Every now and then there’s a game which will just stop you in your tracks and say “Hello beautiful, where have you been my whole life?” and being a married man, this is the only circumstance I can get away with saying that kind of thing. Ever.
The kind of game this is entirely depends on personal preference of course and I doubt most of us would admit to it if it was something like Tentacle Bento* (*this isn’t mine just for the record… I’m holding it for a friend) but we all enjoy having our mind blown a little.
Recently, I came across a publisher called Mindclash Games. They have so far only released 2 games; the subject of this review and a moderately heavy euro game called Trickerion. Trickerion is about being a Victorian age magician trying to make a name for yourself and vying to become the best magician that ever was. It is a great game, but one which is very table space intensive. That at least, is something which Trickerion and Anachrony have in common. I’m pretty sure that there was a conversation somewhere at Mindclash where someone decided that games which take over tables is a great way forward. That being said, the other thing they have in common is that they are both really good games.
What does it even mean?
For those of you that may not know, Anachrony at it’s heart is a worker placement game. Which sounds really simple… but it’s so much more than that. The premise of Anachrony is that you’re the leader of a republic- a religion almost and you believe things should be done a certain way. You can tread the Path of Harmony which sits around singing kumbaya into the future. You can tread the Path of Progress which is more about bringing your people kicking and screaming into the 27th Century. You can play the Path of Salvation which is obviously about not so low key Zealotry, or lastly, you can tread the Path of Dominance…. and not the kind you eventually have to pay for.
Once you have decided which path you would like to play through Anachrony as (which in itself is a pretty big decision), a future version of you comes back in time to tell you something bad is going to happen which you need to prepare for. You need to prepare for this big event and make sure that your city is good enough so that “the people” will want to come to your city. This is because the Capital City in Anachrony is blown to smithereens and starts crumbling mid-game. To keep this thematically true, there are 7 rounds and in between the 4th and 5th round there’s a cataclysmic event which messes with your juju.
I believe it does tell you somewhere what this cataclysmic event is (meteor storm or something), but I have way more fun making up my own theories about it. You know, “Aaaaarrrrgh, we’re being pummeled by a meteoric storm of Unicorn Corpses” or “Earth is being taken over by Kittens which look like Donald Trump; including the combover” (these are the only family friendly ones I have come up with so far… sorry about that). This is of course entirely up to you, but it adds a little personal flavour to the theme without ruining the designers vision of the game.
Setup in an age
So let’s not beat around the soon to be burnt bush, Anachrony takes a bit of time to set up. On a scale of one to ten in setup time, then Anachrony scores an 8. It takes about 20 minutes or so, and as previously mentioned, it dominates the table space. You have the main board, you have your own city board, a character board and of course all of the periphery which you’d expect in any game- tokens and lots and lots of cardboard. But, it looks soooooooo pretty doing it. No messing around, this game looks beautiful. There has been a heck of a lot of time put into the art for this game and it has paid dividends. It looks amazing. But let’s be fair, looks aren’t everything. So how does Anachrony play?
Well, it looks daunting, I won’t lie. Unless you live you gaming life on a steady diet of epic games and have frequent sessions of Twilight Imperium or Through the Ages, then Anachrony looks pretty scary once it has been set up. There are icons everywhere and it’s taking over your whole table already. However, it’s really quite easy to get to grips with once you pick it up, and that doesn’t take long. My wife was able to grasp the basics before the game started and was almost as fluent as me by the time we had finished the second round.
Let’s get to work
At the beginning of Anachrony, you’re given a few workers (each path is given different starting resources) some water which works as in-game currency, some power cores (more on that soon) and some resources. You have 6 power suits (think something along the lines of a power armor suit from Fallout mixed with something from the “real world” in the matrix) which you need to use to get to the barren capital city (pre-devastation) to take advantage of all it has to offer. You can use 3 for free (until the middle of the game) and you have to pay power cores to get the others out to work. Mind you, for all of the empty spaces you still have on your power suit board, you get water in return so it can pay not to send tonnes of workers out… literally.
The “Capital City” is pretty much normal worker placement/euro game fare. You can go to a space to build, you can exchange goods for other things, you can game some money and you can employ some more workers because let’s face it, everyone needs a good minion workforce to get things done. The workers can get tired out, but you can pay them all water to come back all refreshed and ready for work. Also, once you have a couple of buildings under your belt you can have workers do actions on your own buildings which don’t cost you any cores to use and sometimes don’t tire your workers out either.
