Three weeks of Geekly Games. Count ‘em, three consecutive weeks and climbing. This week’s game is another one that I’ve been meaning to cover for a while and haven’t gotten around to doing so. I’m not sure if this game is great or if it’s very good but it offers one of the most unique tabletop gaming experiences. Either way, there’s no other game like it on the market (as of this write-up, of course). This week’s tabletop game is another game that focuses on narrative: TIME Stories.
This game has you traveling through time and space, occupying someone’s consciousness—kind of like Assassin’s Creed or Quantum Leap. You’re tasked with correcting an issue within the world and your actions and interactions with other characters in the game can rewrite history. You’re trying to accomplish your goal with as few attempts as possible, but it’s okay if you fail. You’ll just pull a Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and relive the events. Just make sure you make better decisions the next time.
To say TIME Stories is a beautiful game is a huge understatement. I love the graphic design and artwork. The focus on narrative is another strong point—you feel like you’re in the world—and the gameplay is simple and straightforward. Even though there’s a lot going on in a given turn, TIME Stories presents the options afforded the player in an easily digestible manner.
The players work together to correct the timeline—it will most likely take more than one sitting to do that—and they travel together as a group to do so. While this can be constricting, TIME Stories avoids the sloppiness and unruliness of each player wandering into various rooms each turn. There’s also plenty to do when you’re in an area, room, or region. Players divide and conquer. In the kitchen one player may talk to the cook, while another attempts to steal a key from a dishwasher, and a third spies on two lovebirds necking in the corner. After everyone has a chance of doing something, you may share what you learned or encountered and once you believe you’ve done all you can do in an area, you can move onto the next one. Everything you do costs time and when you run out of time, you get sucked back into the here and now, and the gaming session ends.
I can’t get into too much detail—and I may have already given away too much—or else we’ll get into spoiler territory. But the fact that you can have “spoilers” for a tabletop game is unique. I’ll cover that, along with Narratilogy versus Ludology in “Behind the Game” later on, but I like how a tabletop game can be consumable. Games that you play once are trending.
TIME Stories’ sticky points reside in the interaction between players (that’s living players, not the in-game characters). You can share what you learned with other players but you can’t show them the card you picked up to complete the action. You even have to paraphrase or put what’s on the card in your own words; you can’t read verbatim from the card. All of this is an effort to keep gamers in the world, and I dig that, even if members of my gaming group think it’s dumb.
I’m not sure if you are allowed to take notes or not either. TIME Stories doesn’t explicitly say one way or the other (this game needs a better rule book), so we took notes, despite the game’s vibe telling us not to do so. Taking notes helps. You’ll learn which paths are dead ends and avoid them, and the gaming experience improves. I’d like a more definitive answer because I played a different scenario (or mission) of TIME Stories with a different gaming group, and the lack of notes hurt.
The Asylum, the mission that comes in the base game, is okay. It’s more of a puzzle, while other mission expansions have different moods and ways the game plays out. I enjoyed playing TIME Stories. Even the members of my group who didn’t like a particular puzzle near the end still had fun before and after that moment. Who cares if you can only play TIME Stories once, when the gaming experience is top notch?
Behind the Game
Let’s start with Narritology versus Ludology. These are two different camps of game designers. Narritologists believe that the story, characters, or theme of a game trumps stellar or unique gameplay, while Ludologists argue that gameplay is most important. Video games have fought between these two camps for years, so it makes sense that tabletop games have had their struggles with defining which camp is more correct.
In video games’ early stages Ludology reigned supreme, and it had to. Designers had to push the boundaries of what made up a game and challenge preconceived notions. As the industry grew and matured as a medium, designers turned their attention to Narritology. Game mechanisms are still crucial, but the story and its characters became more important. Tabletop games have gone through similar growing pains.
I don’t subscribe to either camp. You need both sides working together to form a great product, but as more games like TIME Stories and Pandemic Legacy continue to give tabletop gamers characters they can root for or relate to, the industry—like video games—will start being seen as an art form.
Consumable Tabletop Games
You may not think that a consumable tabletop game is worth it. You play each scenario once until you beat it and never play it again, but since most tabletop games are ones you can play repeatedly, how can you gauge the quality of TIME Stories or Pandemic Legacy?
Compare them to other forms of consumable media.
Many people only watch a movie once and they’re done with it. The same could be true of certain books or video games. So how does TIME Stories stack up against those forms of consumable media? Well, books are solo endeavors—unless you’re in a book club—so let’s stick with video games and movies.
TIME Stories is cheaper than a new video game, and it runs about five or six hours, which is about the length of most video games. TIME Stories is also less expensive than a night at the movies and you get more interaction.
So TIME Stories stacks up pretty well when put up against other consumable media in terms of value, but there are tabletop gamers who still like a game they can replay, and that’s fair. You don’t have to play TIME Stories or Pandemic Legacy. On a different note, most people who complain about TIME Stories and Pandemic Legacy only do so because they have limited replay value. They’re stellar games and they offer a unique gaming experience. You shouldn’t gripe about a tabletop game that makes you question how a game should function—that lead us back to our aforementioned Ludologists. I want some insanity from my game designers. They shouldn’t be afraid to try something radical. Give us something we haven’t seen. So is a tabletop game that has limited replay value worth it? To that, I say, yes. Maybe even a heck yeah.
Thanks for reading.