Dale Yu: Review of Tidal Blades Banner Festival

Tidal Blades Banner Festival

  • Designers: JB Howell, Michael Mihealsick
  • Players: 2-5
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by publisher at SPIEL 2022

Tidal Blades Banner Festival was a pleasant surprise from SPIEL 2022… Why?  Well, as I was doing my hurried research for the show, I was excited to already have a dinner date set up to play “Tidal Blades” with an old friend.  We enjoyed a nice dinner, played the game, and I went home happy knowing that I had also requested a copy of “Tidal Blades” at my upcoming meeting with Lucky Duck.  It was at that meeting that I discovered that Tidal Blades is just the name of the game universe (attributed to Mr Cuddington) in which multiple different games are set in (3 so far as of this review).  I enjoyed my play of Tidal Blades: Heroes of the Reef at my dinner, but I was definitely pleased to get a demo of an entirely different game at my meeting – as I was there to look at Tidal Blades: Banner Festival.

So that you don’t make the same mistake, I’m opening my review with this story.  Despite the fact that “Tidal Blades” is the biggest font on the box, be very aware that there are different games!  Pay close attention to the subtitles, as it will make all the difference :)    In the end, the only thing that these two games share is the first two words in the title (well, and the art).  The games are completely different, and you do not need to have any familiarity with one to enjoy the other.  In fact, the types of games are so different, it would not surprise me if most gamers strongly preferred one over the other.

 I was super thrilled to see that there was a bit of trick-taking in Banner Festival, as that mechanism always piques my interest.  In this game – “Flags of all colors dance in the wind as Navirians converge to Trawl for the long-awaited Banner Festival. Generate the most profits for your trading house by selling goods, befriending the right suppliers, and making bets at the watercraft race. Opportunities abound in the floating market, but only the keenest trader will prevail!“

The circular board is set on the table, showing the four different quadrants of the city.  There is a racing track in the center, and each player puts their Watercraft on the start. The Trade Gate is placed on this track.  The colors on the track correspond to the four quadrants (also note the the board is split into 2 regions, with 2 quadrants in each region).  Just above the colored ring spaces in each quadrant, you will see the order of suits in that region – it is different for each quadrant!  Essentially, the color of the quadrant is most powerful, and then the order continues clockwise around the circle.  Each quadrant also has a dock protruding from the circular track – there are 4 spaces on each track where Banners can be played.  Each dock ends in a 5th space, a Tower space shared with the dock from the other quadrant in the region.  Each player takes the Character cards (arranged in order of the profit on the card) and Banner tokens.  They are also dealt a hand of Merchandise cards to start.  A pool of Fruit markers (based on player count) is placed near the board.

The game is played in 3 rounds, and each round involves a number of bouts.There are 3 steps to each one.

1] The lead player moves the Trade Gate (the lead player is the person who played the lowest card in the previous bout).  The Gate is moved 1 to 4 spaces clockwise around the central ring – the space on which the Gate stops determines the quadrant for the bout.

2] All players secretly and simultaneously choose a card from their hand – and all are revealed to resolve the bout.  They are placed in order of strength – remember that each quadrant has its own color hierarchy, and then the numbers on the card determine the order within each color.

  • The highest card gets to move their watercraft
  • The middle card(s) get to place banners
  • The lowest card allows you to play the special ability written on the card AND become the Lead Player for the next bout.

3] Resolve Actions – players can simultaneously take their bonus (as determined above).  Details for each:

Highest card – move your Watercraft clockwise until you reach the Trade Gate’s current location.  If you start on the same space, then move in a full circuit.  If you stop on the Stunt Location indicated by your topmost Character card, collect a Fruit as a bonus.  Then, check to see if you passed the 8th space of the track, and if so, flip over the top card of your Character deck to reveal a new card (and increased profits).

Lowest card – Resolve the printed action at the bottom of your played card. This is the only instance in the game where you will use this part of the card.  The actions may have you gain Fruit, move your Watercraft, Place a Banner, or perhaps score you victory points.

Middle cards – These players get to place a banner.  There are 4 spaces on each dock and then the Tower at the end.  Each of the dock spaces has a card criteria in the circle and a reward to be gained at the bottom of the circle.  Starting from the circle and working your way out, look at the currently available spaces and place your banner on the first space you come to that you meet the criteria for.  If you are in a 4 or 5 player game, remember that this placement is simultaneous, so it is quite possible that multiple players can put their banner on the same space in this bout.   If you make it to the end of the dock and you have not found a suitable space, place your banner in the Tower.  There is no limit to the number of banners which can be in the Tower.  Once you place your banner, look at the bottom of the space and take the indicated reward.

