This is my first attempt at a written review, so thanks in advance for your feedback!
From the rulebook: “In Timestreams, you take the role of an inventor of the time machine, traveling the timelines to ensure that your own time remains dominant, seeding the ages with inventions that favor your era while trying to thwart other time travelers from relegating you to the dustbin of history!” Sounds exciting, eh? Well, I’d love to say that the game creates a theme-y feel of time travel, but it doesn’t. However, it’s a very clever, interactive card game, and that fact that it has a time travel theme pasted over top of it in no way detracts from the gameplay.
Timestreams is a non-collectible card game from Bucephalus Games. The game is sold in pairs of decks, each deck representing a different era in history. There are six time periods – Stone Age, Medieval Era, Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, Modern Day, and Future Tech . The box says that the game takes 45-60 minutes to play, and I think that’s pretty accurate. Out of the box, the game is for 2 players, although you can play with up to 6 people if each player has a different deck.
Each player will get a pre-constructed deck that represents a particular era in history. In each deck there are 2 main types of cards: Inventions and Actions. The goal of the game is to lay down invention cards in each of six “eras” that will gain you the most points. But, each era only has six scoring slots, even though it’s possible to play more that six cards under each era.
You’ll begin the game by laying out the six era cards in a row on the table in chronological order, from Stone Age to Future Tech. These are mainly just placeholder cards to keep the rows of cards organized. Each player will draw a certain number of cards based upon the number of players (6 cards for a 2-player game). The player who has the deck that represents the earliest period in history (in this case, Stone Age) will go first. On your turn, you’ll play an invention onto the current era, or an action card. An invention card will have a specific points value, which may score at the end of the game. The invention may also have either a “Play” ability or a “Score” ability. A “Play” ability will activate immediately, while a “Score” ability will not activate until the scoring phase of the game, after all the cards have been played to the table. The “Play” ability might allow you to draw more cards, switch the position of cards, prevent the invention from being affected by Action cards, etc. If you choose not to play an invention card, you can instead play an Action card. Action cards are effects that happen immediately, which do various things to positively impact you and negatively impact your opponent. Of note, there are Action cards that add or remove scoring slots from an era, which can drastically mess with your opponent’s strategy.
Players will take turns playing cards on an era until both players pass. Then, you draw 6 more cards (plus, you keep any cards left over from the previous round – there’s no maximum hand size), move to the next era and begin another round.
This continues for 6 rounds, after which you begin the “Score” phase. Start at the left-most era, you resolve all of the “Score” effects for the cards in the scoring slots, top to bottom. Once all the “Score” effects have been resolved, all of the cards that fall below the scoring threshold are discarded. Then, the players take the remaining cards and place them in their score pile. You continue this process until all eras have been scored, add up the points and determine your winner.
This game surprised me – when I read the rulebook I thought it might end up being kind of a dry exercise, a “who cares?” sort of game. But, it’s actually a really clever back-and-forth struggle to claim those valuable scoring slots. The cards interact nicely with one another, although you’re not going to see the big CCG-style card combos in Timestreams. In a way, that’s a strength of the game, because the decks seem to be pretty balanced.
My only big criticism of the game is the complexity of the scoring phase. When there are multiple scoring effects in an era, it can get a little confusing to figure out which cards are in the scoring slots. This is probably an issue that would get easier with repeated plays. There are some cards that offer bonus points, and since there are no tokens included in the game, you might need a piece of paper and a pen when scoring. And, I guess I’m not a huge fan of the card artwork, which seems a bit of a mishmash of blurry watercolors.
But, overall, Timestreams is a really fun card little card game that I’d definitely recommend. It’s a “Buy”!
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