T.I.M.E. Stories - Time Keeps on Slippin'

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T.I.M.E. Stories - Time Keeps on Slippin'

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Game Name
There Will Be Games

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T.I.M.E. Stories is something of an odd design. It's odd in that it doesn't do anything really well. It's odd in that it doesn't do anything particularly innovative. It's odd, because it's just well, odd. This game shouldn't exist. It shouldn't be popular. Yet, here we are.

[Disclaimer - This is going to be a 100% spoiler free review. For those that don't know T.I.M.E. Stories is a co-operative story telling game and part of its appeal is finding out what lies within its sterile looking white box. I will brush upon some mechanics and ideas, but at no point will I divulge any SPECIFIC information about the plot.]

T.I.M.E. (already tired of typing this insufferable acronym) Stories is what you get when you combine the following things: Fighting Fantasy Books, Myst, Quantum Leap, Groundhog Day, and probably drugs. Does this goulash of ingredients sound appetizing? Well if you're in the mood for the boardgame equivalent of platypus stew then go grab a spork.

So the premise of T.I.M.E. Stories is that you and your friends are time agents of sorts. You're tasked with traveling to a specific period in time to accomplish SOMETHING. You start off in the future where you get a mission briefing and then you're off. For the base game you'll be travelling to the roaring 1920s and staying in a lovely asylum for the insane. Right off the bat your conscience is zapped into some people that are deemed "unimportant" to time. The game states that these "receptacles" can be taken control of without fear of screwing up the space time continuum or some such nonsense. Basically it's a convoluted way of saying, "It's character selection time!" So you all pick your receptacles (I swear I'm not making this up) which have special abilities, stats, whatnot, and you begin your journey.

The game/story is a conveyed via a large deck of oversized cards. There will be a map and as a group you must decide where to go. Once you select a place to travel, you dig through the deck and find the cards corresponding to the location. You then take the cards and lay them out so that they create a large picture of your new location. Neat! At this point you all decide where you want to individually investigate. You flip over the card that you placed your pawn above and secretly read what you discover. It might be text conveying a conversation. It could just be a picture. It could be anything really. If you're investigating alone you cannot tell people word for word what you found. No, the game wants you to DESCRIBE what you're experiencing. Sometimes you will come across a challenge or a fight that requires you to roll some dice to succeed. This requires a very simplistic system of rolling stars for successes to defeat the challenge. The kicker to all this is that each time you act, explore, or move locations you will need to spend "Time Units". You start off your mission with a certain amount of time units and if you ever run out you'll lose. And that's it. That the whole game. You explore, you discuss things, you occasionally roll some dice and you try to accomplish your goal before time runs out. 

Mechanically speaking, T.I.M.E. Stories is absolute garbage. There is NOTHING going on in its design that hasn't been done before. Its primary hook is the giant deck of cards that tell a singular story. Yes, every time you play the game the locations and events will always be the same. This is done on purpose because you'll likely fail and need to repeat the mission Groundhog Day style. Using what you previously learned you'll dive back into the deck armed with knowledge on how to accomplish your goal (hopefully quicker). 

I can tell you right now, if you're looking for a great, well written, gripping, story that is going to blow your mind then you need to adjust your expectations. The story telling is primarily of the "flip over a card and do what it says" variety. Again, it's all very basic stuff that has been done in probably a hundred other games.

Despite its antiquated design choices and rudimentary gameplay I sort of love T.I.M.E. Stories. This game baffles me. It's not a good design and yet I have an incredibly fun time playing it. Let me try to explain myself. The first thing I love about the game is the story. Yes, I know I said that it was bad a few lines up and I stand by that statement. However, it's bad in the best possible way. The plot is like something out of a Playstation 1 era Resident Evil game. It's like it was ripped out of the mind of a 12 year old boy who mixed all of his favorite ideas together during a Pixy Stix bender. As a lover of trashy cinema and B films this type of garbage speaks to me in a big way. The best part is that the publisher is trying their damndest to make their B movie turd seem like a blockbuster. Imagine some crummy genre script that was somehow green-lit with a 100 million dollar budget and you're starting to get the idea of what you're gonna experience. 