When the bout is complete, the next one immediately starts, with the new Lead Player determining how far the Gate moves.   At any point in the round, if the supply of Fruit is gone, there is an interrupt Feast scoring.  Players count their fruit, and the player with the most fruit gain VPs equal to the number of fruit collected, while all others gain half VP/fruit (rounded up).  All the fruit is returned to the supply and the Fruit Pool is again restored.   When all players are out of cards, the current round is over and there is a scoring phase.

At the end of each of the three rounds, the Banners are scored.  Look at each Region, and give 6 VP token to the player with the most banners in the region, 3 VP for second, and in a 4/5p game, 1 VP for third.  Do this for both regions.  Then, remove all the banners on the docks – though you leave any Banners played on Towers.    Finally, deal a new hand of Merchandise cards to all players and continue until the end of the third round.

After the third end-of-round scoring, there is a bit of endgame scoring.

  • Feast – conduct a final Fruit Feast scoring with whatever is collected at that time
  • Tokens – add up the value of your tokens
  • Top Character card – score VP equal to the number seen on your topmost revealed card
  • Other cards – score for anything else in your area that has points on it

The player with the most VPs wins.  Ties broken in favor of the player with the most banners left on the board at the end of the game.

My thoughts on the game

Well, I was sold on the game when I was told that it was a “trick taker in disguise”.  After playing it, I’m not really sure I agree with that sentiment.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun game and I enjoyed it… But would I call it a trick-taker?  Umm, not really.  Sure, you could claim that each bout is a “trick”, but you’re not really trying to win it – which, to me, is one of the hallmarks of the genre.  

Instead, you are trying to read your opponents and play a card that gets you to the desired place in the order of cards for that bout, in order to get the reward that you want at that time.  That can be a somewhat interesting choice at first – at first glance, it feels like you can make clever plays to drive your chosen strategy.

After a few plays though, I think this is just a facade.  Like Tokaido, every player gets something out of each round of the game.  There is no risk of ever being shut out of rewards for a turn – it’s just a matter of seeing how the cards turn out to see what you end up with. 

In broad strokes, there are three main ways to score points

  • Points from your revealed character cards – this is done by winning tricks and driving your boat around the circle
  • Points from area majority in the banner placement – this is done by being in the middle
  • Points from fruits and other cards – fruit can be gained from many card actions (coming in last) and some cards are simply worth points for their actions (again, being last)

I haven’t yet figured out the margins as to which scoring path is more efficient/lucrative; but after a few plays one hasn’t become apparent.  Thus, for a lot of turns, you know you’re going to do something that leads to points, and it is often not clear which of the three choices is better for you.

Now, is that to say that the game isn’t fun and doesn’t require skill?  Not at all, and despite what I said above – I have enjoyed my games, and I have actually found places where strategy matters.  You can certainly maximize some of the particular actions.  When your boat is just in front of the gate (or on the same space!), you will definitely get more bang for your buck when you win a trick – in this case, you will almost assuredly get to flip a card each time.  With the banners, you can generally predict which space you will be able to place a banner – and depending on what you want, you might be wanting to collect fruit, place an extra banner, or hopefully get to place a banner in the tower which will keep it there for all the banner scorings in the game.  

That being said, those decision points aren’t available in every round though.  You really just have to wait until the moment when you can best affect the outcome in your direction, and make the most of those times.  To continue my comparison to Tokaido, the game is quick (as most actions are taken simultaneously), lasts around 25-30 minutes, and surely does not outstay its welcome.  Rarely does the game feel frustrating or stagnant, because, again, you’ll get something from each card play.    It’s a breeze to teach, and it is the sort of game that works well for casual gaming because of the aforementioned qualities.

If you have the right mindset going into the game, I think you’ll enjoy it as I have.  But, it’s not just called Tidal Blades.  It’s definitely not Heroes of the Reef.  It’s not a trick taking game, and it’s not, in any way, a heavy strategic game.  It is a fast paced, short duration game that gives you plenty of turns, and it’s up to you to figure out how to make the most of the occasional opportunities that let you make the most of the situation.  For me, this is a great fit for the super-filler 30 minute spot.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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