The possibilities are endless – Tides of Time app

We announced founding Portal Games Digital in January 2017. A separate division of our company dedicated to bringing our best selling games to mobile. It’s been two years. They finished developing First Martians app. They finished the Antares website for Detective. They almost finished companion app for Robinson Crusoe.

But the main project they were working was Tides of Time. After many months, two weeks ago it finally got released. I couldn’t be more proud of it.

Tides of Time is the all-time best seller for us. Released in 2015 this small card game immediately became a major hit, got nominated for Golden Geek in two categories – Best card game and Best 2 player game. It got dozen of reprints, it got follow up game called Tides of Madness and became a strong contender in our catalog.

It was the obvious choice to make Tides of Time the first app developed by PG Digital.

Tides of Time is a game with stunning artwork. Every art piece on the card is a top industry illustration. And yet, PG Digital ordered more art. I was skeptical, I didn’t see a reason for doing that. Months passed, 3d versions of every building for every card were made. And then animations. And then the surrounding environment. And then…

And then I was amazed. The illustrations I knew so well from cards became a part of the living empire player was building, epic structures surrounded by trees or fields. It all felt familiar and new at the same time. I guess you were right, I had to say to the team.

Each new version brought something interesting. I loved when we were testing AI and tweaked it to be more and more smart. We hired Michał Walczak, developer for the original Tides of Time card game to write the whole strategy behind the AI, what it wants to achieve and how it plays. We finally went for three basic levels for AI and it was fascinating to see Michał competing with the program he designed himself.

Then PG Digital showed me challenges. The small thing that sounded stupid and absolutely not necessary until I actually played with it. Cannot imagine playing Tides now without it. Each time you play the app challenges you with a small additional task. Win the game with Most Gardens in Your Empire. Lose first round and then win the whole game. Win without drafting any Crown cards. And so on, and so forth.

What’s fascinating to me is the ongoingness of the process. On one hand, the product is ready, gets amazing reviews (we have an average rating on Appstore 5.0!) and everybody says PG Digital did a great job with this app, and on the other hand we have so many new ideas for the game. It’s different from the cardboard industry I work for. You finish the game, it goes to print, you are done.

Here it’s different. Releasing the game did not change our routine, we meet with the PG Digital team and we plan. We talk about online play. We talk about campaign mode. We talk about adding ‘character’ to the AI, one would be defensive, another mean, another would be risky…

We talk about incorporating every tiny comment we find on the Internet and think has value.

I love my cardboard, but Portal Games Digital is a fresh air I love to breathe now. Possibilities are infinite.

Ignacy Trzewiczek

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What happened in Alton?

Where to start? This time I guess I need to take you to Alton in Hamshire, England. That’s where it all began. I was sitting in Asmodee UK offices meeting with their sales team and presenting Detective. It was spring 2018, a few months before the release of the game and as always I was doing my magic tricks. Everybody in the room was very excited about the game and when I finished one of the guys sitting left to me said something like: ‘This all sounds awesome. I’d die for a case in X-Files setting!’

‘Be careful what you wish for’ I said. He smiled. He knew what’s coming.

OK, let’s be honest. Nothing was coming. We were on our way to the hotel with Marcin, Portal Games Sales Director and my brain was working like crazy.

‘Did you hear what the guy said?’ I asked with the excitement.

‘Which guy?’

‘The guy sitting left to me!’ I was so excited that people on the street looked at us. ‘The X-File guy!’


‘X-Files. He wants X-Files! That’s brilliant. I can do this!’


‘No! I can do different settings! I can do Stranger Things. I can do Miami Vice. I can do Beverly Hills Cop. I can pull off a dozen expansions, and every single of them may be unique. Fans will love that!’

Marcin smiled. That’s the reaction of a good Director of Sales when his brain starts to work like crazy…

It was Alton in Hampshire where I understood that I designed a system, a portal to new worlds. As with Robinson Crusoe which is sophisticated machinery to tell different stories, from Swiss Family to King Kong, from Time Traveling to rescuing Colonel Fawcett, from escaping Volcano Island to fighting with Cannibals, here with Detective I managed to do it again. Detective was a well-designed system to tell great crime stories.

Since Alton, I changed the way I thought about the game. Since the ‘X-Files guy’ I looked at Detective from a different perspective and higher level.

A few months later when I met with Rob Daviou and talked about his Case for Detective, he told me he has this story that takes place on a space ship heading towards Mars, and there is a murder – one of the crew members is found dead. I knew that with Detective the possibilities are endless.

We made it official at Essen. I held the keynotes, and I precisely remember the faces of people in the audience when the teaser for L.A. Crimes dropped.

