Full disclosure: A review copy of Tranquility was provided by Lucky Duck Games.
Alright, time for an interesting one. How about a board game that I’ve almost exclusively played online? Wild, I know. We’re still wrapping our head around this one. But, I just got Premium on Board Game Arena, so I’ve been perusing their offerings and seeing what I can get up to there. It’s been fun! Lots of games, and $30 a year isn’t too bad to be able to play a bunch of Similo and Welcome To. Hell, I might actually get Dice Forge reviewed after I bought it at Gen Con like, 200 years ago. Perish the thought. Either way, I’ve been playing a dailyish game of Tranquility with a friend or two for the last few weeks, so, lots of game experience, here. Let’s dive in and see what the game’s about!
It’s all aboard Tranquility, both the name of the game and the name of your ship as you sail for your ideal island. The seas are a bit strange, and time seems to blur together, which sounds uncomfortably similar to the experience of just being alive right now. But I’m editorializing. Play cooperatively to build a path from Start to Finish, but be careful! Playing adjacent cards can be a costly endeavor. Also, to make sure your journey is tranquil as possible, absolutely no talking is allowed. You understand how it. Will you be able to sail to your destination?
Pretty much none, since there’s not much in the way of an official play area. Shuffle the main cards:
If you’re playing with any variants where you remove cards to start, do so now. Otherwise, set them aside. There should be twenty-four double-sided “back cards”. Make two rows and two columns of six face-down cards to create a 6×6 play area inside of them. Then, add one Start Card per player and the five Finish Cards, and shuffle them into the main deck:
Evenly distribute the cards between all players, as best as you can. Each player should draw 5 cards from their personal deck, and you should be ready to start!
So this one’s pretty simple. Your goal is to play the Finish Card. Unfortunately, you can’t place the Finish card until the grid is finished. How do you do that? Let’s get into it.
On your turn, you may do one of two things. You can either discard two cards from your hand, or you can play a card. The former is easy enough to understand, but the latter has more complex consequences. See, you can play any card that you want anywhere you want, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
- As mentioned, you cannot play the Finish Card until every spot in the grid is filled out (including the Start Card).
- If you have a Start Card in hand and the Start Card hasn’t been played, you must play it. More on that later.
- If you play a card next to another card, you must discard cards equal to the difference between the two numbers. This means playing a 7 next to an 8 requires one card discarded, but playing a 45 next to a 49 would require you to discard four cards.
- Cards should increase from bottom-left to top right. When you reach the rightmost point of a row, it wraps around to the leftmost point of the row above it. The lowest-value card is 1, and the highest value is 80.
Now, one thing to note is that when the Start Card is played, all players must collectively discard eight cards total. In a two-player game, to help out, each player draws two more cards, but otherwise you’re on your own. Normally, you cannot speak during the game, but here, as a polite aside, you are allowed to state how many cards you want to discard.
No matter what you do, at the end of your turn, draw from your personal deck until you have five cards in hand.
Play continues until either one player runs out of cards or any player plays the Finish Card. In the former case, everyone loses, but in the latter case, everyone wins!
I’m not going to spend too much time, here, but there are a variety of variants included in the box (or, at least, described in the rules). Gotten too good at prediction? Try playing with a variant where you remove four, six, eight, ten, or twelve cards from the deck before the game starts. Good luck with the twelve.
There are also Sea Monsters, which must be played before the game can end. When playing a Sea Monster, choose any card in the grid and discard it, then discard the Sea Monster, as well.
There are a variety of variants, including a competitive variant, alternate grid shapes, and even one that restricts which row you can play to on your turn. Honestly, there’s even more than I’ve described, here.
Player Count Differences
I’ve mostly been playing this in the two- to three-player zone, and I’m very comfortable with that. This is probably where I’ll plug the BGA version (other than in the Pros), since that’s how I’ve gotten most of it played, mostly with my buddy Joe (and a few with Amanda!). I think if you’re in-person, the game’s pretty snappy at any player count, though I get a bit more stressed at higher player counts. With more players, you don’t draw additional cards on playing the Start card, for instance, so you might get stuck having to discard cards you don’t want to necessarily discard. Thankfully, you also need to discard fewer cards per person, so, trade-offs. Beyond that, though, I’ve enjoyed the games of Tranquility I’ve played at every player count, so no real strong preference, here. I’d probably stick to the 1 – 3 range, but that’s more of a selfish desire to be playing more frequently than anything else.
- You can’t look at the cards you discarded, so try your best to remember. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on which cards I discard, and that’s caused me to lose a handful of games, granted, but it’s useful to try and keep track of which cards you’re burning so that you don’t accidentally create a gap that ends up being unfillable (as I have done, many times).
- I tend to try and come up with a useful heuristic for spacing out cards, but watch out if you’re playing with one of the “discard cards before the game start” variants. Generally, my heuristic seems to be picking a spot on the board (either 1, 40, or 80) and just doing +5, +4 (or some variation of that). That typically allows for enough spacing between cards that it’s not a big issue.
- The Start card must be played, and it forces all players to discard a bunch of cards. Plan accordingly. This isn’t usually a problem early in the game, since, whatever, you can just discard some cards and hope for the best later. This becomes an issue after you’ve started to establish hard gaps; since players aren’t allowed to communicate, you run the risk of all players mutually discarding cards that will create an now-unfillable gap.
- You also cannot talk during the game, but keep in mind you’re allowed to say how many cards you want to discard after playing the Start card. I try to pull my fair share, but I’m generally loathe to discard cards that are 1 away from another, since those are the cheapest to play. If you’ve only got those left, it might be worth holding on to a couple, but you do have to discard some cards.
