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Subject: There’s No Time Like The Past – A T.I.M.E. Stories Review rss

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T.I.M.E. Stories

MSRP: $49.99
Designer: Manuel Rozoy
Player Count: 2 – 4
Game Length: 60 – 90 minutes (as rated)
Version Reviewed: Base game Asylum campaign.

Note: All images were taken from the BGG T.I.M.E. Stories database. Some images below are from the first opening location (Day Room), and do not give any significant spoilers. However, if you wish for all story elements of TIME Stories to be a surprise, please do not continue reading.


If you’re considering TIME Stories, you’re obviously looking for a heavily thematic game. And let me be the first to tell you that you’re in the right place. If you haven’t read up on the game, in TIME Stories, you are a member of the “Tachyon Insertion in Major Events” Agency, where your job is to go back in time and prevent other time travelers from messing up the timeline. While the gameplay itself is somewhat abstract, you will ultimately find yourself immersed in this world due to the stunning quality of art.

Our first impression of TIME Stories comes from the box – a stark white contrast against many other boxes on your shelf. Together, the clean lines and cool blue/purple tones create a clean, almost surrealistic look that continues onto the gameboard. It really gives the feeling of that sterile and technologically efficient future a la Minority Report.

By contrast, the artwork of the Asylum itself is mostly in warmer yellow/brown tones that gives an older feel. Everything from the aged yellow tint of the card descriptions, to the padded wall motif of the backs of the location cards reflects the overall dreary and slightly disturbing feel of Asylum.

The characters (players and ones you encounter) are creepy and mildly unsettling. This is one part of the game that I absolutely loved. Most games advertised as “horror” don’t even come half as close to that feeling as the Asylum case did. I liked that each character had some sort of disorder (well, we are in an insane asylum) and that these disorders gave a unique advantage and disadvantage.

Throughout the game, you will find clues and interact with different characters, each with their own agenda. Over the course of my playthrough, I consistently felt like I wanted to know more and explore more, as I was constantly trying to make connections to the central investigation. To me, this is what makes a good storytelling game. The mystery aspect was so engaging that we played through the entire game in 2 sessions over the course of 24 hours.

The game does an amazing job of immersing you in the world of Asylum.

Component Quality

As seen above, the artwork is superb quality. The cards themselves are a bit of an unusual size, and may be difficult to find sleeves for (if that’s your thing). However, due to replayability issues (described below), this may not be an issue. The board good quality and reflects that same futuristic style as the box art.

The player pieces are quality wood blocks that have stickers matching player colors. While the stark white wooden pillar does go with the whole futuristic theme, I think I would’ve preferred character standees as Ikim did for their PnP version of the Marcy Case. This would’ve helped immersion, as the pillar feels a bit soulless for my taste. The one issue with this is the fact that players may switch characters between runs. During my case, we opted to stay with our characters regardless for deeper immersion, but there are times where it may be strategically efficient to do so.

Michele Esmanech
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Dystopian:the manhunt: a worker placement game of investigation, murder and mystery, set in the futuristic megapolis of DYSTOPIA

The bits themselves are thick and durable, and should last through repeated plays. Unexpectedly, the dice were actually wood. I thought this would be a problem, but after a while, I grew to like the feel. Do note that one of the dice is oversized, and will not work for many conventional dice towers.

The Insert looks nice and functions well for the most part. There are compartments at the top to help you functionally “save” your game by separating which cards/items belong to which players. Any health or status bits collected are placed next to the player marker on the right side of the insert. The problem comes from the fact that most of the spaces for the bits simply aren’t big enough. There’s also an area to save how many time units you have (located below the deck and above the bits storage area) which is aggravating to use. Since these spaces are so deep, it’s aggravating to have to dig out any piece you put there to mark time units. We resorted to writing it down on a post-it note.

Artistic and component quality are very well produced. I just wish that the player markers identified with individual characters more and that the insert had a bit more thought put into it.

Game Play

Character Stats

(The coffee stains on the bottom right are a great touch, giving more of a patient file feeling)

There are three main attribute stats on the left side of the player card. The green symbol is deftness, which aids in dexterity based tests such as stealing. The yellow symbol is glibness, which aids in social tests that require you persuade someone. The red symbol is combat. Each number represents how many dice you roll to complete a test of that type.

On the right side are a skull shield (resistance) and heart (health). Your resistance helps prevent damage during combat rolls.

Each character has an additional attribute that gives an advantage and/or disadvantage. Some characters only have one or the other, but are balanced by having lower/higher attributes or health/resistance.

Movement, Time Units, and Actions

When players move to different locations within the Asylum, they must all move together and are represented by a white character marker pillar with no colored sticker. Location is tracked on a map of the Asylum seen on the top right corner.

Each movement costs time units, which are noted on a track in the middle of the board. You will start with a predetermined amount of time at the start of the mission. Each location change will cost a random amount of TU from 1 – 3 depending on your roll of the time dice. Some locations make cost more, as they are more difficult to leave. Actions (described below) also take time units.

When you run out of time units, you are forced back to the “present” and must start your mission over again. While this sounds boring and tedious, it’s actually a mechanic that encourages you to play better and more efficiently the second time around. With the information gathered from your first play, you’ll be able to navigate through new areas, avoid traps, and delve deeper into the mystery of the Asylum.

As you travel to a new location, you will go through the Asylum deck to find the specified location. In doing so, you must take great care not to reveal cards from other locations. While it isn’t gamebreaking, it is somewhat of an inconvenience for those who avoid spoilers at all costs. You then layout the cards along the bottom of the board (spots A through H). Spot A will have a card giving a brief description of the room, while the rest of the spots will create a panoramic view. Each player will then have the option of placing their player marker on a location card to investigate that portion of the room.

