Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Great Scott, that's a long title! The year is 1955 and Marty McFly must work together with his eccentric companion Doc Brown to unite his own parents or risk never being born.
Back to the Future: Back in Time is a new cooperative game from Funko Games and the design team behind Horrified, Prospero Hall.
A Quick Overview
Back to the Future: Back in Time is a cooperative game that take place over a certain number of rounds depending on the number of players. The game is controlled by a time track, which determine what events take place as well as when the game will end.
When the time track reaches its conclusion the players must have achieved three goals.
Collected 3 parts for the Delorean
Moved the Delorean to the High Street
Have the Love Meter in one of the three Heart Spaces
Players will work together to achieve these three main objectives by completing smaller objectives to build up their available actions.
Players begin their turn by resolving the next space on the time track. This may add Trouble cards to the board, move NPCs like George, Biff or Lorraine or trigger a Love Meter check. When a Love Meter check is triggered players check where the cube is on the Love Meter track and flip one or two of the photo pieces to their faded side unless they have reached one of the 3 Heart Spaces on the Love Meter track.
After resolving the time track the player may take their turn. A player can use any action tiles they have on their board to either perform the action listed, often rolling or modifying action dice or they can use it to move 3 spaces.
When players move to a space containing an Opportunity, Challenge or Trouble card they can spend action tiles to add dice and perform a Challenge Roll. Each opportunity, challenge or trouble card will require the player to match certain symbols, if they do they complete the challenge and gain a reward. Players may reroll challenges as often as they like, however they may not reroll a dice showing a Biff symbol.
Once the challenge ends the players receive the reward if successful and then resolve any Biff symbols rolled. Each Biff rolled moves Biff towards George or Lorraine, if he is already in a space with one or both of them he instead lowers the Love Meter by 1 for each symbol rolled.
Players continue taking turns and performing actions until the time track runs out. At this point if they have completed the three objectives above they win the game otherwise they collectively lose. Players can also lose the game if the picture fades away.
Did They Like It?
Phillip is a huge Back to the Future nerd, he loves the movie and everything to do with it so subsequently he enjoyed the game, probably more than anyone else at the table. Phillip is often reticent to give an opinion on games so it was nice to see him actively enjoying a game night title.
The thematic ties here’s are apparently very good, not being a BTTF enthusiast myself I didn’t really connect with it, I know the basic plot but beyond that the items, events and challenges were just mechanics to me with no relation to the movie. However Phillip reliably informs me it’s all very accurate.
Meanwhile Vince had this to say, “It's well themed and designed, with challenges throughout the game.The difficulty step up could do with a tweak, it's tough at the start, but becomes a little too easy at the end.”
This is pretty accurate, the difficulty does ramp up a little towards the end, however if you're ahead then it shouldn't be a problem and if you're behind it could easily finish you off.
Back in Time vs. Horrified
Let’s take a look at the elephant in the room. Horrified and Back in Time are fair game for comparison, both are designed by Prospero Hall, both are co-op, both use well loved IPs and both are targeting the same family weight, mass-market friendly audience.
However, unfortunately, Back in Time loses to Horrifed on almost all counts. Horrified plays with more players, has scale-able difficulty and offers, even on the hardest difficulty, fifteen different combinations of villains, not to mention there are 7 heroes vs Back in Time's 4. Back in Time however does have the Back to the Future theme so there's a tick in that column.
Time to play, complexity and price are all roughly in the same ballpark so your choice as I see it is between replayability and theme.
Punching Biff Feels Mean
In Back in Time you can take many different actions and most of them feel like you are working towards your goal. However the Fight Biff challenge doesn’t feel that way. Biff is annoying, sure, but thematically when you do the Fight Biff challenge you are hoping to hit him so hard that he can’t get back up and hopefully remains unconscious for upto 3 additional actions. That’s assault Marty! Be cool!
I’m not against violence in board games, when I’m playing an axe wielding warrior in a dungeon crawler I’ll happily massacre a horde of goblins, but I’ll also feel guilty when I later learn they were only attacking us to protect their young. Theme matters here, Biff’s only goal in the game is too keep Loraine and George from falling in love and while that is petty and adolescent it’s not a reason to put the guy in the hospital.
Downtime Between Turns
Back in Time offers you lots of choices in how you divide up your actions and as the game progresses you will get more and more actions, but this can lead to some series downtime between turns. Each player can have up to 8 possible actions and a dozen or so ways to spend them. In a four player game then you might have to wait for 24 actions to pass before your turn, none of them are long but they may all take some thinking about.
The rules as written try to keep all players involved during a turn to reduce this downtime, stating that players adding dice to another players roll will roll their own dice, but that’s just an artifice and giving other players your action dice during their turn only lengthens their turn while subsequently shortening your own.
It’s going to sound like I’m coming down hard on this title so before I do let me reassure you I enjoyed my plays of it. I think it’s an engaging game that does a great job of realizing a theme while providing you with a visually interesting experience. However I have a big problem with the replayability.
Back in Time follows the plot of the first of the Back to the Future movies and this limited scope means that every game will largely play out the same. The game has four playable characters, meaning after 4 plays you will have seen and experienced everything this game has to offer. The Opportunity Deck you will mostly see all the cards in a single play. While the trouble cards you will have seen them all after 3 plays.
Then there's a the difficulty. We beat the game on our first play, by the skin of our teeth sure, but we were left wondering where the challenge would come from during the next play. Sure enough we won our second play too, this time with 3 turns to spare meaning the last 3 turns of the game were solely a game of keep away with Biff. We adapted our strategy for game two focusing on collecting additional actions and items before going for the bigger challenges making us much more efficient at completing the tasks.
The problem here is that once you understand the strategy of the game winning or losing is going to come down to luck. If you optimise your action tiles and prioritize action advantage and to a certain extent the Love Meter during the first half of the game then you should, dice rolls willing be able to complete the Delorean tasks in the latter half of the game with ease. Without scaling difficulty you should always win the game once you understand it, which means, if you lose, you only lost the game because the dice rolls didn’t go your way.
Without anything else to differentiate plays, such as playable characters or more opportunity and trouble cards the game just lacks a reason to keep returning to it as it will play out the exact same way every time. So while I enjoyed my plays and I wouldn’t turn down a game, I don’t see any reason to add it to my collection.
As a Game Night game Back in Time is a great one-off cooperative game experience, especially with a group that has nostalgia for the Back to the Future film franchise. It is simple to learn with a unified set of mechanics that work across all the actions in the game, making it accessible but with meaningful choices.
However, ultimately for my own tastes the game lacks the diversity and replayability of other cooperative games such as Horrified or Pandemic.