‘What? Beverly Hills Cop?!’
‘L.A.! That’s neat!’

We opened their eyes. They understood what I discovered in Alton. Detective is a system to tell stories. We all smiled.

Ignacy Trzewiczek

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Monolith Arena Strategy & Tactics: Harbingers of the Forest

Dark elves from the magical and mysterious forest accompanied by other creatures will swiftly cut their enemies and drive many arrows through them. My personal favorites, they are tricky, they can poke their enemies while keeping save positions, and they are good at keeping their distance. And that’s where they excel if you keep your distance.your enemies will curse the day those damn elves decided to leave the forest and appear at the arena.

Running in circles

Let’s start with Banner – you want to have it in the middle of the board, or at least in the central zone. So how come you aim for the center if you’re going to keep your distance? It’s pretty simple, you want to take advantage of its special Feature. Move your units around the Banner, shot with Sparks over your Banner and don’t let your opponent catch up to your Units. Run and shoot, run and shoot – it’s pretty simple.

Don’t let them see you

Assassins can strike any opponents on the board which makes them deadly and dangerous, and your opponent will hate that and will try to get rid of them as soon as possible. You want to hide them in corners, and cover them with other tiles, preferably with the runes of acceleration. This way, you’re covered from any attacks, and you strike your opponents even faster, getting rid of any dangers before they have a chance to attack you.

Exploding… morlocks?!

Morlocks can make a lot of mess by removing any connected tile along with the Morlock before the fight even begins. They are powerful because they can remove heavy-hitting units or the ones with lots of shields when they oppose any threat to us. Use them even more efficiently, keep Morlocks near your banner, this way, you can switch positions with its feature if an even greater threat appears on the board.

More mystical creatures!

Apart from elves and Morlocks, we have also Hernes and a Wyrm, two mobile units that can hit hard our opponents. It’s best to use them and get rid of any units that try to take out our distance attackers, especially those with additional shields on them, just make sure you’re not caught off guard, because you’re limited to your defenders with melee attacks.

With elves, it’s not a race, it’s a marathon. You want to dominate the arena with your units and keep your distance from any tricky attacks like charge or fire concoction. Remember, hit and run, hit and run. Wear off your enemy and don’t give them a chance to counter any attacks, make sure you stay in shadows as any self-respecting dark elf.

Let us know how you lead your elves, do you prefer this style of game or you try to take out your opponents as fast as possible.

Matt Dembek

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I hate board games!

I hate board games. I am serious. It’s a constant flow of disasters. I see new amazing cover art and I am immediately sold on the game. I know nothing about the gameplay, I did not read the rulebook, but man, I know it’s gonna be great.

Hey, don’t give me that look. Want to talk about your reaction after you saw Scythe cover?

The publisher hires an artist to paint the best art piece possible. It has one purpose – attract. This cover art has nothing to do with the game. This artist never played the game, read the rulebook, met designer. Most likely, he doesn’t even play board games. He is a hired gun. I know all of this. And yet, when I see a new box art immediately all these small meeples start to run all over the place – by the place I mean my head – screaming “OMG, this game is awesome, I want it!!!!”

Stop it, I yell at them. This cover art has no connection to the rules and gameplay. It’s an art piece. Stop it!

“But we want it!” they keep running and my head hurts. “It’s awesome. This game will be awesome. The box says it all!!!!”

So I buy the game.

Of course, I am the only person on Earth who misses the pre-order specials. My Instagram feed has it all. Every gamer on the planet shows all the bits my copy of the game misses. This cover is not that awesome after all, and my bits suck. I haven’t played the game yet, but I already know that without these additional seventy-two scenarios it’s useless. I hate this game. Why did I buy it?!

I delete my Instagram account to stop seeing all these awesome promos I missed. It doesn’t help. People post pics of metal coins on Facebook. I delete my Facebook account, but then I got an email from a friend of mine, he just got his copy signed by the designer. I turn off the Internet and sell my computer.

Brilliant. Now I cannot write articles anymore.

I buy a new computer.

I should buy a poster with the cover art. What I needed the whole game for? I hate it.


I put all components out of the box and try to figure out how the game works. There are spaces on the board that matches the shape of some tokens. I put them there. There are pieces in 4 distinct colors. I give set to each player. We sit and look at each other. I create the bank and put all coin tokens in a big pile.

I shuffle the cards. I separate all wooden pieces by shapes.

My wife starts to get impatient. I separate the square tokens by size. To be honest, I have no clue what I am doing.

Wife looks at me and I know this look. I quickly take one piece from each player and put it on space 0 on the track that hopefully is a victory point track. I wink to my wife and smile.

It’s a mistake. I shouldn’t wink at her.

“Did you read the rulebook?” she asks.


