No game over the past year has caused more buzz, intrigue and controversy than T.I.M.E. Stories by Manuel Rozoy. Part of the reason is the close lock and key all of the major elements the game has been held under. I am in a unique position, because I’ve played through the first adventure, but I’ve also taught it to dozens of people and been able to see the different paths they’ve taken to solve the puzzles they’re faced with. I’ve probably logged 40 hours of game time with it as a player or teacher and I’m still discovering new secrets. I can say that without a doubt the efforts to shield you from the adventures is for your own good. You don’t want anything revealed to you until you’re sitting at a table ready to play.
For those that don’t know, T.I.M.E. Stories is a cooperative adventure game set in the future. You and your team play Temporal Agents, who will travel to different time periods in order to solve a mystery or stop some world changing event from occurring. Agents will take on the physical appearance of a ‘shell’, someone who was alive in that era. Not only will they gain that person’s looks, but also their physical attributes, such as strength or dexterity. The T.I.M.E. Stories system is designed to act like a gaming console. Once you have the base game new adventures will be released on a regular basis that you can plug into the system. It is a really interesting concept.
I wrote a preview to T.I.M.E. Stories way back in April that you can check out. Back then I was working with a demo copy of the game not quite in its final form. Now that I finally have my hands on finalized version, I can go into a bit more detail, however don’t expect any spoilers here!
The design and art in the final version is amazing. Space Cowboys have stuck with a very simple graphic design to the board, dice, pawns and tokens. I think that will help make all of those game elements interchangeable for several different adventures. Even the box is streamlined and simple. Covered mostly in white it feels like a blank page waiting to be written.
T.I.M.E. Stories is called a decksploration game. As the Temporal Agents explore the map, card layouts will depict the scene they see. They can explore an area by splitting their pawns up to cover more ground or sticking together to avoid danger. Whatever they choose it will cost them time… and time is in short supply. As they proceed through the adventure learning what lies behind each corner and who they can trust, time is always ticking down. When it runs out they will return to home base for a stern reprimand from a superior officer, before taking another stab at the mission from the exact moment they started. This time though, they will have all of the knowledge they gained on the previous run and will be able to (hopefully) avoid making the same time-wasting mistakes as they did in the past.
The cards in the adventure are beautiful and evocative of the feel they’re going for. Each new card layout feels like you’re entered a new location and the scene is set before you. When an Agent explores a card they alone get to see the reverse side that will let them know more information about the location. They can share it with their teammates, but if other Agents want to see specifically what’s on the reverse of the card they’ll have to spend time to go there themselves.
Throughout the game, Agents will have to overcome certain challenges that test their charm, dexterity or strength. Actually not theirs, but the charm, dexterity and strength of the shell they’ve inhabited. Using your team’s strengths to effectively combat challenges is key to success. Challenges are handled with dice. Successful rolls will advance the story, but fails will result in more time being spent, injury or even death.
The base game comes with an adventure set in an Asylum in 1921. Playtime can take as much as 6-10 hours, but the insert is designed so that you can save your progress and come back to it. Other adventures that are on the way include The Marcy Case, set in rural United States in 1992, The Prophecy of Dragons, a medieval adventure, and Under the Mask, set in ancient Egypt.
A game like T.I.M.E. Stories is going to make some people a bit nervous. It is unlike any other game you’ve ever played before and it’s a shared group experience. It plays out a little like a choose-your-own-adventure story. One of the big fears I’ve heard is that you can only play through each adventure once. To a certain degree this is true. Once you know what’s hiding behind a door you’ll always know it’s there, but that doesn’t stop you from trying to take different routes to victory. One thing I’ve experienced is the fun you can have introducing new players to the game and watching the different avenues they will choose or how they will interpret clues in a different way. However nothing compares to playing an adventure for the first time. When I first tried out Asylum with a group of good friends it became clear to me that not only was this adventure an amazing experience, but that T.I.M.E. Stories has so much potential in general. That first game blew my mind and I really can’t wait to experience it again with some of the future expansions. T.I.M.E. Stories will not be for everyone. If you’re expecting a standard gaming experience you might be disappointed or turned off, but for those who can identify and embrace what Rozoy and Space Cowboys are doing with this game I really think they will love it. I’ve been saying it since I sat down to my first attempt, I believe T.I.M.E. Stories has created a new genre of games and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.