The seas are calm and you’re ready for an adventure. Luckily your sturdy ship is primed for an expedition across the archipelago in search of paradise. The only thing that can get in your way now isn’t an approaching hurricane or even an errant pirate ship, but rather a mis-sequenced island that will throw you off course and leave you forever lost at sea.
Tranquility is a cooperative hand management card game that features limited communication between one to five players. It’s designed by James Emmerson with illustration by Tristam Rossin and published by Lucky Duck Games. Playtime is approximately twenty minutes.
Pack a lunch. Bring a friend. Hop aboard the good ship Tranquility and let’s sail for a chance to discover our piece of bliss out there on the watery horizon.
The object of Tranquility is to fill a 6×6 grid with island cards in sequential order from bottom-left to top-right. The catch is that these cards are numbered from one to eighty, shuffled, and mixed into equal piles per player, and the only way to win is to also activate a Start card during play and a Finish card at the very end.
Players have a hand limit of five cards. During a turn, they can either place a card onto an open space on the grid or they can discard two cards to refill their hand. Adding cards to the grid starts out wide open, but as more cards enter, the possibility of playing next to another card emerges. When a card is placed adjacent to another (e.g., 45 next to 47), the player must discard from their hand the number of cards equal to the difference (i.e., two cards).
Thankfully, there’s a helpful rule that assists with this. When placing next to two adjacent cards, players only need to discard the difference of the lowest result. For example, playing a 16 next to a 19 requires a three-card discard. But playing a 16 between a 15 and a 19 only requires a one-card discard. Hand size ensures cards must remain within four numbers of each other when playing adjacent.
The island deck features Start cards equal to the number of players. Whoever draws this first must add it into the starting space on the outside of the bottom-left grid. There are also five Finish cards shuffled into the island deck. Once the entire grid is filled, a player must be able to place a Finish card from their hand to complete the Tranquility’s journey. Players lose if they are unable to play a card due to the sequence not working or due to not being able to discard enough cards.
Beyond the base game, Tranquility features mini-expansion content to provide further variety. This ranges from grid manipulation to placement and hand size limitations. There’s also a bevy of variant rules and optional grid designs to make the next game new and unique.
Tranquility is a small box game with a pleasant buy-in. Players set up the border cards, shuffle their island decks, and watch as card placement creates new possibilities and limitations. The fact that players are unable to discuss anything beyond the drawing of their Start card means it’s truly a game of playing in silence. It provides a great excuse for putting on an atmospheric vinyl and letting the vibes carry you forward.
This game shines with how its limitations shift over time. Starting out with the 6×6 grid’s wide-open placement can be daunting, but as cards are placed a rhythm emerges. Add to this the fact that there are eighty numbered cards total but only thirty-six that will make the table, knowing there is a buffer available helps make discard decisions a little less punishing.
That isn’t to say the game doesn’t have fraught moments. As the grid tightens, so do the placement decisions. Finding a way to minimize discards over time helps alleviate some of the tension of the dwindling draw deck, which is one end game signifier. There are also moments where earlier discards can make final placements harder, but these don’t become apparent until the final turns.
Specific strategies become apparent over time and are only limited by hand size. Finding a way to place a card adjacent to a number that’s next in sequence only requires a single discard. It’s not always available, but hand management awareness can keep these options open. The game also provides a nice wrinkle by having players shuffle five Finish cards into the island deck. Only one is required to be in-hand at the end, so the decision to discard these late can become tense when you’re looking for specific cards to play.
Luck of the draw can truly derail a game like this, which is why a thorough shuffle is required to keep the island decks unpredictable. While it makes sense stylistically to have the cards be square, it does make shuffling a hassle for those who do not sleeve every game in their collection. However, Tranquility already requires a large presence on the table, which makes a regular, even larger, deck of cards a no-go for this presentation.
It plays well at all counts, though becomes more difficult the more people you add. As a solo experience, the lack of communication isn’t necessary, and the only hindrance is pushing luck with discards. At two-player Tranquility really sings as the split island deck provides just enough hidden information. Gameplay will still provide entertainment at higher counts, though the dispersal of cards will dictate the overall flow.
It’s nice to see so many variant and expansion options available in the box. Not only do they change the difficulty or provide further limitations, but they also provide new ways to align the grid to adjust the initial approach. We enjoyed playing with the Jagged Rocks addition, which had players closing off an entire row to the next player each turn. We also enjoyed the Sea Monsters addition, which can clog up your hand and make you remove cards that have been placed into the grid. One addition we enjoyed less was the Storm & Compass mini-expansion, which provided threats that can only be removed if specific achievements happen during play.
Ultimately our time with Tranquility was enjoyable, and we found it more than competent at providing an engaging hand management and restricted communication experience. For those that it really hits with, they’ll find plenty of variety to keep each session unique. Tranquility has an overwhelming table presence, but the artwork is engaging and—coupled with the serene theme—it becomes less vast as you sink into the grid. The base game will start to wear thin after less than ten plays, but it does provide difficulty levels to provide further challenge. The core strategy in Tranquility can begin to turn one-note after some time spent navigating the waters, which is why the included mini expansion content tries its best to keep players coming back to explore further.
Final Score: 3.5 stars – Dip your toe into the placid sea of Tranquility, where the water’s warm and there’s plenty to explore with friends and family alike.
• Limited strategic depth
• Square cards hard to shuffle
• Storm & Compass mini expansion isn’t great