T.I.M.E Stories is an immersive sci-fi horror game that will leave players puzzled and enthralled with the mysteries hidden beneath its cards.
We each held our breath, knowing this thing had the capability to take us out with a single riposte. Receptacle Mademoiselle Doume, the eldest and weakest of us all, raises her croquet mallet over her head.
The friend to my right plucks three dice, shakes them in his hand, and rolls them onto the tray. All four of us lean over to see three blue hit marks on one and four additional hits on the remaining two, adding up to seven points of damage. He’s not only defeated but obliterated the creature.
“Grandma death!” we cheer as he raises his first into the air and prepares for his best elderly woman impression to mimic the words on his character card.
“You’ll all croak before me!”
Despite being flatly laid out on the board in front of us, T.I.M.E Stories managed to immerse my group into the story’s universe for hours.
The premise itself is simple: become a temporal agent for the Tachyon Insertion in Major Events (T.I.M.E) Agency and prevent a temporal fault, or damaging alternate timeline, from occurring. Each scenario is played out fully in a different timeline and setting and offers a unique mystery to unfold. Players possess a receptacle; a character that already exists within the timeline and has individual attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. A team of up to four players must explore the timeline, search for clues, and battle in order to discover and prevent the temporal fault from occurring before time runs out.
There are multiple ways to fail and only one way to win.
The main concept is based in science fiction, but the first two scenarios have narratives that every horror fan should find familiar: a psychiatric hospital in 1920’s France (Asylum) or a US quarantined city set in 1992 where a mysterious illness has broken out (The Marcy Case).
Though it follows some traditional tropes, it does so without being predictable or campy.
It preserved the elements of these familiar archetypes to remind us why they’re popular in the first place and put a fresh twist on them to make the game engaging. The first game was enough to make our group drive out the next day to multiple stores to purchase each expansion pack we could get our hands on.
Unfortunately, there is little to no replay value once a mission is completed successfully. Players can rerun with different characters for a variety of experiences, but the main puzzles would already be resolved, and the mysteries uncovered. This paired with a $60 price point for the base game and roughly $20 for each expansion are the main detractors for people looking to purchase the game. But the hours spent on gameplay are well worth the price.
The publisher, Space Cowboys, even offers a design kit that creative types can use to make their own scenario after completing the first two canon games.
Even though T.I.M.E. Stories has a low replay value, the variety offered from one scenario to another is refreshing — down to the artists and writers chosen to create each game.
Every expansion has different assistant writers and artists, so if one isn’t your cup of tea the next offers a unique take for players to fall in love with.
My group only managed to get through two-and-a-half scenarios, but the artwork for both has been eerie, unsettling, and beautiful. Examining the artwork on each new card easily became one of the things I most looked forward to while playing and helps to fully immerse the player into the world of the game. Though stylistically different, we were impressed with the amount of detail that went into the illustrations.
Gameplay did take time to figure out even after carefully reading through the rulebook. It seemed as if the first scenario was created with the intention that the players would be fumbling around and figuring everything out, which worked both for and against their favor. There are a few theories which state certain rules are supposed to seem vague and in need of decoding as part of the game’s challenge. But this ended up pulling us out of the game and flocking to the Internet to figure out a mechanic as simple as calculating riposte damage.
There were a few instances where the creators’ vagueness resulted in a charming surprise, but those details shouldn’t be spoiled.
T.I.M.E Stories won the 2016 UK Game Expo Best General Game Award and has been nominated for ten additional awards as well. It is a game truly worthy of its accolades and is a necessity for anyone looking for a new RPG to play. It can be found at any tabletop game store or online at Walmart.com.