Thankfully the best moments aren't what you read via the cards. No, T.I.M.E. Stories is primarily a game about COMMUNICATING and that is when it shines brightest. Not being able to expicitly divulge information on the card you look at is a stroke of brilliance. Since you're working together to accomplish something, relying on information from another player can sometimes lead you astray. Couple this with the unique characters that you're playing and the experience really starts getting fun. You see, the "receptacles" that you play all have distinct character traits that will directly affect how you play the game. These distinctions are well executed and many times the choices you make on your own and as a group are dictated by the character you're playing. This often leads to some really hilarious table talk and ridiculous situations. Despite it looking like a sterile exam room, T.I.M.E. Stories is the kind of game best played with some cheap beer and good friends.

Now the game only comes with a single scenario. I find it amazing how people are actually fine with this. You're paying $40 for one really fancy choose your adventure game. I remember when Mansions of Madness came out with 5 scenarios people complained that it was too few. And those were designed to be slightly re-playable. T.I.M.E. Stories on the other hand? Yeah, replay value isn't high on this. However, that isn't to say it's not there. I will gladly re-play the base game scenario with different groups of friends. Obviously this means I would have to zip my mouth and not give away any information, but it's still doable. Your mileage will certainly vary though.

The absolute best thing…the single cleverest thing about the whole design is its blatant, purposeful, blandness. Everything from the packaging to the ruleset follows through with this ignis-fatuus. It's all done with surgical precision and purpose. From the first time you open the box every visual you drink in is meant to be as vanilla as possible. At first this seems like a terrible choice, however it's actually INCREDIBLY intelligent on behalf of the publisher. I'll let you in on T.I.M.E. Stories biggest secret; this isn't a game about time travel. Nope, the quasi sci-fi façade and clean white packaging is simply done to provide the most malleable toolkit for the designers to play with. T.I.M.E. Stories is about whatever it wants to be. It could be about dinosaurs and cavemen. It could be about witches on Moon-base Omega. All you need to do is insert a fresh deck and the game engine COMES ALIVE to spit out whatever genre it wants. Brilliant! Even the tokens in the game are merely simple colored chits that can represent anything. They could be food, ammo, hit points, or mana. I'm really impressed with how they pull this trick off. Hell, I'm convinced that the game mechanics being rudimentary is part of this master illusion. By keeping things familiar and basic it allows the game to become clay in the designer's hands. They're free to mold it into whatever they want over and over again. The plain white board and simple colored bits fade away and the deck of cards transforms the game into whatever the designers can think of. 

This all comes at a price. It makes T.I.M.E. Stories incredibly fragile. The enjoyment is going to be 100% based on the scenario you plug into the engine. If it's a snooze then you're screwed. Also, the deck of cards is so vital to the game that Asmodee needs to be extra careful with proofreading/production. Any printing errors or card misprints that break a scenario will cause fans of a game like this to panic. Again, just look at Mansions of Madness to see what printing errors can do to a game's reputation. Still this hasn't been an issue yet, but it's something worth noting. 

So do I recommend T.I.M.E. Stories? Yes, I would suggest trying it out at least once especially if you're a fan of something like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. It's not a classic, but it wins BIG points for its chameleon chassis. More importantly, I think it's the closest anyone has come to cracking the code of creating a successful boardgame/RPG hybrid. I'll warn you that if you're looking for something deep and rewarding with the narrative you're bound to be disappointed. This is B movie magic with fistfuls of silliness. Expect badly written dialog, absurd moments, and a Roger Corman quality script. T.I.M.E. Stories mostly only gives back what you're willing to put into it. You need to play it loose and get into the pseudo role playing that it encourages. If you allow it you'll encounter some good belly laughs and a few memorable nights. You can't ask for more than that.

 

What does the Scale-o-Matic 6500™ say?

On a scale of The Butterfly Effect to Back to the Future

T.I.M.E. Stories rates as Time Cop

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Designer(s): Manuel Rozoy and Peggy Chassenet

Publisher: Space Cowboys / Asmodee

Year Published: 2015

Player Count: 2-4

Length: 60-120 minutes 

 

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bfkiller's Avatar
bfkiller replied the topic: #222619 16 Feb 2016 10:56
"T.I.M.E. (already tired of typing this insufferable acronym) Stories is what you get when you combine the following things: Fighting Fantasy Books, Myth, Quantum Leap, Groundhog Day, and probably drugs."

I had the same trouble coming up with comparables as well. I listed Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap, but also video games like Resident Evil and Nintendo DS puzzle games like Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright. I couldn't think of anything I've played on a table top that's comparable.

I actually don't like the game that much. It's fairly fragile and feels redundant after a few failures. We should finish the base game's scenario next time we play (though I've said that before). I don't think I'll join in on future scenarios.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #222622 16 Feb 2016 11:18
Absolutely love this game and I'd actually take an opposing view on some of your points.