“You must be kidding me!” she yells at me and stands from the table. I can tell it – now she is really angry. Every husband knows when his wife is angry. We get this power along with the wedding ring.

“I will figure it out. This cannot be difficult. I played the other game from this designer a few years ago!” I say but she doesn’t listen. She just gives me another look. She has a whole wide arsenal of looks. We are in the ‘You are in trouble’ section.

So I am sitting now reading this damn rulebook. I feel like being at school again. My brain is defending. I want to go to bed. I want to eat. I want to stand. I want to do anything but the homework. I mean the rulebook. It goes slow, but I have some progress – I am 4 pages in. Only 32 to go. Smallest font possible. I can imagine how it was manufactured. Printing machines and the whole factory in the scale of bonsai trees…

I hate board games. I am serious.

(to be continued…? give me your ideas what’s next!)

Ignacy Trzewiczek

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Monolith Arena Strategy & Tactics: Lords of the Abyss

Darkness and hellfire, creatures of the night, simply speaking – Demons. A faction filled with horrors and nightmares that will leave your opponents in total fear. Lords of the Abyss and their champions names are frightening, but what is even more terrifying is their ability to teleport all around the map and to poison their opponents. Their goal is to bring chaos on the battlefield, to leave their opponents confused, but it doesn’t mean their game is chaotic, you must plan your strategy from the very start to make sure that the underworld will be pleased with your results. Control your chaos.

Venomous touch

First, make sure that you take advantage of your most fearsome feature – Venom. Place your banner in a way that you will be able to reach your opponents banner with champions connected to your banner. It’s ok even if your banner will end up adjacent to the opponents banner. Your goal is to inflict poison to your opponents banner as soon as possible. It would be great if even more poison markers lands on their banner, this way, an opponent will think twice before playing their battle orders for the rest of the game.

React quickly

Opponents will try to block you from inflicting any poison, and they will push you whenever it’s possible. You only have two Move orders, but there’s something even better – teleportation. Jumping from one side of the battlefield to another sounds fantastic, and it is. So keep your Runes of teleportation safe, place them far from your opponents, and make sure you have one of your tiles always connected to it. This will allow you to react quickly whenever your opponent use orders like a push to avoid getting hit with your poison, thanks to the teleportation you can reposition yourself and still try to inflict some poison.

Fearful champions

Apart from those tricky features, Lords of the Abyss have quite fearful champions at their disposal as well, that works well with the presented mechanics. Horrors net their opponents while inflicting 2 wounds, use those to block your opponents banner feature and do some extra damage or use them to protect your units that are about to inflict poison. Spikes can inflict poison on their own, try to put them on the other side of the battlefield, away from your banner so that your opponent has to spread their defenses. There’s also Mygalomorphs that works best in the center of the battlefield with their spread attack and high initiative, they can cause quite a diversion.

Drop your weapons!

As if it’s not enough, Lords have another cool feature – Disarmament. Any connected enemy tile to it, cannot attack. Runes of disarmament work best placed in the corner of the battlefield, this way they are protected by the board and can disarm up to two tiles, meaning only one side is open for a counter.

As you can see chaos can be a good thing if you make sure you control it correctly. Let us know how you base your Lords of the Abyss tactics.

Matt Dembek

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Board Games as Art by Phil Eklund

Today I have a pleasure to welcome here Phil Eklund, one of the most prolific designers, famous for his ambitious games that not only have interesting mechanisms, but come with a stunning amount of scientific research. I personally met Phil a few years ago at the convention in Bremen, Germany where he was demoing High Frontier. Without further ado I present you his article! – Ignacy Trzewiczek


My name is Phil Eklund, founder of Sierra Madre Games and designer of such games as Pax Porfiriana, the Bios trilogy, and High Frontier. Often we think of art as paintings, sculpture, literature, music, theater, etc. I want to persuade you that boardgames can also be thought of as art, and why it is useful to regard them this way.

Useful definition of art.

I start with a useful definition of art: „The selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s value-judgments.“ By this definition, not everything hung on a wall or splashed on a canvas is art! You need (1) selectivity, (2) re-creation of reality, and (3) value-judgements.


All art is selective. Unlike (for example) a photograph, art does not portray every detail. Instead, an artist recreates reality much like a novelist does. To portray what is important, and omit what is not.

Re-creation of Reality.

Because we live in reality, any work of art must help us appreciate it. Even the most abstract game has referents to reality, and is a simulation of some sort. But you must have vision. Which is to say, you must hold in mind the element of reality that is to be recreated in this genre. Without vision, a game becomes merely a vehicle of technical virtuosity.


