T.I.M.E Stories by Space Cowboys is a game I’ve wanted to get hands on with for sometime now for a good number of reasons. Offering a mix of traditional board gaming and role-playing for two to four players in a time travelling setting there is much to be excited about within T.I.M.E Stories. You take on the role of temporal agent’s as you travel back in time to uncover mysteries that could spell trouble for all. With limited time, many clues and mysteries to solve and a huge Asylum to explore, you will need to work together, work smart and above all else, manage your time.
Before reading on however I would like to point out that due to the strong focus on the story and mystery that T.I.M.E Stories has, this review will do it’s best to stay spoiler free throughout. Furthermore, this is also the reason why there are not to many photos of the cards included in the game. This really is a story that you need to experience first hand with friends as you try to unwrap the mystery around the Asylum.
Jumping right in can I just say how beautiful the box artwork for T.I.M.E Stories is? Look at it. It’s clear, effective but so visually stunning and eye catching. Moving to the inside of the box you will find a whole host of materials inside to help you play through the many scenarios that T.I.M.E Stories has to offer. The core set includes the Asylum scenario along with everything you need to play right away. The additional scenario sets can be picked up separately and have there own special rules so some elements of gameplay might change between each one.
Back to the core set however you find yourself with a number of items included eight player markers, one time and group token, several dice and over 160 plus other tokens for resources, life points and more. It’s a bit insane to open up the box and find so much within it. You might question if you’ll use all of these items for a single game but honestly, you will and that is what makes T.I.M.E Stories so great. Unlike other board games where some content might be locked to the later game in some respect, T.I.M.E Stories gives you everything from the get go and how you get to it is down to you. In a manner of speaking T.I.M.E Stories is a ‘choose your own adventure’ but more on that later.
Regardless of how much there is in the box it is all to a high quality and generally surprised me when I opened the box. I was expecting some cheaply made material and a paper playmat but was pleasantly surprised to find a hard, folding play board, high quality cards, strong tokens and much more. Even the quality of the writing, story and the puzzles within T.I.M.E Stories are to such a high standard that honestly, I can’t fault it’s overall quality or presentation in any way.
Setting up the board for any play session regardless of the scenario being played is fairly straightforward and always the same. Where possible try to set up the board so that every player can sit on the same side allowing each a clear view of the card panorama on the board. Then you’ll place all of the shield tokens, life points and resource tokens towards the top of the board. The 24 state tokens will then be placed to the left of the board with each player placing their pawn need the bottom of board along with the action dice, time caption dice and time token. Once all placed and the scenario deck is placed it is time to draw and play the ‘base’ cards face down, in order and once done, start the session.
Every session starts with you and your fellow agents being in the base section of the deck. Here you simply take it in turns to read each card in order to then get briefed on what to do and how to set up the remaining elements of the game. This includes picking your characters and placing the remaining deck elements such as items. From here you be told what your starting location will be and then dropped right into the action. Then it is a case of following the flow of the game and being guided by your choices and the cards to try and solve the mystery around the Asylum.
It is worth noting at this point as well that a number of the cards have different icons, numbers and text boxes on them. All of this is explained within the rule book and is very straightforward once you get to grips with it. For example if a card has a lock icon on it then it means you need to overcome whatever is happening with that card before you are able to move away and carry on. Likewise, some cards require you to have set tokens within your team’s hands in order to access them. Once you have the core rules under your belt the rest of the game is easy and quick to come to terms with thanks to how effective and accessible the game’s mechanics and systems are. Outside of this there is then two main phases that repeat until the end of the session.
The bulk of the work within T.I.M.E Stories is moving between locations and exploring said locations to uncover clues and more. When in a location, such as the Day Room, you place the group token on the location on the map at the top left of the board. You then take your character markers and start to place them above the sections of the location that you would like to explore. You might have two agents go to Day Room – B with the other two each looking at Day Room – C and Day Room – E. All of this takes place within one turn and therefore only costs one temporal unit. When looking at cards only the player who is in that location can look at the card and then tell the others what is going on without just reading the text out loud. It’s about keeping the mystery going and role-playing as much as you want remember. But in the end you are working together so slowly and surely you will begin to build a bigger picture.
Now if after checking those areas you want to move to different areas within the location then you once again, move your character tokens and pay one temporal unit to do so. Continuing on as you see fit until you feel it is time to move on. What is important to remember is that the amount you can do within one temporal unit is a fair amount so make sure that as a team you use each unit to its fullest. You don’t want to run out of time and not even have changed your location once.
