Base price: $40.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: 30 – 45 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 2
Full disclosure: A review copy of Tidal Blades: Banner Festival was provided by Lucky Duck Games.
I went from a trough to a roll today, which has been pretty great. Wrote a Micro Review, wrote a full review, and now I’m working on finishing up this mini-review of Tidal Blades: Banner Festival. Who knows what trouble I’ll get up to next? There are always more games, I suppose. I’m saying this while looking at the literal stack of games on the table next to me, so, ideally, those will be next on my list. Some exciting ones both there and in the pipeline; my secret goal is to get a bunch of heavier games played in February, so, something to look forward to there. In the meantime, though, let’s dive right in to Tidal Blades: Banner Festival! This is the next game in the Tidal Blades series, so let’s dig right in and see what’s going on!
In Tidal Blades: Banner Festival, the Navirians are arriving in Trawl for the eponymous celebration! Various trading houses are vying to be the greatest merchant of all, collecting profit and trading and riding around on fancy jet-ski-looking things. They might not actually be jet-skis. Watercrafts? It’s hard to say. Over three rounds, you’ll play cards of different suits! The high card wins the trick and lets you advance your character to the Trading Gate. The low card lets you move the Trading Gate (potentially changing the high suit for the next round) and activate the ability of the card you played. Any other cards allow you to place Banners, potentially letting you gain points after the round ends. Balancing when to play what is key to determining how many points you get, so think about what you play and when you play it! So get your goods, hop on your watercraft, and make a name for yourself! Will you be able to raise your Banners high?
Player Count Differences
This one changes quite a bit at different player counts. Between four and five players, there aren’t a ton of differences; there are additional cards in play at five, and players have one fewer card in hand. As you decrease the player count further, however, interesting things happen. The game really wants there to be four players at all times, so at two or three players, you introduce everyone’s favorite player count gameplay solution: the dummy player! The dummy player at two and three junks up four Banner spots on the board with their banners, for instance. At three players, they also reveal the top card of the deck as “their” play for the bout. At two, in addition to the pre-bout card, the dummy player adds another card, revealed after the actual players play their cards. This adds a bit of a shakeup to gameplay, since you can’t as easily predict what the last card is going to be. That said, you can’t necessarily predict what other players are going to play at higher player counts, either, so that’s about the same from any player’s perspective. That said, you can tend to predict what players are going to play, whereas the dummy player can be cruel, arbitrary, and capricious. That’s the dream, I suppose. Some players will find that additionally vexing, though honestly, I like it quite a bit. For some reason, the unpredictability of this doesn’t vex me as much as chaos in games; I think it’s because it’s still kind of a trick-taking game, and I enjoy all of that. I’d happily play this anywhere on the two to four player range.
- Keep an eye on the cards that have already been played. If your goal is to specifically win or lose, you need to know if cards have been played that might block you on that front. Trying to make sure you know what cards have already been played in what colors can give you a sense of what you’re looking for (or where to move the Gate so that a certain suit will become the new top or bottom suit).
- Don’t neglect your banners! Sometimes it’s worth just going after the Tower. Going for the Tower doesn’t get you any immediate bonuses, but it does let you keep some ownership over the region for the rest of the game. Early Towers, a better shot at getting the area majority each subsequent round. If you want more in the way of bonuses, try placing your Banners on the nearby spaces! The most lucrative space is usually won by playing a card of the same suit as the highest suit (but a lower number). That gets you two fruit instead of one! Give it a whirl if you think you can pull it off.
- In the last round (or any time you have a lot of banners played), try using your Merchandise Cards with effects that scale with your banners played. Especially if you have a lot of banners on the Tower, you might be able to earn a lot of fruit or move your fancy jet ski around. They’re a bit harder to use effectively, since they tend to be higher values, but if you can make it work, you can get a lot of
- If you can, losing a trick with a 9 gets you 5 Profit, which is very good. It’s pretty hard to pull off, since you essentially need to lose a trick with the best card of the worst suit (meaning nobody else is playing that card), but if you can make it happen, it’s a very valuable move (and it removes the card from circulation). I tend to keep an eye on cards of the color of the 9 I have and take a gamble when I think most of them have been knocked out.
- Look for opportunities when winning a trick will let you complete a loop and gain points from your Character Cards (or, if not that, then opportunities when moving will let you land on your Trick space to gain fruit). Winning a trick isn’t always bad! You can sometimes time it right so that your fancy jet-ski (I think it’s called a watercraft, but jet-ski is more fun to say) can complete a loop and advance your Character Card, earning you more points at the end of the game. Since it’s pretty easy to tell when that will happen, you can also usually come up with times when other players want to win the trick (since you can see where they are relative to the Gate for the round), which might help you anticipate what cards will be played. If nothing else, moving forward might let you land on the Trick space indicated on your Character card, which will earn you fruit.
- Don’t sleep on the fruit, either! You can get a lot of points quickly. You can get a lot of points if you have a lot of fruit, granted, but if you’re not getting a ton of fruit it might not be worth that much (since, upon all the fruit being taken, you score either 1 point per fruit you have or 1 point for every two fruit you have). At high player counts, if you can corner the fruit market, you can really pull off big scores.
