I have a feeling of Deja Vú. I think I’ve been here before. Well, yeah, that’s kind of the idea! Welcome to our review of Space Cowboy’s T.I.M.E. Stories! Let me explain… T.I.M.E. Stories is a narrative scenario-based game that acts as a platform for many different types of stories to play out. It’s a game for 2-4 players ages 12 and up, and it takes about an hour to play through a single “run.” Before I say too much more, let’s get into the Overview of this game.
In T.I.M.E. Stories, you and your fellow players work for the Tachyon Insertion in Major Events (T.I.M.E.) Agency as agents who can insert themselves into “receptacles” (or people) in different timelines in history. Some of these timelines are simply periods in our past, while others are alternate timelines. Have you seen Loki on Disney+? It’s sort of like that; however, you play a different character in each story. By visiting different locations and completing skill tests, the agents develop a fuller picture of the problem they are facing. The goal is to determine the mystery’s answer before the Temporal Units reach zero. If that happens, you will need to repeat the scenario keeping specific (but not all) items you gained during your previous run. Repeating a run allows you to make better decisions because you already know what is essential and what is not. Each case within the T.I.M.E. Stories system is unique, and the specific rules for each vary. We’ll get into more detail in the gameplay section below.
For this review, we are focusing on The Asylum, which comes with the core box, and The Marcy Case, which is the first expansion. We chose two stories to illustrate how the game changes with different scenarios. In all, there are 11 further expansions.
The core box of T.I.M.E. Stories comes with a massive board, many tokens, player markers, and a huge deck of cards.
The overall quality of the components is pretty good. We were a bit concerned when we saw we had to place stickers on the ends of the player markers. Applying stickers in a game can be tedious, and we could see how this might get messed up easily. She-Hawk has the best solution:
- Use tweezers.
- Lift the sticker off the sheet.
- Gently place it on the wooden markers.
The themed cards for the scenario and the illustration style differ depending on the story you are playing. The Asylum, for instance, had cards with relatively refined-looking backs reminiscent of 1920s architecture and design. In contrast, The Marcy Case takes place in the 1990s in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, so the backs of the cards look like boarded-up doors with wood half-nailed across them. The graphic style on the fronts is also unique to the scenario with The Asylum, almost like an oil painting where The Marcy Case is reminiscent of a graphic novel.
The rest of the components are mostly just functional. We did like the custom dice. The Time Captain die uses the Temporal Unit icon to denote how much time passes during the rounds. The skill test dice look great, too, with both the hit and skull icons.
There are plenty of tokens in the game. These are pretty standard tokens. Nothing remarkable, but I guess that’s because these tokens are used in every scenario for many unique purposes.
Interestingly, a single token type comes in four colors (yellow, blue, green, and brown). These tokens stand for different things in different scenarios.
Most scenarios are easy to set up and put away mid-scenario if necessary. The game has the players lay out the base location at headquarters, and the players read each card from left to right. These cards will tell the agents the basic story, but more importantly, they’ll let them know which tokens from the box you will need in this scenario and what their purpose will be. Once you read through everything, the last thing the agents need to do is choose which receptacles (character) they want to play) and collect any starting tokens and health. Then you are ready to play!
Regarding putting the game away, the game box comes with a great insert that holds all the components in their own space, and it also has slots for the players’ current items, which is helpful when you need to stop the game before the end.
As mentioned above, the game uses a reasonably large board with spaces for all the various card types. The primary areas for the story are along the bottom marked A-H. A large square in the upper left is where you typically place the scenario’s map. Four codex spaces used for different cards based on the scenario are in the upper part of the board, and an item card space for the scenario’s items is on the far right. Finally, central on the board is a Temporal Unit (T.U.) Tracker and acts as a game counter. This counter tracks the scenario’s progress.
The game’s goal is to, as a group, visit the various locations on the map and collect information about that scenario’s mystery before time runs out.
Each story has a starting location and sets of cards in the deck that acts as panels in each panoramic scene. Each location has cards listed alphabetically from A up to H. Card A will describe the setting, and cards B-H visually show the players the panels of the scene. Not all locations have cards that go through H. We found it interesting that some places will only have a few cards for the scene and that’s it. Others will have additional locked cards that remain that way until you meet a specific game condition. The locked cards are the key to your success in a scenario. We’ll get into that in a minute.
Each of the scenarios we played had us start on 30 Temporal Units (T.U.s), and there are a few ways to lose T.U.s:
- If, as a group, the players want to move to another panel card within a location or perform some action at their location, the team will lose 1 T.U.
- If, as a group, the players wish to leave their current location and go to another location on the map, the Time Captain rolls the Time dice, and the players lose between 1 and 3 T.U.s
Each receptacle has a set of skills unique to this scenario. Icons represent those skills. Each skill will also have a number assigned to use in skill tests. Having a well-balanced team is another key to success in a scenario. Each receptacle will have a skull shield (defensive value) and a heart icon (how much life they have).
