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Spiel 2014 Preview – Time Stories

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Designer
From gallery of s.pauchon
What's that, you say? We're previewing Spiel 2014 already? Aren't we still a handful of hours away from Spiel 2013 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 2013 releases old hat, here's an advance look at a title that should see release in 2014 from French designer Manuel Rozoy and French publisher Space Cowboys. The game's 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 medieval fantasy setting, with us inhabiting the shells of people alive during that time, which gave us particular strengths and weaknesses. In one playing I was a mage of sorts and could contribute almost nothing to the group through my attempted attacks, with me therefore looking to help my teammates in other ways. (I was a fine herbologist, but it took a lot of searching to keep finding herbs for me to use.) Another player had a special talent in assassination, combined with a long range attack ability, that made him want to travel on his own, despite us sometimes receiving a bonus when all players shared an area.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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 for a total of two 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 2013 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 2013 in the next few posts in order to keep the universe functioning smoothly. You'll thank me some day!
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