Transferring the Point 'n Click adventure game into a tabletop design is innovative. Relying on a first person view with panoramic art that is integral to the story telling is pretty radical. Getting away from the text-based approach of Sherlock Holmes which can feel detached at times and bringing you down into a first person view is huge.

I also DO think the game is about time travel, at least from a macro level. It's not completely a gimmick as I believe there's a story going on in the background that will eventually be told over the many different individual stories. There's a couple little hints of some larger plot already.

This is a game that we had 7 people show up for to play the Marcy Case. We had 5 when we played Asylum. I think we'll have 8 or 9 when we play the next one as everyone is hooked.

We share characters and everyone discusses. It's fantastic and the most engaged I've been over a two-three hour span.
Ken B.'s Avatar
Ken B. replied the topic: #222634 16 Feb 2016 13:19
I've held off on this one because of the feeling that when you're sitting down for your "learning game", you're actually committing to the only time you'll get to play the base game. Sounds like from this review it can actually take multiple sittings to solve a case? I like the sound of that much better.

Getting info like this about this game is made more difficult by the fact that I can't dig too deeply without finding out spoilers. I hate spoilers. That makes getting info about this game pretty tough.
bfkiller's Avatar
bfkiller replied the topic: #222640 16 Feb 2016 14:39

Ken B. wrote: I've held off on this one because of the feeling that when you're sitting down for your "learning game", you're actually committing to the only time you'll get to play the base game. Sounds like from this review it can actually take multiple sittings to solve a case? I like the sound of that much better.


My group has played the base game scenario 7 times and we've yet to successfully complete it. We suspect we'll finish on the 8th try.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #222641 16 Feb 2016 14:51
That's crazy. We finished it in less than 3 hours in one session.

Marcy Case took us about 3 hours and one session as well.
Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #222643 16 Feb 2016 15:56

charlest wrote: Absolutely love this game and I'd actually take an opposing view on some of your points.

Transferring the Point 'n Click adventure game into a tabletop design is innovative. Relying on a first person view with panoramic art that is integral to the story telling is pretty radical. Getting away from the text-based approach of Sherlock Holmes which can feel detached at times and bringing you down into a first person view is huge.

I also DO think the game is about time travel, at least from a macro level. It's not completely a gimmick as I believe there's a story going on in the background that will eventually be told over the many different individual stories. There's a couple little hints of some larger plot already.

This is a game that we had 7 people show up for to play the Marcy Case. We had 5 when we played Asylum. I think we'll have 8 or 9 when we play the next one as everyone is hooked.

We share characters and everyone discusses. It's fantastic and the most engaged I've been over a two-three hour span.


While I agree that transferring a point and click adventure game into a tabletop experience is a novel concept the end result is still a story telling game that doesn't feel all that different from others. The main difference being the fact that you can't share all the information with one another...which as I mentioned is pretty damn savvy.

Yes at a MACRO level the game is about time travel. However,the specific theme/genre of the module comes through more than anything. As such I'd recommend the game to a horror fan or zombie fan with the first two modules. Someone interested in a game about Time Travel will be disappointed in that aspect of it. Which I think is a testament to the crazy powerful engine that they designed. I could see the designers doing some really crazy stuff since they're free to add rules and ideas pretty much as it suites them.

Also I agree with Charlie...play with a bunch of people and share characters. It works perfectly fine in doing so.

Ken - ideally each game scenario is meant to be played multiple times. Also, the mechanics are so basic that a "learning game" isn't really all that necessary. I played it with family and non typical gamers and after a round or two they all got the gist of it. It's all very basic and easy to pick up.

Another point...if I had a like a 15 year old kid this would be their favorite game. It's really in a teenager's wheelhouse. They would need to be OK with slightly more mature content, but man if I played this when I was 14 it would leave a LASTING impression on me.
Black Barney's Avatar
Black Barney replied the topic: #222644 16 Feb 2016 16:03
A Wild Ken Appears!
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #222645 16 Feb 2016 16:16

Egg Shen wrote: While I agree that transferring a point and click adventure game into a tabletop experience is a novel concept the end result is still a story telling game that doesn't feel all that different from others. The main difference being the fact that you can't share all the information with one another...which as I mentioned is pretty damn savvy.


I think we see this differently. Having 7 people show up to play for our second story of this was pretty crazy. Everyone was like - "Don't play without me!"

These are people that don't enjoy Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.

