T.I.M.E. Stories

Recently I had the opportunity to play a very interesting boardgame called T.I.M.E. Stories. The primary publisher, Space Cowboys, calls it a “decksploration” game, and that invented word actually describes the game play fairly well.

The premise of the game is that the players are temporal agents of the T.I.M.E. Agency (the acronym stands for Tachyon Insertion in Major Events), an organization that protects the time steam from alterations and “time faults” that could destroy the continuum. The time stream itself isn’t just a linear sequence of events, however. There are also an infinite number of alternate realities that also have major events that affect the entire continuum.

The agents do not physically go into the past or these alternate realities. Rather, only their consciousness is sent and they inhabit the physical bodies of individuals who live in that time/reality. And there are some rather interesting characters that you get to play.

The game is played on a board, but the key element of gameplay is the mission deck. The deck is divided up into “areas” (an area could be a room in a building, an outdoor space, or any defined place that could be encapsulated in a single picture). The cards for that area are laid out on the board and together they display a picture of the area. Each player moves his or her agent to a particular card, representing that the agent is examining something in that part of the area, or interacting with a person or creature in that part of the area.

time_stories_board

For example, the area might be a kitchen in an insane asylum in the 1920’s. One card shows the butcher cutting up meat, another card shows the dishwasher cleaning dishes at a sink, another card shows a couple of staff members whispering to each other, and the last card shows the door to a walk-in freezer. One player may assign his/her agent to check out the freezer, another might assign his/her agent to speak to the butcher, and the last player might assign his/her agent to speak to the whispering staff members. (Note that I’m not describing exactly a room in the base mission for the game, I’m just using it as an illustration of what you might find in an image across a bunch of cards.)

Then, the players turn over the card that they picked and read the information on the back. The freezer, for example, might contain a large slab of beef hanging from a hook, with strange claw and bite marks on it. The text on these cards provide clues to the situation, which the players use to figure out what is going on and how to fix it.

There are a great number of reviews of T.I.M.E. Stories already available out there on the internet, which go into more detail about the gameplay, the many awards this game has already won, and more. What I do want to mention is that the rulebook for the game asks the question if this is a roleplaying game or a boardgame.

The rulebook states, “Neither one or the other — or rather both! Our first desire was to capture the feeling of the roleplaying games of our youth, but in a more compact and less time-consuming format as the era of self-contained campaigns in bomb shelters is unfortunately over …”

And it’s true that you can certainly choose to roleplay the person your agent inhabits during the mission. There are little behavioral cues that a player can use to help them get into “character”. And when the I played the game the first time, I certainly enjoyed getting into the role and speaking in character when it was my time to act.

But by the second time we played—most missions will take more than one session to complete—I found that I had stopped playing the character and focused solely on playing the game.

Ultimately, roleplaying in T.I.M.E. Stories is exactly like roleplaying your investigator in Arkham Horror, or roleplaying your hero on Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, or any of the D&D Adventure System boxes. You can do it, but it has absolutely no bearing on the game itself.

This is because, unlike most traditional roleplaying games, no one is playing the opposition. This is a cooperative game in which each player is playing a T.I.M.E. Agent. So you while you can roleplay among yourselves while making decisions, at the end of the process you are just reading clues and instructions off the card you’ve selected. And that severely limits the options you can take.

It’s like trying to roleplay while reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

But is it Fun?

The game itself was enjoyable enough, and it’s a very well-designed game. It provides an experience that is unlike any other boardgame I’ve ever played, and there is a definite story that you play through during the game. The cards are evocative of the time anomaly in which you find yourself, the artwork is great, and the entire thing is impressive in its clever use of the various elements to work together.

But I have to admit that by the end of the second session, when we successfully completed the mission, I did feel like, “finally it’s done.” Keep in mind that I’m not a big puzzle person, so part of the basic premise of the game—that you’re investigating and putting together clues to figure out what is actually going on—is not one that I particularly enjoy. If you like mysteries and puzzles, you’ll probably have a very different take on this game.

