Tether [Preview]

Base price: $15; $20 for the Deluxe Edition.
2 / 4 players.
Play time: 15 – 30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 3

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Tether was provided by How to Steam Broccoli. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. 

A bit behind the power curve, but that’s how travel and birthday and new video games and all the myriad things in my life that distract me tend to be, sometimes. I’ve also been trying to do better about writing a wider range and style of reviews, so I’d expect to see more mini and micro reviews coming down the pipeline soon. I’m on my way to a big gaming weekend that I’ve been looking forward to for a while, so, that should give me a chance to play a few things that I’m equally excited to tell y’all about. Maybe I’ll even play Spirit Island. That might be too much to hope for. We’ll see. By the time you read this, I’ll already be back, so fingers crossed that I had a blast. In the meantime, though, crowdfunding springs eternal, so I have a few games to tell you about over the course of the next few weeks! Let’s start with Tether.

In Tether, you’re in charge of sending astronauts out on spacewalks! That said, you’re not heartless, and you’ve seen Gravity. It’s probably not kind (or a good idea?) to send them out alone. It’s lonely out in space; I think that’s from a song. So your goal will be to try and send out groups of astronauts together. Think synchronized swimming, but in space. It’s very peaceful. Will you be able to make the right connections?



Basically none! Shuffle the deck of cards:

Deal each player five. Place three cards sideways, near the deck; these are the Adrift Astronauts! More on them later. You should be ready to start!


This one’s a bit tricky but still pretty fun! So what you’re doing in Tether is playing astronauts in space, but they get lonely really easily, so you never want to play them alone! On your turn you can either play astronauts or you can set them adrift!

Play Astronauts

To play astronauts, you’ll first need to play a card from your hand anywhere on the table, forming a new group. You must then Connect Astronauts by doing one of the following actions:

  • Play one or more cards from your hand into the same group, connected to the card you just played.
  • Take one or more Adrift cards and reorient it and connect it to the card you just played.
  • Connect your group to another group on the table or connect that group to your group.

You can always combine groups into one, but you cannot play to multiple separate groups on the same turn. You can also keep playing cards from your hand or the Adrift section. To connect cards, they must be consecutively-numbered (and you cannot reorient cards that are already in a group). The vertical player can only make vertical connections and the horizontal player can only make horizontal connections, but it is fine if either player, when connecting multiple larger groups, makes connections of the other type as long as they are making connections of their primary type as well. Note that because of how cards are played, connections will look weird to the player sitting on the other side of the table. The horizontal player should play low to high, left to right, and the vertical player should play low to high, top to bottom; it works. I promise.

Should you make a group of at least size 6 / 10 / 14, the group scores! Draw an imaginary rectangle around the group; the horizontal player scores the width, and the vertical player scores the height. A group can only score once per turn; it’s possible, as groups are combined, that a group will skip over one of the scoring thresholds; that’s fine.

Set Astronauts Adrift

To set an astronaut adrift, choose a card from your hand and add it to the Adrift section. Then, draw a different card into your hand. You may draw from the other adrift astronauts or you can draw a card from the top of the deck.

Draw a Card

No matter what you did, you draw a card from the deck as long as you have fewer than six cards in your hand. This means that if you set an astronaut adrift, you will end up with one more card in your hand than you started your turn with, generally.

End of Game

The game ends as soon as:

  • A group of size 14+ is scored.
  • One player has 6 or more points more than the other player.
  • The deck runs out of cards. In this circumstance, each player takes one more turn.

The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

The major difference is just that with four players, you play as teams! You still alternate turns (and will need to track which teammate’s turn it is yourselves), but you can, on your teammate’s turn, add cards to the group they connected to; you can help them out a bit. If you do that, draw a card. Personally, I’m more of a two-player game kind of guy, on the whole, so I’d more likely play Tether with two players, but I can see how the team mode would appeal to some folks. You have more cards available between the two of you, and you can passively support your teammate even when it’s not your turn, keeping you engaged beyond what I’ve seen from a lot of team-based games. I don’t have a strong preference, but practically, I haven’t had many opportunities to play four-player games lately, so I’m more likely to play this one with two, just realistically. The team mode seems fun, though!


  • You need to keep an eye on both sides of your cards; anything you set may inadvertently help your opponent. Just don’t forget that this is a mirror deck, so the numbers flip (and, critically, can be used either way). If you place certain cards you might be setting your opponent up for a big play. Similarly, if you dump a card that’s useless, you might be filling in just the gap that your opponent needs.
  • It may be worth building up your hand for a big play. Set a few astronauts adrift and try to draw the ones you need either from the available ones or from the deck! You can always play more from your hand to bolster the size of a group.
  • Watch out for your opponent building a group that you don’t score at all; they can quickly get more than six points ahead of you if you’re not careful. While it does feel somewhat crummy to add on to a group of cards that your opponent is likely to score, it’s unlikely that they’re not going to score it eventually, so at least lowering the difference between your score and their score might not be the worst idea. Plus, if you can tilt it enough, you might be able to use their group to put some score distance between you and them! That’s better anyways.
  • Having a few small groups that you can slowly build up or combine may be a good way to score points. Bonus if you can combine multiple groups into one large group at once! That’s usually a strong way to end the game and win, especially since your opponent may not have time to add to it.
  • Watch out for prematurely ending the game! Even if you can, you might not want to if your opponent is still ahead. Just keep an eye on the scores; even creating a size-14 group may not be enough to win you the game if you’re far enough behind your opponent and the group is even enough. Just be careful, on that front.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons


