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Subject: A game that bends time rss

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peter jackson
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A perpetual trope in TV and movies is the concept of going back in time and changing a few key elements to radically alter the present. The whole Terminator series is based on this premise, for example. The "Temporal Cold War" in the Star Trek: Enterprise series played with this concept, as well. It's a common theme in Sci Fi, and it's easy for us to imagine.

Yet somehow, it seems impossible to represent as a game.

For the last few months, I've been running in circles trying to figure out how to accomplish this elegantly in a game design. I've gone through some wildly different approaches and themes, and nothing has stuck.

Has anyone else successfully explored this concept? Are there games out there that have already done this?

Below, I'll post some of the ideas I've considered (and abandoned). I would love to hear feedback.
 
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Paul DeStefano
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Pretty sure this is the whole concept behind the Chrononauts series and all of the offshoots.
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Bill Eldard
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Khronos

Here's a review . . .

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/260914/time-travelling-has-n...
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Craig C
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A thought I had was a card-based timeline, with each card showing a piece of the overall narrative, or a single action, and players could time travel an slip cards into various spots in the timeline and changing the end story in their favor.

Perhaps a card might say "I went to the bank and" followed by "withdraw a million dollars", but a player could slip in a card with "decided not to" on it in between those two, thus altering the story/gameplay.

Just a thought.
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Brad Johnson
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I will just say that if you can come up with anything that is even close to the mark, I will buy it instantly!

I'm a huge time travel fan and I've made it a bit of a sub-hobby to collect time travel games. In my opinion, there has not been one that is truly successful at capturing the essential concepts of traditional SF time travel *and* remained fun and playable.

Most, like Time Pirates or even Time War really gloss over the time travel-y stuff too much. For it to be *real* time travel, I need to see the paradoxes and changing history really play out.

Time Agent might be the best attempt out there, but I thought the complexity and fiddliness was so high that it really hurt playability too much.

Khronos was an interesting attempt to Euro-ize the time travel concept and make it more playable, but I just thought it didn't work quite right and wasn't really very fun to play at all.

Then there's something like Time Control, which may have had the SF time travel concept most clearly in mind as a central design element, but it was a horribly, horribly broken fiasco of a game.

What I want is something that might be akin to Chrononauts, but more open-ended and less constrained. But I want that view of time as a tapestry of events that you can travel between and alter, ideally with meaningful, thematic ramifications from the changes that are made. The main problem to be overcome, which can be observed in Chrononauts, is that if you can always go back and change back something that was changed, the game may be a never-ending, chaotic mess.
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Chrononauts and (I understand--haven't played it) Back to the Future: The Card Game arrange (32??) cards in a time sequence. The cards are flipped between the normal timeline and an alternate timeline (say "Hitler rises to power" vs. "Hitler loses the election for Chancellor"). When a key event event is flipped, it causes other events to flip.

Note that this is patented, one of the few patented game mechanisms around.

One of the ways to win is that each player has a goal card describing his home timeline. He wins by getting the cards flipped to that time line.

IANAL, but while flipping cards between timelines seems obvious once you hear about it, not so much until you hear about it; the key event causing other events to flip, also not so much. Unlike WotC's turn a card to tap it patent, I think this is an enforceable, correctly granted patent (which I think runs out around 2020--in this timeline).


In my opinion, the Back to the Future series of movies does the best job of handling time travel. It's complex and immediate enough to be interesting, but easy to understand. The time travel in Terminator was more of a back drop, as was the TCW in Enterprise, which was widely loathed. The usual one ep Star Trek time travel is sometimes amusing, but usually lame. Babylon 5 had a little time travel in its story as an important plot point, but the story was about the plot point, not time travel.


My only suggestion for development is, start with the timelines you want to represent, then let them "tell you" what the mechanics have to be.
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peter jackson
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THE FOUNDERS

Concept: players build little city-state empires on a map--twice. Each time, they have the option to influence the next timeline.

Setup: at the start of the game, create a stack of 5 Event Cards: this is the Timeline. Event Cards have a universal Event, like a famine, earthquake, disease, war, population boom, invention, etc. Each card also allows a building or moving action. Players receive pieces for their city-state, and 1 Event Card.

Gameplay: turn over the Timeline stack so the cards are face-up. Resolve the top Event, allowing players to perform whatever action is allowed. Once the top Event card has been fully resolved and all actions have been performed, flip it over (face-down) next to the Timeline stack--this begins the New Timeline. Players now have the option to add their card to the New Timeline by placing it (face-down) on top of the just-completed Event card; once everyone has had a chance, resolve the next Event card. Repeat until you exhaust the original 5 Event cards. If anyone is still holding an Event card, they may keep it for the next round. Score the board, and then repeat the process with the new timeline created by the original 5 cards and the cards added in by each player. Each round, players get a new Event card to add to the timeline. Play 3 or 4 rounds, scoring each time. The player whose score increases the most between rounds is the winner (so if I increase by 1 point between rounds 1 and 2, stay the same between 2 and 3, and increase by 5 between rounds 3 and 4, then I scored 6 points).

