Teaching Time: 5 mins
Playing Time: 15-20 mins
Setup Time: 10 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Solo and Co-op review
I love a limited communication co-op game and I’m always on the look out for a small game that can be played solo. I also have for a while followed the progress of artist Tristam Rossin, a splendid freelance games artist whose career has really started to take off. As such Tranquility by Board Game Hub was an easy back for me, and I’ve been very happy with it overall.
Gameplay is quite simple, cards numbered 1-80 are drawn and placed into a six by six grid, running in rows, left to right, bottom to top. Cards must progress upwards in value and whenever a card is placed into the grid adjacent to another the player must discard a number of cards from their hand equal to the difference in value of the new card from whichever of its neighbours is numerically closest. Fill out the grid, along with a Start and Finish card before you discard all cards, or find yourself unable to place, and win, if not, you lose.
The game itself is a lovely little object, being pretty much exactly cube shaped its not really pocket sized unless you have very odd shaped pockets, but it will sit happily in most gaming bags waiting to be pulled out. The illustrations from Tristam are lovely and give just the right feeling of slightly mysterious, curious, restfulness. Visually the game puts me in mind of the Steam release An Old Man’s Journey, the only pity with them is that the illustrations are largely superfluous. There are alternative play options that give the illustrations gameplay weight but they are so lovely I want to spend more time with them when the cards could be just simple numbers on a blank background and it wouldn’t affect the gameplay of the main game one bit.
As an object Tranquility is very satisfying, the small cube shape is lovely to just pick up and handle and the cards are solid and high quality. Additionally, Board Game Hub have made the effort to reduce the internal cellophane by having the box contents unwrapped, which is great to see. There are a handful of minor quibbles, sleeving the cards is pretty tough thanks to their shape and how packed the box is, which might become an issue with card marking after repeated plays. Also, with the box being a cube that fits the cards pretty snuggly, extracting the cards is a matter of tipping the box out and depositing the stack on the table, which isn’t a huge issue but in my copy the lip of the box has begun to fray after doing this over just a few week's use. Oddly the cards are also not ordered such that they can be pulled out of the box and a game played almost immediately, rather needing to be ordered out before the first game. Still, these are all minor issues with a game that is a satisfying object to own and lovely to look at, and for such a small box it has a large table presence, the six by six grid taking up a fair amount of space.
Gameplay most closely feels like the constantly confusingly titled Pandasaurus title The Game in both modes, with a little bit of The Mind in co-op mode. There is a set manner of laying out cards within the grid most efficiently and once it has been figured out solo mode becomes a matter of following that pattern while carefully remembering which cards have been discarded in order to maintain adhering to the rules of placement. Victory or loss comes down to how much contingency a player allows themselves within the pattern. Generally, there is a very real limit to how much variety this sort of puzzle placement game can offer in solo mode, but Tranquility gives a very good job of offering quite a range. While the alternative play modes mostly just give greater pressure to force players to offer themselves wider contingency this can become a genuine challenge, since the game’s central discarding engine means that greater safety in placement means a greater challenge to memory it makes the alternate play modes more than just a mechanical challenge. Whether a particular player appreciates being challenged in memory once they’ve found the pattern or not is a matter of personal taste, but it remains an increasingly difficult challenge once the central puzzle has been mastered, which ought to be a good thing.
In that the co-op game has a very specific command against communicating while playing it’s a good question as to how that works with the solo mode. The short answer is that solo play is a lot easier than co-op play, unless your memory is particularly weak or your partner unusually psychic. However, the game comes with a genuinely significant range of alternative variants, five included in the base instructions with more available online. The ability to jack up the difficulty with some of these alternate modes to make the solo option as much of a challenge as the co-op version is genuinely welcome and comes as a real answer to the fact that solo modes are often too easy when the difficulty of coordinating in a co-op is removed.
Ultimately the solo mode option is more like a high-quality modern gaming equivalent to patience rather than a narrative experience or a more shifting puzzle such as Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden, of which the closeness in nature of the two names, Patience and Tranquility, seems to suggest a conscious evocation. As an entry into that tradition Tranquility is pretty top notch, and if that’s not what you’re looking for, it wasn’t going to be for you however good it might have been.
Gameplay most closely feels like the constantly confusingly titled Pandasaurus title The Game in both modes, with a little bit of The Mind and …And Then We Held Hands in co-op mode. The game comes with an injunction against communication during play, which always opens up a sort of meta-discussion about how much communication is to be employed between games. Another classic no-talking-while-playing game, Hanabi, has whole schools of thought on what degree of communication rules are allowed during play. A lot of player enjoyment will therefore come from a personally calibrated level of pre-agreement and probably depend on how comfortable you are with blaming all your problems on the ill-considered discarding of your team-mates.
A large part of the game is based on which cards are chosen to be discarded and when, but discards are made privately, forcing a level of trust and reliance in the game. When it comes off it’s an excellent sense team-work and can be very satisfying. However, a miscalculated commitment to a run can kill any chances of success dead surprisingly early, which isn’t too bad when its noticed and the game called. It can feel like argument bait when the subsequent checking of a discard pile reveals that a player had the necessary information to know that the last half hour was wasted time, had they just remembered to mention it though.
The issue with Tranquility’s limited communication is that it is largely a memory game and its limited communication splits your memory across multiple skulls. Its doesn’t often feel like a communication game in the manner of Hanabi or even a co-operative in the way that Ravens of Thri Sahashri does. Rather it manages to feel like a series of solo games played on the same board with the other player’s moves setting out the boundaries of play rather than being made as attempts to communicate. Its not often that a player particularly needs to tell their partner much beyond their actions anyway, the contents of one player’s hand or head doesn’t often change what would be a good idea for their partner.
The majority of the question of whether you enjoy Tranquility’s gameplay will come down to how you feel about the nature of the limited communication. By and large the main thing that would be communicated would be something along the lines of “I need to discard the 6, so don’t discard the 7”, with the response being “Oh, I already discarded the 7, we’re stuffed”. If the idea of playing a game out when its already lost because you’re unable to say those words, or discarding the 7 without knowing that its screwed the game because your partner was unable to tell you about the 6 enrages you, its probably not the game for you. If figuring out how to ensure that never happens without needing to open your mouth is a challenge that fills you with delight, I have just the thing for you.
Overall, I’d say that Tranquility is a better solo game than a limited communication co-op game. But then, I’m a huge fan of limited communication games and generally find solo puzzle games quite disappointing. I also wouldn’t say that it’s a bad limited communication co-op by any means, just that it doesn’t use its limited communication to do much beyond hide a lost game until the last minute and add on a layer of difficulty, making the solo game a more pure puzzle, and it’s actually quite an interestingly built puzzle.