For me, though, I felt like the game was interesting, but not compelling. I compare this to Blood Rage—after playing that game I wanted to run a Viking RPG and use thematic elements from that game in my campaign, because I was excited by both the flavor and the gameplay. After playing T.I.M.E. Stories, I was happy to have gotten to experience this game, but that’s it. It didn’t get my imagination fired up and I wasn’t thinking of ways to take those elements into my preferred form of gaming.

Would I play it again? Yes, I’d be willing to try another, different, mission if my friends wanted to give it another go. But there are more games I’d like to try than I will ever have time to play, so if it turns out I never return to T.I.M.E. Stories, I’m perfectly happy with that.

Should you try it? My advice for anyone wondering if they should play a particular game is to read reviews, both positive and negative, and see if that gives you a better idea if you’ll enjoy it or not. I think it’s an interesting experience to have, and I was lucky in that some close friends invited me to play their copy with them.

Have you played T.I.M.E. Stores? What was your experience like? How many runs did it take for you to complete the mission? Tell me about your own stories in the comments.

Blood Rage

blood-rage

I enjoy gaming in all forms, but my first love is roleplaying games. Having said that, I do enjoy a good boardgame.

For me, a “good” boardgame has to have three elements:

  • It has to be “fun.” I know this is a nebulous criteria, but basically I have to get a feeling of enjoyment from playing it. As an example, I don’t particular find the game of chess to be fun. It’s interesting, and challenging, but it doesn’t ever bring a smile to my face when playing it. But there are plenty of games that do bring that smile.
  • It has to have some complexity, but that complexity must serve the needs of the game. I don’t mind simple games, but I find that my mind wanders if it’s too simple. And games that add levels of complexity just to make the game more “challenging” without serving some in-game purpose are not going to keep my interest.
  • It has to have flavour that actually interacts with the rules of the game. Going back to chess, it doesn’t matter what the figures are shaped like—the rules are the rules. Playing chess with figures shaped like dragons may look cool, but it has no bearing on the game.

I recently got to play a great boardgame with some good friends that hits all three of those criteria.

Blood Rage is a game that was funded on Kickstarter and produced by Cool Mini or Not, Asmodee, and a few other companies.

I’m not going to go into a full review of this game—there’s a ton of those out on the web. I’m just going to mention a few things that I particularly enjoyed.

The minis

Needless to say, the minis in this game are fantastic. The sculpts are excellent, and there’s a great selection. Obviously, this is an area where the publishers of the game excel, so no one should be surprised the minis are so detailed and well-formed.

The only thing that detracts from the collection in the box is the fact that the female figures are dressed like strippers from Thor’s “gentlemen’s club.” It’s an unfortunate choice that was completely unnecessary. Everyone in the game is supposed to be a badass, and the men are dressed in appropriate armour that makes them look so, but the game designers decided the women had to be half-naked badasses.

However, if you leave the minis unpainted, the details aren’t so pronounced and you can play the game without having the boobs in your face.

The various levels of play

There’s a lot going on in this game. The card drafting, the battles, the clan upgrades, the multiple paths to victory, all combine to give the player a lot to think about. But the whole thing hangs together really well, and I was never left thinking that complexity was added just to make the game more challenging. Each element works with the others to make a complete game.

The flavour

This game just drips with flavour. You’re playing Vikings, dammit! And the designers decided that every element should both have that flavour and serve the rules. For example, if you collect Loki cards, then you’re not just going to go out and win battles. Rather, you gain victory points for losing battles, which is exactly the opposite of what one would expect (hence, Loki). There are so many examples of this in the game that I could write multiple posts on the various bits of flavour and how they were tied into the actual gameplay.

Conclusion

If you play board games and you haven’t heard of Blood Rage yet, you owe it to yourself to at least check out some reviews. This is a game that takes some time to play (our first game went ~3 hours), but at no point did I feel anything got bogged down or felt like I wanted it to be over. It’s no substitute for a good RPG session (in my opinion), but it was a blast to play and the entire thing felt suitably epic.

Have you played Blood Rage? Tell me about your experience in the comments.