Speaking of which, changing location is the next big important part of T.I.M.E Stories. As with most of T.I.M.E Stories you’ll debate as a team what to do next but when you go to change location it is important to really think about it and plan ahead. The reason for this is because it will be where your temporal units are used up the most and with some speed. Moving to a location is a case of picking the location and moving the group market to it on the map. You have to move as a whole team though, no splitting up into groups sadly. Then you roll the Time Captain dice and take that result off your current temporal units. In the event that a location has red text then you need to add an extra two units to the rolled result. Furthermore, when moving locations ensure you pack the location cards up correctly, place them at the bottom of the deck and then carefully draw the new location cards.
As I’ve mentioned a little bit already some times you will be required to make rules be it for combat or a test. Thankfully once again T.I.M.E Stories makes sure that this is painless and effective by having a simple but solid system in place. Any tests you have to undergo will have a number of shield icons and a characteristic icon on them. For example you might be in combat with someone that has three shields, two blank and one skull, with the fight characteristic being tested. You would look at the character or characters in the location the test is happening and look at their value for the selected characteristic which in this case is fight. You would then roll the dice and for each ‘hit’ you roll remove a shield from the test. If you remove them all, you have won.
Any left over however result in a different thing happening. Remaining red skulls are counted up and then any skulls you rolled are added onto it and then dealt as damage to your characters. If your resistance is lower than the total number of damage then you take one hit and only ever one hit. If your resistance is equal or greater then you are safe. You would then roll again to continue the test until it is completed but each time you roll you lose one temporal unit so where possible, get it right first time. Some other icons may also show up on shields such as losing life points or losing temporal units so always check to see what you are up against.
Once again though remember that within the cost of one temporal unit you can explore a location, look at cards, roll for combat and tests and do all of these for all agents.
If in the event a player’s receptacle loses all of their life points then sadly they die and the agent possessing them is expelled from them into a inter-temporal vortex of sorts. When this happens the player takes their small pawn token and places it & Temporal Units away from the current position of the time marker. Once the time marker has caught up with the position of the pawn then the player can re-enter the game by joining at least one other agent in a given location. Once you return you have all of your life points available again and then gain control of your possessions which during your leave can be used by other players to aid in the game. In the event less than seven Temporal Units are remaining, a player will not be able to return to the game during the run and if all players are dead at the same time it is game over.
One of the most interesting and by far best elements about T.I.M.E Stories is the saving mechanic. As far as tabletop board games go if you want to save your progress it is all about leaving everything out as it is and hoping you remember what was going on when you return to keep playing. With T.I.M.E Stories however the box has been designed to allow for easy and effective storage of the game in it’s current stage. From placing your own character’s cards and tokens to their own space to even a section to note how far into the game you are. There is a section within the box to allow for every element of the game to be placed in ensuring you can return and continue with ease. The amount of consideration that went into this just goes to show how much love went into T.I.M.E Stories and honestly, this method of saving your game should be something more tabletop games do.
T.I.M.E Stories is in many respects a masterpiece of tabletop gaming with a near perfect blend of board game experiences and role-player. All delivered in one of the best looking, best playing and honestly, most enjoyable ways i’ve seen to date. From the moment I started playing I knew I would become lost and engaged within the world and the story that was unfolding around me. The fact that there was a continuous need to manage a number of resources and time also added to the experience as it made it value each action and debate more with my team and weight behind everything we did.
My first run of T.I.M.E Stories saw myself and my session partner face defeat around about the hour mark. The duration of the games is suggest to last approximately 90 minutes but as mentioned earlier the save feature really helps the pacing of the T.I.M.E Stories. Speaking of defeat, what happened after that first run? SImple. We ran it again and took what we knew from the first run to help us progress through the second run. In that regard a good memory and ensuring you talk with your group is key and important to keep success within reach.
End of the day however T.I.M.E Stories does something no other tabletop game has done before, at least as far as I am aware, and does so in such a way that I love it. I honestly have no faults with T.I.M.E Stories other than a small bit of misdirection in the rulebook about the setup process but that was quickly answered with a simple Google search. It is a beautiful game that deserves a place in anyone’s collection and offers a serious amount of depth and enjoyment with a unbelievable amount of quality and polish. Never before have I seen anything like this and I can wait to see it again when I jump into the next scenarios. T.I.M.E Stories is right up there on my recommendation list and if you have the chance please do make sure you check it out because it’s lovely, mysterious, mind blowing and at times even creepy but it all adds up to a master piece of tabletaop gaming.
T.I.M.E Stories is available for the RRP of £34.99 and if you’re looking to pick up a copy then check out the Esdevium Games store locator here to find your nearest retail store.
This review is based on a copy of the product provided by Esdevium Games.