Table for Two: Build the Grandest Kingdom in ‘Tides of Time’


Reading Time: 6 minutes

Photograph by Sara Blackburn.

In Tides of Time, two players go head-to-head to claim the most valuable properties and build the greatest kingdom. But choose deliberately and tactically, for your opponent can see your every move and might be one step ahead.

What Is Tides of Time?

Tides of Time is a 2-player game of card drafting and set collection, and the object over three rounds is to assemble a combination of cards that will produce the most victory points. To win, players must meld careful strategy with predictive mind-reading, because the two players are trading their hands back and forth throughout the round. Tides of Time retails for $12.00 and is recommended for age 10 and over, but there’s no material that would be inappropriate for younger players. And while the box predicts a play time of 20 minutes, I’ve found that games moved more quickly as we gained experience and familiarity with the deck.

Tides of Time Components

‘Tides of Time’ components. Photograph by Sara Blackburn.

Inside the box you’ll find:

  • 18 game cards
  • 4 relic tokens
  • 1 score pad
  • 1 pencil
  • 1 reference card

The game cards are pleasantly oversized, and each contains all the key information needed for play: a name, ability, and in most cases, a suit.

Fifteen of the cards belong to a suit, indicated in the upper left-hand corner, representing a different sort of setting. There are three cards each for the suits of Palace (yellow crown), Library (blue scroll), Garden (green leaves), Temple (pink hand and stars), and Stronghold (red tower). The corresponding names and illustrations evoke dramatic imagined locales—huge edifices, grand rooms, striking natural formations—and this fantastical skin fits perfectly with the kingdom-building theme. Three cards have no suit, but they do have abilities that can enhance other cards in-hand or award points if the criteria are met.

The card’s ability and point value (when applicable) is located in the upper right-hand corner. This is the part of the card used for scoring. Most of the wording is intuitive—for instance, The Jinn Shackles card awards 3 points for every card of the Temple suit that you have at the end of the round, or the Golden Ziggurat will award 7 points if you have a majority of cards in the Palace suit. A few abilities may require further clarification, and the rule sheet outlines in greater detail how to use and score every card.

Most of the game cards have a suit in the upper left-hand corner, an ability and point value in the upper right-hand corner, and a place name and illustration. Three cards have no suits.

For a compact game I think Tides of Time packs a punch in detail and value. I liked, for instance, that it came with a scoring pad and pencil, which saves me from scrambling for my own. And I particularly love that the box has interior art. These are minor details to be sure, but they add a sense of attention and completeness to the small package.

How to Play Tides of Time

Round One

Shuffle the game cards and deal five to each player. The remainder of the deck is set aside until the next round. Players then draft one card from their hand, placing it face-down on the table. When both players are ready, they simultaneously flip their chosen cards, and then trade the remaining four cards in their hands. Drafting continues thusly—alternately picking a card, revealing it, and trading hands—until each player has drafted five cards. Players total up their points for the round, and then each selects one of their five cards to keep in their “kingdom” through the remainder of the game, setting this card on the table in front of them and placing a Relic Token on top. Players then choose another card from their hand to discard from the game. These cards are returned face-up to the box. The final three cards are kept in-hand, and the players are both dealt two fresh cards from the unused deck.

Relic tokens are placed on the cards players select to keep in their “kingdom” after Rounds One and Two. Photograph by Sara Blackburn.

Round Two

The second round proceeds just as the first round, with players selecting a card and trading hands until every card in-hand is drafted. The round is scored, taking into account not just the five cards each player drafted, but the card held over from the previous round. Just as in Round One, players select one card from their hand to keep for the final round, and one to discard—so going into the third round players should each have two cards on the table in front of them marked by Relic Tokens, and four cards will have been discarded from the game. Finally, players are dealt two more cards from the unused deck. The draw deck is now empty.

Round Three and Game End

Round three proceeds like rounds one and two. After all cards have been drafted, the game ends and players total up their scores from the three rounds. Whoever has the most victory points wins.

In this example of a final scoring hand at the end of Round Three, the player earns 3 points for one card of the Temple suit, 3 points for one card of the Library suit, 6 points for two cards of the Palace suit, 3 points for not having any cards of the Garden suit, 7 points for the majority of Stronghold suit, and 9 points for one set of Palace, Stronghold, and Temple. If that 9 points was the highest score earned from a single card in the round, the player would receive 8 additional points, for a possible total of 39 points in Round Three. This score would be added to the scores for Rounds One and Two to determine the winner. Photograph by Sara Blackburn.

Why You Should Play Tides of Time

Tides of Time has become one of my absolute favorite two-player games because of its fun strategy, swift play, and small footprint.

Players familiar with Sushi Go! will see obvious similarities in the card drafting and hand passing mechanics of Tides of Time. Tides of Time, though, refines these mechanics for a 2-player experience that is even more tactical and stimulating. It can behoove players to begin setting up a long-term, multi-round approach even from the first hand, especially if they’re dealt a card that could be worth many points down the line. From there, they can try to build their choices around the previous picks. But because players can view the cards their rivals are drafting—and they know what options their opponent has to choose from—it’s possible to interfere with a strategy that might richly award an opponent. And sometimes long-term planning doesn’t work out. Even in games where I gained a substantial number of points in Round Three, it wasn’t always enough to overcome the gap I’d sustained in Rounds One and Two. It becomes a delicate dance between scoring well in every round or setting up a big windfall at the end, and between padding your own score and causing damage to your rival by claiming a card that’s otherwise of low value to you. Getting that combination right can make you feel like a diabolical mastermind (or maybe that’s just me . . . ).

Tides of Time also requires very little time or space to play, ideal for a brain refresher in between longer games or a small snatch of time on the go. Once my husband and I had played several times and became familiar with the cards, we could bang out a game in about 10 minutes. And it’s great to play in bed or on a small table (it’d be perfect for airplanes) because it only requires enough space that your opponent can see your cards as they’re flipped over—all the vital information is on the top of the card, so cards can be partially stacked to show only what’s necessary.

If a swift 2-player game would see a lot of play at your table, or if you’d like to have one ready for those occasions when time or space is short, you can’t go wrong with Tides of Time. I heartily recommend it!

Photograph by Sara Blackburn.


If Tides of Time sounds appealing, you may also want to check out the standalone follow-up game Tides of Madness, which is set in the Cthulhu universe and, from what I can tell—I haven’t played it—plays quite similarly with some slight variations.

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Disclosure: ‘Tides of Time’ came from the author’s own game collection.

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