You know how sometimes, just sometimes, you get to enjoy an experience which just can’t be repeated but makes you feel privileged that you were able to take part in it? T.I.M.E Stories is a bit like that. It’s a game which after a finishing it a few hours later you can’t really play again, which could raise an eyebrow or two on anyone who notices the £35 price tag, but when you realise that it’s more or less the same price as a ticket to a football match or a night in the pub you can start to ignore that and enjoy what’s in front of you on the table: a very impressive game system with what is essentially just the first story in a series of many.
You see, when you buy T.I.M.E Stories you’re not just buying a game, you’re buying the system for many different stories to hook into. The board, the playing pieces, the game’s mechanics, it’s all reusable. You get the first story in the box, a huge wad of cards which make up a story based in an asylum (admittedly not the most original choice of settings, but it’s still pretty cool) and there’s already another story available, with more on the way. In each story though the idea will be the same – you’ll be playing through a scenario over the course of several attempts, or “runs”. In each run you drop yourself into a host, a character in the game who you can take control of and play as. You’ll work your way through a series of locations, working with the other players to find clues, unearth secrets and collect the required items for accessing new areas or characters. As controlling a host uses a lot of the special energy required to travel through time, you don’t have long to solve the mystery before your time runs out and you’re back to the beginning and start again. But this time you know things already, you know who to avoid, you know where to go, what to avoid. You can get further, find out more, make different decisions before your time inevitably runs out again. The cycle repeats, always learning, always discovering new things, right up until the point you’re directed to a card which tells you that you’ve failed or succeeded in your mission. Eventually you’ll figure it out, and whether it takes three runs or ten, the feeling at the end is no less satisfying. You earn it, and if you do it all in one sitting you’ll be emotionally and physically exhausted by the end, your head full of the decisions you’ve made, wrong turns you’ve made and characters you’ve interacted with. If you can do it without a pen and paper, you’ve got a far better memory than me.
What’s also great about this though is the fact you don’t need to do it all in one sitting. The box is set up in such a way that you can save the state of your game between runs, and the rule book explains very clearly and precisely how to carry it out so that you can just pick things up as you left them next time round. it’s a very well thought out system, especially when you consider that there will be several more scenarios released which aren’t even written yet, and each one will have the same ability to save your progress part way through. For those looking to play this in bursts of an hour or so at a time, it’s an essential and fantastically useful feature.
The included scenario, that of a mystery to solve in an old mental asylum, is well written and enjoyable; some might find some of the ideas a bit far fetched but I’d remind you that you’re solving this mystery by travelling through time. If realism if your main goal you might as well put your £35 away and look elsewhere. I won’t say much about it, as the storylines and twists through the game are what make this game so enjoyable, but it’s a very good starting point for the T.I.M.E Stories series. The storyline and contents of the missions are so vital that the rule book even states (in bold text no less) you should definitely not so much as open the deck of scenario cards until the moment you’re going to start playing. You shouldn’t see the locations, the characters, the items or the narrative cards in any way before you want to play it through, and as such you won’t be seeing any photos of those elements here. It’s too easy to drop spoilers that might seem insignificant at first, but soon become an integral piece of key information.
The one issue I can see people having with this is the slight repetition that you’d expect from having to work your way through the same scenario several times over. But while it’s true that the same locations come up several times, especially those at the start of the game, you’re not looking at the rooms in the same way each time. You focus on different things, different areas, different objects. You might even ignore some rooms all together knowing that you don’t need anything else from there. And all the time you’re communicating with others; if you’re describing something you can’t show the other players the card you’re reading from. You can tell them anything and everything that’s on there, but showing them is out of the question, much as it would be if you were in another room in real life and had seen something of interest – you’d probably go and tell the others what you’d seen instead of insisting they all dropped what they were doing and came to see themselves. In that sense, the way you play this with your teammates and the relationships you develop between your follow players and their characters will very much shape your likelihood of success. Work as a good unit, a close-knit team and you’ll learn more, remember more, and get further each time through the story.
So when all is said and done, that £35 price tag actually shouldn’t be the elephant in the room that some people might think it might be. Yes you’ll only play it once, but it’s a great ride while it lasts, and with a price tag less than four people would spend going to see a film at an average cinema it’ll give the same group of four far more entertainment and a much more involved experience. With future stories holding a lower price tag (as you’re only getting the cards you need, not the whole thing) this is indeed an investment in a gaming system which has the potential to provide some unique opportunities for interactive story telling. The creators have even released a set of resources to help you make your own scenarios if you’ve got some ideas which you think would trump those that they’ve come up with, and you don’t even need to pay for that.
And all of that, in my opinion, makes T.I.M.E Stories worth every penny.
Available Now, RRP £34.99
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