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Subject: 5 out of 10. One design choice ruins an otherwise good game. rss

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Ian K
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I recently came back to reviewing games for BGG after almost 18 months away. I walked away for a time because I was fed up of being attacked whenever I posted a negative review of a popular game. This is my third review since returning and in the response for my second review I was attacked by someone who, it turns out, didn't actually read the whole review. It would appear that some people just can't accept that other people have different opinions from them – and that's all a review is, an opinion.

But I refuse to only post positive reviews; what's the point? I want to express my opinions on all games, even the ones I don't like.
So strap in because, yes, this is going to be a negative review of a popular game …


Synopsis
You are Time Agents, sent backwards in time to deal with temporal faults and safeguard the time line. All being well, the time line is secured and you can return home. But should you fail in your mission, you can always try again. You are, after all, time travelers!

Gameplay
The game is played solely through the use of Scenarios; dedicated decks that tell a complete story of an attempt to fix a fault in time. Only one Scenario is included in the base game and each expansion pack again only contains one Scenario. This is immediately a negative point as far as I am concerned. It's impossible to decide on a game like this based on just one Scenario and both the base game and each expansion are expensive.

But once you've picked your Scenario, you read the first few cards which act like a pseudo-GM in that they adopt the role of your superior at the T.I.M.E. Agency and give you a brief overview of what you need to do in this scenario and any scenario-specific rules. Once this is out the way, the game proper starts which mostly involves you moving from location to location and discovering new, and hopefully interesting, things.

A location is represented by a “panorama” of cards creating a picture of the location. You pick which part of the location you want to investigate and flip it over to see what's on the back. While you're doing this, the other agents (players) may either be joining you in investigating that card or will be examining another part of the location. Eventually, the team will want to move to another location and the location you are on is put away and the cards for the next location are displayed.

Along the way you will find items, some beneficial some not, and encounter various people of the time who may or may not be helpful.
The problem, though, is that this all takes game time. It's one minute to flip a card to read the back, another minute to move to another card within the location, another minute to flip the next card, and so on. Each Scenario has a certain time limit and if you fail to to complete the mission in the required time, you lose and start again.

And this, for me, is where the game screws up royally.

The first Scenario gives you a time limit of 30 minutes. It has been calculated that a perfect run at the scenario (and that includes winning all fights on the first try, getting perfect dice rolls for the time spent while moving, etc.) takes 29 minutes. So chances are, you are going to fail it. The game then tells you off and everything resets. You then are allowed another 30 minutes. But unless you get that perfect run, you're going to fail again. Finally, on the third attempt, the game says “oh alright, go over 30 minutes but you'll be penalised for every minute you go over”.

So without a perfect run, you have to do everything three times (the game resets if you fail to complete it in 30 minutes) and then you get told off for something which you had no control over anyway.

What's the point in that??

Why doesn't the game just remove the first two runs and allow the players time to explore without putting the time limit on them?
The second Scenario is not much better. I haven't bothered trying any of the others.

The game pretty much forces you to fail and then criticises you for failing. It then does the same thing again. My friends and I all found this to be a massive waste of our time.

If we had just been given the freedom to explore right from the start with no time limit and then scored badly because of the amount of time we took, that's one thing. But forcing the players to repeat again and again through no fault of their own is not fun.

Which is a shame, because inside this game there is some good stuff struggling to get out. The mechanics allow for a lot of variability between scenarios and there are lots of things to see and do in each, too. But with the unnecessary time limits, you won't be able to see everything so it's all a bit of a waste.


Presentation
The rulebook is well presented and the cards work fine. There's a large section of the board which isn't used in the first Scenario which can be a bit disconcerting (Are you doing something wrong? If not why is there such a big empty patch of board?) but nothing major.


Summary
The time limits applied to each scenario are completely unnecessary and utterly destroy what could have been an otherwise decent, immersive game.


5 out of 10.




Edit: Clarification:
As pointed out by Shannon T on page 3 of this thread, the "minutes" I refer to in this review are not real life minutes. There's no clock sitting by the game counting down. Instead they are "game minutes" (actually referred to as Temporal Units in the game). You can spend as long or as short a real life time as you like spending each one!


