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Subject: Five Minutes to Time Travel. A review of Control rss

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Chris Hansen
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Riverton
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If given the option, I would prefer to play with the green pieces, please.
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Game Summary


In Control, players are time travelers caught in some sort of spacetime rift. The time machines have lost all their charge so they are unable to get back to a regular timeline until the fuel is recharged. The players must choose to use their cards as fuel or use them as events that can hinder the other players. The first player to charge their fuel cells to 21 is the winner.

A view of the game. (Image credit: Mattox Shuler)

Game Play


At the start of the game, each player is dealt a hand of five cards. The remaining cards form a draw pile in the middle of a table. Each turn a player has four options.
1) Draw a card (up to a limit of 7 cards in your hand)
2) Install a fuel cell (play a card for it’s point value trying to reach the goal of 21 points)
3) Burn a Bronze fuel cell (use the card as an event rather than get it’s fuel points)
4) Defuse an opponent’s fuel cell (discard a card of equal or greater value to eliminate an opponent’s installed fuel cell)

That’s really all there is to the rules. The challenge comes not from complicated rules but in deciding how to use your cards. For example, do you use your valuable 8 point card as fuel (bringing yourself much closer to the goal of 21), or do you use it to force your opponent to discard two cards?

There are two types of fuel cells in the game: Bronze and Silver. Each type has an event but they are activated differently. Events on Silver fuel cells are activated as soon as they are installed and tend to be more defensive. For example, some of these cards prevent an opponent from defusing or allow you to draw a new card if it is eliminated. Events on the Bronze fuel cells can only be activated by burning them. These cards are typically a higher point value but the events are offensive and more powerful than the Silver events.

Here, the player on the top chooses to use the Anomaly card as an event. This card eliminates all Silver cards in play, which removes three of her points, but eliminates nine points from her opponent.

The game ends immediately when someone has 21 or more points. This is achievable with as few as three cards so you must carefully watch your opponent’s score. If he or she has 11 or more points, they could be a turn away from winning so you may want to try and destroy their cards instead of installing your own fuel cells.

Quality of Components

I built the Print and Play version of the game that came with the Kickstarter campaign so I can’t speak to the quality of the finished game, but the graphic design on the cards is amazing. The designer of the game, Mattox Shuler created a new font just for the game which gives it a very unique look. The cards are easy to read and the illustrations are beautifully done. Colors are used minimally and the different types of fuel cells have unique shapes so colorblind people should be able to enjoy the game with no problem.

The artwork and fonts of the game.

Theme

The theme of this game feels a little off to me. The choice of a time traveler theme is odd considering that you aren’t actually doing any time travelling in the game. The artwork in the game makes me think of being stranded on a lifeless planet rather than a rift in timespace (although to be, I have no idea how you would illustrate that). Also, I would categorize the events as general science fiction rather than time machine specific. While the time traveler theme doesn’t really stick, the game does evoke a good scifi setting and mood throughout.

Print and Play Information

The Kickstarter campaign for this game comes with a PNP file of the game. This is a pretty easy game to build considering that the only component is cards. There are two options for making the game. The first is a folding option where the front and back of the cards on the same page and you fold down the middle. The other option has the fronts and back separate so you could print on the front and back of the paper. That’s just a matter of preference depending on how you like to make your games.

How much ink is needed?

The cards in this game are fully illustrated but have a minimal use of color. You’ll use up a fair amount of black ink printing this game, but the illustrations are so good it is worth it. To save ink, you could skip printing the card backs since they are all the same. I really like the card back artwork so I decided it was worth it to print but they certainly aren’t required to play the game.

The complete game

Final Comments and Rating

Control is a very short and fast playing game. The rules say the game takes 5 to 15 minutes to play. Most likely your games will be on the shorter end of that scale. This isn’t a deep strategic game, although there is some strategy involved. It’s also has a fair amount of luck, with your available choices limited only to the cards in your hand.

