Updated: Oct 24
Silent cooperative games have become a bit of a 'thing' of late: from the thematic The Ravens of Thri Sahashri (Japon / Osprey), the abstract (and lower case) ...and then we held hands (Ludicreations) to the astonishingly successful The Game (Pandasaurus) and The Mind (Nurnberger-Spielkarten). James Emmerson's Tranquility borrows well from the latter pair, having the objective of filling a 6x6 grid with cards from 1-80 in ascending numerical order to complete a voyage from Start to Finish. Three modules can be added to increase both difficulty and variety. And, like The Game, it can be played solo, too, which is always a good way to learn games of this ilk.
Published by Board Game Hub, Tranquillity arrives in a small cube box, with soft-feel cards and a folded instruction leaflet: the pre-release rules were in plain text but, given the lovely presentation of the cards and box (art by Tristam Rossin), I'm sure the final version will be more aesthetically pleasing. Set up is simple: form a 6x6 'grid' by creating a border with 24 cards; add in the Finish cards and any modules; shuffle and divide the deck equally between the 1–5 players; then shuffle a Start card into each player's deck and you're ready to set sail!
Turns consist of either playing a card into the grid or discarding two cards from your hand of five if you can't or don't want to play one. Rules for placement are that the cards must run in stepped ascending order and, if a card is placed next to another, the player must discard cards from hand equal to the difference in value. Where the heuristic journey really begins - aside from dividing 80 by 6 and working out that you need to place just under half the cards - is the rule that when a card is placed adjacent to two others, you only pay the lesser discard cost. As a solo and two-player game with no modules, this becomes a case of fairly simple logical card management; however, the capricious nature of more players and luck of the draw mean that sub-optimal, and arguably more interesting, play is far more likely in a game with three to five players.
When a player has a Start card in hand, they must play it: the team collectively discards eight cards... usually a simple choice later on, but an early Start card can be tricky to navigate: at two players there is a good chance you'll have no choice at all, which could be dissatisfying in comparison to other player counts. Since we played the prototype, this has been recognised and dealt with via a tweak to the rules allowing extra card draws in the two-player game. A Finish card has to be kept to, well, finish the game; it takes up space in hand, reducing options, though as you only need one, duplicates are obvious candidates for discards. By the all important end-game players are running low on cards and if ever a player cannot legally take a turn, all is lost.
I learned Tranquillity solo, finding it plain sailing with no modules or just one, but throwing in the Monsters (eat a placed card) and Storms (playing restrictions) together provided just the right challenge which felt similar to the two-player game. It was well received at a gateway games night, receiving requests for multiple replays: the strategy and tactics were perfect for that level of gaming, although the Storms would have made it too tough for that audience. For gamers, this may not have the depth of a fully featured Onirim (Z-Man), but adding in at least the Storms means everyone has to be on their game and, crucially, will need a bit of luck in the way the cards come out. Bon voyage!
(Review by David Fox)