Once the team lays out the location cards on the board and chooses their receptacle, they decide which of the scene panels they want their receptacle to visit and place their marker above that card. Each card is one part of the cohesive scene and represents each agent exploring that area of the location. Each player then takes the card at that location and reads it to themselves. They are free to tell the other players what’s on the card, but they should not read it verbatim. This lack of reading keeps the game exciting and helps the players embody the characters they are playing.
Panel cards can provide one of three outcomes:
- Generate narrative content which helps solve the mystery (like codes, puzzle pieces, etc.)
- Require a skill test to be performed to receive an item or access to a locked card (This can be searching or fighting, for instance)
- Or provide an item or access to a locked card.
Sometimes the reward for reading a card is a colored square or colored pattern. If that pattern is on the back of one of the locked cards at the current location, you have unlocked that card. If the rewarded symbol is not at the current location, the players take the tile matching the emblem from the box and add it to their board, allowing you to unlock that symbol when you find it.
Skill Tests make the agents work for the information they need to complete the mission. When an agent reads a card with a skill test, they will see shield tokens listed in a specific order. The card will tell agents what type of shields to place under the card on the spaces on the board. These get stacked and grouped by type in the order they appear on the card from left to right. The two main shield types are blanks and red skulls.
To complete a skill test, the agent must roll dice equal to their receptacle’s skill. For each hit icon rolled, the agent removes that many shield tokens from left to right. When all shields are removed, which may take multiple action steps, then that task is completed. When fighting enemies, if an agent rolls a skull, there may be a riposte (counter) attack. The way this works is rather interesting. The agent first removes shields equal to the number of hits rolled from left to right. Then if the enemy still has skull shields, the agent adds the skulls on the dice to the number of skull shield tokens left. Then subtract the number of defensive shields on the receptacle card. If the number is above zero, it means the enemy has hit the agent that number of times, and the agent loses that amount of life. I know this sounds a bit confusing, it can be the first few times you do it, but after that, it becomes easy! One rule we missed at the beginning was that you ONLY make a repost attack if you roll a skull. So even if the enemy has skull shields, they don’t counter unless you roll a skull.
Some cards, when read, will also have a lock icon meaning that the receptacle in that panel can not leave the card until the skill test is complete. Trust us when we say this sucks. It usually means all the other players need to come to help you defeat the enemy in this space… Side note and a bit of a light spoiler… in The Marcy Case, don’t talk to the priest at the church… just a word of advice.
When no receptacles are on a locked card, everyone can leave that location and go to another. In this case, the team as a group decides where to go. The Time Captain rolls the T.U. dice and moves the group token on the map to the new location. Now the agents pack up the current location in the order and place it on the bottom of the deck. Then they search through the deck for the new location cards.
I will say this is the one downside to this game. All Players need to explore the same location. Sometimes you’ve looked at all the cards but are waiting on one character to defeat an enemy. Sometimes this results in a completely wasted turn for a few players.
The above process repeats until the players complete the mission or run out of T.U.s. If a player gets eliminated, they are placed 7 T.U. spaces below where the T.U. marker is currently. They are out of the game until the T.U. marker reaches them. This waiting time represents the time needed to reset their receptacle back at base.
In each scenario, the team of agents must solve some enigma. Bob, your trainer, presents this enigma to you at the start. The trick is that players will not complete each scenario in a single game or “run .”There is simply too much information to gather to finish before time runs out. So instead, the game is designed to be played multiple times in a row. When you fail the first “run,” you still retain the knowledge you gained as a group and some of the items you found. So when yo move through the story the next time, you already know which events to redo because you need something specific and which events to skip because they were red herrings and wasted your time. It’s a fascinating concept. We haven’t encountered a game quite like this.
T.I.M.E. Stories gave us a sense of Deja Vú, both due to repeating the scenario and its similarities to other games recently played games. Any of the Detective Games from Portal Games were similar. In both, you have cards with information that cost you time to complete. This game adds skill tests which is an exciting aspect. If I were to pick one game over another, I’d prefer a Detective series game. T.I.M.E. Stories was fun, but the two scenarios we played were a bit uneven. We are fans of narrative-driven games, but I guess what we don’t like are trial and error. There were vital clues that were sort of in random places. It wasn’t always that we followed the clues; sometimes, we were like, “ok, let us check this room out,” hoping to find something.
There were some exciting moments in the stories we played, and we will try to play through a few more scenarios. We’ve heard that some scenarios are way better than others! If you are fans of narrative games, this game is worth checking out!
If you find this article interesting and want to get a copy of the game, we have it in our store!