Because the game is over so quickly, each game is going to be pretty different. There is no way you’ll see all of the cards in just one game so every game is going to present new cards and challenges. Some actions won’t be used at all in one game but could be valuable in another. For example, if the players have roughly equal score, the Defuse action feels essentially worthless. (If you both have about the same number of fuel cell points, why would you want to use a card to eliminate an opponent's card instead of just installing it yourself?) However, if your opponent was vastly ahead of you and close to winning, defusing one of her cards may be the only way you can prevent her from winning on the next turn.

This variety is good and bad. There’s definitely some value in the box based on the variety of cards. However, there is potential for some games to be over very quickly with almost no actions performed. I played a game with my wife where I was dealt several high value cards and she was dealt several low value cards. I simply lay down 21 points and there was nothing she could do to stop me. That sort of easy victory isn’t fun for either player.

A completed game with only three cards used to win

The events can sometimes be very valuable to your strategy, but more often I find they are more valuable as points since the values are typically so high. For example, unless my opponent only has two or three cards, I think the Antimatter card (which discards two opponent cards) is typically more useful as 8 fuel cell points. Many events are like this - they are useful in very specific circumstances but otherwise are better off being installed.

There is definitely some strategy to the game. For example, you don’t want to build your fuel cell using only one type of fuel because there are events that will destroy all fuel of a certain type. However, a five minute game is too short to really get a sense of deep strategy. The strategy comes as in-the-moment opportunities rather than something you plan for.

The game is so short that you’ll probably want to play best three out of five to determine the winner. Playing multiple games gives you more of a chance to see what the game has to offer as well. This could also be a good game for deciding who will be first player in a longer game. Overall, I liked the game but found myself wishing for something more. I may try out some house rules where you have to get 31 points so that the game can’t end so quickly. I’m rating the game a 6. It’s fast and easy to get into but it’s not something I anticipate playing often.
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alexandre lemos
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same thing here.
It is a shame this kind of situation: players on the win with little or no interference of their oponents.
When I saw the mechanics and how to win, the first thing I thougth was that game could end very quickly if one player has a bit of luck (or the other a bit of bad luck). You're right
And yes: best 3 out of 5 is the format to play.
Anyway, it's a pretty game.
good review
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Mattox Shuler
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Yep, best 3 out of 5 is the way to go and we'll be including tokens to count rounds. We'll update the PnP with those once we land on a design.

In our play testing, we found that lucky win scenarios are hard to come by in a two player game and practically non-existent in a 3 or 4 player game. For example, even the highest card can be dealt with by 4 different types of other cards including lower cards (16 of the 52 cards). When learning the game, a player might win quickly, but this is usually due to the fact that players are not interfering with their opponents like you mentioned or they don't know how or when to play defensive. It's not because they can't but usually because they didn't realize they should, but after a few rounds it's picked up on.

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M Van Der Werf
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Played the game in 3p and it stinked, too little incentive to attack others and is over quickly.

4p 2v2 it's alright though. You get some tactics with trying to defend your buddy, passing cards to another, trying to play the sweepers efficiently or just outlasting the opponents. Does feel like it's down to drawing right cards too much still. The 6, 8 and 9 are excellent with superb abilities. The 10 is good for risky plays or finishing moves.

Feels like there could have been more to it, i would have liked a card for example that would have allowed you to name a card and your opponent has to discard all of those he holds. It's a bit too much, one guy builds up while the other interferes as much as he can.
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Mattox Shuler
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Hey Mark, good thoughts, and that card idea is great and something we'll have to consider if we end up making an expansion.

In regards to the 3-player game, the meta we saw arise is all about forcing a player's hand which lead to some really tense / second-guessing situations. For example, let's say the player before you has risen to 11 or more (one turn away from winning), and you're up. You could choose to deal with him or you could force the player after you to deal with him by installing a fuel cell in your area of play putting yourself ahead. If the player after you does not have a lot of cards, it's a gamble if they could stop him (or you both) with a card powerful enough, but the choice could win you the game or give you a distinct advantage. 3-players is often my favorite way to play because of how cutthroat it can be, although I really enjoy team-play for the reasons you mentioned. The meta for each player count really changes, and I still feel like I'm finding viable strategies or counters for different situations in the different player counts.

Either way, thanks for playing Control!
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