26/06/2022

Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef, testing the brave soon-to-be elite guard of the realm [Review]

Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef is a successful game which got its funding in late 2018. After its crowdfunding in Kickstarter, the publisher delivered the game in 2020. It was fortunate to pledge a gorgeous-looking game that brings two interesting mechanics, dice placement and character-building, into the spotlight. I must say, what arrived at my table delivers the promised, presence-wise. But does it really come with good gameplay as well?

In addition, here’s a nice tutorial video I found on YouTube which describes the step-by-step in more detail. It helps to give a context, a perfect piece to connect with the opinions I write below. Anyway, Druid City Games have decided to kickstart their crowdfunding project for the sequel and the RPG book.

AN OVERVIEW OF TIDAL BLADES: Heroes of the reef

What’s the backstory of this gorgeous game, then? Taking the role of a young hero, players compete in a tournament to join the Tidal Blades rank. They are the chosen elite guards who protect their island realms. During the tourney, players may place their heroes on multiple spots within the island to do actions. It includes: gathering resources, receiving and fulfilling missions, fighting monsters, collecting stunts which provide benefit, visiting the market, and increasing their traits.

Speaking of the latter part, there are four different traits to improve. Focus, Spirit, Resilience, and Energy, each provides advantages for end-game scoring and for certain actions, including fights against monsters. By the end of the fourth or fifth round, the game ends. Each player counts their victory points (VP) — and the winner will join the elite rank of Tidal Blades.

MIXED FEELINGS TOWARDS THE GAMEPLAY

I must say, I am impressed with the final production quality — the board looks gorgeous, and the components are top-notch. The minis and realistic resource tokens are a joy to play with. When I mentioned realistic, I really meant it: the squishy fruits are genuinely squishy. Not to mention the artwork, too, they are a sight for sore eyes, indeed. Nevertheless, except the character building, the gameplay feels a tad too familiar in comparison with other worker placement games already in the market.

TOO SIMILAR TO SOME OLDER GAMES

If the overview feels like a generic worker-placement game, I don’t like to break this to you: it really is. To put it simply, Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef gives the vibe from mixing Lords of Waterdeep and Champions of Midgard, but on steroids.

That “Go here and get that resource for the missions” in this game is alike to the former one. …

… Moreover, it also feels similar between its Skullport expansion and the Angler’s Cove in this game. We are going to some spots with hefty payoffs — but here comes the twist: we also earn hidden tokens which we compare at the endgame, whoever has the highest will get penalized with point deduction. You can easily notice the latter title from the pick-and-deliver mechanic with the dice while accomplishing mission or fighting monsters.

I know there’s nothing new under the sun — many mechanics have been overused in multiple games, and certainly, it’s unavoidable to have similar ones. Nevertheless, when developed properly, despite the similarity, some games can poise unique characteristics. It was very unfortunate that, personally, my experience with Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef was massively disjointed. Perhaps it’s due to the limited actions players can opt in, making them only focus on hardly any different thing. In the end, I feel there are only two routes for us here: those who never throw dice to fight monster will have the Lords of Waterdeep, and meanwhile, those who valiantly fight monsters are experiencing Champions of Midgard.

COLLECTING AND SPENDING DICE IN TIDAL BLADES: HEROES OF THE REEF

Truthfully, I am not keen about the concept behind collecting-and-losing the dice in this first sequel of Tidal Blades. Why do we need to throw away these dice after doing mission and fighting monsters? To give more context, players must spend danger dice when carrying out a mission, and it gets progressively more perilous somewhat. When you are unable to halt the negative effect by using the shells, then you have to lose the dice.

It becomes even worse when fighting monsters — you will spend whatever dice you use to hit them, unless your hero has a special skill to hinder this step. As all heroes have their own special power, not all players are so privileged to yield that effect. Both of these aspects create a sense of dice building that ends in an anti-climatic way.

Apparently, the starting mission owned by all players can potentially provide major VP, and this starting mission will affect and influence how players react towards certain actions.

Alas, the missions are pretty imbalance, I say. Some missions are pretty easy to accomplish, and players can reach them at the dawn of the game. Meanwhile, the other may be very dependent on whether the fortune is in your favour when drawing the cards.

SOMETHING ELSE TO APPRECIATE FROM THE GAME

This rally of ‘Things that didn’t strike me in Tidal Blades’ does not mean I dislike the whole game, though. Besides the production quality mentioned before, there are some other aspects I appreciate here. It is noteworthy to mention the character traits in this game, they provide most of the fun stuffs in this game. Increasing these traits by successfully doing missions to shape your play style, and fighting monsters as well — these are the things I thoroughly enjoyed along.

VERDICT

Overall, Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef is just a-okay. Granted that, the publisher eminently delivers the game with marvellous table presence. We can see that they fulfil their promise in the art and production department. Nevertheless, I only managed to experience an ordinary encounter, gameplay-wise. With that being said, I will never say ‘No’ to another session — it will just be difficult to play this over Lords of Waterdeep (this is my go-to game for the most basic definition of fun for worker-placement game).

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