Designers: Jon Perry and Derek Yu
Publisher: Quibble Games
Time: 30 minutes
Reviewed by Simon Neale
Review copy provided by Quibble Games
Time Barons is a two player game where each player is battling to kill off the Followers of their opponent, thereby securing their victory. This battle is played out during four ages of increasing technological advances and more destructive weaponry, which gives the game a rising tension feeling as it progresses.
Time Barons is a new game from designers Jon Perry and Derek Yu through their own publishing company, Quibble Games. The game is available in both the full and card only versions from The Game Crafter and this review is based on the full version of the game. Time Barons is one of the few games that I have played that has been manufactured by The Game Crafter and I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the components. The 54 card deck includes 2 reference cards and whilst it is not the smoothest card stock it is perfectly playable. The other components are 40 glass bead Follower markers, 20 red cubes which act as Damage Counters, 2 four sided dice and the Rulebook. The Rulebook is well written with examples of specific aspects of playing the game and meant that I was playing the game within minutes of opening the box. The iconography on the cards clearly depicts the cost of playing the card and the text makes the action extremely clear. This means that you don't have to explain every card before starting the game as you can understand exactly how to play it and what effect it will have just by reading the card itself. It is is a very good sign when you don't need to refer back to the Rulebook after the first game, and players new to the game are able to pick it up quickly.
One of the types of cards is a “Site” card and these cards represent buildings, weapons etc. There is an icon on the card showing a “Site” symbol and the cost of building that Site along with a shield icon showing Site Integrity, the amount of damage that the Site can take before it is destroyed. At the start of the game each player is given a Homeland Site card which is placed face up in front of him and 10 Follower markers are placed on it. During the game other Site cards will be played down next to the Homeland card to form a tableau of cards.
The remaining cards are split into four decks split by the “Age” (Levels 1 to 4) of the card. Each of these Level decks are shuffled and placed faced down in stacks between the players. Each player then draws a hand of 5 cards from the Level 1 deck. The Damage Counters and remaining Follower Markers are placed within easy reach as supply. Each player takes a dice and rolls it, the highest roll becoming the start player. Each player then places his dice in front of him on side 1 to indicate that he has developed technology to Level 1.
Starting with the start player, each player then takes alternate turns until either one player has no Follower Markers left on his Sites in front of him (in which case he has lost the game) or all the Level 1, 2 and 3 decks are empty (in which case the player with the most followers wins, with ties decided by the highest technology level). On each turn a player has 3 actions which can be taken in any order and can be repeated. It is possible to increase the number of actions with the use of some cards.
The available actions are:
Draw a Card from a Level deck less than or equal to his technology level, as shown on the dice in front of him, and place it in his hand. This costs 1 action.
Gain a Follower by taking a Follower Marker from the supply and place it on any Site in front of him. This costs 1 action.
Relocate any number of Follower Markers from any number of Sites and redistribute them across any number of Sites. This costs 1 action.
Upgrade his technology level by setting his dice to the next Level. This costs the number of actions equal to the new technology level, e.g. to upgrade from Level 2 to 3 will cost 3 actions.
Play a Card from his hand. Each card has a cost on the top right of the card and this is the number of actions it will cost to play that card. The cards are split into four different types: Site, Attachment, Event and Reaction.
Site cards are played face up into the tableau in front of the player. The text on the card will state the ability of that card. Some cards may just add followers when, whilst others may require certain conditions to be met before they can be activated. Each card that can be activated may do so once per turn and may require actions to be spent as part of that activation. For example the Catapult Site card requires 3 Follower Markers to be present on the card and then at the cost of 1 action the player can do 1 damage to a Site of his opponent. Doing 1 damage to a Site will kill one Follower on that site (the Follower Marker is moved to the supply) and 1 Damage Counter is placed on the Site. When the number of Damage Counters reaches the Site’s Integrity value then the Site is destroyed (the card is put in the discard pile) and any remaining Followers killed.
Attachment cards are “attached” to a Site card and will have a positive or negative effect on that Site, so the player will play them on his own Sites or those of his opponent. Again the card text explains the effect of the attachment, for example the Plague card will kill a Follower on the attached Site at the start of the Site owners turn until there are no Followers left on that Site, when the Plague card is discarded.
Event cards are one shot immediate effect cards, such as Air Strike where the player does 2 damage to his opponents Level 1 sites and 1 damage to his Level 2 sites. The cost to play event cards varies.
Reaction cards do not cost any actions to play and are played on an opponents turn as a reaction for something that the opponent has done. An example is the Misinformation card which moves damage dealt to one Site to another Site.
The short, rapid fire style turns fit the theme perfectly and bring the gem of Time Barons to a conclusion after about 25 minutes.
There is a lot to think about when playing Time Barons: you need to balance replacing killed Followers with maximising Site activation to generate more actions per turn; whilst increasing your technology Level to bring the more powerful weapons to bear; whilst at the same time keeping a close eye on your opponent so that you can defend against his strategies. There is a lot of variety in the card effects and as you become familiar with the cards then you can seek to build up powerful combinations. The more I have played this game the more I have enjoyed it and there are a lot of decisions and questions you need to manage during the game. Do you spread your Followers out to avoid a weapon of mass destruction? Do you build them up on Sites to activate that ability? Can you afford to “sacrifice” your own Followers in order to gain actions? Can you allow your opponent to get a higher technology level than you have?
The game progresses swiftly with escalating violence carried out on Sites and Followers as the technology increases from minor 1 damage attacks to complete Site destruction and Follower abduction. It is this progression and heightening of tension that takes Time Barons out of the plethora of “ordinary” games and puts it into a league of its own. Most games build as the game develops with more actions/abilities becoming available but very few of them deliver this level of escalation in such a short filler length game and it is a credit to Jon Perry and Derek Yu for their design. I hope to see Time Barons become successful in the mass boardgame market and drive some expansions with new cards giving different ways of sending your opponent’s Followers into oblivion.
In summary, this is a fantastic game which both myself and my game group are thoroughly enjoying. With all the games that are published each year it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the hidden gems, but Time Barons is definitely one of them and it will be staying in my collection as one of my favourites. So if you fancy a fast paced, two player battle game with strategic depth that completes in 30 minutes then you need to look no further than Time Barons.
My BoardGameGeek rating: 9.2/10
Review Date: April 2014.
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Great review Simon, cannot wait to get this will have to hope it gets published or becomes easier available here.