Board Game Review: Time Stories – Spoiler Free!

TS - Game

As a kid, I really enjoyed those choose-your-own-adventure novels. So much fun to try to get the good ending and figure everything out. Not too much older, I enjoyed playing video games repeatedly to get all of the multiple endings. T.I.M.E. Stories brings that same concept to the board game world. You are sent back in time (or through alternate realities) to solve a mystery. In the base game, that means stopping a temporal rift in a 1921 insane asylum.

The Basics. The game engine is a stack of cards in a specific order. Generally, you’ll move from location to location as a group. When you do, a set of cards specific to that location is set on the board. On one side, they show a continuous picture. The players can each choose to visit particular cards which generally correspond to the people or areas depicted.

Most of the cards will reveal further information about the story. Some will grant you items that may or may not have particular use later on. Some will even reveal new locations for you to explore. And some cards will involve rolling dice.

Hard to show the cards without spoilers

Hard to show the cards without spoilers

When you are sent back in time, you are sent into one of the people, or vessels, from that area – not unlike Quantum Leap. That vessel has a few stats that show how well they can talk or fight. And those skills will be needed as you encounter situations that may require you to fight, lie, or steal.

Meanwhile, the game has a timer. Every time your party takes an action, the tracker ticks downward. And by traveling from location to location, you also lose time. If your time gets to zero, then you lose. Of course, the game is designed so that you can play it again and try to succeed. In fact, some of the items you obtain actually carry over to the next play, so you can start with a small advantage on your next attempt. If you complete your mission before time runs out, you succeed. Any other result is a failure.

Same with the board. It looks awesome (but spoilery) with the cards on it

Same with the board. It looks awesome (but spoilery) with the cards on it

The Feel. TIME Stories straddles the line between activity and game. The game elements are certainly there, and you do get a sense of success or failure. But, ultimately the experience is far, far more about uncovering the mystery and getting through the story than it is about rolling well or tactically devising a strategy.

Which isn’t necessarily a negative. In fact, it is wonderful to see the choose-your-own-adventure genre get a breath of fresh air with TIME Stories. But it’s mostly about telling a story with friends. There is very little “game” in the box at all.

That said, the experience is still enjoyable. The writing in the base game story, Asylum 1921, is evocative and interesting. The narrative is a fun one to see unfold with a good balance of mundane and creepy, even if the foreshadowing is sometimes a little too heavy.

But there are dice! That makes it a game, right?

But there are dice! That makes it a game, right?

The game aspect comes in trying to complete the adventure before time runs out. Your first attempt or two will mostly be just exploring the various areas. Depending on how often you play the game, you might want to take notes. Coming back a week later, you might forget exactly where key 19 was or item 5 – which might be crucial to advancing the plot.

The game also does a good job of gating content. As you enter various areas, there might be cards that are cordoned off. They have a symbol on them and are not accessible until the players have gained that symbol. So, perhaps one character asks you to meet them in a particular place. By asking, they give the special symbol to you. If you try to skip and go straight there, you won’t have the necessary symbol or be able to access whatever is there.

These indicate you've accomplished necessary prerequisites

These indicate you’ve accomplished necessary prerequisites

TIME Stories provides a nice structure and allows the players to fan out and gather information. While the whole party must go to one room or location at a time, within that location they can each look at different things or attempt different tests. It makes everyone feel like they contributed.

Plus, when you explore an area, only you get to look at the card. Sure, you can immediately tell everyone else what is on it, but the idea is that you are telling the story to them. Almost like your character was the one to discover a particular clue and then must relate it back to the group. This helps with the immersion and ensures that participants aren’t left out or held back by an alpha gamer.

And the immersion is the best part of the experience. In fact, I’ve actually set the rules aside and just sort of gone with the cards to proceed through the story. The timer and die rolls aren’t really necessary and can even impede the enjoyment of the narrative.

The spoiler components actually look good. These ones are quite standard.

The spoiler components actually look good. These ones are quite typical of other games.

Components: 4 of 5. Most of the bits are fairly standard. Wooden dowels for pawns, wooden time marker, cardboard chits for resources. Nothing to write home about. It has an insert that purportedly allows you to “save” a game in progress. But the bins are too shallow and it doesn’t do a great job of storing the game. Despite some of the lackluster bits, I absolutely love the cards. They are oversized (which is appreciated) and the artwork is great. It is very evocative of the setting. Plus, I love the way the art carries over from one card to the next in a particular location.

Strategy/Luck Balance: NA of 5. There are tests in the game in which you roll dice to accomplish some action or fight off some adversary. So, there is some luck, surely. But I’m not sure how much “strategy” there is in the game. Like any choose-your-own-adventure series, it’s really about exploring the decision trees until you find the one most suited to finishing the story.

Mechanics: 2 of 5. There just isn’t that much “game” here to judge. Tests are done with die rolls and are fairly standard. I like that the cards help to tell the story as you move through them, but is that a “mechanism” of the game? The truth is that the mechanics are not all that interesting, but the game makes up for it elsewhere.

Replayability: 2.5 of 5. This is a hard one. Each story has no variability and the base game comes with exactly one. Each time you play it, you’ll be going to the same places and you’ll learn the possible events of each of them. Once solved, there’s very little reason to return to it – at least until months go by and you’ve forgotten some of it. But before you finish it? The desire to play it is high. After the first play, I wanted to play again immediately. After the second play, too. You’ll want to return to TIME Stories repeatedly.

Spite: NA of 5. As a cooperative title, there is no spite.

Look at these tokens! That makes it a game, right?

Look at these tokens! That makes it a game, right?

Overall: 3.5 of 5. Given the underlying scores, this might seem high. But the “overall” score isn’t an amalgam of the others; it’s more a measure of how fun the title is. And TIME Stories is fun. True, it is more of an activity than a game. True, the replayability bottoms out after you find success. But until that point, it is a blast to go through the story and explore its world with friends. And, it’s still great even if you don’t strictly adhere to the rules.

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