Time Stories is a cooperative story-driven, choose your own adventure puzzle game for 2-4 players. In the game, players assume the role of time agents trained to go into the past to fix temporal anomalies. Time Stories is a disposable game. When you buy Time Stories, you are buying a game system that comes with one module. The publisher releases modules of different scenarios and stories for future playthroughs. As of now, Space Cowboys have released ___ expansions with three more scheduled to release this year. This is much like the Downloadable Content (DLC) model that many video and PC games have moved to. In each scenario, players are sent back to a different era of the world and immersed into a unique environment through ‘human receptacles.’ Sounds odd, but the time agents do not actually go back in time, their minds go back in time to take over these receptacles and control them through the time run. Each module has about 3-4 hours of gameplay total before players succeed in the mission or fail.
After all of the initial buzz of Time Stories, I decided I needed to experience this ‘revolutionary’ game for myself. When a friend from one of my game groups asked if anyone was interested, I jumped on the opportunity. Besides the total immersion into the game world I was hearing about, I was also intrigued at the business model. Disposable board games are almost unheard of and many gamers were frustrated when it was announced and still are frustrated. As an ex-computer gamer, theDLC model seems perfectly fine. I realize that if I wanted to play a role playing game on the PC again that I have already beaten, it would lose some of it’s punch with the story and puzzles, unless new quests/missions were released through DLC. With four players, the split cost of the game and one of the expansions was not too expensive. Now, did the experience live up to the hype?
As a disclaimer, I only played through two modules: Asylum, which came with the base game, andThe Marcy Case, the first expansion released. I will comment briefly in this review on each module specifically, without spoilers of course!
So let’s first talk about the modules and the immersive story that came with each. The original module, Asylum, places the players in that stereotypical creepy asylum… which I had immediate problems with. This theme plays on the stereotype of mental heath institutions as a place of horrors. And it reminded me a lot of Arkham Asylum which I am very critical about in the DC Universe. Most of the beginning of the game is talking with patients, nurse, and doctors in the institution but quickly evolves into something greater. Because of the thematic choice, I was not all that immersed in this story, I could not role play to my fullest potential, and since mechanically, I do not think Time Stories is particularly strong (see below), I ultimately did not enjoy the playthroughs.
The second module, The Marcy Case, had a completely different feeling. I was actually impressed with the same game system, how different this thematic play experience was for us. This scenario was much more action oriented and allowed me to get into the gameplay a little more than the first module. Also, since we already had experience with the rules, we were not hindered as much by looking at the rulebook, pulling ourselves out of the theme in the process. I wish I could say more about The Marcy Case, but I do want to protect against spoilers: once you know the stories, playing the game would seem a bit moot. There is also an overarching story about the time travelers themselves and after two modules, I feel no connection to that story.
Let’s move onto game mechanics. As I said in the opening paragraph of my review, Time Stories is a choose your own adventure game with puzzles in it. The mechanics are relatively simple: Players embark on a run, which lasts a certain amount of time. As a group, players enter a location and can choose to go to different areas within that location. Only they can read the card associated with that location, but can tell others what they saw or what is happening. If need be, they players resolve any checks for different situations (fighting, dexterity, etc.). Investigating these different areas cost time and switching locations also cost time. When the group runs out of time during a round, they reset the scenario and start again… however, this time the group has knowledge to build off of.
When I initially heard the concept, I was pretty excited. But upon playing the two modules, I was utterly disappointed. There is no game here. Time Stories is unfortunately a glorified choose your own adventure book. Even with the choices of where to go and what to explore, I really did not feel like I had meaningful choices. And all of the dice checks… I thought the different runs would make the game very interesting in building off our knowledge. I found it tedious, The beginning of the second run was fine, but anything after that got pretty boring. By our third run, I was done with the module. This in part has to do with the locations and how they physically work. Players must lay out the cards of each location when entering it and if a group in on their second or third round, they might be visiting a location just for a single thing… which makes finding the location cards and laying them out extremely frustrating. I think this could have been done better with the integration of a phone/tablet app.
To be completely fair, I thought the puzzle in the first module was really clever and when we figured it out was the best moment of our sessions. If the game was more puzzle-y and more strategic, I would have definitely enjoyed it more. As of now, our group has stopped investing in the different modules and I do not think I will play any more Time Stories. It was not for me, but maybe it will be for you?
Final Rating: 2/5