Over the weekend I was able to pick up Doctor Who Time Clash, and get a couple of plays in of it.
I thought fellow whovians might appreciate my thoughts on it.
Doctor Who Time Clash is a fairly light game where 2 -4 players take on the roles of the Doctor or his oldest nemesis, the Daleks. They vie for influence in three areas, or Arcs representing the time in which the battle is taking place, the Companion the Doctor has with him, and the Villain's mastermind.
The compact set came with 9 different Arcs printed on good game cardboard. They fit together well, not that there's much to it, they are just a third of a circle, coming together to form a small round play area.
It also came with three options of two of the tokens you will need to use, a "Doctor" token and a game phase token. This is nice as it lets you pick which of the three tokens you like the look of better. For example, to represent the Doctor, you could use the TARDIS, or the TARDIS with the 12th doctor in front of it. I really appreciated this little thought, as there is one design in the game phase tokens that I find particularly not interesting. So it's good to be able to use one that I like.
Also, it came with a baggie to put the tokens in cleanly. This was much appreciated.
For cards, it came with two decks of cards, one for the Doctor, and one for the Daleks.
The purpose of the cards is easy to determine from the layout, they are quite clear in what they do. The pictures are screen caps from the show and I believe all have some degree of flavor text. In fact that is the bulk of most of the cards. Save for a few with special uses, the purpose of the card is printed cleanly in a header section, while the rest is just a picture with the flavor text.
The cards are a little thin but feel like they are of good quality. I would like to sleeve them anyway when I get the chance just to make sure they last.
The design on the backs of the cards is a little lackluster. It's kind of a bland blue or green design, that I'm not sure what it's meant to look like. This may actually be my biggest gripe with the game.
It also comes with a custom die for the final phase of the game.
Overall, I'm happy with the presentation. Particularly for how clean and compact it is. Without tons of extraneous tokens.
At its core, this is a game about playing cards with varying values (positive values for the Doctor, Negative for the Daleks) into three different stacks (the Arcs mentioned earlier) and trying to swing the overall value in your direction. This is a very simple concept, and would not make for a very fun game in my mind, if that were all there was to it.
Fortunately we have plenty going on under the hood to keep you interested as you try to out-play your opponent.
Your deck of cards come in a few different varieties, different cards can only be played in different arcs, for example your Quips can only be played into the Companion arc, and Threats are only played into the Villain Arc.
What's more, is two of the card types have special rules associated to them (marked clearly in the header of each card so you don't forget). Your plan cards can be foiled if your opponent comes along and plays one of equal or greater absolute value directly on top of yours, your Techs can manipulate the order of the cards in the stack. These things make it a little more interesting than just playing the largest value card in your hand automatically.
There are also special affect cards that change how you play, if you start the game by laying your best Threat card (-400) onto your villain, and the Doctor takes his next turn to play a card that says "Remove the lowest value threat card from the game", you kind of end up kicking yourself for not starting with a more modest -100 threat.
Then on top of these options, there is the Doctor token. Either player may, in lieu of taking their turn, move the Doctor to one of the three Arcs, and that will usually grant one player (The Doctor player for the Time or Companion Arcs, the Dalek player for the Villain Arc) an advantage of some sort as long as the Doctor is present in that Arc. This sort of feels like the Doctor helping out the companion, getting involved in the local they are in, or just simply being tied up or chased down by the villain.
Now we are starting to add some depth to a fairly simple core system. But that's not all. The next layer is the game phase structure. There are two phases of the game, the Build up phase, and the End Game phase. Turns are taken in the exact same manner in both phases for the most part. What changes is, at the end of every Dalek turn during the end-game, you check to see if they won by having the total value of all the areas together (conveniently tracked along the outside of the arc itself, I forgot to mention that in the components) being negative. If it is, the Daleks have overwhelmed the planet you are fighting over. Or, if you are the Doctor player, electing to attempt a Gambit. In which both sides commit certain cards in play, as well as from their hand, roll a die, and hope to attain a high enough value to succeed in the gambit and foil the Dalek's master plan once and for all.
So there is strategy also in when to trigger the end game or when to wait.
While everything in the game is abstracted (you have no specific plans, you play cards labeled "Plan") it does feel thematic for me. Each mechanic does have its thing it represents. It's a game that represents the struggle between two powerful forces. And I feel that comes through, you are always trying to outplay your opponent, foil his plans, or tie the Doctor up so that he can't get free turns every time he plays a Quip on Clara.
I don't think that this is going to be a game for everyone, it's not going to be the one Doctor Who game that encompasses the entirety of the Doctor Who universe. For example, I don't think we're likely to see expansions that add cards like 'jelly babies' or some of the lesser villains or even companions. The game seems to strictly be about the struggle between the Doctor and some of his most powerful villains. And this I think it does that well.
That said, there has been announced a Master expansion and a Cybermen expansion as well, both should be compatible with this 'Starter Set', so you can mix and match villains to Doctors to Companions. It almost has the feel of a Doctor Who LCG.
Overall I've been having great fun with it, and can't wait to keep playing.
Another thing I really appreciate about the game is that they could have easily put characters in the game with hit-points and had you beat each-other up through card-play like so many other games do. But instead it was designed from the ground up around a different paradigm, focusing on the opposing goals instead of direct conflict.
That said, the Daleks will still be playing plenty of cards that say "Exterminate!", the only thing is they will be increasing your threat, instead of wiping out the Doctor or his companions. It's easy enough to see in your head that card inflicting a negative-colored transposition of a more minor character's skeleton as your threat increases.