One of the latest, and most interesting, trends in board games is the inclusion of innovative storytelling and campaign elements that borrow elements from RPGs. T.I.M.E. Stories from Space Cowboys and designer Manuel Rozoy falls squarely in that category. It is not necessarily a “legacy” game, like Risk: Legacy or Pandemic: Legacy, that permanently changes the game after every play, but it offers a unique experience that I have never seen before.
T.I.M.E. Stories is a fully cooperative game for 2-4 players; everyone wins or loses together. The players are future time agents sent to the past to correct some wrongdoing which has messed up the temporal state of things. Each player inhabits a person, or “receptacle” as the game calls it, to solve the mystery. You can think of it as the film Timecop mashed with the 90s TV show Quantum Leap.
The story, and the meat of the game itself, is contained in a large stack of cards that you’ll want to keep sealed until players are ready. After getting the basics from the rulebook, it is time to open the deck where you will receive instructions from your mission leaders on how to set up the scenario, including choosing receptacles, and placing the decks of items and locations on the board.
The game includes the first adventure “Asylum,” which sends players back to investigate a macabre insane asylum in 1921. The chosen receptacles are unique to the adventure, and each one includes stats for skill tests that will frequently come up as players explore the different cards in a location.
Each time players “open” a location, the indicated cards are spread out to form a panorama. Players have tokens to indicate what part of the location they might want to explore. After choosing, each player takes a turn reading and paraphrasing what happens when they visit that area. They may get an item (picking the appropriate item number from the items deck), additional story information, or may have a skill check to perform using dice. Once they are done, players can “close” that location and move on to another one, selecting the appropriate set of cards from the locations deck.
Due to the technology used in time travel, players have a limited amount of time to explore and solve the mystery, which is represented by Temporal Units (TU). Actions like skill tests and changing locations on the map cost TU; when players run out, they are pulled back to the future and the mission is a failure. Fortunately, this is time travel, so players can zip back to try again. The included tray insert is nicely designed to “save” the game if players need to stop at any time and pick it up again later.
An interesting aspect of the game is the usage of “state tokens,” tokens that are rewarded to you that will “unlock” indicated cards later. This makes the game seem more intelligent and reactive by keeping track of what you have done and helping to keep the story fluid.
T.I.M.E. Stories is a fantastic experience for those who have played cooperative games like Arkham Horror or Pandemic, and are looking for an immersive storytelling experience or just something different. The art and the story are top-notch. There were jaw-dropping moments in the game. However, T.I.M.E. Stories isn’t for everyone. Some may not like the idea of a game that is essentially finished after 4 hours of play. The story elements of “Asylum” rely on horror-occult themes and are not family-friendly. Space Cowboys will be releasing at least four more adventure decks taking time agents all over history. I highly recommend it and can’t wait to play more!