T.I.M.E Stories is a narrative-based board game for 2 to 4 players that scrapes in at approximately 90 to 120 minutes of play per session and uses a fascinating decksploration mechanic.
This interesting title, designed by Manuel Rozoy, is brought to life by some beautiful artwork from artists Benjamin Carré, David Lecossu and Pascal Quidault.
The Space Cowboys website, describes Time Stories as a game where players live through adventures in various worlds – each with new characters, new rules, and new surprises.
Isn’t Time Stories just another time travel game? Or is it something different?
In recent years there’s been several attempts at producing a game that provides a convincing and entertaining angle on the interesting, yet complex, theme of time travel. Take the following for example:
They all attempt to engage the player and draw them into the theme. But, in my opinion, they’re not very good at it! Chrononauts and Tragedy Looper both fell very flat for me and I simply didn’t care for Loop, Inc when it came out. I suppose this could be due to the inherent depth of the subject matter resulting in excess gameplay complexity – but, above all, they all lack the single most important emotion that time travel holds for me… Excitement.
Many of us grew up with classic movies and shows that brought time travel into our homes, and I for one, fondly remember fleeing the Terminator with Sarah Connor or reaching 88mph with Marty Mc Fly! Great Scott!!! What great times we had!
Basically, time travel is a theme that draws us in and makes us wonder “What would life be like If I could go back and change X.” But it’s not just a dream, time travel touches many aspects of life too – scientists and philosophers dedicate their lives to its study, authors and script-writers weave enthralling tales from the threads of time. Yet, somehow we haven’t been able to capture this in the form of a board game? Or have we?
Tell me a tale… A tale of Time Stories…
As the name suggests, Time Stories, is a game all about time travel. Specifically, about the stories that this wonderful science-fiction gold mine has to offer. The core box contains your first story which is intriguingly titled Asylum and this is where all time travellers should really start. Each story comes in the form of a deck of cards, made up of numerous locations, that you explore throughout your adventure – that’s the decksploration mechanic right there.
New adventures are being pushed out regularly in the form of story packs and thus far we have three additional stories available to purchase, each laced with its own special uniqueness.
The Marcy Case – A mysterious epidemic strikes a peaceful American city. Save young Marcy. Save the future.
A Prophecy of Dragons – The middle ages aren’t what they used to be! Explore another reality where magic changed everything.
Under the Mask – Enter the Valley of the Kings and unravel a pharaoh’s secret.
All of the adventures in Time Stories are completely different, aside from the underlying mechanics that drive the game forward, each time you open a new box, you’re in for a new and interesting experience. A fact that is both the game’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness because – Time Stories has, what some might call, a limited shelf life. I’m not saying the game will go mouldy if it’s not consumed before a certain date. But rather, once you’ve played through a story to its completion – you’re probably not going to play it again. Not for a year or so anyway…
Yes, you heard me right – there is a strong chance that after you complete a story, you won’t want to replay it any time soon.
Still with me? Good. Then let’s get on with the show!
I’ve heard people moaning on about the lack of replayability in Time Stories and how they’ve played through a story and felt as though they’ve wasted their money. However, to these people I would like to offer a whole-hearted gesture of goodbye before I turn to those of you who want to know why I think Time Stories is worth every penny.
Game reviews are expected to provide the reader with an idea of how a game plays and, where there’s a story, provide some explanation. Unfortunately, Time Stories is not a game that lends itself to conventional review techniques. It is special, and it takes care and attention to avoid spoiling the adventures that await.
Unfortunately, to ensure that I don’t spoil any of the storylines, I won’t be showing you much of the amazing artwork that draws you in to Time Stories. Every story released so far has utilised gorgeous images to bring the story to life and provide an immersive window into a very unique world. I hope that by providing the spoiler-free image below (click/tap it to enlarge it), you too will see how the intricate and beautiful artwork really brings the scenes to life!
What’s in the Time Stories box? Not just your run of the mill game!
So, now you’ve seen a sample of the environments you could explore, let me talk you through what you can expect from the Time Stories base set.
To be honest, it’s really not like any other board game I’ve seen. Each story pack feels like a new and interesting game in its own right. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the Time Stories base set is to Story as a Gameboy is to a game cartridge. Simply load up the story “cartridge” and use your Time Stories “console” to play through it.
Basically, the base set comes with a multitude of components that make up a surprisingly simple framework, and that’s what constitutes the very heart of Time Stories. Each story pack uses this framework to deliver its own fantastical tale, and so far, has done it in its own interesting way.
In general, there are similarities across all of the stories. You are sent back, or forward, through time and placed into the body of a receptacle, or character. The available receptacles differ from story to story and each tale has a set of three characteristic values. The player characters use these values, alongside a unique skill or restriction, to work through the game. As you progress, you spend time units, which act as a countdown before your run ends. If you beat the game, you get to see the end of the story, however if your time units ever hit zero you loop back and start again. Sometimes items persist for subsequent runs, but the vast majority do not.
What’s in a story? A handful of cards?
Every story comes in the form of a new deck of cards. In fact, that is literally all you’ll find in the current expansion boxes and at first you might find yourself asking why the packs cost so much. However, once you’ve cracked the cellophane and played a game or two you’ll soon want to buy more.