- Similarly, you only have 5 Finish cards. Wouldn’t recommend dumping them unless you’ve got one in hand or really trust your partner. I only dump a Finish Card if I get a second one, usually, unless I have no other choice. Early in the game, I might dump one and just assume I’ll draw another. That usually works out okay.
- If you’ve got a grouping of three consecutive cards, play the lowest and the highest first, then play the middle one; that way, you only need to discard one card instead of two. This is a small-but-helpful move as you make your way through the game. One might think that you want to build from small to large or from large to small, but what you really want to do is place cards in spots where they’re not adjacent to anything first (since that’s free). Once you have scaffolds built, fill them in with low-cost cards. That way, you’re playing a bunch of cards without burning a bunch of cards, which keeps you flexible.
- In general, discarding cards isn’t a problem, but make sure you don’t discard too many or you’ll be left in the cold. It’s not a problem to occasionally play a 3-cost or 4-cost card, but if you’re playing three or more, you’re burning through your personal deck. You may run out of cards before the end of the game, which will automatically result in a loss. Naturally, your goal is not to lose
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art style is very pleasant! Ironically, taking photos of the game was my first time getting to see the cards in person; I’ve almost entirely played this game on Board Game Arena. But it’s lovely! The color scheme is pleasant, and I’m a big fan of the day / night reflection on every card. The color shift between groups of ten also makes for a nice set of colors. The game just looks end-to-end excellent.
- The game plays pretty quickly, or it plays quite nicely and pleasantly over multiple days on Board Game Arena. Thanks, Joe! (And Amanda!) I’ve actually been very pleased with the BGA implementation, especially since it prevents unfillable gaps (or, at least, I can turn that on), and it preemptively does the math of how many cards I would need to discard to play in certain spots, which I appreciate. It’s a solid implementation!
- The low complexity of the game makes it a nice game to play while chatting about something else, enjoying a meal, or otherwise. It’s purely hand management, so it’s perhaps a bit more intense than The Mind, for instance, but not significantly. This is a very easy game for me to play on my phone while I’m doing things over the course of my day.
- Expansion content is included in the box, if that’s your thing. It’s pretty fun. I’ve tried the sea monsters and a few of the other ones, but I’ve avoided the higher-complexity expansion content. The game’s kind of a game I play to relax, so I haven’t wanted to do so much that I would start to stress over plays, you know? But I’m glad there’s a range of additional challenges included in the box; it’s very fun to have the option.
- I enjoy the challenge of both having some cards randomly removed (if using that variant) and having to discard a number of cards equal to the difference. The challenges of the hand management aspect of the game are really fun! I think that this game is perhaps a bit easier than The Game, but it has a similar level of satisfaction when you can make really good plays to keep everyone together. My win rate is pretty good here, so I’m inclined to say that I think it’s a bit easier, yeah, but no less interesting. I’m currently playing a game where I have a really tough setup because almost every card I can play is almost exactly 4 away from another card, which would force me to discard my entire hand. Is it better to discard two cards and hope for a better draw, or discard all the cards and hope that I don’t run out? It’s a very fun tension, but not so intense that I get stressed.
- Once again, I have to lament square cards. Y’all know how it is. I think that my big problem with square cards is that the best “shuffle side” of the card isn’t necessarily clear. You don’t normally shuffle standard cards on their long size, but on a square card, every side is the long side. Also, standard cards can get inverted (annoying, but manageable), but square cards have three possible incorrect configurations, which really jives negatively with my need for order.
- Honestly, the box, too. It’s not a very convenient size or shape. Cubes are fun and all, but they don’t have much depth to them (relative to their height), so they kind of mess with shelf storage in a way I don’t particularly like. At least they’re not cylinders, but it’s fine.
- This isn’t really a complaint, but I always struggle with reviewing a game that comes with a lot of additional modules. I’m not talking too much about them beyond mentioning that they exist, and while I like that, it confuses my review process, a bit. Just something I think about as I write.
- Any game that has a nontrivial memory component can be frustrating for players (and is frustrating for me). To me, there’s no reason to really have my discard be hidden from my view other than to add a memory component to the game. If we have private discard piles, sure, that’s fine, but I don’t really want to lose a game on the technicality where I forgot that the 52 was discarded by me six rounds ago. This is exacerbated a bit when playing on an online platform, since the games largely are happening with enough time between turns that I can’t be reasonably expected to remember discarding cards at all, much less what I discarded three days ago. I’d rather just have players’ individual discard piles be private, so at least that way I just have to trust that my opponents didn’t discard cards we need instead of the problem being me.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Tranquility is pretty fun! Granted, the overwhelming majority of my plays have been on Board Game Arena, so, a lot of my opinion is colored by that, but it’s a good implementation! At its core, Tranquility aims for just that; it wants to be a relaxing game that you can play, pleasantly, with friends, either in silence or while talking about other things. I think it largely meets that goal, but I’m also just … not really into silent games. It’s not a problem over the BGA implementation, since, you know, I’m playing asynchronously, anyways. We’re not talking. In person? I’m not really down for that, especially these days. If I’m making the effort to see my friends in person (and can do so safely), I’m not going to just play a game in silence. We’re mostly going to catch up and talk for too long and not get around to playing board games. You know, the way every board game night goes. And there’s something nice about that, I suppose. In the interim, though, I think Tranquility is a delightful and simple cooperative game, especially for folks looking for something simpler than the more complex deduction-based card games that usually occupy this space. Don’t get me wrong; I love Shipwreck Arcana, but this is a nice thing to be able to play with a few friends with less overhead. If you’re looking for that, or just a relaxing solo game that you can play (that takes up a bit of space!), I’d recommend Tranquility. It’s pleasant! Plus, there’s expansion content in there; that should keep you occupied for a while.
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