The ocean’s depths have long tormented travelers and explorers. Over the centuries our imaginations have run wild with what might lurk below the surface, what alien worlds belong to the unreachable deep.
Ebb Tide, a solo horror journaling game by Stephen Kohler (LordPaido), won’t take you below the sea water while you play, but you’ll learn to fear what’s down there, waiting for you. And your mind will conjure up all sorts of mysteries and explanations as to what horror (or salvation) might pull into its clutches.
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Ebb Tide: A solo tabletop game
Ebb Tide was built on the Wretched and Alone System (like The Sealed Library), and as such, you play it by yourself, unraveling eldritch horrors as you explore prompts that revolve around isolation, body horror, a profound disconnection from reality, and a strange overwhelming quiet. The game is pay what you want, but please consider paying at least $10 if you can.
Players take on the role of someone who has won a free cruise. Everything was dandy for several days until you woke up to find everyone else on board dead. Strange symbols are carved along the ship walls, and new alters and shrines made from body parts or other incomprehensible materials litter the rooms.
As you play the game, you explore what remains of the ship, and you’re asked to make sense of what you find. It’s a daunting but great exercise in analysis, scrutiny, and creative writing.
Boarding the Ship
Getting off the dock in Ebb Tide is pretty easy. Follow the setup guidelines, and you’re good to go. Your goal is to find clues as to what happened and avoid losing your mental faculties as you do. There is a win mechanic, but the odds of avoiding doom are not in your favor.
A cruise into terror. An ancient Being awakening. Your mind crumbling as you scratch out the last words you might ever write. You are probably already dead. The question is, can you make your death have any meaning?
Like most Wretched and Alone games, the required Jenga tower functions as a looming source of tension and anxiety. Every pull from the tower further represents your thread of reality unwinding.
I’m much more afraid of what’s coming, what it promises, what it whispers.
I dream of unknown worlds.
The game requires
- A deck of cards, jokers removed
- A six-sided die
- A tumbling block tower
- Something to record your efforts
As always, I go for full immersion when I play solo roleplaying games, which means I had to supplement my experience with additional sensory details.
For music, the author as well as the layout artist recommended this 2-hour track by Cryo Chamber. I thought it was perfect and added a satisfactory eeriness to my playthrough.
I also paired Delve Candles’ Briny Deep with my experience. I used the tea light version found in their sample pack, but the full-size is on my list to pickup. It’s the perfect scent for any ocean-themed games or journaling exercises.
Floating Through the Ship’s Corridors
Build the block tower, get your tokens in order, remove the jokers, shuffle the deck, and roll the die to see what sweet dread awaits you. You play Ebb Tide by drawing cards and matching those cards up with prompts inside the game. I won’t spoil them, but they range from finding dead passengers, discovering strange mysteries, remembering weird moments, losing your sense of self, nightmares…
If you’ve read any Lovecraftian works, you’ll find a lot of prompts in that vein here. They’re very well done.
I dug deeper and found more hands, but they were wrong. Too many knuckles, too many joints. Too much of everything.
In this Wretched and Alone game, there is a unique ritual mechanic. I won’t giveaway what it means, but if you’ve played W&A games before, this adds a bit of fresh spin since it offers an additional winning route.
Walking the Plank
This is the first Wretched and Alone game where I died to the Jenga tower falling. I made it a week on the ship before the visions and other worldly experiences consumed me. If you’re so inclined, you’re welcome to read my journal here.
Overall this is an extremely well-written game. The prompts are evocative and full of flavor. As I was playing, I didn’t necessarily feel like my character was teetering towards madness. I tried to lean into it with my writing, but as I played, I didn’t feel like it was clicking.
But then I read my journal back after the game.
It’s hard to know what events happened to my character and what she imagined. Sure, a prompt said something happened, but… did it? When I read my journal after the game, it felt somewhat deranged, a frenzied scribble by someone barely attached to the real world. If her journal was found in the wild, it would raise more than a few eyebrows about her mental condition. And I think that’s pretty awesome.
First person narration isn’t trustworthy in literature, and I think it’s really interesting how this game made me question my own roleplay writing. Do I trust what my character saw? I’m not sure.
A delightfully terrifying experience nonetheless.
If you like board games like Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, or Mansions of Madness, do yourself a favor and give Ebb Tide a look.
Review at a Glance
|Content||Evocative prompts that summon all types of eldritch horror themes and dread.|
|Rules difficulty||The rules are not complex at all. There isn’t a character sheet or checking stats. You simply do what the cards tell you.|
|Accessibility||There are two PDFs. A full-color and a printer friendly version. It’s not bookmarked, but it doesn’t seem necessary as the player references about 4 pages throughout the game. The tumbling tower might be a barrier to play. Here is a thread that discusses some statistically similar alternatives.|
|Time commitment||I spent 2.5 hours playing the game. I don’t think it can go much longer than that unless someone is journaling heavily.|
|Price||The game is pay what you want. Please consider contributing at least $10. Prompts like these in this amount take a long time to write and they help provide a unique experience for every player.|
|Final thoughts||I easily recommend this if you’re in a good headspace. The game can take you to some dark places, so only venture in if you’re comfortable. May the being spare you.|
I made a TikTok for this game! Check it out.