I have to be careful what I say about this game. I don’t want to give away any spoilers.
This is the core game for a continuing series of fully co-operative puzzle adventures. The premise is that you and up to three other players are a team of agents on a mission to protect the time continuum. You have limited information and limited time to carry out your mission. The team travel in time by having their consciousness inserted into the bodies of ‘receptacles’ - people at the time and location being travelled to. In the case of the Asylum mission that comes with the base game, this is a psychiatric institution in 1921.
Team members discover and travel to different locations together but can split up to explore different parts of a room. Played properly, they should summarise what they find but not actually show the cards they reveal to others who are not at exactly the same place. Players will face dilemmas, puzzles and possibly conflict, and all of these take time to resolve. Players also burn ‘time units’ when they move between locations: they roll a six-sided dice which gives a 4/6 chance of the move costing two time units but a 1/6 chance of it costing just one and 1/6 that it will cost three. With four players - and the game is at its best when played with this full complement - there are just 25 time units to complete the entire Asylum mission.
I don’t think I’m giving anything away if I tell you, you will almost certainly fail to complete the mission on the first attempt. You may befall other mishaps but, most likely, you will simply run out of time. If (when) you fail, you’ll be whisked back to the Agency. You can expect to get shouted at by Bob (your Agency boss) and you’ll be sent back for another attempt. This balancing of multiple runs is where the game shines: on some missions there are likely to be paths that the team follow that turn out to be red herrings and some paths that they discover need to be taken and have to be tackled in a particular order. By learning (and taking notes - you’ll never remember everything otherwise) on your earlier attempts, you can optimise the time you take and hopefully succeed on your next run.
TIME Stories is a game that really is about team work, communication and puzzle solving. You will get annoyed with some of the McGuffins but you will have a sense of triumph if and when you eventually succeed in a mission.
At the time of writing, Space Cowboys have published five additional missions or scenarios, with two more scheduled for publication this year. The scenarios vary quite a bit in content and style, as well as in theme, so they will keep players on their toes. Some of the scenarios hint tantalisingly at an emerging overall story arc, and that too helps to keep players wanting to play more. The publishers have also encouraged fans to devise their own print and play scenarios, and Boardgamegeek currently lists at least a dozen of these.
When TIME Stories first appeared, some complained that the nature of the game meant that consumers were being asked to buy a game that they were only intended to play once. It’s true, you won’t replay scenarios once you’ve completed them, but they nonetheless each represent good value for an evening’s entertainment for four. And with fans encouraged to devise and share their own expansions too, I think this game is a good buy.
Stacked in the 360º photo, you can see the five official scenarios published so far: The Marcy Case is set in an American town in 1992 Under The Mask is set in Egypt in 1146BC A Prophecy of Dragons has a medieval setting but in a parallel reality Expedition Endurance is set in the Antarctic in 1914 Lumen Fidei is set in Spain in 1419.