To be an artist, you need something to convey. You need to believe in something. You need context, principles, and long-range direction; you need connection among your goals, coherence among your days, and a broad overview uniting your disparate experiences, conclusions, and actions into a sum. In short, every artist needs a philosophy, the means by which he comes to make value-judgements.


Many designers do not know in explicit terms what they regard as important. They are unfamiliar with philosophy and hold few ideas on the subject; yet they are able to create and/or respond to art. This is possible because all persons, whatever their conscious mental content, are able to subconsciously appraise values, according to whatever fragments of philosophy they hold. Only a handful of designers hold explicit values and translate them into their art. Your philosophy will set your sense of life, beliefs, decisions, evaluation of good and evil, true and false.

Artist’s Handiwork.

To be recognised by the works of art you create, the player should know something about you after playing your game. Your game’s integration and subject, as well as how it communicates your view of the world, should identify you as the artist. Although it may sound prideful, I can say with some confidence that many or most players can tell a game is mine without seeing my name on the box.


So that’s the goal. To give your products a distinct signature, and avoid copying or fads. The integrated whole must say something about you and your philosophy.


The desirable side-effect in believing in something is passion. As a creator, you will be constantly tinkering with your creation, consumed by its creation. Such is the nature of artists.

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Imperial Settlers Strategy & Tactics: Amazons & 3 is a magic number

Two weeks ago we tackled ‘Why can’t we be friends’ expansion for Amazons, now it’s time to go for their fierce set collections within the next expansion: 3 is a magic number. Harmonia will be watching over our deck to make sure, that we’ve prepared our cards properly to get the most out of Amazons when we decide to use it when building our deck. We could say that with this expansion blue is the new black.  

Like before we present some unique options in our opinion, but those are not the ultimate choices, and you are more than welcome to create your set scoring configurations and share them. So what options do we have when we want to include 3 is a magic number expansion into our Amazon deck to have optimal choices and use set tactics to its best?


First comes a single card with three copies called Harmonia’s Fountain and the cards to replace it with.

Harmonia’s Fountain is a base of this expansion, most cards focus on its set collection effect and since it gives lots of Victory Points its best to replace it for the Flea Market and keep the Mythic Tree card, that provides wood production which is much needed to build other constructions that come within this expansion. The Recon Team is always good to keep that manipulation options, but its also a great alternative to consider, having two scoring options both from Flea Market and Harmonia’s Fountain might be great in the long run.

Blessing of the trees and Tree of wishes are the two cards with two copies each, and here we have some options to include those in Amazon’s deck, but keep in mind blue is the key here!

Tree of wishes

Free Building bonus effect from the top three cards and an extra option to get rid of the cards that aren’t blue and won’t combine with Harmonia’s Fountain effect is a no brainer. We recommend replacing the Statue of Midas with it, sure maybe the statue brings a nice building bonus that Tree of Wishes could use, but since most of the other two copies cards are blue or black and will take advantage from other cards, it’s just safer to go for the only gold one in the main deck.

Blessing of the trees

The Blessing is a fantastic card to be played with Harmonia’s Fountain. Other players tend to raze common scoring cards almost right away when those appear in front of us, but with the Blessing of the trees, we don’t have to worry, it allows us to get something extra from all the Foundations left over inside our Empire. We recommend replacing either Young Warriors or Ambush with it since we don’t need pink cards that much right now.

Single copy cards include: Little War; Temple of Ares; and Outpost Network, these cards will take most of its advantage from the Black cards and the ones with building bonuses.

Little War

Great card in combination with our black color cards, we gain resources every time we built black cards. That’s why we’ve left most of the blue and black cards in our deck, and we want to have great combinations between those cards. Our first pick to include the Little War card would be to remove The Capital. Sure it’s storage feature is neat, and its a three-color card, but its neither blue or black, so let’s just remove it.

Temple of Ares

Another card that favors blue and black cards in sets and will let us get that snowball effect momentum. Gaining a card and sword for each new set of two blue and a single black card will push forward the game at a fast pace. So what we should give up for this card? We would recommend Secured Garner, another not needed color in our set collection tactic.

Outpost Network

The last card in this expansion will allow us to score some extra Victory Points at the end of the game, for each card with Building bonus in our empire. Here, even though we have some more cards of unwanted color in our deck left, we would recommend Rear Guard to be removed from our deck. Yeah, it’s a black card that works well with the two cards mentioned above, but the effect of it, which strikes our opponents and doesn’t give much of strategy options to us, makes it an optional choice.

So here it is, another Amazon expansion another set of choices delivered to you, to try and have fun with the deck building mechanism in Imperial Settlers. Give us your feedback for those Strategy and Tactics posts and if you would like to see more of those including other factions.

Matt Dembek

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