Review: T.I.M.E Stories

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Introduction

“As temporal agents, you and your team will be sent into different worlds or realities, into the bodies of other beings or receptacles”  explained Bob upon our arrival at the facility. “You will control these receptacles to fulfill the missions given to you.  Communicate and collaborate to triumph over the perils standing in your path.  Carefully observe the scenes shown on the board before acting.  Complete your mission as quickly as possible. Know that you can attempt the mission as many times as necessary.  Each Tachyon Insertion allows us to send your mind into the receptacles, but it costs the agency a small fortune, so don’t disappoint us!”

T.I.M.E Stories, from French designer Manuel Rozoy, describes itself as “a narrative decksploration game,” which probably sounds better en français. It’s one of a new wave of tabletop games that require spoiler alerts.

When T.I.M.E Stories talks about decksploration, here’s what it means: beyond a few all-purpose components included in the luxuriously priced core set, designed with an insert so that players can “save” their current mission, you will have various decks of cards specific to the scenario being played. The core set includes one scenario, “Asylum,” set in 1920s Paris, but other decks will take you to a small American town in the 1980s, a far-flung planet where magic made technological innovation redundant, 12th-century Egypt, and, coming soon, a doomed Antarctic expedition launched during the Great War.

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Adding nothing but a new set of cards, these expansions promise radically different experiences, from the art style to the gameplay activities on offer. In the expansions you receive what you pay for, namely tarot-sized cards covered from edge to edge with stunning, unique art.

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Replayability

Most games have it but T.I.M.E Stories does not. In video games, “replayability” has been one of the strongest factors in the eclipse of single-player, narrative-driven games by multiplayer-focused titles. Single-player experiences, which provide a sense of closure, often show up on the secondary market within the first week of release. Multiplayer games, particularly competitive ones, last for as long as there is a community built around them.

These scenarios are, like their computer-hosted predecessors, part puzzle and part interactive story. Neither part offers much incentive to keep playing once you’ve seen and solved everything, which, considering you’re looking at a deck or two of cards, can take anywhere in the neighborhood of 1-3 hours for 1 run. We speak about “runs” that you might have to perform multiple times as long as you fail the mission. On average, you can count that you will perform 3 to 5 runs depending on how well your team is performing.

When a run ends, you start completely over, only keeping cards and items with a special symbol on it. Everything else goes back to their starting decks. So it does get easier on the 2nd run onwards + you are allowed to take some notes (useful if you play the next run at a later date) not to fall into the same traps again.

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Gameplay

Regarding the Game Mechanics:  This is a cooperative & deduction game with a dice rolling mechanic.  Players explore locations individually or together by placing their pawn above the location card they wish to explore.  Location cards have artwork and descriptions that tell the player what they have discovered.  Some cards require players to make a check by rolling dice to see if their character (receptacle) is able to pass a test or succeed in a fight.

To solve each scenario’s enigma, you must “pay attention to what you read, what you see, and what you are told,” and that begins in “Asylum”‘s very first scene.

  • The lead player is called the Time Captain. (This role turns every round)  Players plan and make decisions together but the Time Captain breaks ties if the players can’t reach a majority decision.
    1.  Open and explore a location
      • Open a location
        1. Search the deck for the location the party has decided to explore.
        2. Place the location cards on the board in alphabetical order.
        3. The Time Captain Reads card A which describes the scene.
        4. Players all enter the location by placing agent pawns above the location card they wish to explore.  To explore a sealed location, the players must have acquired the required tokens shown on the card.
      • Explore a location
        1. Players read the location card they chose to explore and describe what they have discovered to the other players.
        2. The Time Captain may spend a Time Unit to allow players to perform actions.  Characteristic die roll tests or moving an Agent Pawn above a new location card costs 1 Time Unit.
    2.  Location Change
      1. Players leave the current location by taking back their Agent pawn.
      2. Choose a new location – It can be any location written on the Plan Map cards.
      3. Put away the current location cards by stacking them in order and placing them at the bottom of the deck.
      4. The Time Captain rolls the Time Captain die to see how many Time Units it costs to move to the new location.
      5. The player to the left of the Time Captain now becomes the new Time Captain for the new location.
  • Game End/Victory:  A mission ends If the scenario indicates a Mission Failure card must be read.  A mission also ends immediately if the time marker reaches the 0 space or if all players die (note: you can come back to life and rejoin the party if there are at least 7 Time Units available – so death does not mean a player is “out of the remainder of the game”).  If the mission has failed, the players may reset the mission and start again with some previously discovered mapped locations and items.  If the Mission Success card is read, the players have won.

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Useful reminders

  1. forced to move locations, you still roll the time die and subtract TU’s accordingly.
  2. Opening a location and entering a location do not cost TU’s. Only the three actions cost TU’s (aside from the cost of moving locations) once players are in their chosen spaces (characteristic roll, move to another space, or do nothing).
  3. Sharing items does not cost TU’s but can only be done if sharing spaces OR when characters remove their pawns from the board when changing locations.
  4. Apparently there has been confusion over action choice. The rules state that players decide on what actions they want to perform, subtract 1 TU, and then perform their chosen actions. This has been clarified by the designers that players can in fact change their actions after taking the 1 TU cost.
  5. If a card gives you choices (say A or B) and only one choice indicates a TU cost, then only that choice costs a TU. The other choice can be done without that penalty.
  6. The rules are unclear about using State tokens (the rules say you keep a state token until used). BUT, you do not lose a State token if you use it. You only lose one if some effect in the game forces you to lose a State Token.

Otherwise don’t over think it. Follow what the cards say and don’t do more than they ask you to do.

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It took our group 3 runs and about 9 hours of play to go through the 1st scenario Asylum. We all really enjoyed the experience and are settling down a date for the 2nd scenario. The price can be seen as a bit expensive on this game box, but think about the fact you’ll keep the material to be used in the other scenarios that cost around ~20€ each. The ratio price/quality is there for us – art is beautiful, game mechanics being fluid and components sturdy … it’s all worth it.