Note 1: I have learned from bitter experience with this site that I need to stress that all reviews – including this one – are entirely matters of opinion. I am not claiming that anything I have said in this review is fact, it is all entirely my opinion and I am sure that many others have different opinions. If you wish to reply with yours, I welcome it. I enjoy discussion but will not respond kindly to aggressive replies.

Note 2: Yes, you can introduce house rules to get rid of the time limits but I am reviewing the game as it comes out of the box. I think to do otherwise would be unfair.

Note 3: I've only played the Scenario in the base game and the first commercially released one. Maybe the other Scenarios completely change things but then again, maybe not. I have no idea!
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Dustin Crenshaw
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The whole theme of the game is time travel groundhog day style. And things have to reset to figure them out correctly.
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Curt Frantz
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Without the time limitations, I fail to see how it would BE a game.
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David B
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Not sure if reference to another experience in another review was necessary. You also have a very low threshold for the word "attack". Reviewers need To keep a thick skin.

That said, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this "game". I too felt the time mechanism is horribly done and the reset became an annoying chore; the third run through the asylum scenario was beyond dull and convinced me to run away if I ever see this game on a table again. My only disagreement with your review is that I think 5 out of 10 is way too generous.

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David B
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tribefan07 wrote:
Without the time limitations, I fail to see how it would BE a game.


At least without the time mechanism my one play of this would have been perhaps 90 minutes instead of over three hours. Perhaps I would not have hated it as much as I do. But if the time mechanism is the only thing making this a game, that certainly does not say much for it. And as the review said, the only thing it really does is make succeeding on the first run nearly impossible. IMO, those odds don't really make it a game anyway, unless of course your name is Jigsaw.
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Dan Conley
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Hey, Ian! Thanks for a good and a fair review. I keep thinking of picking this up, but I haven't done it. Hoping to score a used base game on the cheap sometime.

As an older person here on the site, I'd appreciate it if you could put a bit of space between the paragraphs in your reviews. Easier on the eyes.

I really appreciate your thoughts on the game.
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You can't handle the truth?
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I was going to write a negative review of this game, but after I started with "It's shit", I just didn't have anywhere to go, as it summed up the game too perfectly.
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Martin Larouche
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I've had the same experience with Time Stories as the reviewer.

The design of the game is very solid. However, it seems like the time limits and repeats are just a way the designer found to put a score at the end. As if they had a cool idea for a game (and it IS cool), but they didn't know how to put a difficulty level on it.

After all, since the game cannot be replayed, you can't let players NOT play through it all by having them fail. But how can you make a game where the players ultimately always win yet keep at least a level of challenge?

Ultimately, i think Mansions of Madness 2, which in essence is a very similar game to Time Stories (light combat, skill tests with cumulative successes, puzzles to solve, exploration mixed with narative, time limit, no idea what the objective is before playing, etc. All common in both games), did it better. By making each repeat plays slightly different every game, it makes repeat plays less tedious.
Though in both games, the second play throughs are less interesting than the first time through.
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David B
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yosemite wrote:

As an older person here on the site, I'd appreciate it if you could put a bit of space between the paragraphs in your reviews. Easier on the eyes.



I know I have heard this somewhere before. I just can't put my finger on where.
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Stephen Sanders
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Stenun wrote:
Summary
The time limits applied to each scenario are completely unnecessary and utterly destroy what could have been an otherwise decent, immersive game.

5 out of 10.


Excellent, succinct summary. My anectodal experiences playing with my sons is that they liked the game experience, but hated the complete reset, instead of being able to "respawn" at some point as they are used to in their video games. Admittedly, they are not used to the need to use detective abilities while opening new rooms, and missed clues because of this. So this did not promote interest in further game plays, making this a one time gaming experience. After our 3 attempts at finishing the first scenario, they did not have much interest at coming back for the second.
 
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Curt Frantz
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pfctsqr wrote:
tribefan07 wrote:
Without the time limitations, I fail to see how it would BE a game.


At least without the time mechanism my one play of this would have been perhaps 90 minutes instead of over three hours. Perhaps I would not have hated it as much as I do. But if the time mechanism is the only thing making this a game, that certainly does not say much for it. And as the review said, the only thing it really does is make succeeding on the first run nearly impossible. IMO, those odds don't really make it a game anyway, unless of course your name is Jigsaw.


