We’re back on dry land! Unfortunately one of our number was absent... and was in no way captured by pirates… so we were but four.
With that in mind I decided that this month we would be playing a single game for the whole session and that game was going to be T.I.M.E Stories.
I was taking a bit of risk here, firstly T.I.M.E Stories is a long game, taking between 3 and 7 hours depending on the scenario. But also, in order to keep the game interesting for myself, I had never played T.I.M.E stories before either, so I had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for.
A Not-So Brief Overview
In T.I.M.E Stories you will play one of half a dozen modules, the first of which ships with the game and that is Asylum. In Asylum you take on the role of a character in an insane asylum. The available roles vary from a cannibal to a cocaine addict each with their own special abilities and hindrances. Each character also has some flavour text to allow players to immerse themselves more fully into their roles should they choose.
As the game begins you are placed into time capsules, ready to be sent back in time to the 1920’s. The game explains the concept of receptacles, the bodies you will control in the past that allow you to interact with the world. It also lays out your mission although the transmission becomes garbled as you are transported back in time and you find yourself in the Dayroom of the asylum.
The Dayroom is built by laying out a series of cards which form a tableau on the table. Each card shows a different part of the room that can be explored or a different person that can be interacted with. Players are now free to choose where their receptacles want to explore. Players can look at a location each or they can share locations looking at the card together.
Each card will show an image, maybe some text and possibly some kind of skill check that must be performed. Some skill checks lock you, meaning you must continue to attempt them until you pass or are killed, mostly these are combat orientated.
The skill system is simple and well implemented, allowing for a single mechanic to take the place of more complex ones. To pass the check the players roll dice based on their stats, looking for a certain number of stars. Rolling skulls is bad and may cause negative consequences if you did not succeed at the check.
In some cases players may die, but death is not the handicap it once was. The player in question will be allowed to return to the game completely unscathed 7 time units in the future. Time Units are the driving force of the game. Each “run” you are given a certain allotment of time units and never enough to explore everything the game has to offer. Each time you take an action or change location, time is spent and the longer it takes you to achieve things the less time you have remaining to complete the mission.
When time runs out the players are jolted back to the present and reprimanded for their failure before being stuffed back into their pods and sent back to try again. In this way the players learn where to look for clues, what dead ends to avoid and ultimately how to win the game.
What did they think?
The game went over very well, with lots of comparisons to the Choose Your Own Adventure style books that were undoubtedly an inspiration for the game. Although the game was longer than any they had embarked on before, everyone remained fully engaged throughout. This I feel is partly due to the strength of the story and partly due to the mystery style nature of the game.
When it comes to games like T.I.M.E Stories I find it hard to be objective. I have a great nostalgia for the Choose Your Own Adventure books and for my roleplaying roots of the distant past. T.I.M.E Stories gives me that feeling again. It’s not that T.I.M.E Stories doesn’t have its problems, but I love what it is attempting to do so much that I am willing to overlook them.
T.I.M.E Stories gives us moments that are unforgettable, when the memories of other games have almost completely faded I’ll still remember Philip arguing the merits of dancing a jig around a toilet plunger or that Bob, of all people, was the one that figured out the solution to the puzzle from a piece of evidence I had already dismissed.
T.I.M.E Stories employs the Choose Your Own Adventure tropes like red herrings and dead ends, unlikely solutions and exciting exploration but it makes it a fully multiplayer player experience, with great art and an enthralling theme.
Talking of theme, it is worth noting at this point that there are some adult orientated themes in this game such as drug misuse and there is a strong horror-esque vibe that might be off putting to some. Overall the T.I.M.E Stories series is not really suited to a young audience.
The game takes multiple plays or “runs” at about an hour each and playing games across multiple evenings will make the game harder to solves, especially if you have a memory like mine. The game is also not replayable, once you know the solution you can’t unknow it, which makes the game ~£20/scenario for around 4 hours of playtime which is pretty steep.
On the flip side of that though the game is beautifully produced and it is not destroyed by being played so can be resold after completion. I personally do not mind the price of admission for this one, although if the theme or mechanics of an individual scenario are not to your liking then your mileage may vary.
T.I.M.E Stories, and specifically Asylum, is definitely an experience and one I am glad to have had. It has its drawbacks, some of the scenarios have confusing parts which have been clarified in an FAQ but off the shelf this can make the game much harder to penetrate. It is expensive for a single play through and you don’t always know what you are buying with each scenario. To date Asylum is still my favourite of the scenarios (having played the first 3) so it is possible the game is also one of diminishing returns.
All that said, its beautiful to look at, each scenario offers a very different experience from the last, it's fun and engaging and for me it is filled with nostalgia for the days I long thought lost.