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Subject: A Brief Look at Khronos rss

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Larry Levy
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There were two Essen games that really got people licking their lips in anticipation just because of their themes. The first, Through the Ages (a Civ card game!), has more than lived up to its advanced billing. The second, Khronos (time travel!), has had an initial reaction that is decidedly more mixed. Lacking a time machine to travel into the future to see how public opinion will shake out, we had no choice but to try it for ourselves.

And the reactions from my first game were just as mixed. Two players quite liked it and want to play again. One player hated it. I was kind of in the middle. The design is clever and there’s a good deal to like about it, not least of which is being the first game to truly utilize time travel issues in anything but an abstract fashion. But the concepts are so non-intuitive and convoluted that the game can feel more like work than play. At the end of the day, I just wasn’t sure the trip was worth it.

The big problem is that there are a number of rules for what happens in the future when you build structures in the past. Most of these involve having the structure ripple into the future. But this can lead to conflicts, exceptions, and cascading events. On paper it doesn’t seem all that complicated, but in practice we found that we had to check the rules on almost every turn. Not only did this disrupt the flow of the game, but it meant that our confusion was keeping us from playing optimally.

This is disappointing, but should be resolved with experience. I had a bigger issue with the blind card draw (something many other gamers have complained about). At the end of each turn, you draw four new cards from the deck for your next turn. You can’t keep any unused cards from that turn. During your turn, you have the chance to discard some cards and replenish them from the deck, but this is expensive (a cost of 2 VP) and, of course, there’s no guarantee that matters will improve (the success rate in our game was distressingly low). Clearly, the designers want you to make the best of the cards you draw each turn. I usually have no problem with that philosophy, but the point scoring difference between a good draw and an average one can be so extreme that it makes the game seem luck driven (to be fair, the two players who liked the game were less distressed with this). I really didn’t feel I could examine too many ways of playing my hand each turn because it takes so long to figure out the ramifications of a move. Rather than keep the other players waiting, I’d find something that looked reasonable, play my cards, and end my turn. But I rarely felt like I was optimizing my options. In fact, on one turn, after checking out a half dozen possibilities and concluding they would help my opponents more than me, I just discarded my hand and ended my turn by doing nothing. Needless to say, too many turns like that will sour you on a design.

In short, the game is a brain-burner, but also a highly tactical one (as the board can change dramatically following each player’s turn). I like tactical games, but only if the solution space is limited (Dos Rios is a good example where it works, and even then there’s the possibility of Analysis Paralysis). This is not the case in Khronos and the tension between these two conflicting forces can be wearing.

There are some component issues as well. The board is fine (thoroughly professional) and the cardboard counters look very nice. But the wooden cubes are probably the worst I’ve ever seen in a game. I don’t mean to be cruel, but a high school student in his first-year shop class could have done a better job. I was always very careful picking my pieces up, since the prospect of a massive splinter was very likely and I had no idea where that cube had been. Amazingly bad quality. The cards were of decent enough construction, but there was only 33 of them in the deck. This, in a game where a minimum of 16 cards per turn are drawn. We were shuffling just about every turn and a half, and this was the last thing we needed in a game that was always on the verge of dragging. Heck, in a five-player game, you’d be shuffling twice a turn! A standard 54 card deck would have worked much better, so this seemed like a bad place to cut costs.

Having said all that, would I play again? Absolutely. Despite my issues, the game has a lot of potential. It definitely deserves a second play to see if the learning curve can be hurdled. It may turn out to be more trouble than it’s worth, but it also might prove to be the unique design we hoped it would be when it was first announced. Either way, there’s only one way to find out.

In my second game, I definitely intend to use a variant suggested by one of the co-designers. (He calls it a “gamer’s” variant, but I have no idea who else would ever play this brain-burner!) You now have three options each turn: 1) Play the cards you drew; 2) Pay one VP, discard some cards, and then draw back up to four cards; 3) Pay two VP and one of your cards for the privilege of changing the color of one of your three remaining cards. This sounds like it could alleviate the luck of the draw problem without making a color change too powerful. It also knocks the cost of the risky “discard and draw” option to a more reasonable amount. Even though it provides for additional choices, I think it might actually reduce some of the game’s potential for AP, since it gives you a quick way of putting a master plan into effect, rather than sweating out the best way of managing the crap cards you just drew. This variant could go a long way to answering my objections with the game. There’s a pretty good chance this will get on the table again relatively soon; if it does, I’ll keep you informed how it goes.
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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I see the problems people have with the cards, but I don't feel it is much of a problem. I almost never get the cards I was hoping for and I always have to change my plans, but like you said: you have to make the best of what you have. And I think the luck pretty much evens out throughout the game.

I don't find the rules all that complex, but it's so easy to overlook any conflicts or ripple effects that everyone has to pay attention every time someone creates a ripple effect. And even then mistakes occur.
That and the component problem are the biggest issues I have with the game. Other than the bad wood, I think the cards will wear out pretty fast. Their quality is OK, but since they get so much play...

A short while after Essen the publisher issued a statement about the components. They had only received the games just in time for the fair and couldn't address the problem then. They promised replacement parts to owners of the games who asked for a replacement. I mailed them but never heard back
 
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Johan L
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Surya wrote:
A short while after Essen the publisher issued a statement about the components. They had only received the games just in time for the fair and couldn't address the problem then. They promised replacement parts to owners of the games who asked for a replacement. I mailed them but never heard back


Mail them again - I never heard back from them either, sent a reminder, still didn't hear anything, but some time later I finally got replacements.
 
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