I have to start off by being honest. I have never sat down and thought to myself “Having Bruce Lee in a board game is a fantastic idea!”, however I am very glad that someone did, and that that someone made Dragon Tides.
I got into Kung Fu movies (both good and bad ones) in my late teens, but because of my love for them I was full of trepidation when I found out that arguably the most famous martial artist ever had been put into a board game. There’s nothing worse than having your childhood ruined by someone trying too hard. Luckily for me and everyone else, Artistic Justice have done an exceptional job of living up to the legend.
Before we begin I want to mention that given the story based dynamic of Dragon Tides I am going to try my hardest to make this review spoiler free. No-one likes to be “that guy”. The story dynamic is something which enriched my play experience and has made me want to keep going back to play it again, so I don’t want to cheapen anyone else’s experience by telling everyone all about it.
While writing I’ve been trying to work out the best way to describe Dragon Tides. This took me some time, but I have eventually settled on A Spiritual Lovechild of Streets of Rage and Fist of Fury, or, Streets of fury’s rage fist’s baby, or maybe, Baby’s Streets of Love Fist.
Maybe I should work on that one a little more.
The premise of Dragon Tides is that you work your way through a martial arts movie. That in itself would be pretty dull but this is definitely where Dragon Tides starts to shine for me. With the base game for Dragon Tides (Artistic Justice have already come out and said that they’re expanding Dragon Tides, which I am a massive advocate for) you get 2 movie books to accompany play. “Glitterbang” and “Shakedown in Little China”, both of which have a very sly and dry sense of humor. They’re used to guide you through the movie and tell you how to set up the scenes you’re playing. An example of the sly humor is that in the prelude to the first act of Glitterbang, it implies that there’s a kitten in the alley you’re standing in that’s mocking you for getting into the situation you’re in… oh no you don’t Kitty!
Disappointingly there’s no option to kick Kitty in the face.
Lights, Camera, Action….. WATAAAAAAAAAAH!
You will start Dragon Tides by reading a preview from the accompanying movie guide to set the scene and then it will direct you to set up the first act.
At this point you can decide between the players which of you want to be the good guys (Dragons) and which of you want to be the bad guys (Tiger Clan). All of the supplied characters can be Dragons or Bosses. The only 2 famous characters are Bruce and Brandon Lee, likely because I imagine the licensing fees to get them may have been quite steep. You also have Voktoria Jovovich, Luke Elba, Goliath, Ivan Castle, Tiger Ip and Train Wong. I’ll leave it to the accompanying picture to see who some might have been inspired by.
If you’re in control of the Dragons you have to co-ordinate your own character (or 2 if you’re playing with only 2 players) but if you’re working as the Tiger Clan you get to control all of the “minions” in a scene and the Sub-Boss and Final Boss. As I was playing with 2 players, we settled on the best method of deciding things; we flipped a coin for it. That being said with more of you, you could perhaps go to some other age old ways of deciding things such as Rock Paper Scissors or the Let Me Be Bruce, or I’ll Beat You In to a Mush method.
We played mostly as the rules recommend for first time players. My wife played as Bruce Lee and Viktoria Jovovich, and I had the minions with Goliath as a Sub-boss and Train Wong as the Final Boss. This brings about my first gripe with Dragon Tides, at no point did the rules mention that if there are only 2 players, that you need to play with 2 Dragons. We worked it out from trial and error but this didn’t stop my wife from winning the first couple of scenes.
Once you have set up the scene then you then have to get to the core of Dragon Tides; combat… which is another way that Dragon Tides really comes into its own.
It’s set up in 3 stages:
You get a deck of cards which accompany your character which are their special moves. These special moves can be used at any time so long as it complies with the text on the card. The Lights phase is where you choose the special move (and keep it secret) and add it to your character mat. You start with the facility to use one, but this can be increased as the game goes on.
This is where you move your character if you wish. You have the opportunity to pick up objects in the scenery which can give you a multitude of different effects from extra health to weapons for use against your enemies. These can help to increase your attack strength or reach, but some also come with penalties.
The action phase is also broken down in to a couple of mini-phases. Firstly, both players will play Showdown cards. You can choose from Throw, Strike and Grapple. Throw beats Strike, Strike beats Grapple and Grapple beats Throw. Whichever one of you wins the showdown will get a 2 dice advantage when rolling against each other in the next part of the battle.
The basic fight mechanic is very simple. You roll a set amount of dice for your character (and extra if you won the showdown). The dice have fists and shields on them. Shields cancel out fists. More fists than shields=damage done to you or the opposing player.
Should I Stay or Should I Go Now…..?