Weaknesses: complex mechanic, likely difficult to teach, and I haven't developed the city-state gameplay yet. Devil's in the details, too--it will be hard to craft unique Events that impact individual players' scores. New players will probably spend a lot of time considering whether to add their card to the timeline.
 
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peter jackson
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Sorry, there was a lot of activity in this thread while I typed out the concept for Founders, so it looks like a random post. I hope to air out a few of my other concepts in this thread, and would enjoy feedback!

Thanks for the responses so far--definitely going to check out the games you guys noted.
 
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peter jackson
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Untitled Abstract Time-Influenced Area Control (UATIAC)

Concept: this is a board game where the goal is to achieve hidden objectives for area control or diversity.

Setup: The board is divided into two distinct areas: a timeline, with 8 Era boxes (numbered 1-8), and a map with 10 regions. There are 10 pieces each in 6 colors. The first Era has 1 piece of each color in it; the remaining pieces are all set aside. Each player receives two objective cards, which are hidden from the rest of the group.

Gameplay: On your turn, you may either (1) take a piece from the "Current" Era and add it to any region, or (2) add a piece from the set-aside pile to an "future" Era. The "Current" Era is the earliest (lowest number) era with any pieces in it. The "Future" Eras are all those with higher numbers than the current era. If you complete one of your objectives before the end of the game, reveal the objective and draw an additional card (so that you always have 2 hidden objectives active at once).

Weaknesses: Crappy scoring system will lead to ties 90% of the time. Also, I like theme. I like theme. I like theme. I like theme.
 
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peter jackson
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Eldard wrote:


This looks really interesting...and really involved. Have you played it?
 
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Brad Johnson
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Re: The Founders....

An interesting concept to essentially play through the same "time sequence" multiple times with additions/modifications each time. I don't think the basic mechanics sound that complex or difficult to teach.

However, a couple of concerns:

First, from the way you describe it, it sounds like you run through the time sequence multiple times, continuing to grow your city-state throughout. Thematically, I don't understand what's really happening to allow a city-state to keep growing even though time keeps "resetting". Or does the city-state reset back to how it was at the beginning every iteration as well? I guess you could hand-wave at it somehow so it made some thematic sense. Sort of like Groundhog Day on a larger scale, or something?

Second, it sounds like the event stack just gets added to every cycle, so after a couple of cycles, it's going to start getting quite large. Each iteration will be longer than the last, which means you probably can't play more than a few iterations at most before the game gets too long/tedious/repetitive. Is that an issue?

Finally, I would say that this concept, while interesting, doesn't really feel much like my idea of "classic SF time travel". It might make a cool game, but I'm not sure I would call it "time travel", mostly because it seems to be missing the "travel" part. (To be fair, I guess you called it "time bending", not "time travel", so maybe I was just hoping for something that you didn't have in mind at all!)
 
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Brad Johnson
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woooooober wrote:
Eldard wrote:


This looks really interesting...and really involved. Have you played it?


I played this, once, quite a while ago, the year it came out. Of the people at the table, I was probably the most interested in it because of the theme, so I was tolerant, but frankly, I did not enjoy the experience at all. The other people at the table *hated* the game, and they all ridiculed me when I bought a copy anyway (just because I had to have it for my collection.)
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peter jackson
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tempus42 wrote:
it sounds like you run through the time sequence multiple times, continuing to grow your city-state throughout


Well, the idea was to reset the board each time--a la Groundhog Day, like you mentioned. A noted weakness is...well...I haven't designed this part.

tempus42 wrote:
the event stack just gets added to every cycle, so after a couple of cycles, it's going to start getting quite large


I share your concern here. My hope is that you could get through 4 rounds before it got too bad. With 4 people, you'd be adding at most 4 cards per cycle--so 5 events for the first round, then 9, 13, and 17 on the 4th round. Obviously this would suffer from a pretty bad case of extra people causing the game to be exponentially longer.

tempus42 wrote:
doesn't really feel much like my idea of "classic SF time travel"


No, you're right--the original idea in my head was, "it's like people are going back in time and swapping out different events, etc. etc., and you'd see each timeline be different..." but then it became...well, this. I suppose instead of adding a card, players could simply swap one out. But then I fear it would just become unpredictable chaos.

Hence, the idea is in the dustbin for now. Like you said, it might be a neat game, but it's not what I'm itching to design--and it would be a lot of work. So, to the scrap heap it goes.
 
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Brad Johnson
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FYI, have you seen these geeklists?

Games that include time travel - or the notion of time travel
Top 10 Time Travel Games
Time Travel: Do you need it?
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peter jackson
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Nope, I hadn't...thank you!
 
