Tuesday 19 April 2016

Cardboard - T.I.M.E Stories board game review

It feels strange writing a review after completing just one game, but for co-operative story-telling game T.I.M.E Stories by Manuel Rozoy that's what I'll have to do, because each story in this 'decksploration' series is a one-off experience. It's super-important to avoid spoilers for this game, so I've tried to keep everything below suitably vague whilst still letting you know what I think!

TIME Stories box art | Random Nerdery review

In the future, time travel is commonplace and nasty people are running riot trying to disrupt the timeline. You take on the roles of futuristic T.I.M.E agents who are sent back in time to fix these problems. The most energy efficient way of doing this is to project your mind back into a 'receptacle' - an inhabitant of the time you're traveling to - who you take over for a limited amount of time, Quantum Leap style.

After an initial briefing in your futuristic base, everyone hops into special science-pods and get zapped through space and time into the investigation. The team can move through locations looking for clues, solving puzzles and generally avoiding peril with a freedom that evokes the Choose Your Own Adventure books of old (but without keeping your finger jammed in the book so that when you die you can turn back and pretend it didn't happen - maybe that was just me...)

As you move through the game, each location is unfolded in front of you as a beautifully drawn panorama of cards. The reverse of these cards contain the important information you and your team will need to put together in order to complete your mission. Only the team member on a particular card is allowed to look at it, so the group will need to communicate well and work together to ensure everyone knows what's going on.

All of this detective work costs energy or 'temporal units' (TU), which count down on a track with every move you make.

TIME Stories time track with marker

Run out of time units and you're unceremoniously pulled back to the T.I.M.E Agency base where you can return to the beginning of your adventure, Groundhog-Day-style, newly armed with knowledge from your last trip (but with 100% less Bill Murray). Therein lies the genius of the game: what can you do differently this time to make sure you complete your mission in the remaining time. Your memory will be tested, your brain may hurt, but you can't help but be drawn into the world that you're exploring.

Each T.I.M.E Stories scenario is made up of a deck (or decks) of cards containing characters, locations, items and other exciting things.

TIME Stories scenario deck

In the base game box you get the first of these, Asylum, set in Paris in 1921, along with a board and set of generic components that form a system in which to play through this and future scenarios.

TIME Stories components | Random Nerdery

A big talking point for T.I.M.E Stories on various podcasts and review videos is the lack of replayablility, and it's definitely something that should be mentioned. Undeniably, once you've played through a scenario deck, that's it. You know the end of the story, so unless you want to play through again to see if there's anything you missed, or see if you can beat the mission in the most efficient way possible, that deck is now finished with. Some have said the price tag (around £30 for the base game, £18-20 for subsequent scenarios) is steep for something you can't reuse, but given what we pay for entertainment nowadays I'm firmly in the 'it's worth it' camp.

It would cost me £32 to take four adults to see Batman V Superman (151 mins) at our local cinema tonight. Extortionately expensive, and we'd have to sit through Batman V Superman, which I'm avoiding in order to stave off my inevitable disappointment. Just over £3 per person, per hour for that experience.

We got two evenings of awesome fun out of the Asylum scenario. Say that's about six hours of play (admittedly this could be shorter or longer depending on how fast you progress/how much you chat, but I think we put in a fairly average time). Excluding the cost of the reusable base game (maybe around £10 of the £30 outlay), that's a mere 83p per person, per hour. And not a cape in sight.

The fun we've had so far is definitely worth the cost, re-useable or not. It's the price of a round of drinks, but it'll give you something much more lasting - a common experience with moments that you'll be talking about for a long time to come. Plus I can lend out the scenarios to anyone else that needs them and help spread the T.I.M.E Stories love!

All the components are great quality and the artwork put into this game is phenomenal. The base game itself is perfect for its function - clean lines and light colours make sure that the board fades into the background and doesn't detract from the main focus of the game: the scenario cards.

TIME Stories game setup

My only teeny complaint is the box insert - it's really cleverly designed so that you can 'save' the game between sessions by storing the cards in particular sections, but my copy has cracked after the first use as it's made of really thin plastic. Doh!

TIME Stories box insert crack

The card artwork for the Asylum scenario is... I was about to use the word beautiful, but given some of the subject matter that's not really the correct term! Skillfully executed, wonderfully thematic and always eye-catching, each new location is exciting to unveil. Each scenario involves different artists, giving a new look and feel to each game you play.

TIME Stories character cards

I don't think I've ever felt so evangelical about a game before. If you love games, you need to play T.I.M.E Stories. If you're upset about its finite nature, find someone else who's bought it and get a group together to play theirs. I haven't had a gaming experience like it before and I can't wait for more people to have played so I can talk about it! Our play-through of the first scenario was broken into two parts and I've never been so anxious to get a game back to the table, or thought about a game so much between sessions.

There are a few new scenarios already out for the game - at time of writing there's The Marcy Case, a zombie themed mission set in 1992, A Prophecy of Dragons, a fantasy adventure set in an alternate timeline and newly released Under the Mask, an Egyptian themed story. I may have 'accidentally' ordered all of them, and I'm excited to see what will come next - the opportunities are literally boundless, with all of time and space to explore. Space Cowboys even provide a 'scenario designer's kit' on their website for anyone clever enough to come up with their own story.

TIME Stories expansions

We've just started playing through Prophecy of Dragons, so I'll let you know how that goes in a future update!

T.I.M.E Stories
Designer: Manuel Rozoy
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Players: 2-4
Age: 12+