- At lower player counts, keep in mind that the dummy player’s cards can make it pretty clear that you can’t win (or can’t lose) a trick; use that to your advantage. You’ll know one card that’s coming every trick. If it’s a high card of the strongest suit, you might not want to bother trying to win a trick (and waste your high card). If it’s a low card of the weak suit, well, get excited about dropping a banner (and maybe keep that 9 for later). At two players, an extra card gets thrown in after you play yours, so you may not be able to predict as much, but you can still plan based on what you know.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Mr. Cuddington is still one of the preeminent artist groups in the board game industry; this game looks incredible. I really like how the oranges pop throughout the game. Orange is a bolder color and it can be hard to get right, but contrasted against the blues and purples it looks amazing. I think Mr. Cuddington is always managing to outdo themselves, and I can’t wait to see what they’re working on next. Either way, it’s an amazing-looking game.
- I particularly like the character designs! They’re a lot of fun! Something for everyone, as long as several players want to be fish-adjacent.
- The structure of how the dummy player(s) change the round is really interesting. I really like that, with two players, you have to worry about the random card that will be thrown in after the fact, as well. I may slightly prefer the three player version where you get to see one card in advance, though; it really reduces the unpredictability, to some degree.
- I think the little jet-ski tokens are very silly, but I love them. There aren’t many things more patently silly than jet-skis, in my opinion.
- The fruit is surprisingly squishy! It’s a bit less squishy than the fruit in Everdell, but it still has a surprising amount of give to it, which I respect.
- The low / middle / high elements of the card play are fun! Keeps players in no matter how they play cards. It can be frustrating to draw a hand that won’t win you many tricks in a trick-taking game. Banner Festival doesn’t quite leave you in the lurch like that, since everyone gets a different benefit depending on where they end up. The low card gets to use its effect, the high card gets to advance its character, and the middle cards get to place banners. This leads to a situation where you have to think a bit more two-dimensionally about everything. Sure, you might want to win or lose tricks, but you need to figure out when that’s the optimal decision based on the cards you have.
- The suit priority system is interesting. I particularly like this, because it changes the relative “quality” of your hand several times during the round. If you only have a few cards in one suit, well, usually that can be good or bad. Here, it might be good and bad and good again as the Gate circles around and different suits rise and fall in priority. Again, it’s a lot of movement and shifting over the course of the round, but it keeps things interesting.
- It’s very fun to try and plan out how you’re going to lose a trick to get a bonus effect. It can sometimes be pretty hard to do! Especially if you want to try and lose with a 9. I think it’s also just a generally good technique to develop, to be able to look at a trick and figure out how you want to go about trying to lose, for future references.
- Be careful how you pitch the game; while it has some trick-taking elements, I think it’s got more area control and action selection elements to it. A lot of folks really emphasized the trick-taking game to me, which is fine and all, but honestly, if you’re ignoring the “Banner” part of “Banner Festival”, you’re going to be in a bad way. I tend to think of it as “action selection via trick-taking”, but at a certain point the granularity of classification becomes more pedantic than useful. I just would mention to players that while this has some elements of trick-taking, really thinking critically about action selection and area control might lead to better overall outcomes.
- It’s always a bit odd when games with multiple rounds don’t have a way to track them. It’s a three-round game but there doesn’t appear to be any sort of round tracking, which struck me as odd. It’s probably fine to just roughly gauge how many Banners are out and around, but I would have expected an explicit round track of some sort and there just doesn’t seem to be one.
- Given the trick-takingish nature of the game, constantly winning tricks doesn’t get you much if you’re not planning well, which can be frustrating for players. I noticed this a lot with players who were often stuck winning a trick (even against their best efforts). The position of the Gate affects how far your character moves, and them moving just a little bit forward every time they win a trick (and getting, effectively, nothing else) can be very frustrating for players who aren’t having as much success inserting themselves into the right spot in the trick.
- Very minor gripe, but I wish they’d just have used “hand” and “trick” rather than “round” and “bout” to refer to hands and tricks. I wonder if they did that to deemphasize the trick-taking element? Or did they just do that to be fun? Hard to say. I just find games that use in-universe terms for things that have out-of-universe gaming terms a bit frustrating, because then I have to teach them to other players who aren’t as familiar with either.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Tidal Blades: Banner Festival is a lot of fun! I mean, if nothing else, it’s certainly one of the best-looking games I’ve played in the last year, and that’s saying something. I’m also a sucker for trick-taking games, and at the core of Tidal Blades is something that mostly resembles trick-taking. In it, players jockey for the highest, lowest, and middle-est cards each trick for various effects, which I think is a great way to keep players strategizing and engaged. Different people want different things, and different suits are useful at different times, so there’s a lot of chaotic play and tactical strategizing around when you want to go after Banners or advancing your Character or playing special card powers to benefit yourself. It’s very interesting! I’m not sure I’d necessarily play the same way twice. That said, the Banner aspect of the Banner Festival seems pretty critical, so I’d be in the wrong if I called this purely trick-taking; a lot of the game is area control and vying for points by controlling either half of the board over the course of a round. There are other ways to score points (mostly, again, advancing your Character and collecting fruit), but that can be a big one if you get it all to yourself. I find that the importance of it wasn’t emphasized to me as much when I was learning, so I got a slightly wrong impression of the game. No matter; still fun. I do wish there were some way to track what round we were on; not sure why that didn’t make it into the game. Not that big of a deal, though. I think there’s a lot going on in Tidal Blades: Banner Festival, but I liked everything I got to experience! If you’re looking for a game with an interesting take on trick-taking, you want to play something that looks great and plays well, or you just are a fan of the Tidal Blades franchise, I’d recommend checking Tidal Blades: Banner Festival out!
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