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Subject: 5 out of 10. An unfocused amalgamation of two games in one. rss

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Ian K
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I first came across Chrononauts on a long-forgotten website and after I read the synopsis I made a note of the name and took the scrap of paper down to my local gaming shop. They’d never heard of it. So I went back to the internet, found the website again, made a note of the makers of the game, went back to my local gaming shop and they ordered it for me.
I’d like to say that it was worth it and, given that it wasn’t exactly a major challenge to get hold of a copy, it probably was. But it wouldn’t, unfortunately, have been worth much more effort …

Synopsis
To set the game up you deal out a grid of 8 cards by 4 cards, where each card represents an event in American history from 1865 to 1999. The players take the role of Time Travellers who each have two different secret agenda to rewrite this time line to suit themselves or, should that fail, to collect three artefacts from history to add to their collection. The first player to fulfil either of their secret agenda, wins.

Gameplay
The game is made by Looney Labs who are more famous for their game Fluxx and anyone who has played that game will notice strong similarities with half of this game. To pursue the Artefacts very much feels like a game of Fluxx-Lite; you play the cards out in front of you, they can be stolen, traded, discarded, etc., and when you have three that match your private goal, you win. The other half of the game involves the manipulation of the time line and there is so little cross-over between these two paths to victory that the game often feels like two different games put together.
No matter how well you are doing in one half of the game, you can lose in heart beat to someone who is doing better in the other half. This will appeal to some as it makes it very hard for one player to dominate the game in repeated plays as it really does come down to luck. However that same factor of luck will also be what puts others off.
In a game like Fluxx which is fast flowing and anyone can win in less than ten seconds no matter their previous position of strength, luck is not a criticism of the game – it is essential to it. However Chrononauts’s path to victory is a lot more rigid and if one of the cards you need to win ends up in the discard pile then you have to switch your focus on your other possible way to win until the deck cycles through again. And if a card from each of your possible victory paths ends up in the discard, well you either have a long wait on your hands or have to hope you pick up a card that lets you get something out of the discard pile. If you don’t pick up such a card, you won’t win. The game really does come down to such simple out-of-your-control matters as that.
There is very little skill to this game, you simply stop your opponents from accumulating three related artefacts or from controlling the timeline too much. Once all players are on top of that, the question of who wins simply comes down to luck.

Presentation
There is a little artwork on the Artefact cards buy beyond that there’s just text and icons. None of it gets in the way of the gameplay and as far as I’m concerned that’s all that matters. But it’s not the best looking game around.

Summary
Chrononauts is two games in one, both of which come down to luck. I can’t help but feel that if one side of the game had been discarded and more focus put on the other half, we could have had a good game of strategy and possibly some skill. Instead, we have two games of luck and every game comes down to random chance.

5 out of 10. An unfocused amalgamation of two games in one, a better game could have been created if the designers had allowed the time-line-manipulation half to stand on its own.




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: The front page for this game here on BGG states that you need a strong cultural knowledge of US history to play this game. I STRONGLY disagree with that. All the information you need is presented on the cards; nothing is left to player’s outside knowledge.
Note 3: This is a review of the 2000 edition of the game as that’s the only one I have. If the game has changed substantially in subsequent editions then I look forward to having others tell me where and how I am wrong.

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Justin Jeffers
United States
Santa Rosa
California
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I really like the idea of the timeline and the way it changes according to certain events, but trying to patch the timeline is very difficult because you have to get exactly the right patch.

Ideally you would want to work at victory from two sides: getting the objects you need and changing time to your home conditions. In reality the second objective is almost impossible.

I agree that overall it is a weak game, in dire need of some sort of upgrade or expansion or something to give a player a little more control over their ability to patch the timeline.
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Gabriel Manasan
Philippines
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IMO having to manage three separate paths to victory (the third being the 10 card win) is in fact the skill part of the game. Knowing when to keep a balanced position vs when to go all-out for your most likely victory condition is the most interesting decision in Chrononauts.

Even so, I agree that there is a lot of luck involved in the game as printed. I simply disagree that streamlining it would improve its standing as a strategy game.
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Andrew Holt
United States
Shoreline
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You may prefer their more recent Back to the Future game. It has similar mechanics, but the artifacts have much more tangible in-game effects, and the Patch cards are done away with (simply flip a Linchpin, and the Ripples all come into effect). Also, the "endgame" condition is not necessarily instantaneous; the person in the lead will likely have to perform it a few times - thus letting everyone else know the end is near!

The downside to it: A game of Chrononauts is enhanced by an understanding of American history, but its context is still understandable without. However, the Back to the Future card game is only really enhanced by strong knowledge of the three movies. Without that, context goes completely out the window. Perhaps not a bad downside as it is a series worth watching, but something to be aware of.
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Adam Jones
United States
Fort Wayne
Indiana
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I just played my first solo game of Chrononauts, and I guess I had a different experience/impression. In the solo game, only alternate events and Inverters are used, so there's messing with items and missions.

To me, this makes all the difference. Without items, artifacts, and gadgets to find/manage, you can focus purely on altering the events to rescue the different players.

From what I've read here, it seems as if Chrononauts would almost be better if it was meant to be a purely solitaire game, or a cooperative game. I don't think this makes it broken or useless though, because it still plays very well solo.
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Daniel Blumentritt
United States
Austin
Texas
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The game is no more luck-driven than the average light-faire card game.

If you are merely hoping for the right patch cards, then you aren't playing optimally (which might be ok, it's a game you can have fun at without being too serious).

I agree that more crossover between the artifacts and the timeline would have been nice - but there are multiple important ways they interact.
 
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