I'm not saying it wouldn't be an enjoyable experience without the constraint of time, but it wouldn't be very competitive, would it? At least by racing against time, there's a sense of urgency and suspense (artificial as that may be). This game is more about the ride than the conclusion. And you're right, you'll almost never win on the first run. The game is definitely designed that way. Can you imaging the criticism this game would garner if each scenario only took 90 minutes?

Also, did you enjoy the movie Groundhog Day?

You said it yourself though, if it weren't for the time mechanism, "You might not have hated it as much as much as you do". That says to me the 'time' isn't the foundation of your criticism. You hate the game and don't want that extra 2 hours. I enjoy the mechanics and was happy to play it as it was designed, for an additional 2 hours. Our differences are more fundamental than the constraint of time units.
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Richard Sampson
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I find it interesting that people complain about groundhog day nature of the game since there are actually several paths through this scenario (and the others as well). Yes, if you try to brute force a single path, you are probably going to have a boring time, but why would you do that? I suspect the people who don't enjoy this game get too caught up in trying to finish before the reset and don't take the time to explore the world they are in. IF your only goal is to win, then yes the time is just a score mechanism and the game will be very boring.
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Freelance Police
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Pathfinder also has a time limit, but at least when you try the game again, there's some variety with the deck setup. With TIME, there's no such thing. As for branching, it's like a computer game with branches -- you still have to go over the repetitive stuff, and, if you're trying to win the game, you don't go down a new branch when you know how to solve this one.

However, since, when you win, you're not likely to play the scenario again anyway, there's no difference, at least experience-wise, between tossing out the timer, anyway. You're not going to play the scenario again in either case. Pretty much all tabletop roleplaying game adventures have no timer -- they're designed so that the players play the adventure once (assuming they live), and that's it.

As for time-travelling movies, I prefer 12 Monkeys. I think a time-travelling game where you *change the state of the scenario* each time you play would be a much more interesting game. I don't think it would be hard to design -- an example is that you pick up an object (card) in one room, and you drop it off in another.
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Bryan Gerding
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tribefan07 wrote:
Without the time limitations, I fail to see how it would BE a game.


Completely correct. Hell, I struggle to call it a game NOW even with that idiotic reset mechanism.
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Cali _Gozer
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HeirToPendragon wrote:
tribefan07 wrote:
Without the time limitations, I fail to see how it would BE a game.


Completely correct. Hell, I struggle to call it a game NOW even with that idiotic reset mechanism.


Yup, I did my fair share of research before purchasing this fully expecting not to necessarily play a game, but be immersed in an interactive story.
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Ian K
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SeerMagic wrote:
The whole theme of the game is time travel groundhog day style. And things have to reset to figure them out correctly.


In that case why do you lose all the information you acquire, too?

EVERYTHING resets, not just items.
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Ian K
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tribefan07 wrote:
Without the time limitations, I fail to see how it would BE a game.


I'm genuinely curious ... how does having to do everything 3 times make it a game if it wasn't already one before?
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Ian K
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yosemite wrote:
Hey, Ian! Thanks for a good and a fair review. I keep thinking of picking this up, but I haven't done it. Hoping to score a used base game on the cheap sometime.

As an older person here on the site, I'd appreciate it if you could put a bit of space between the paragraphs in your reviews. Easier on the eyes.

I really appreciate your thoughts on the game.


Done! I will try and keep this in mind for future reviews. :-)
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Ian K
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tribefan07 wrote:
pfctsqr wrote:
tribefan07 wrote:
Without the time limitations, I fail to see how it would BE a game.


At least without the time mechanism my one play of this would have been perhaps 90 minutes instead of over three hours. Perhaps I would not have hated it as much as I do. But if the time mechanism is the only thing making this a game, that certainly does not say much for it. And as the review said, the only thing it really does is make succeeding on the first run nearly impossible. IMO, those odds don't really make it a game anyway, unless of course your name is Jigsaw.


I'm not saying it wouldn't be an enjoyable experience without the constraint of time, but it wouldn't be very competitive, would it? At least by racing against time, there's a sense of urgency and suspense (artificial as that may be). This game is more about the ride than the conclusion. And you're right, you'll almost never win on the first run. The game is definitely designed that way. Can you imaging the criticism this game would garner if each scenario only took 90 minutes?

Also, did you enjoy the movie Groundhog Day?