It feels extremely different IMO. Much more immersive and enveloping. The engagement level is much higher and everything feels less abstract. Atmosphere is legitimately a thing in TS where I don't think it fully comes through in other storytelling games.
bfkiller's Avatar
bfkiller replied the topic: #222650 16 Feb 2016 17:16

charlest wrote: That's crazy. We finished it in less than 3 hours in one session.

Marcy Case took us about 3 hours and one session as well.


I'm glad I'm not the one who spent money on it. Even with the 8 hours we've spent with the base game so far, I often think to myself, "you spent how much on this?"
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #222669 17 Feb 2016 08:46
That's true, the price is a real hangup for many people.

All the people I've talked to who enjoy it (which spans across Euro and ATers), look at it more like paying for an experience. In that way it's most similar to an escape room which would cost much more for our group to participate in.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #222671 17 Feb 2016 09:16
I don't want to come off a completely abrasive, just a little (see how I've mellowed in my older-ish age?) but so much of what I've read in defense of this game is flatout, indisputably wrong. It's like the game gives off glue fumes and people are inhaling that shit.

Listen, the honest truth about this game is that, as it stands, the overall experience is by and large fucking stupid as hell. The writing SUCKS and the mechanics truly are nothing to write home about. That being said, the system itself is admirable. You can do anything with it, and that's impressive. What's been done with it so far leaves a whole lot to be desired. It's about time travel if you're only counting what's commonly represented in board gaming. The asylum is only a little different, but really, zombies and a fucking dragon? Get out of here. Why not the Old West or dinosaurs, two criminally overlooked subjects in gaming.

And holy shit, don't get me started on the fact that the game IS pay to play. The same shit we jump down the video gaming industry's throat about some how gets a pass here. Defend that and you're goddamned moron.

Bringing it back though, the system itself is really, really cool. I just want to see something new and actually _good_ done with it. Currently it's a b-movie simulator.
Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #222673 17 Feb 2016 10:52
The B-movie simulator is really the only thing that kept me interested in the first place. But you're right, the game needs to get into better genres and stop catering to stuff that gamers lose their minds over. I'm hoping it's just to get the thing to sell well before they take some chances...but probably not. I think the designers could do something special with the engine they've built. I'm just hoping they realize that and start taking some real chances. If they don't though I'm content to play through some shitty Italian, rip-off level, b-movie. Bring on Star Crash, Contamination, or some other Luigi Cozzi schlockfest!

Also I'm not buying the "atmosphere" thing about this game. I've played it now with three completely different groups and each time it turns into a cheeky, laughing, ridiculous evening. It's not like we sat down for a seance and had some life changing moment when we played.
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #222675 17 Feb 2016 11:36
Given my history with gushing reviews, I think I'd better stay away from this one.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #222676 17 Feb 2016 12:07
As a board game, it's mechanically dull and terrible value. As an RPG/adventure game in a box, it features writing below Dragonlance level and the puzzle solving is essentially trial and error. The system shows potential, but I'm not going to start praising something that doesn't exist.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #222677 17 Feb 2016 12:13
My only problem with "purchase" of this game is that the game doesn't include roofies or some other amnesia-inducing agent so that you can have replay value.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #222678 17 Feb 2016 12:16
You can't trial and error the main puzzle in Asylum. You can trial and error the puzzles in The Marcy Case but you lose a lot of time.

The writing isn't primarily what you're interacting with. Much of the game is communicated via imagery.

There is a story, and it's pretty bare bones, sure. I don't think the writing is high brow stuff, but it never struck me as poor. I felt it was on par with any other storytelling game I've played (TOTAN, Sherlock Holmes, Fallen, Gumshoe).
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #222679 17 Feb 2016 12:41
You and Raf do an admirable job talking about it a bit in the Ding/Dent episode.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #222680 17 Feb 2016 12:46
Just because the writing meets and already low standard, that doesn't mean we should be giving it a pat on the back. And since the mechanics are as brain dead as they are, yeah, the story and writing does matter. Otherwise, all you have are the puzzles, which ARE trial and error. Yeah, you'll lose, but I'm guessing that the intent was that you start over and try again. You know what I call that? Trial and error.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #222682 17 Feb 2016 13:00
I don't have much to add because I haven't played it, but a comment about replay...be prepared for, over the next couple of years, more and more games with purposely limited replay value. Pandemic Legacy (and to a lesser extent Risk Legacy) opened the floodgates. A game with finite plays sold like crazy, and the legacy concept is going to turn up in a lot of ways across a lot of games. And one such way is to have these kinds of games that aren't replayable. Not only is it a result of the success of P:L and games like TIME Stories, but also because of the gaming culture that supports playing lots of games only a few times rather than only a few games lots of times.

