With Time Arena, designer Fabrice Lamouille and French publisher Blam! (distributed by Blackrock Games) have taken elements familiar to videogames and smartphone game apps and imaginatively transposed them into a fast and furious board game.
This is certainly a game that delivers what it says on the box. It’s an Arena combat game and it is most definitely Time limited: Time Arena is played against the clock, so no game should last more than 10 minutes!
The 10 minute timer is a free downloadable app – essentially it’s a 10-minute chess clock with a background beat that manages to be atmospheric without being distracting.
Players take turns to activate their units, each with different attack, defence and movement values, and some with a special ability. They use their units to launch attacks on their opponent with the aim of depleting the energy from their opponent’s Totem to destroy it. Of course, the chess clock is always running in the background, allowing a total time of 5 minutes for each player: a player whose clock runs out will immediately lose the game...
Time is very much the essence of this game because, in addition to the timer app, players will need to keep an eye on their different colour sand timers. Any time a unit is defeated in combat (rolling a customised six-sided die and comparing modified attack vs defence values), it is removed from play and its colour timer is flipped. No more units of that colour can be brought on until the timer has run out. The different colour timers each have different running times (30/45/60/90 seconds). The app can also be used to track this ‘time out’ in place of the sand timers, but it’s better to use the hourglasses as flipping them adds to the frenetic energy of the game.
For those who complain that dice hate them, Time Arena offers an interesting mechanic that helps to make up for bad die rolls. Every time you roll a ‘critical failure’ (the one side of the die that means the attack automatically fails), you advance a marker on a ‘charge wheel’. The player can subsequently choose to reset the wheel in order to claim any one of the bonuses reached (for example, to reroll a die). To complete the package, Time Arena comes with a double-sided board. The 'expert game' side introduces teleportation and the option of being able to block an opponent from activating new units. These fundamentally alter strategy so deliver variety as well as increased replayability.
The box describes Time Arena as catering for 2–4 players. The four-player version is a team game where the teams each divvy up their four colours. This is workable but you may find too much time taken up discussing within the team what actions to take. In practice, Time Arena is best as a two-player game. And with games timed so they cannot take longer than 10 minutes, then this could be the perfect head-to-head games night filler.