W. Eric Martin
What's that, you say? We're previewing Spiel 2013 already? Aren't we still a handful of hours away from Spiel 2012 opening to the public?
Well, sure – but it's never too early to get a jump on what's coming in the year ahead, especially if that's, y'know, your job. So for those who find all the talk about Spiel 2012 releases old hat, here's an advance look at a title that should see release in 2013 from French designer Manuel Rozoy and Swiss publisher GameWorks. The game's tentative title is Time Stories, and it's a quasi-role-playing game with a Eurogame feel, a puzzle-solving aspect, and a choose-your-own-adventure heart – at least in one game scenario.
The gist of the game is that you and your fellow players are agents at a time-management bureau of some sort, not because you're teaching business executives how to better manage their time at the office, but because you're managing the flow of time itself. You need to spot potential rifts, whether accidental or caused purposefully, and keep time flowing as it should.
In the scenario I played with three others, we were sent back to a psychiatric hospital, with us inhabiting the shells of people alive during that time, which gave us particular strengths and weaknesses. In one playing I was a paranoic and become stressed when I rolled neutral results on my attempted attacks, with me lashing out at my teammates whenever my stress level rose high enough. (I was a fine fighter, but a fragile one.) Another player suffered a depressive loneliness and performed worse when visiting a location on her own, while receiving a bonus when all players shared an area.
In the game, you visit locations, with one or more characters going to possible locations, in order to learn information or put tools to use or explore a new area. Sometimes you find new objects, sometimes you encounter characters or things, sometimes you discover a region of the world previously unknown, and sometimes things are just weird. Players move as a group from one location to the next, but while in a location, you're free to explore particular areas based on what skills you think might come in handy.
Everything you do, though – entering a new location, moving within the location, using certain tools, attempting to take some physical action – takes time, and if you run out of time, your team pops out of their shells and returns to the present day. (In other words, you lose. You can also lose if you all die, as death sends you back to the present day.) The cool thing about the game is that you really feel like a time traveler in the sense that you can play again immediately (which we did twice for a total of three games), returning to the exact same starting point, while also remembering all the information that you discovered previously. It's a board game version of Groundhog Day or 12 Monkeys – i.e., time travel done right, with you carrying over information and reacting to what you already know while everyone else is repeating the same things they did previously (because, of course, they're not repeating these same things from their perspective but rather doing the thing they're supposed to do at that time). When you return to a world, you can explore new paths, revisit familiar locations to see what you missed previously, and (ideally) do things faster and more efficiently because you know which paths might prove fruitless.
As you might expect, the game system is tailor-made for expansions as all you need for a new scenario is a new set of location and character cards and rules for anything else that changes in the game. (Well, that and an incredible amount of playtesting time.) Bam! We're in the U.S. Wild West ensuring the transcontinental railway gets finished. Bam! We're aiding Magellan on his circumnavigation of the globe. Bam! We're in 2012 and are strong-arming Eric to focus on the games actually available at Spiel. Okay, this last one might not represent a development that threatens the world with temporal rifts, but you never know. Guess I'll focus on developments at Spiel 2012 in the next few posts in order to keep the universe functioning smoothly. You'll thank me some day!