And of course, "content packs", "expansions" or whatever you want to call the cardboard DLC will keep them going. That's a trend coming over from video games.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #222683 17 Feb 2016 13:10
I'd argue that the Legacy model only works because of the persistence factor. It's world-building, where from all accounts this isn't.

I don't have a dog in the hunt here, for what it's worth. I listened to Raf and Charlie talk about it, read about it, read this review, and it all dissuades me from wanting to buy it as it seems like it's pretty much a visual puzzle where you play, fail, play again knowing what you learned last time, rinse and repeat.

With regard to the time travel setting, I think this type of play supports the setting because you could easily rationalize trying, failing, trying again with lessons learned as time travel, in a very abstract sense.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #222684 17 Feb 2016 13:11
The value proposition on this game sounds bad. But a game like SeaFall, for example; if I'm paying $50ish dollars for a game that has 15 plays in it, that's fine. My group can barely claim that number of plays on anything we play. Spartacus *might* be the exception. King of Tokyo, sure, but I don't really count filler stuff.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #222685 17 Feb 2016 13:19

Josh Look wrote: Just because the writing meets an already low standard, that doesn't mean we should be giving it a pat on the back.


Correct. I'm patting it on the back because my 6-8 hours of TIME Stories last year was some of the most fun I've had. As an experience I can't play another game that does the same thing. I like Sherlock Holmes (and Gumshoe which I played halfway through), but it wasn't as interesting and fun as TIME Stories. Sherlock Holmes felt more scholarly and academic, while this feels more visual and engrossing (for me).

I'm fine with other people not liking it or thinking it's shit, whatever. I don't care if no one here likes it or buys it. It's already wildly popular and did not hit the clearance rack as Barnes thought it would so we'll be seeing more and my extended group will scoop them all up.

I think it does have weak points. I think price is an issue. I think having to replay the same locations is tedious in the Asylum story, but less so in The Marcy Case. Theoretically they could design a story requiring no repetition and I hope they do.

I really dig that "I have no idea what's going to happen next" feeling. It's why I love event decks and weird encounters in games. It's one of my favorite aspects of Cave Evil where you don't know what those decks will spit out. I love content discovery and being surprised. This game is 100% that.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #222696 17 Feb 2016 14:55

SuperflyTNT wrote: With regard to the time travel setting, I think this type of play supports the setting because you could easily rationalize trying, failing, trying again with lessons learned as time travel, in a very abstract sense.


You're right, that does make sense. It's the obvious pandering to gamer nerds that irrates me, and I have no tolerance for it these days (and don't anyone dare bring up Star Wars again, it's no where near Cthulhu/zombie/post-apoc levels in the board gaming arena yet...plus after years of shitty SW movies and games, let us enjoy this, will ya?). What's after the Egypt expansion? Weird War II? Cthulhu? A combination of the two?
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #222698 17 Feb 2016 15:01
That's been done: Achtung! Cthulhu.

@ Charlie: Here's something I'd like clarified: You said this: "I really dig that "I have no idea what's going to happen next" feeling."

But from what you and others seem to have been saying eariler, you'll find yourself going back after a failure and trying again with lessons learned. Doesn't that diminish the "NEW CAR SMELL" when you're having to replay half the game to get past the hump?
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #222702 17 Feb 2016 15:23

SuperflyTNT wrote: That's been done: Achtung! Cthulhu.

@ Charlie: Here's something I'd like clarified: You said this: "I really dig that "I have no idea what's going to happen next" feeling."

But from what you and others seem to have been saying eariler, you'll find yourself going back after a failure and trying again with lessons learned. Doesn't that diminish the "NEW CAR SMELL" when you're having to replay half the game to get past the hump?


You're right Pete it does a bit and that's the main point of criticism besides price that I bring up in my Review Corner review.

However, in my experience it wasn't terrible because the location progression doesn't tend to be exactly linear. It's not like running back through Resident Evil from the start and find a whole bunch of keys and sheet music all over. It's more like - "Ok, we need that one key from there and we need to talk to him to open the secret passage so we'll go to those two locations". In real time it takes us very little to retrace our steps.

Also, when you go back to a location like this we usually shift who looks at what card/clue. So if on the first go I talked to the creep woman in the corner I'll let Ben do that to read what I read earlier. Instead I'll take a gander at the painting he described and see if I notice anything he missed.