This is where my favourite mechanic comes in to play. As mentioned before you have 2 accompanying “movie” books. These are akin to “choose your own adventure” books. Once you have read the prelude and completed the first scene you get 2 options at the bottom on whether the Dragons won or the Tiger Clan won and depending on the outcome of the battles in the scene it will then branch off in different ways. The writers have done a great job with the story side of Dragon Tides as it increases the tension and puts you on edge if it’s not going your way. The “movie” will then point you to another page of narrative which will explain the consequences of your previous actions. This one dynamic really increases the replay value. Even if this didn’t add enough diversity you also get the opportunity to make different decisions in the middle of the accompanying text to change the outcome further. The best thing is that sometimes inaction is the best course of action and there were definitely times when not moving saved my bacon!
The choose your own adventure element of Dragon Tides can be seen with cause and effect all the way through. We played through the whole of Glitterbang and whilst the final scene takes place in the same locale, there are at least 4 different places to start it from depending on how the story has unfolded for you beforehand.
Component Quality, One Inch Punch or Girly Slap?
I have to say that the mini’s have been very well made and look like they’re meant to last. I stress tested them in probably the worst way as one of my kids stood on them, but they survived. The excellent quality of the casting and the fact they’re so lifelike did sadden me too but I’ll mention that later.
The rest of the components are sturdy and there’s enough punchboard to satisfy the most cardboard crazy of us. Let’s face it, there’s nothing more therapeutic than spending time popping out all of the tokens once you get a brand new game, except of course playing it. Dragon Tides comes with way more tokens and tiles than I was willing to count. The only problem I had with the punchboard components is while using the door ones, the stands started to damage the card where you slide them in and out. I think to combat this I may just leave them in the stands and not actually use the open door ones.
The modular game scenery “tiles” (I use the term tiles loosely since they’re actually about 9 or 10 inches long and 5 ish wide) have had some great artistic treatment which lends to the realism of the fact that you’re working your way through a martial arts movie. Some scenes just require one tile but others require 2 which can greatly ramp up the tension if the previous scene did not go your way, and you know you have a lot of ground to cover to sway the story back in your favour.
Is it a Marathon or a Sprint?
In terms of length of play, the first couple of scenes took around 25 minutes as we were still “feeling out” the game. The latter ones took around half an hour but this was because they were bigger scenes with more to do. So, you can play it in small chunks if you’re pressed for time or you can do an entire movie in around 2-3 hours, depending on how the movie pans out for you.
Jet Li, or Joe Bloggs?
So is it any good?
In a nutshell, yes it is. It is definitely something I am glad I picked up, and truthfully the most fun I have had with a new purchase in recent history.
During the first couple of scenes I actually thought that Dragon Tides was quite heavily biased towards the Dragons which was a little disheartening, but probably realistic in terms of film history. That being said in a classic movie twist of fate I ended up winning, and in the process went down in history as the first bad guy to beat Bruce Lee ever.
I was however disappointed that I had to seek rule clarification from the developers as the rule book doesn’t give you any information about minion stats. We played our first game by “house-ruling” it but things may have worked out differently for the both of us had we known what we were doing wrong.
All minions have 2 health and 2 movement. Their strength and other stats are outlined in the scene in the movie book.
I think Dragon Tides is fantastic despite given how confrontational it is. I seldom go for this type of game as I mostly only play games with my wife, and Happy Wife = Happy Life. That being said, I couldn’t bring myself to pass up being able to play something as Bruce Lee. The gameplay is compelling which for me is a great sign as I found myself wanting to finish the “movie”. It is also brimming with replayability as you can play good and evil and make different decisions and because fights may or may not go your way this means that the same movie could end up different for you every time you play it. Once you’re bored with one movie you can then move onto the other and start the whole process all over again.
As already mentioned all of the components are as solid as they can be. I was a little upset by how good the miniatures are because I can’t paint them to save my life. I think that they deserve a good paint job as opposed to what I’d give them; a paintjob only a pre-schooler would be proud of.
Is Dragon Tides for you?
I guess it depends what kind of games you like to play. If you’re into action style fighting games, Bruce Lee movies and choose your own adventure style books then definitely. Even if you’re not I still think that Dragon Tides is well worth a shot.
The last thing worth mentioning is that although Dragon Tides is recommended for 2-5 players, I think it needs at least 3 and would be best with 5, and if you can ruin the day of 4 heroes as the Tiger Clan then your evil deeds are well done indeed.
If Dragon Tides sounds like it could be for you then check it out at your friendly neighbourhood
Spider Man Game shop: https://www.gamesquest.co.uk/new-releases/dragon-tides-adventure-card-game
Or; if you would like some more information then check out the Dragon Tides BoardGameGeek page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/158487/dragon-tides
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.