Ebbe & Flut
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Tactical card laying game in which players attempt to maneuver from a starting position to a goal. Can be played as a solitaire game, too.
This is a great little game with a unique mechanism for movement of cards. It's something of a tile-laying game and something of a puzzle.
Players form a 5-card-by-5-card grid between them. Each takes a set of 25 cards, one with blue cards representing the Water and the other the beige cards representing the land. Each of the 25 cards has a letter and number on it, going from A1 to E5. The overall goal is to move cards from your starting area (the corner of the grid to your lower right) across the grid to your opponent's starting area (diagonally across from your own). Each card that you succeed in moving into your opponent's starting area comes off of the grid and scores you a point.
The game is set up as follows: 10 Border Cards are provided to help form a box around this 5-by-5 grid. The sides of the box are made up of 5 Border Cards each. The top and bottom of the box are formed by the players' own cards. Each player shuffles his or her cards and makes 5 facedown stacks of 5 cards each in front of him- or herself to form the top and bottom of the box around the grid. This sounds confusing, but the idea is just to make this box around the grid so that the spaces on the grid are clearer.
The movement system is what makes the game unique. On a turn, you pull a new card from one of your facedown stacks and put it into play in one of your three starting spaces: the lower right corner, the space immediately above it and the space immediately to the left of it. Then you check your columns and rows on the grid. No cards in your own color may remain in a column or row if those cards share a letter (e.g., A2 and A5) or a number (e.g., A3 and B3). When this happens, it's a good thing because this allows you (in fact requires you) to move. If the two cards are in a column, you must move one of them to the left a space. If the two cards are in the same row, you must move one upwards a space. If this creates a new row or column in which you have cards sharing a number or letter, again, this is a good thing because you must conntiue to move cards to resolve this new situation. If multiple moves are required in a column or row to eliminate the situation, even better. The result can be a whole chain reaction of card movement.
When one of your cards makes it into one of your opponent's 3 starting spaces (again, these are diagonally opposite from yours), you take it off the board and keep it. It's worth a point at the end of the game. If, however, the card must be moved off of the grid at another point, you lose the card entirely.
Moving the cards is a lot of fun, and the 'blocking' effect this can have is one of the more interesting aspects of the game as well. As the grid fills up and your cards are moved, they will inevitably cover up one of your opponent's cards and vice-versa. The covered cards remain blocked until the owner of the top card moves it again. This can be used as a tactic to block your opponent's cards as they approach their goal on your side of the grid. Also, at the beginning of your turn, you check your opponent's work to make sure he or she didn't leave any columns or rows in which movement of card was required. If you find a mistake, your opponent must give up a point card (if he or she has one), which then comes out of the game entirely. This doesn't happen too much, though, once you gain some experience.
It's definitely a more abstract game although there is a certain feeling of an ebb and flow to it. The artwork on the cards isn't great, but it's satisfactory. It's something of an interactive puzzle, rather than a traditional game, but the mechanism is fresh and interesting, and when you're in the right mood, it's really a lot of fun. Games seem to take about 45 minutes. There is a 1-player version, but I don't see it as being too much fun. The other nice thing about the game is that it would make a good travel game. The box is tiny, and the truth is that you could eliminate making the box around the grid and just shuffle your own cards into one facedown pile, thus making the board smaller and more adaptable to a plane or train.
One more point: this game got a really bad reputation because the rules are very unclear in the original. They must have been computer-translated and whole phrases were missing. To make matters worse, an incorrect FAQ was posted on the Geek and mistaken rules were (understandably) described on Funagain, so I suspect a number of people have been playing the game wrong. I re-translated the rules and expanded them a bit to make them clearer. I'm posting the translation today. Hopefully, this will help revive interest in this cool, inexpensive little card game.
I agree with most of the prior reviewer's comments. The English version of the rules could have been translated better. There is nothing noting the state of the 5 piles of cards (exposed--face up, or hidden--face down). I play with the five decks face up (exposed). This does not mean the playing field is 7 x 5. It just means that you can make an intelligent choice as to which card to play. If the piles are placed so they are face down, there is no need for five piles. One pile would suffice.
Also, there is an omission that is in the German rules but not in the English rules. Under 2) DRAW A CARD, second bullet, a phrase that is in the German rules is missing from the English rules, causing some confusion. The bullet, with the added phrase in parens, is as follows (please understand that my translation is a paraphrase of the German).
2) DRAW A CARD
(second bullet) If any of that player's own cards become visible as a result (of the other player's turn), the player can decide whether to move any cards or place the card down first.
Ebbe & Flut is a bit more cerebral and abstract than the games I usually play, but I found my interest increasing as the game went on. It claims to be about the ebb and flow of the tides on the shoreline, but if you are looking for a game evoking ocean tides, I'm afraid you'll find this one a bit dry. (No pun intended.) (Well, maybe a little bit ...)
It is played in a five by five grid, although there is no board. They do give you ten cards whose purpose is just to mark the border of the grid. You are trying to move your cards from your corner of the grid to your opponent's corner where you take the cards off and they score. You are represented by either the water cards or the land cards--the graphics are vague, but you can tell which is yours because the letters and numbers are printed in blue for water and yellow for land.
Each card has one number (1 - 5) and one letter (A - E) on it. Your turn consists of taking one card from one of your five draw piles and placing it on one of the three start spaces. This can (hopefully) cause you to have two cards in the same row or column with the same letter or number. Then you must move one of the two cards one space toward your goal corner. This can then cause more matching numbers or letters in a row, and the domino effect can mean several cards 'flow' across the grid, and eventually some of them can reach the goal spaces.
I like the movement of cards across the playing surface. You have to watch out, or a card may flow off the side of the grid before it makes it into a corner. You can bury your opponent's cards under yours, which slows him down for a while, but you will probably want to uncover them later, which could have the unfortunate side effect of giving him a lot more movement on his next turn.
The rules were a little confusing at first, and I still don't know if your five draw piles (which border the grid on the bottom and top) are supposed to be face up or face down. If they are face up, then the grid is really five by seven, and the start and end corners aren't really corners. But if they are face down, then why in the rules does it say that drawing a card can reveal another of your cards and cause movement? I play face down and ignore that statement.
There is also a rule that says you start your turn by trying to catch a move your opponent could have made and penalizing him for it. I'm not too fond of these 'Muggins/Flinch'-style rules. They tend to be a little severe for beginners, and players with more experience will seldom, if ever, miss a move. The game can be played just as well without it.
The game takes concentration, planning, and clever manipulation. It is a serious abstract game of puzzle-solving, rather than a light, theme-rich game that provokes laughter and cheery chatter. Depending on your tastes, you can adjust my three stars up or down. But for me, at that price, it was well worth picking up.
Your cards, shuffled facedown, range from Al to E5 in your color. Draw one each turn. Place it faceup on one of your three starting spaces on the 5 x 5 "beach." Are two of your cards with the same letter or number visible in the same row? Move one card a space forward. If two such cards occupy the same column, one card moves to the left. Your turn ends only after all possible moves have been made. Moving onto an enemy card immobilizes it, but beware of cards that shift, causing them to reveal what's underneath! Eventually, cards surge toward your opponent. Remove cards that reach his starting spaces, for a point each. The player with most points wins when all cards have been placed and further movement is impossible. Be careful--cards forced off the beach are lost without scoring! In the solitaire version, play both sides for maximum score. Whether playing competitively or on your own, you'll find the charming mechanism quite relaxing.