Chrononauts is a small box card game from Looney Labs, famous for their Ice House Pyramids and Fluxx games, neither of which I could tell you anything about.
In Chrononauts you play as a time traveller from an alternate reality. You are on a mission to “rescue” three specific objects from time but in the process you have become lost in an alternate timeline. To win you must either complete your original mission, alter the timeline sufficiently to allow you to return home or gather enough power and influence over the time space continuum that you become the ultimate timelord, able to bend time to suit your every whim.
Of course, as stands to reason, the game is not as exciting and dramatic as that, but it is fast and fun, let's take a look in the box.
So, in the box you’ll find:
32 Timeline Cards
14 ID Cards
10 Mission Cards
84 Chrononauts Cards
It’s a card game then. The content and layout of the cards is excellent, all the cards are colour coded by background which makes referencing them easier. The art work, which is not extensive, is very fun and cartoony. The colour coding and iconography on the Timeline cards makes the game very simple, but the cards aren’t particularly pretty.
However, the cards are pretty much standard playing card stock, they are thin and there’s no linen finish here and they’re pretty easy to bend and crease. The box itself is very small and portable though.
The rulebook is a simple fold up sheet which does a pretty good job of explaining everything although it will probably be as clear as mud until you actually try and play the game.
Playing the Game
To set up Chrononauts you must first layout all 32 timeline cards in a 8x4 gird in date order, starting in 1865 and ending in 1999. Then deal 1 ID Card to each player, this card will list 3 dates on it. This indicates which alternate timeline you are from, by successfully manipulating the Timeline cards to match your ID you can return home and win the game.
Each ID has 3 dates listed on it, two are red one is black. Red dates are alternate history dates (as show on Patch Cards, see below), whereas black dates are the timeline as we know it. The dates listed are only ever Ripplepoints (a type of Timeline card) this will become important later.
Next deal each player a mission card. This card will list 3 items by name that you must find and play face up in front of you. In most cases there is only one of each item in the deck.
Finally each player is dealt a hand of three Chrononauts cards. There are several different kinds of Chrononauts Cards, which I will explain later.
On your turn you simply draw a card and play a card. So you draw a card from the Chrononauts deck and add it to you hand. Then, depending on your cards you can:
Play an Inverter (Yellow) to Flip a Lynchpin
Play a Patch (Orange) to Patch a Paradox
Play an Artefact/Gadget (Green) in front of you faceup
Play a Timewarp (Pink) to mess with the draw/discard pile
Play an Action (Blue) to mess with the other players
You can simply discard a card
Or you can discard 2 to draw 1
Still clear as mud? That’s because the core of the game revolves around the Timeline cards you laid out at the start of the game. There are two types of Timeline Card, Lynchpins and Ripplepoints. Lynchpins are Purple on one side and Red on the other. The purple side represents the true course of history, while the red side represents an alternate timeline. By playing yellow cards players can flip Lynchpins.
When a Lynchpin flips players check to see which Ripplepoints are affected. This is easy, simply look at the symbol on the card you flipped, find that symbol in red on any cards on the table and flip them over. Some Ripplepoints require multiple Lynchpins to flip and are denoted with the word “and” between two red symbols.
When a Ripplepoint flips it first becomes a paradox, a gaping hole in the space-time continuum. If at any time there are ever 13 paradoxes face up the whole table is sucked into oblivion and all the players lose. That’s where Patches comes in. There is one patch for each year. You will only be able to return home by patching the years listed on your ID, so patching is important. Patching also rewards you with a card for your troubles. Other than the Sell an Artefact Action card Patching is the only way to increase the size of your hand. If any player ends their turn with 10 or more cards they instantly win.
So, yes, simple as that really. Draw a card, play a card, try and match all the years on your ID card to the cards on the table or try and match all the Artefacts on your Mission card to the ones face up in front of you or gather as many patches as you can and try to win by ending your turn with 10 cards. It is worth noting that you can only win at the end of your own turn!
I don’t know of any other game that so simply and efficiently deals with a Time Travel theme. It is inherently hard to pull off but somehow Andy Looney manages to make it work. Yes it’s random, yes it’s frantic but I like that. There is very little meat on these bones, but as a fast and fun filler it works.
The things I found myself not liking about the game were really quite trivial. I wanted more artwork, I find the Timeline cards quite dull, but I also think that sprucing them up could make the game less accessible and more confusing.
I also think that, in the UK at least, the price is a little steep, £15 for a deck of 140 cards. I found the rule sheet confusing, especially as it didn’t show any actual card images but instead used “if X and Y” statements. However, the cards themselves are very well designed and very very explicit.
Players who suffer from analysis paralysis will cause this game to grind to an unbearable halt, especially if they search the deck/discard piles without knowing what they are looking for. The game is designed to play quickly, draw, play, next player.
Despite these negative points, I really enjoy the game, it’s a great quick filler with a small footprint which makes it very portable. I also think that the “draw 1 play 1” mechanic makes the game really accessible to new players and non-gamers.
People who don’t like luck or chaos will not like the game, but anyone who enjoys playing games to have fun and socialise should enjoy it. If you can find this game at a reasonable price point I highly recommend it.