Time travelling is for winners!
In a nutshell, you’re trying to score more victory points than your opponent and there’s a great scoring opportunity during the middle of the game when the cataclysm happens if you manage to meet the prerequisites of the path you’re playing as, and there are optional ones too. This can range from having to build 3 of a certain type of building to having lots of water when the proverbial hits the future fan or having lots of a certain resource will net you a whole bunch of VP’s.
So far I appreciate that Anachrony sounds like just another sci-fi flavoured worker placement game… but there’s one thing that makes it really special. You get to mess with time! Despite any fan of science fiction knowing that it’s bad and you should never mess with the timeline, in Anachrony it’s not necessarily encouraged, but it can make life a lot easier. To me it feels something like “note to self, I need a genius worker about now”…. *bing* instant worker.
That’s all well and good being able to get instant gratification as and when you might need something, and you can ask for up to 2 materials in each round, but you also have to bear in mind that “future you” is going to have to make good on your promises to yourself. Eyes going funny yet? Good, let’s continue.
Not a hot tub…
To send things back in time in Anachrony, you need to build time machines which are yellow buildings and then send a worker back a couple of years to pay back whatever it is you’ve asked for. If you don’t (sci-fi fans rejoice) you start messing with the time/space continuum and then things get nasty. During one of the phases of Anachrony, you need to roll a dice to see if you score a temporal disturbance, and once you have 3, you have to fill one of your building spots with something which is always as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike, and usually is really bad news. You can actually “pay” to get rid of them during the game, but there’s a heavy cost. Usually some resources (which you can seldom spare) and the death of one of your workers.
However, if you do manage to successfully travel back in time and pay your dues then you get to increase your “Timey Wimey” (not it’s real name) bar which gives you more victory points at the end.
What makes Anachrony special?
Well, apart from messing around with time for your own personal gain, Anachrony has something which I have only seen in a few games. Choice. SO. MUCH. CHOICE. There’s no clear cut way to victory in any given game, besides hoarding as many victory points as humanly possible of course. Even with a couple of games under my belt now, I have found myself absently thinking about ways I could have done things differently, or things that I’d like to try differently next time. Every game is also radically different too as you can choose different sides of your worker board, you can choose different sides of your character board, all of the buildings will always come out in a different order and the win condition cards and cards which refill the workers and resources every round also come out differently… I have been stupefied with choice.
Even if playing the main game becomes a bit monotonous (I can’t see it happening for a while though) Anachrony comes with a fully fleshed out solo experience (which I am yet to try) and an expansion pack so that you can further alter and mess around with time so you can bring around the cataclysm earlier or later, depending on what your agenda is.
My mind has been officially blown.
Cause and effect
Anachrony is a huge game, both in the play it offers and the daunting shelf space it takes up. But, it is a fantastic game. If you’re anything like me, you will play your first game, finish it and then toy with putting aside another couple of hours straight away to have another go. I found that after one play I understood some basic strategy. Now with a few plays under my belt I find that I am trying more and more ballsy things.
My wife was tremendously nervous about time travelling in Anachrony and I completely understand why. If you don’t pay back what you owe then bad things happen and she was concerned that she’d not be able to pay her loan and the world of Anachrony would then collapse around her ears. Mind you, after a couple of trips to the past and then back to the future she realised the use of it and started pushing her luck a bit.
Anachrony is a great game to try your luck with too. You can try something big and ballsy, but then you could end up eating several rounds of old humble pie because of it. Despite this, I still loved it. I have not played a game like Anachrony ever before.
One last thing that I’d like to mention is that whilst Anachrony is a fantastically produced game and as I mentioned already has an expansion in the box, there is an expansion called the Exosuit Commander expansion. There’s an additional module you can put onto the side of the board so that you can alter your suits to make them more efficient and blah blah blah. Honestly, I stopped reading about it once I realised that the pack comes with 55mm “miniatures” (because 55mm is not miniature by any stretch of the imagination) which replace the in-game hexes for your suits. You get to place your workers into physical suits and place them around the board. Is it necessary? No! Do I care? Definitely not. Just shut up and take more of my money Anachrony!
As far as a score goes, Anachrony is my game of 2017 so far. Bear in mind, this has been written before the game has released, I’m going to badger someone to let me buy the Exosuit Commander pack as soon as it’s released so I can power trip that little bit more. I have to give Anachrony a squid suit wearing, genius worker 9.5 out of 10.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.