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Jared
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Legacy: Gears of Time

Rahdo's runthrough
 
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W Scott Grant
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Even though I have an abstract time-travel game in my arsenal, the only implementation I've seen on the market is the Back-to-the-Future game. I've only played it a few times, though. While interesting, and knowing the setting (i.e. having seen the movies enough times) helps quite a bit, the game itself is a bit clunky. It takes a lot of set up and repeated gameplay becomes predictable.

My time travel game is a domino-style game that 6-sided tiles (more coffin-shaped than hexagonal). The concept is that each player adds to the chain, but if circumstances require (the chain cannot loop to itself, off the table, or into any obstacles on the table), a player can "go back in time" and choose a different brach. When he does, all tiles beyond the go-back-in-time point are removed from the game.

One could argue the point that every historical simulation game is a time-travel game, but that's not really what you're looking for. What you're looking for is a simulation of the butterfly affect. You have a series of events that takes place, but as an action, a player can go back in time to change something, which would filter down to changes in the present.

Back to the Future does this, but each event (represented by cards) is binary - either A or B happened. Going back in time will cause several cards to flip, but you're still limited to 2 states for each card.

A true time-travel game should be more open-ended, following perhaps a binary tree where the time traveler causes a change, but each step beyond it should expand exponentially.

Perhaps a compromise is to have an events deck that can't be changed once it is initially set up (i.e. shuffled). These are events that players can't change - like natural disasters. As they are revealed, they are played on the board in order. As each is drawn, the players get actions and points are scored. If a player chooses to go back in time, these cards are returned to the deck so that their order is not corrupted.

The difficulty in this model is to determine what other things the players can do to gain points. If points are tracked by date (i.e. score tokens for each player on the board in the date segments), going back in time also erases points scored.

As I'm thinking about this, I'm wondering if I should just build this game and see where it goes! I've already designed two games this month, why not a third? cool
 
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steven riola

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stlm wrote:



This!

Legacy: Gears of Time.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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Time Traveler's Chess features the premise that you can create new pieces out of nothing (more or less) by claiming that they have traveled backwards in time from the future, but you are then obligated to eventually send a piece backwards to become that piece-from-the-future, and if you cannot then you lose. (Your opponent can win by preventing you, even if he's already lost his King.) I have not actually played it.
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Bill Eldard
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woooooober wrote:
Eldard wrote:


This looks really interesting...and really involved. Have you played it?


Yes. A couple of gamers and myself found it fun, but it didn't click with others in the group. I had even made some player aids to help them visualize the mechanics, but some had trouble grapsing it. You'll see some commenting on its page that "it's a brain buster." I don't agree, but it does requirement more thinking and planning that Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride.

The mechanics work logically, but they are not necessarily intuitive. After all, we're dealing with time-travel (forward and backward) and while most of us are familiar with the sci-fi concepts, it may be difficult for some to visualize it across three game boards; spatial visualization is important, and some folks have trouble with it. There is a cascading effect as changes in an earlier era naturally have to impact later eras.

Unlike a sci-fi author or screenwriter who can skip making all the connections as long as the audience buys into the concept, a game designer has to make sure that everything connects, and I think this game does that well.

As you can see by the BGGers commenting on the review, it is fun. It's certainly different.
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Julian Clarke
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A game that is not directly what you seek, but has some fascinating metaphysical possibilities is Around the World in 80 Days. It could easily have been re-themed for Dr Who or similar.

Why?

Because at any point in the physical game, players in the same locations are there at different times in the plot's timeline, & the detective, though he can only be in a single space at any time in the game, he could easily be/have been in multiple places simultaneously in game plot time.

Try the game & see if it has anything you can be inspired by.
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Scott Nelson
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Chrononauts definitely. Khronos for buildings built earlier in time affecting what was in the future.
The above post reminded me of Once Upon a Time where you take the story where you want it to go by interrupting the storyteller and leading the story elsewhere than it was heading.
I've played the prototype of Historian by Saltcon organizer/BGDG member Steve Poelzing which has time fluxes from what I recall.
 
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David Gibbs
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Eldard wrote:


This is THE game that came to my mind for what you are looking at, too. Changes in one time frame cascading-forward to affect others, etc.

I've played a game of it, liked it, and would happily play some more.
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Thomas Gutschmidt
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I've been playtesting a time-travel themed game for some time, and it is tricky to represent. I've had some success with a couple of mechanics:

-Having an "event" deck where the next 3 or 4 cards are laid out in order, and players can use actions to swap those 3 or 4 events around, changing the order in which they are going to be played. Sorta like Scrying in MTG.

-Players have a discard pile of their own actions, and they can play cards from this discard pile in reverse (travelling back in time).

-The player who is in "last place" or earliest in time is always the next person to go.

I also tried a linear timeline that you could only move forward on via suspended animation (trying to be somewhat true to physics) - didn't like the way that turned out.

There are a few games with time-travel as flavor/theme (Smash-up and Sentinels expansions come to mind) where I think its handled well.

 
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