To embark on your first story, you set out the graphically-neutral game board which you’ll notice feels almost clinical and devoid of any specific theme. However, that’s very much the point because the neutrality of the design enables you to forget it exists for anything other than housekeeping. This works wonderfully well and enables you to delve head first into the story you’re running and immerse yourself in the art of the cards.
The next step is to place your story deck on the dedicated space which is clearly marked on the board where you’ll also notice a number of other spaces and the time unit track. If you need to use any of these spaces the story deck will tell you to do so, alongside setting up the time track.
When you’ve set the board out and placed the deck, it’s time to lay out the rest of the components.
Firstly, there’s a plethora of chits – green, brown, blue and yellow disks for in-story resources and square colour-coded chits for use with unlocking and event mechanisms.
Resources etc. – These represent virtually anything a designer might want to keep track of within a story. For example, imagine you’re collecting mushrooms in a forest… Take some brown tokens!
Maybe you take those mushrooms into town and sell them to a chef… Collect some yellow tokens as payment. Wait! Money was in the last story we played! This time yellow tokens are ammunition for my bread gun!
Anyway, hopefully you get the picture, resources change between stories and the resource tokens are used in a multitude of ways that could represent absolutely anything.
Unlocking etc. – Each square token has a pattern and a colour. Throughout a story you’ll acquire and use these tokens like keys to open up new areas. In reality they represent events that take place which are pre-requisites for other events. It’s a great way of tracking progression and it’s one of my favourite elements of the framework.
Facing the challenge head on… How does it work?
Stories present you with tasks such as picking a lock or defeating someone in combat. Each task has a strength in the form of shield tokens. During such activities, you’ll roll a number of dice equal to a specific characteristic level and total the number of successes you’ve rolled. The six action dice in the box have four sides that show blue success marks (1 or 2 marks), a red skull and a blank side. For each success you roll, a shield will be removed from the challenge.
There’s five types of shield available – a standard blank token, a black shield, a heart, a time unit, and a skull. Standard blank tokens are simple markers. Black shields have specific meanings in certain stories. Hearts cause damage if they remain after an attempt at overcoming an obstacle. Time shields remove a time unit if they remain at the end of an attempt. Finally, skulls only trigger if you roll a red skull during your check. At that point, you’ll take damage equal to the number of skulls rolled plus the number of skull shields, which can be really devastating during combat.
Let the games begin… Draw a card!
Once you’ve got everything set up, you’re ready to start your story. To do this, it’s as simple as drawing the first card. From that point on, you’re in the hands of the developer and the story. You’ll set up an item deck, select characters, layout a map for navigating through the environment and dive straight into your first location.
Moving from location to location is a breeze, select your destination, roll the time die and spend the time units to get there. Who knows, some stories might even have unique travel elements waiting for you between locations? For each action you want to take within a location it will cost you one time-unit, and you continue to explore the deck until you either win or lose. Simple!
What does the future hold? More adventure, or a quest for gold?
So, that’s pretty much all I want to say about how Time Stories works for now. I’m certainly not going to go any further into the story element of the game because, as I noted earlier, the stories have a limited shelf life and I would hate to spoil any of them. Suffice to say, the four that I’ve played so far have all rated very highly with me and my gaming group.
As I said earlier, there will be regular expansions released for Time Stories. In fact, the next two releases are due out in 2017. So, keep your eyes on the site to make sure you don’t miss either:
Expedition: Endurance, which promises to weave a story about the expedition to Antarctica during the 1st World War.
Lumen Fidei, which is set in Medieval Spain where you must infiltrate a diplomatic mission in order to steal a precious item for the Agency! This expansion also promises increased player pressure as it’s no longer just about time, “it involves moral choices, a powerful opponent and new mechanisms.”
Tom’s Excellent Adventure? Or one big bogus journey?
Well, let’s start by saying that this is one of the most entertaining and unique games I’ve played in a long time. I’m a massive fan of intelligent compelling stories in games, and that’s the very essence of Time Stories. It’s worked very well with a number of people we know and everyone has enjoyed all of the stories so far.
I was pleasantly surprised that the Time Stories base framework was so simple and quick to learn. By streamlining and producing such a simplistic system it enables the designers to focus on story development and depth. In fact, not once have I dived into a story and thought – “Here we go again, another game based on X, Y or Z theme.” Because the story is all encompassing and I simply can’t compare it with any other board game I’ve ever played.
So, you might be wondering what the catch is with Time Stories, but I’m really struggling to think of one. Sure there’s the shelf-life aspect that’s caused a stir, but people really need to let it go. Board games are evolving and we’re seeing more games like this and Pandemic Legacy where you’ll only get a limited number of plays. However, despite this, they’re still two of the biggest and most well received games of the past year. It clearly isn’t that big a problem for the majority of players out there, so please don’t let it hold you back.
In summary, if you haven’t played Time Stories yet, or have been holding off for whatever reason. I strongly urge you to give it a try. It’s a very unique experience that is as exciting as it is innovative. The stories are interesting, the mechanics are intuitive, and if I could actually time travel I would jump forward three years, grab every expansion and bring them back for this review. With the whole of history open to them, the Time Stories team have carte blanche to create pretty much any expansion they want and I for one hope they do!
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Driven Instructional Designer by day, board game fanatic by night! Tom has a long background in eLearning design and is a strong believer that story and narrative are crucial to creating excellent learning and gaming experiences. A passionate blogger, game reviewer and play tester, he enjoys spending his time playing games of all genres.