  • I really like the art on this one! It’s a lot of fun! Just random folks floating in space and doing random things. I’m a fan.
  • The idea of a Mirror Deck is pretty cool; I haven’t seen it used in a game before, and I like it a lot. I should have known it was a Daniel Solis thing; I love a lot of his work and I’m glad that it’s being used in a pretty fun game. I wonder what else it could be used for. I’d love to see a trick-taking game with a mirror deck.
  • I appreciate that the whole “you play vertically, your opponent plays horizontally, and it just works; trust me” actually works. It really does just work, which is kind of impressive. You really always think it’s not going to work when you first play and then, it does. A pleasant surprise.
  • Combining big groups to score points is very satisfying. It’s a bit of a pain to drag a bunch of cards around the table, but there’s not much you can do about that beyond just kind of letting it happen. It is very satisfying, as a player, when it works out, though. Just a very nice outcome.
  • Plays very quickly. You’d be surprised (though not that surprised, since each player plays two cards and you really just need a group of 14 cards to end the game). It’s just a snappy little game.
  • It’s pretty easy to reset and play again. You just gather all the cards up, shuffle, and redeal. You don’t even need to make sure they’re all facing the same way, since it’s a mirror deck, which is great. This is an extremely fast reset game, and I love that. Adding it to my list of “rack ’em” games.
  • I like that it scores height for the vertical player and width for the horizontal player; that’s clever. It’s a nice way to line up your incentives with how scoring actually works. It’s also dead simple to explain, which makes the game easy to teach, as well.
  • The portability of the game is nice, too! Just a deck! You can practically take it anywhere.


  • When your opponent plays cards that, on their opposite side, cross the 100 -> 0 threshold (79 and 80 look like 97 and 08, to you), it can look a bit weird. It’s just a quirk of the mirror deck, but it does create a weird view for your opponent. A consequence of wrapping around the 99 -> 100 line, I suppose.
  • There’s a bit of luck, of course, but sometimes that luck can help your opponent make a big play, which doesn’t always feel great. It’s mostly that it’s a short game, so if your opponent gets the right card at the right time, they just kind of … win. Similarly, if your opponent builds a big enough group that you’re not a part of, it makes it pretty hard to recover. If that happens, you’ll probably lose, and it’s a quick reset. I ended up feeling like this was more of a Meh than an explicit Con just because, as mentioned, the game is so quick that yes, a big play can swing the game, but it’s also quick to reset. That ends up working in its favor, more often than not.


  • For a small game, this can take up a lot of table space. Plan accordingly. It’s mostly that a single big play can make the game very tall or very wide, without much that you can do to mitigate it. Even when I was doing my reviews the game almost ran off the table, which is both funny and mildly annoying.
  • It’s a bit annoying to track the scores without any particular implement. It’s the trade-off of having a little deck-only card game, but it usually means that I’m mumbling as I type something into BGStats or I’m looking for a game with some sort of scoreboard that I can bust out quickly. I’m particular like that. If you’ve got a pad of paper, that works just fine as well. I believe that’s how people used to do it in the Before Times.

Overall: 7.75 / 10

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Tether! It’s always difficult to know what to expect from a little deck of cards (though I suppose I should have known better, having been a fan of Mark McGee’s Kintsugi). Here, though, there’s a nice little bit of strategy and tactics in a very pleasant package. I particularly like the art style of the game; it’s a bit retro, which is always a fun aesthetic, but it’s bold, colorful, and engaging. The game itself is no slouch, as well. It’s a great proof-of-concept on how mirror decks can be used to make a compelling gameplay experience, especially when the game is pretty tight and compact on its own. Tether’s main advantages are that it’s dead simple to teach, easy to score, and a cinch to replay, which does give it that nice “let’s go again” feeling that you get after playing a game that you genuinely enjoyed. For some players, they might find that Tether runs a bit short or that the luck of drawing the right card can sometimes swing the game for their opponents. To them, I usually just say: play again! It’s so easy to, and at its core, Tether is just a nice, fun experience. Small, portable, and tight (even if it’s taking up a lot of table space, depending on how you play); it’s not a bad combination. If you’re looking for a nice two-player game, you enjoy a space game, or you just want to try out a mirror deck, I’d recommend Tether! I’ve been enjoying playing it.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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