dcarPaint the Line: Red Tide is an expandable “Cold War era ping pong card game” which accurately reflects the ridiculousness of Penny Arcade‘s Paint the Line comic arc on which it is based. You’re playing ping pong for the fate of the world.
It’s a two-player game with an escalating back and forth rolling of a twenty-sided die. First, you only need to get 6 or more. Then 8, 10, 12, 18, 20. Getting rolls that high is unlikely without the use of your cards. Each card represents a type of shot you can make, a way to modify the shot, or Stamina to spend on cards.
When you play cards, they may give you a bonus on your shot, give the other player a penalty or their next shot, or both. There’s a rock-paper-scissors mechanic (lob-spin-drive) built into the cards which provides much needed variety and strategy. If you play a card type that beats the card type your opponent just used, you get advantage (increasing the bonuses/penalties your card grants).
Many cards also have text abilities on them, which range from dull to potentially overpowered. That last one is because it only takes two rounds after playing a card till it’s back in play. Most cards don’t make you discard Stamina, either, so you can play your best card every two turns. By the end we both had heaps of cards and plenty of Stamina to use them. It got a little samey at times. The lob-spin-drive mechanic was the main thing that had me switching up my shots.
Once you do have plenty of cards and Stamina the game escalates more frequently, which is where it gets better. When you’re trying to roll a 14 on a d20 with a -5 penalty and your best card isn’t ready till next round, it starts to get tense and fun.
There is a Coach cards per player (Tycho or Oksana), but we didn’t end up using their one-off abilities. There are also a few cards that seem too powerful. They just give you great bonuses or give a good bonus and a hefty penalty to the other player, with no real lasting cost. I’ve attached a picture, with Moon Shot and Wrist Shot being two cards guilty of this (which made the game less fun and strategic for both of us). Below them you can see Impossible Return and Hero of the CCCP which had real costs and felt great.
Suz didn’t have much Stamina for the first half of the game, so things felt frustrating on her side and easy on my side. It also meant the game didn’t escalate as often (i.e. didn’t get to the best bit as often). Yet, we were still neck and neck for a while. I think this was because of the range on a d20.
Early on when you have few cards and little Stamina, sometimes you’ll roll and there’ll really be nothing you could’ve done to succeed. You served and it went straight off the table. Felt a little like real ping pong, but also felt out of your control.
Once I started using my +6 and +8 cards to serve I couldn’t lose the first turn, so that was great. It did sort of feel like we were using better and better moves as we went on, which was somewhat thematic, the ping pong players breaking out their best moves as things heated up.
But, it didn’t really feel frantic enough for ping pong. That back and forth is good, but when you’re looking at card text to decide which shot to play it doesn’t feel fast enough. With a timer or some more knowledge of the card text to facilitate faster play (this was our first game), it’d feel more tense and kinetic, which I think would really, really add to the feel of the whole thing. I’d love to see this played like chess with those little timer things they hit. I think it’d feel great.
Overall, if you get a good mix of Stamina and low-cost cards early on (you can redraw your first hand, which helps) and if you can keep the speed up, the game is pretty fun. It’s not like anything else I’ve played, which is a plus in this case, as it was fun. We’ll definitely play again and try to recreate the fast pace of *real* Cold war era ping pong