point you in a nice direction at the beginning to help you start working on something to gain more points for endgame.

There are a bunch of different mechanisms in this game from the dice collection and rolling to the upgrade card drafting and the worker placement but they all work together flawlessly. Furthermore, they are FUN! It’s never overwhelming, however I will say the amount of options could bring about some analysis paralysis on the optimal thing to do. Also, be veryyyy careful on how early you attack a monster. Gathering up a couple dice and then just going in blazing on a monster is probably not the best idea early on considering you will lose those dice and then have to spend those precious actions (of which you only have two during the first round) trying to gain more dice back. My advice, spend the first couple rounds performing challenges to beef yourself up a bit which in turn gain extra, free dice during monster battles. Then towards the end you can focus on the monsters…….but then again, experiment for yourself! Perhaps taking on a monster early might benefit you more based on what it’s particular rewards are.

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

The game out of the box has a solo mode and plays up to four. With the Anglers Cove expansion you can get up to 5 players. At 5 players (with expansion) the wait between turns can be lengthy but it’s not unreasonable. Considering the player interaction isn’t really direct I would recommend playing with 3 or 4 to keep your turns coming back around at a nice steady pace. Playing at the two player count….wasn’t for me. It adds in another bit of rules overhead and makes you use a third “Rival” character that needs to be managed as well as your own. So, players will either be taking turns running through the rivals steps before their turns or just hand that labor on to one player. I can say I honestly didn’t like the two player mode just because of all the extra you had to manage. Again, it devolved into the fiddle zone. I found myself always either forgetting one rule or another when managing the AI or constantly having to double check my steps. It just drained the fun out of my own turns when also trying to manage that. The solo mode plays similarly but with a few more interesting additions that I actually enjoyed. You see I don’t mind managing an AI opponent if I’m soloing so single player played out fine for me.  

Replayability is actually super high with this game. Since each character has a unique upgrade deck and you will only be able to get out just a small portion of upgrades per game, this REALLY opens up the game for replay variability. Additionally I’ve found that trying out different avenues to success a really fun option of play in this game. Working on my Spirit levels and then trying out the stunt cards to make them more powerful or focusing on gaining more upgrade cards or working out different ways to challenge the monsters while keeping my dice engine going is absolutely a good path to replayability.

Anglers Cove Expansion Thoughts

This expansion borders on the MUST-HAVE category. If you plan on playing with 5 then of course you gotta get it. But, it also offers an additional board AND unique character you can play with to increase replayability. The new board segment fits nicely to the bottom left of the rest of the board pieces and offers three new VERY powerful spaces to move to along with the location bonus of performing ANY challenge location card…but at a price. Similar to the Skullport expansion for Lords of Waterdeep (one of my favs) to take any of these extra powerful bonuses you have to draw an Outcast token. These things can be worth NEGATIVE points at the end of the game if you acquire more than any other player so you need to be reallllly careful on how often you are visiting anglers cove. That said, I love the option of being able to choose that if you want. Plus the new character is this frog dude that is just a fantastic addition to the already stupendous cast of characters to choose from and can even be played with less than 5 to increase your character options.

The expansion also comes with extra of everything else in the game to add even more to it. More market cards, stunt cards, dice, tokens, etc etc. I would say that if you like the game and plan on keeping it, this is an expansion you should buy EVEN if you don’t usually play at 5 players. The extra character alone is worth it and considering my paranoia of expansions like this that go out of print (*COUGH Horned Rat *AHEM) and then become collector’s items, I would get it. BUT, that’s just me.

Positive Final Thoughts

Excellently thematic, colorful and FUN! Right up there with my top worker placement games and one that I’m happy to have in my collection.  

Negative Final Thoughts

Some over produced component choices that are more a hindrance than a help including the rulebook.

The Bottom Line

I would say if you enjoy worker placement style games and value theme and artwork, this is a no brainer purchase. I think all the mechanisms work flawlessly together and the amount of variability between the playable characters will keep you coming back to play over and over again. Even though I think some of the deluxe components are over produced (the minis get in the way) I still love them and I am glad to have them.

The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE

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