We were all sitting at my kitchen table, and I was laughing so much it hurt. I was in physical pain. Sure, I was a little bit drunk. But me and my pal were absolutely roaring with laughter, and it wasn't just the wine – sometimes wine gets us a little bit melancholy. Believe me on that.
I can't tell you exactly why we were laughing – that's the frustrating thing. But something so completely perfect was happening in a board game, something so clever and surprising and awful and wonderful, that we just couldn't control ourselves. My character in this game had come to life in such a brutally real way that all you could really do was laugh, and laugh a lot.
T.I.M.E. Stories is absolutely fantastic. Let me try to tell you why.
There will be absolutely no spoilers in this article, so don't worry about that. My challenge is to somehow express to you why this game is so wonderful without telling you how it does what it does. Perhaps I should tell you what you might need to enjoy it fully.
You will need:
A reasonable attitude towards the value of an experience. If you're going to get annoyed about the fact that this game will set you back about 40 quid and that you and your friends will only be able to enjoy it for about four hours or so, then you should probably just f*@k off. Lots of board games are 40 quid and can be played for about a hundred years, but most of them aren't anywhere near as thrilling and memorable as this game is.
You will also need good friends. You'll need funny friends. You'll need open-minded friends. You'll need friends who elevate a gaming experience. You'll need friends who are imaginative and don't poke holes in everything.
You will also need a table. Obviously.
Okay, so how does it work?
Essentially, T.I.M.E Stories is a co-operative choose-your-own-adventure game. You and your pals are time travellers, leaping into the bodies of characters in history. You enter a scenario, inside these “vessels”, and the characters you control have certain skills and flaws. These skills will make some players better than others at completing certain tasks, and the flaws will make some characters an absolute liability at certain points in the story.
The story, in the base game, is a puzzle of sorts. Like a point and click adventure game, unfolding through a deck of cards, you visit places and choose who to encounter. You get dropped into the situation with no information, and you just discover discover discover the game as you play it. The story, non-player characters, items and tasks are all inside the deck of cards – but you only experience these cards by solving or negotiating earlier cards.
Everything you do in the game takes time. And time runs out. When it does, you “fail” your run and get booted out of the story. And then you go back in, with all the information you already know, to try to complete it more quickly.
I don't even really want to fully explain how it plays. Just understand this – there are moments, many moments, that will make players gasp at how cool this game is.
Okay, here's a thing.
I imagine that the people who will be most critical of this game are proper hardcore board gamers. You know the ones. You know the ones. Those people will view the game as some kind of structural task. If you look behind the curtain of this game, sure, you'll see the flaws. But if you play this game not like some board game bore, but like just a normal person, you'll be staggered by how clever the experience is. If you enter into the spirit of the thing, the newness of it, the sheer daring of it, you're going to feel your heart start to pump. And you're going to laugh.
I wish I could tell you why I was laughing. In a nutshell, there was something my character was known for, in the fiction of this story. But that thing was transferred through the game's systems into my head and mouth so perfectly that it was just a delight. An absolute delight. And it was a small thing, but the kind of small thing that hardly ever works that well. It was a piece of story and game design so bloody brilliant that it would turn any player of that character into a role-player. I was blown away by it, and by how much it tickled the entire group.
Time, as we know, falls wanking to the floor. And yes, this game is short. And it's one and done too. You play the adventure once and it's gone, because you know all its secrets. Further cases are rolling out, whole new stories, but these will be another 20 quid or so a pop. And if they're anything like this first story in the base game, they'll be worth every penny.
It's not just a story. It's a set of characters, beautifully designed. It's a collection of interlocking places and encounters. It's a box of surprises. It's a whole load of beautiful artwork. It's an experience that completely fills a room with laughter and handclaps and weird accents.
It's also simplicity itself. The most beautiful thing about T.I.M.E. Stories is that there's no sense of it bending over backwards to offer something new. It's not rammed full of complex systems you need to learn and explain. It's a game that remembers that STORY + SOMETHING COOL TO DO = MAGIC.
STORY + SOMETHING COOL TO DO = MAGIC
It's that easy. More designers could stand to remember that.
ROBERT FLORENCE + T.I.M.E. STORIES 4EVER IDST