turn-tide-sink-or-swim-strategy_701994884_01.jpgOne of my favorite genres of games to play on iOS are digital board and card games. They take up no shelf space, are extremely portable and often expose me to well-crafted games that I may have never discovered otherwise.

For many (myself included) it can often be difficult finding people to play tabletop games with, unless you have an established gaming group. Or some tabletop games can be hard to find, or just too cost prohibitive for many people to take chance on picking up a copy, for which the iOS version can act as a great way to try before investing in all that cardboard.

Turn the Tide is a German card game originally designed by Stefan Dorra in 1997 and was nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres in 2001 (Carcassonne was the winner that year).

Now this charming yet strategic game makes its way to iOS thanks to Five Lakes Studio who worked with worked with Dorra and the original artist, Oliver Freudenreic to bring the game to life on iOS.

turn-tide-sink-or-swim-strategy_701994884_02.jpgA game of sheep, weather and (of course) the tide, Turn the Tide is a family-friendly auction / strategy card game designed for 3-5 players, in which you are trying to outwit one another and stay afloat by playing your weather cards at just the right time and holding onto the greatest number of life preservers by avoiding high tide.

The game is played using two decks of cards (the weather deck and the tide level deck) as well as some life preservers. The weather deck consists of 60 cards, numbered 1 to 60, while the tide deck contains 24 cards with values between 1 and 12.

Play starts with each player being dealt 12 cards from the weather deck and a unique number of life preservers “representing the strength of their hand”, the more life preservers you get, the worse your hand is. Two of the tide cards are turned up in the center of the table and all players select a weather card from their hand and reveal them simultaneously. The player with the highest valued weather card wins the lower value tide card and the person who played the second-highest weather card, wins the higher of the two tide cards. These tide cards replace whatever tide cards the players might already possess.

So as you may have surmised… possessing a high value tide card is NOT a good thing. Now the player who is currently holding the highest value tide card among all players loses one of their life preservers. Play continues in the same manner, with two new tide cards being revealed and players selecting weather cards from their hands until all 24 of the tide cards have been exhausted and the round is over. The life preservers represent your points, so you want to hang onto as many as possible. There are additional ways to earn bonus points or even lose points but I won’t go into all the details here.

turn-tide-sink-or-swim-strategy_701994884_03.jpgI wasn’t at all familiar with the game and at first glance, quite honestly, it didn’t look all that strategic, but after reading through the complete rules and playing a few hands I was pleasantly surprised by its hidden depth, thanks in part to the clever hand-passing mechanic which makes sure that each player will have to play every other player’s initial hand of weather cards for at least one round of the game. It evens the playing field and makes the game fair for all players. After a round is over, all players pass their deck of weather cards to the player on his or her left and a new round begins, with the total number of rounds equal to the number of players.

The allocation of the life preservers given to each player seems arbitrary, but is apparently based on some super secret algorithm which takes a player’s cards into consideration. When you are the player who only receives 2 preservers (and thus a max possibility of a very low number of points for that round) then sure it’s frustrating. But you can take solace in the fact that every other player is going to be in the same boat (aquatic humor unintended) at some point in the game.

While the game mechanics are rather simple and the game does have a certain luck component, Turn the Tide offers enough room for individual strategy as you try to figure out the optimal time to play your high cards to win lower tide value sand when a mid-sized tide card is okay to grab. Figuring out the best time to unload your mid-range weather cards so as to avoid inadvertently revealing the second-highest value and getting stuck with a high denomination of tide card, and knowing when it’s okay to take a tide card (which won’t make you the highest active tide holder) is the key to hanging onto those life preservers.

turn-tide-sink-or-swim-strategy_701994884_04.jpgSince this is a digital game, the lack of human faces on your opponents does mitigate your ability to trash talk and read other players’ expressions, however, the developer seems to have done a fairly nice job with the AI, and I felt like I was beginning to discern some differences between the individual AI opponent’s play-styles as the rounds progressed. Paying close attention which players played which high cards also helps as the decks are cycled among the players, but keeping track of 5 different players can be a handful.

The one disappointing aspect of the app is that right now it is only a solo affair and you must play against four AI players. There is no option to reduce the game size down to 3 or 4 players. It would be nice to not only be able to adjust the total number of players, but obviously to play with other humans as well, either online or even just a local multiplayer or pass and play mode. Having spoken with the developer (who has been super responsive to my questions, emails and suggestions), multiplayer is something that is being e considering. That being said, unless you have a memory like a steel trap, having games happen asynchronously in an online multiplayer environment would likely make it much more difficult to remember what weather cards were in your previous decks of cards and who likely has which cards if there is a lot of time between turns / rounds.

In Conclusion

Turn the Tide is a fun card game with a unique blend of mechanics. The illustrations on the tide cards are really cute, showing the sheep struggling to stay afloat on driftwood as the tide rises. If you are someone who likes solitaire or just card games in general, I think you’ll have some fun with this one. The lack of multiplayer (in any form) is a bit disappointing and since we rate our reviews based on only the current content rather than the promise of future features, I’m giving this game a slightly lower score than I would have if it had even just local pass and play so my daughters and I could play together. Until the next update, which adds iPad support (though the game still looks very good 2x scaled on the iPad) and a number of other features, Turn the Tide is on sale for $1.99 (50% off). You can also play a demo on Five Lakes Studio’s website.