You said it yourself though, if it weren't for the time mechanism, "You might not have hated it as much as much as you do". That says to me the 'time' isn't the foundation of your criticism. You hate the game and don't want that extra 2 hours. I enjoy the mechanics and was happy to play it as it was designed, for an additional 2 hours. Our differences are more fundamental than the constraint of time units.


Oh there are many different ways of making it competitive.

For instance, if it takes you 49 game minutes to complete a scenario, try and go back and do it in 48.

If the Mission Complete card even had the minimum amount of time a scenario took and told you to compare it to your own time from that run, that would immediately create a competitive angle.

Or even, how about simply having various things in each scenario worth so many points? e.g. 5 points for killing a monster without taking damage, 3 points for dancing with a lunatic, etc. Then you simply see if you can get more points in less time!
 
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Ian K
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ras2124 wrote:
I find it interesting that people complain about groundhog day nature of the game since there are actually several paths through this scenario (and the others as well). Yes, if you try to brute force a single path, you are probably going to have a boring time, but why would you do that? I suspect the people who don't enjoy this game get too caught up in trying to finish before the reset and don't take the time to explore the world they are in. IF your only goal is to win, then yes the time is just a score mechanism and the game will be very boring.


You take the "Brute Force" approach because you only have 30 minutes before everything resets!

I would much prefer to have the time to explore the world.

That's precisely my point!
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Dustin Crenshaw
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Stenun wrote:
SeerMagic wrote:
The whole theme of the game is time travel groundhog day style. And things have to reset to figure them out correctly.


In that case why do you lose all the information you acquire, too?

EVERYTHING resets, not just items.


You don't loose information you acquired.
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Ian K
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SeerMagic wrote:
Stenun wrote:
SeerMagic wrote:
The whole theme of the game is time travel groundhog day style. And things have to reset to figure them out correctly.


In that case why do you lose all the information you acquire, too?

EVERYTHING resets, not just items.


You don't loose information you acquired.


Yeah, you do.

The simplest example of what I mean is in the base scenario, most of the map piece items with new locations on don't have the Agency icon - and without the Agency icon they are reset.

Which means when you are having to repeat everything, you have the knowledge that the location is there but you can't just move there. You have to go through the tedium of getting the map piece again.

Why??
 
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Stenun wrote:
Which means when you are having to repeat everything, you have the knowledge that the location is there but you can't just move there. You have to go through the tedium of getting the map piece again.

Why??
You have the knowledge that the park is behind the closed and guarded doors, but still everything is like it was the first time. So how should that work? You remember that the door was opened at some time on your last run and due to that fact it is?
Everything which is only knowledge has the icon, but not if you need anything else like a key to open the door.
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Jared Voshall
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This is an issue that is definitely very near and dear to me, and one of the few things that I feel can honestly kill the game for myself and others. Quite simply, if the designers wanted to create a game that required multiple playthroughs to complete, or that had multiple paths to play through, or had a time limit to beat, there are many ways for them to have implemented it better.

If you insist the time limit is absolutely necessary to keep tension in the game, then it should be long enough to allow you to complete the game through the other paths, and key items should be placed so they are not on any of the potential paths.

If you insist that multiple play throughs are needed, then you can set up a game where each path leads to a different conclusion, with a final path opening up once each tchotchi is collected (so, with Asylum, it would be going through the catacombs, going through the tunnel, and talking your way out of the promenade, each giving you a piece you need to unlock the final puzzle). Put in a few red herring trails, and you don't have a need for a Time Limit to add interest to the game.

If you feel the need to have a Fail State in order for it to be a game, then the time limit is a rather ham-handed way of doing it. Look at some of the old Sierra Point and Click adventure games - you can create situations where things end poorly for the characters (for example, if you end up in the village, that could be an end state rather than a time waster).

The core element of the game is pretty brilliant, and great for creating the atmosphere of a point and click adventure game, but the TU limit really kills the game, and gets in the way of the story the game is trying to tell.

Besides, it doesn't have to be a 'game' per say to be a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass time.
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Martin Larouche
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Sam and Max wrote:

As for time-travelling movies, I prefer 12 Monkeys. I think a time-travelling game where you *change the state of the scenario* each time you play would be a much more interesting game. I don't think it would be hard to design -- an example is that you pick up an object (card) in one room, and you drop it off in another.


Already been done: Tragedy Looper. Awesome game.
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