Players will then spend a time unit to interact with a card by flipping it over. There are few possible outcomes:

Finding a Clue – You may discover a clue in the form of an item or in the form of a conversation with an NPC. It’s often worth writing things down for future reference.

Taking a Test – You may need to make some sort of attribute test to gain an item or state. There are some tests you may need to make just to survive the space since you’ve gotten caught up in something inescapable.

Gaining a State – States are represented by small square bits with different patterns of rectangles and squares and are requirements for accessing other parts of the story. As a general example, you may need to talk to a certain character to access a locked part of a room. States may also alter which locations you are allowed to go, and what the possible outcomes of certain tests may be.

Nothing – Just like a real investigation, some leads are simply dead ends. The game does this in a way that makes you feel silly rather than feeling frustrated (at least for my group).

All actions take place simultaneously, meaning that there are functionally no turns. This causes very little down time, as you are either interacting with a card or discussing what the next action will be with everyone else. As written, players are encouraged not to share cards or read them verbatim, but to give summaries in their own words. While I like the idea of making it feel more like a real life investigation, it does make certain parts of the gameplay more difficult and can often lead to missed details that seem insignificant in the present but prove critical later on.

Attribute Tests

All tests, whether combat or glibness based, function the same way. Each challenge will designate a certain number of shields, which may be blank, have a red skull, a time unit symbol, or a black heart. You must then roll a number of successes (blue stars on the dice) to eliminate each shield. Functionally, a test with more shields either requires more rolls (and therefore time units) or more agents to beat. During a combat roll, any remaining red skulls or black hearts will inflict damage upon the attacking agent. Any red skulls rolled on the test dice will cause additional damage. This can be mitigated by a character’s resistance stat, which prevents the first few damage in a combat test. Any remaining time unit symbols will also decrease your TU track by 1.

The test system is fairly streamlined and straightforward. Each roll has a sense of urgency, as you realize you’re wasting precious TU with every failure. With the low HP counts, you’re also fairly close to dying half of the time. When a player dies, they are transported to the “present” and must take time to return to the past. As such, they arrive back into gameplay 4 TU later. This isn’t an extraordinarily long time, and is quick enough where players don’t feel much downtime when eliminated.

Playing With Two Players

While I do feel that the game is best with 3 – 4, it is possible to play with 2. The game states that you can play using two characters each, but this breaks immersion for me. When my girlfriend requested to play with me, I used Gerraldo’s Variant for Asylum and it worked marvelously. Since every campaign has different mechanics, you’ll need different variants each time. For the Marcy Case, you may use Rahdo’s Variant for Marcy Case.

Ease of Learning

The rulebook is beautifully laid out and explains things in mostly clear and concise ways. I was able to get through the rulebook and have the game set up in about 15 minutes. There aren’t a lot of non-filler games where I can say that. There were a few rules that were unclear, where we had to explore BGG for clarification:

• You must always roll the time dice, even when a card forces you to go to a new location
• The codex spots at the top of the map are only used for future expansions – they serve no function in the Asylum case

There is also a specific event that occurs after you have lost the game the second time from running out of TU. We played incorrectly for half a run before I discovered what was really supposed to happen on a thread. For those who are willing to chance a slight spoiler:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
After the second run where you run out of TU, the game gives up on the TU system altogether and essentially gives you infinite time.
This event took a way a lot of the tension we had in the first two runs, but did make the game progress faster.

General Story

While solving the central mystery was thoroughly engaging and satisfying, the ultimate ending was a bit lackluster. It felt that the game just abruptly… ended. I would’ve liked to have seen a couple of cards detailing some sort of denouement, letting us know the results of our actions and how history played out as a result.

Although the game felt rather short for the amount we paid, it was also one of the memorable experiences we’ve had as a group and is well worth buying future expansions for.

Since this is really story driven game, it really doesn’t have replayability. Some may find it worthwhile to play in a GM capacity to watch others experience the game for themselves, but solving the same puzzle isn’t the same when you know exactly what to do. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that there are several expansions planned, each with different themes and mechanics. While I like this idea and will be purchasing these, I feel that they should be at a lower price point considering how much the base game already is. There are also plans to release kits for homemade campaigns, which may add some value here.

And while I do love this game, I can see where some might not be too thrilled. It's essentially a port of oldschool point and click games to a boardgame format. While I think of this as a plus, this may not live up to the hype for those who are expecting something new and revolutionary.

The simplicity of the mechanics allows you to become more immersed in the story, but overall there is little to no replay value. Expansions and homemade campaign kits offer hope.

Compared to Similar Games

Thematically, the game is similar to Tragedy Looper. Although I only had one brief play session with TL, I can tell you that one core difference is that TL requires a mastermind to work in a one vs. all fashion, whereas TIME Stories is fully cooperative. I haven’t played enough of Tragedy Looper to give a fair assessment.

Edge: Unable to evaluate

The Bottom Line

+ Easy Save System
+ Almost No Downtime
+ Intricate Puzzles
+ Amazing Art
+ Streamlined Attribute Tests

- The Insert
- Ending Is Abrupt
- No Replayability
- Low price to game time ratio
- Event after second run at 0 TU takes away game tension


While the game has very limited replay value, the experience you get out of the first play is well worth the cost of the game. Expansions have been demanded by my play group.

If you enjoyed this review, please check out my other articles:
FOR GLORY AND VALHALLA!! - A Blood Rage Review
A Case for Tuscany
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Jason Farris
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There is a duck in every game. You may not see it, but it's there.
I am amused that you state that a coffee stain is evocative of a patient file. Having worked in hospitals off snd on for years, it is not kosher to spill on patient charts. These are legal records after all. So I guess I am saying that it is evocative of what pop culture thinks a chart would look like.
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