The first thing you’ll notice about High Tide, right underneath the title on this game’s beautifully-illustrated cover, is the designer: Dirk Henn. While Henn is surely a notable designer, he’s most recognizable for his work on Alhambra and Wallenstein 15 years in the past. With High Tide, Henn is pushing into the family game market via this 25-minute dice roller and an interesting theme: a race to get the best sunbathing spot on the beach
A push-your-luck game at heart, High Tide throws an interesting element into its race down the beach, as the game (via ocean waves) is fighting against you. Players compete in six simultaneous races, cordoned off into coloured lanes, where movement down the beach is dictated by pairs of dice. The numbers and colours on these dice determine how far and on which lane(s) a player will travel, but players decide whether to pull and roll two random dice from a bag or choose from die pairs that were passed on during prior turns. This die pool is the core mechanic of High Tide, and an interesting one, as it lets players re-try their luck at pulling and rolling, but in doing so offers up the passed result to the round’s remaining players.
Once all players have selected a die pair, the ocean comes into play, as the colours in an unchosen die pair dictate which lanes will be struck by waves. Each wave can chop 2 or 4 spaces off the end of a 20-space track, increasing the risk of one player’s token going underwater, where it would be eliminated from the race and also immediately trigger final scoring. There’s opportunity for strategic play here, as players can intentionally pass on dice in hope that they will remain on the board to set wave locations, but if all die pairs are chosen, the waves will be randomly rolled from the bag.
Another area of strategic play is in deciding where to focus your movement. If no player enters the water, the game will only last six rounds, giving players a hard limit of twelve total movements. There’s not much sense in using these limited opportunities on hopeless races, as last-place finishers in each race are awarded zero points (everyone else is rewarded on a sliding scale). However, if a token is never moved, it never participated in the race to begin with, and instead receives a small one-point reward for having spent its day at the beach bar instead.
This gameplay presents a solid mix of randomness and strategic decision-making for a light, 25-minute family game, but at the height of its randomness, High Tide can be subject to sudden, unexpected game endings. This has the potential to sour some early sessions until players develop a proper fear of the water, but on the whole, High Tide largely delivers on what it set out to accomplish. It’s an enjoyable family game that doesn’t overstay its welcome, with most sessions not running the full 25-minute, six-turn gamut. Player downtime also isn’t an issue, as turns are short and opposing players tend to stay engaged while scouting what die pairs may be passed on, or watching in anticipation as the last player sets the coming wave. The only other downside is the lack of a two-player mode, which typically helps family games get to the table more often.
Yet while some family games can become sleeper hits with a gaming hobbyist crowd, High Tide isn’t punching above its weight. An above average family game, yes, but when game night goes late and some lighthearted push-your-luck fun hits the table, I don’t see High Tide supplanting a more pure classic such as Can’t Stop.
One aspect of High Tide that deserves unqualified praise is the production value on artwork and components. For a game with sights set squarely on the family game market, Queen Games went over the top to turn what could have been a simple dice-and-tokens set into a ful- package experience. The board illustration colourful, eye-catching, and very detailed, while the wooden and cardboard bits, from beach chair meeples to frayed ends on beach towel tokens, are all custom-created for this game.
Then there is the matter of expansions. High Tide advertises no less than four modular expansions already included in the box, making the task of evaluating High Tide quite a challenge. Is there some ideal mix of expansions that causes the game to shine? The short answer: not really. Most inject a bit of minor randomness in interesting ways, but generally provide variety for variety’s sake, furthering its appeal, but again only for the family audience.
The one expansion I would recommend is the surfer module, which assigns a secret agenda to each player, depicting one lane where the token will still score points when in the water at game end. This adds a tiny dose of strategy, and can also lead to some enjoyable reveal moments at the game’s conclusion.
Something I haven’t gone into detail on is my experience purchasing High Tide, which I described fully in my first impressions video. High Tide is a game I took a chance on when it popped up for as low as $16 on Amazon ($45 USD MSRP) while Queen Games was running a December sale. An astute BGG user noticed that High Tide had not previously been announced by the publisher, nor was it listed in the BGG database. With the combined allure of a hot deal and the mystery of the unknown, I took the bait, with a pledge to provide the community with my take on the game.
After reaching out to Queen Games, they have since announced High Tide as a post-Nuremburg Toy Fair 2017 (Feb 1st-6th) release. The game remains on Amazon (at full MSRP), and Queen Game’s representative could not comment on whether the Amazon sale was an inventory error or an intentional pre-release. While I may have gotten a steal from some likely-accidental pricing, I’ve almost certainly paid this back with the amount of publicity I’ve generated in talking about High Tide. While I did contemplate putting High Tide onto the trade pile after a few plays, I’ll be keeping it for one simple reason: the rest of my family enjoys it.